I was eight months pregnant with my son, and my daughter was fourteen months old. I was twenty-eight, and had been married for less than three years. My husband had become violent -- again. I'll never forget what my fellow Junior League member's mother told me after having been married to her husband for three decades: "Oh dear, he didn't hit you did he? After all, we women have to learn to turn the other cheek sometimes. Men will be men!" I suppose shoving me across the room, or drawing his fist back about to punch me wasn't that bad. He was six foot four, and I was five foot three. There were a few incidents while we dated where his anger would escalate and frighten me, but not to the point of getting physical. Given my upbringing, this seemed normal to me.
The episodes were intermittent. Just when it seemed like things were getting better, out of nowhere his emotions would go from A to Z without warning, and his temper grew increasingly worse. I didn't know at the time he would later be diagnosed with emotional disorders and require medications, nor that there had been a history of mental illness in his family. I was caught up in the co-dependent cycle, thinking if I could do better, it would all be better. I wanted my picture to remain intact. I wanted a happy family of four and to grow old together as grandparents. My own parents divorced the year after I was married, and I did not want that to happen to us. That mindset almost killed me. My spirit was dying, and the light in my eyes was going out. I knew I needed to protect my children.
It took years afterwards to reconcile with myself that I had no choice but to divorce. I was a committed woman who wanted an intact family unit more than anything. One day, I would have to explain to my children why I broke up our family. I took that seriously, and the burden was heavy. Even though our safety was at stake, I tried several times to make it work with their father. I could not admit defeat; I believed I could fix anything.
What I learned was that not all things are fixable. I didn't know when to fold. My false pride and ego could not let go. I was ashamed to be getting divorced and also heartbroken over it. Counseling helped, but I still felt a little guilty, as if it was my fault.
He hadn't lived with us since the children were two and three, and the divorce eventually was finalized a few years later. He left the state and basically stayed out of their lives. I was alone, with no one. Thank God two people were dependent on just me. That was the fuel that drove my engine. They were my reason for being.
I knew the only way to avoid having that kind of pain again was simply not to remarry. At that time, statistics were not in favor of second marriages with blended families and I am a pragmatic woman. I may have a failed marriage, but there was no way I could live with failing as a parent and putting my children through more pain by choosing the wrong mate.
The children are now twenty-two and twenty-one. While I had a few minor compartmentalized romances, I have remained alone as a parent and I'm happy about the results of that decision. It only takes one good parent, and with the primary focus on them, I was able to be solid and consistent in my parenting. Had my energies been spent on building a relationship and partnership with a man, no doubt it would have altered the amount of effort, focus and time I was able to devote to my children.
A few years ago, my children's father reentered their lives and they have forgiven him, which pleases me to no end. Removing himself was the loving thing to do at the time, and he trusted my parenting skills.
Sometimes things just happen, and usually for a reason. In my marriage, I was repeating patterns I needed to let go of. It doesn't mean I failed, or anyone is to blame. Stuff just happens. My responsibility, and only way I found peace, was to own my part in the relationship's demise and move on. It takes less energy to forgive than it does to stay angry.
I never envisioned myself single at the age of fifty, nor dreamed that my daughter and son would have turned out to be such remarkable young adults. Or that long after a career in investment management, that I would end up building homes and flipping them. After that, I moved onto forming my own consulting business, (Ellenconnects) and recently writing a book, Ellen Who? Story of a Secret Love Child. These are all milestones I didn't plan and that may not have occurred had I stayed in my marriage.
Life is an ever-changing adventure, and I choose to take the ride with joy.
Follow E. O'Neill on Twitter: www.twitter.com/A_Love_Child