10/10/2011 07:33 pm ET | Updated Dec 10, 2011

Divorce #2: The Shame Of It

I realized my second marriage was in trouble sometime after our fifth anniversary. My nature being what it is, I took all the proactive steps I could think of to save that marriage. The very idea of divorce was an anathema to me. Besides, I still loved him as much as I had the day we married despite the problems. I worked at it for five years, but in the end realized it would take two of us to save the marriage. Not only didn't he think he had a problem, he didn't mind the endless fights, sleeping in separate beds, or the distress we were causing our kids. Saying the words, "I want a divorce" broke my heart. It took years to mend.

The most difficult thing for me to overcome was the shame. I thought I was a failure. I wasn't a healthy woman, or this wouldn't have happened. I must be faulty, or I could have made it work. I knew I had tried as hard as a person could try, and changed aspects of my own behaviors that needed work, but...ah, there's that word, but. My head knew I wasn't a failure; my heart was a different matter. I dreaded going out lest someone ask me how my husband was, or even where he was. What would they think when I said he was moving, that we were getting a divorce? How could I explain, when I felt so ashamed of my own failure?

I took long walks and screamed in the woods. I continued to attend meetings, and talked about how I felt. I spent time with each of my daughters, who seemed relieved we were no longer living together, though one of them suggested I had a faulty picker, which certainly did not alleviate my feelings of failure. I didn't know what frightened me more: the person I might choose next, or the idea that no one would want me when they learned I had been divorced twice already. When I finally went on a date with the father of a young friend, I asked if he had ever married again and he replied, "Four times!" I wanted to jump off his boat. After that date I wondered if I should say I had been divorced once if asked. Eventually I could tell the truth, but no, that wouldn't work for me. My face would not believe what I was saying. Besides, that was obviously not the way to begin a new relationship. For years I chose not to date, which seemed easier.

Eventually I did meet someone else. He, too, was divorced. We were older, and neither felt any need to marry again. But it wasn't until I was talking with an older woman friend who had attended my workshop that I finally was able to let go of my shame about those divorces. She was talking about her marriage of fifty years, and how many compromises she had made, some of them huge and not in her own best interest. On balance, she believed her marriage had been a good one, and also felt that she had lost a lot of herself within it. She wondered aloud if it would have been better to divorce. I had lost myself as well, she agreed, and had taken years to get "me" back after each divorce, but who was to say which was the better choice? "But you didn't fail," I stammered in response. "Why do we see divorce as a failure, especially when so many marriages are lifeless," she asked in return. "I guess in my heart I believe what society tells me," I replied. That surprised her. "Why?" she asked, continuing, "Isn't it just a matter of choice? And who knows until way after the fact, whether it was the right one?" Those words freed me.

I knew the answer. When I left my first marriage I was numb because I believed my husband would disapprove of what I felt about most things. Feeling came back very slowly. Who would I have become had I stayed? I would much rather be alive and divorced then married and dead. To stay in the second marriage I would have had to live with daily rage and discontent, clearly not a healthy option. To stay married or to divorce is a matter of choice. Because of this wise woman, I finally found acceptance for both of mine.