Welcome to our series, The Divorce Diaries. In our past instalments over the last year we’ve covered everything from the effect of lockdown on divorces to whether they’re contagious and have now spoken to dozens of women – including one whose husband announced he was leaving her to have an open relationship with a 19-year-old and another who was quite literally ghosted by her own husband.
Today we talk to Karla*, who knew she was unhappy but took two years to realise that it was the marriage, not her, that was the problem.
It wasn’t that Karla didn’t have a good life with her husband, it’s just that she couldn’t shake that feeling of: ‘Is this it?’
“The best way I can describe it is that I had a really good life. It wasn’t that I didn’t love my husband; I loved him, but I definitely wasn’t in love with him,” Karla says.
“Our life was pretty good in most aspects but I just used to go to bed at night and lie there and think, ‘Is this it? Is this just the rest of my life? And is it me, and do I just need to try harder? Or is this just normal and this is what everyone does? Or… is there something better?’”
While the chance of something better felt amazing, Karla says the thought of doing anything about it was overwhelmingly hard. “For two years, I thought ‘No, there can’t be anything better out there for me and if I did it, I’d be miserable, I’d be alone for the rest of my life and no-one would want me.’”
“‘Is this it? Is this just the rest of my life? And is it me, and do I just need to try harder? Or is this just normal and this is what everyone does? Or… is there something better?’”
“It took me two full years to realise that I didn’t care how shit ‘out there’ was, I would rather do that than keep being quietly miserable in my own life.”
For those two years, Karla kept her feelings completely quiet. “I think it was due to embarrassment, you don’t want to say to your friends ‘Actually, I think my marriage is a bit shit, I’m not that happy and I’m wondering if I made a mistake marrying him.’”
It was at a social event that Karla first confided to her friend, Kimberlee Sweeney, that she wasn’t feeling happy in her relationship and that she didn’t want to have sex with her husband anymore. Kimberlee had not only been Karla’s beautician for years but is also a divorce coach, who runs the company Degrees of Separation, so this was a conversation she had heard from many different couples.
“She gave me some advice on how to give it a really good go and how to try to make it work, and for the next six months, our relationship had improved exponentially.”
But then Karla’s husband, out of the blue, asked her about a male friend who had been texting her and accused her of having an affair. At first, Karla says she just laughed it off – this friend didn’t even live in the same country as her, how could they be having an affair?
“But then it became my breaking point, to be honest. If you don’t know me well enough to know that I would never cheat, after nearly 10 years, then it doesn’t matter how much effort I put in. Because this clearly isn’t going anywhere good.”
That’s when Karla went back to Kimberlee and had a proper chat about what her next steps should me. “I wanted to be able to go and say to her, ‘When he does X, Y or Z, how should I respond?’ I needed to know what not to do, in order to make this as smoothly as possible.”
It’s been years since that initial consultation with Kimberlee, but Karla can still remember the best piece of advice she gave her.
“She told me that ‘Every day when you’re dealing with him, you have to be the best version of yourself. As long as you’re being the best version of yourself, you’ll deal with it in the right way. And if you know you don’t have the capability to be the best version of yourself that day, don’t engage – you’ll say something that will make the situation harder.’”
Every single time there was any kind of issue, Karla remembered that piece of advice and asked “What would my best self do here?”
And did it work? “100%. We were relatively smooth because we didn’t have children, so as smoothly as a divorce can go, it was pretty darn smooth.”
Karla says her job was a big help – she’s a lawyer and had seen this process play out at work too many times to fall into an argumentative trap. Her big piece of advice for people going through this process? “Don’t rant to your lawyer – you don’t want to pay them in six-minute increments,” she says dryly.
“I have never felt such a weight off my shoulders, ever.”
“You can either do that to a girlfriend – or to Kimberlee – for free, or much, much cheaper. Because if there are no kids involved, you’re generally fighting about money because you’re both scared when you come out of this that you won’t have the same lifestyle that you did before. And that is very stressful to think about.”
She also says that, if you can, don’t leave the marital home. “It does leave the one who’s still in the home with slightly more power,” Karla says. “But that is very dependent on your relationship is like.”
When she looks back on the two years she spent asking ‘Should I stay or should I go?’, Karla says that as hard as those years were, she’s glad she took the time. “It means that I didn’t make any rash decisions and that by the time I got to the point of ‘I can’t spend the rest of my life like this,’ I was okay with it. And I knew that I had tried as hard as I could to make it work,” Karla says.
“In hindsight, I do wish I had let my husband in on how I was feeling earlier. I have some guilt about not telling him and just pretending I was fine for two years. I probably wasn’t the nicest of wives – I was probably quite short with him, and quite shitty a lot of the time, while I was doing my best to play the good housewife. I wasn’t that great at it.”
Once she had made the move, Karla said the relief was instant. “I have never felt such a weight off my shoulders, ever. It was still scary, but I could deal with the scariness because I just knew that I had done the right thing. I know I was lucky – and I had a great support system – but it was an amazing feeling, to be honest.”
For people who are in her position of ‘Is this all there is?’, Karla says take your time to really figure out how you’re feeling. “Make sure that it’s not any outside influence or there’s not something subconsciously going on that’s making you feel that way. Sit with it and work out – is this something you could work on? Or do you actually just need a bit of time to reconcile it with yourself that you’ve put yourself in this situation and now you want to change it?”
*names have been changed