6 Lessons From My Doomed Marriage

Chief among them? Change is unstoppable.

by Duncan Riach
Originally Published: 
couple breaking up

She stroked my leg under the table in the Student Union. I liked that, so I married her. I’m serious. This is what I’m like; I tend to go all-in immediately. I commit like crazy. At least this is what I used to be like. I’ve changed a lot since then. Soon, we had sex. First in bed, and then in the shower. It was pretty good. Three months later, I proposed to her in bed in Paris because I didn’t want to lose her. I had spent the last few hundred pounds of my bank overdraft on an engagement ring. Then, I took her to the top of the Eiffel Tower and officially proposed there. It’s what I thought you were supposed to do.

A few years later, we married and flew off into the sunset to start a new life in America. By the time we divorced, we had lived together for around eleven years and had been married for nine. Between the beginning and the end, I learned a lot about love, marriage, and myself.

Change Is Unstoppable

I shouldn’t have gotten married when I still had a lot of work to do on myself. This is what I eventually realized.

I was about 22 when I got married. I was a child and I didn’t know what I wanted, or even who I was. As we get older, we develop more dexterity in our ability to cope with things emotionally. We develop self-awareness.

I started meditating when I was 27, and I started to change a lot. I became less accommodating. I was less willing to just do whatever my wife wanted without taking into account what I wanted. That was a big change in our dynamic. I had been the provider, the problem solver, the planner, and the one who made everything work smoothly. I started to let go of that. I wasn’t interested in making everything go smoothly anymore. I wanted to chill out a little and do nothing. I wanted to put my feet up and relax when I got home from work.

In any relationship, when one of the people starts to change, it can wreak havoc. In my marriage it definitely did. I eventually started intensive psychotherapy. This, of course, led to more change, which made our marriage even worse. In hindsight, I probably should have visited an international lawyer instead of spending the next few years fighting for a marriage that was inevitably falling apart.

Only Do What You Want

Take action based on what you truly want, not based on what you think is “right” or “acceptable.” Every decision I ever made that went against what I truly wanted came back to bite me in the ass.

When my wife would not return from vacation with my baby son, I dropped everything to keep our family together. I reverted to my role as the problem solver. I bought and sold houses, compromised my career, left my community, relinquished my green card, and spent years entangled in complex and expensive international tax scenarios. I wanted to keep my family together, but I didn’t want all that entailed. I took action that I thought was “right.” I thought I was being a “good” husband. I thought I “should” put my family first.

Had I stood my ground and spent time feeling what I wanted, validating it, and enjoying the empowered feelings associated with that, I would have made very different decisions. Perhaps the outcomes would have been less destructive for everyone, including my son, and including myself.

When I look back, I know that it was very clear to me what I wanted, and I chose to go strongly against that. I believe that everything I wanted, regardless of what was “right,” could have been available to me if I had stood firm in my authority and my power.

“Right” is just a dead mental concept. What you truly want can be trusted. What you truly want is all you can really know for sure.

Consider Every Relationship a Success

We gain so much experience from being in relationship, especially a bad one. All of life is about relationships, and we get to practice particularly intensely with our partner. We get to heal, or deepen, the wounds of our childhoods with our partner. And then we get to reflect on that and grow.

All relationships have a natural end. For some, the end comes with separation or divorce. My wife divorced me. Even though it destroyed my life as I knew it, I don’t take it personally. It was her right. In hindsight, I would have been happier if she’d done it sooner.

Quality Friendships Are Key

Towards the end of my marriage, I felt isolated. We lived in a relatively remote region with few local friends, and I was busy working from home. Nearly all of my human contact was with my toddler son and my wife. So I started to make friends and spent time with people who cared about me and treated me kindly.

My experience with my wife during those time was a great contrast with my time spent with friends. I began to realize that I didn’t want to be with her. It was like I was waking up from a deep sleep. I hadn’t realized how unpleasant it had been for me to be with her for years.

Since the divorce, I’ve cultivated and maintained many friendships. I have also made sure to take frequent breaks from my intimate relationships. I did this so that I could get a clear perspective on what it’s actually like to be with that person.

The world is full of people waiting to give you love and compassion. Seek them out, enjoy them, and celebrate them. Don’t waste your life being stuck with people who aren’t giving you the love you deserve.

Commitment Has to Be Mutual

When my wife did not return from abroad with my son, without my consent or even consulting me, the implicit message she was sending was that she was acting autonomously from me. Instead of listening to that implicit but clear message, I doubled down on my commitment to her. I sacrificed my own foundational position of strength and committed to someone who was not supporting me.

I have a tendency to overcommit. I had to learn to pay attention to the signs of willingness to commit from the other person and then match that. In a broader sense, I have learned to not chase after people who are pushing me away. On the flip side, I have learned to not run away from people who are pulling me in.

Infatuation Is Not Love

You know when you see that person who seems magical and you just want to be with them no matter what? That’s called limerence, or infatuation. What’s happening is that your unconscious, disowned parts see an opportunity to get into a protracted battle with their unconscious, disowned parts.

Beware of limerence. We’re all saddled with endless psychological tics and insecurities. Inside, we’re all ugly as fuck, and yet super-lovable at the same time.

One of the main things I have learned from starting and ending many relationships is this fundamental truth: this one is not “the one” (there is no “the one”). No matter how special they might seem, sooner or later I’m going to learn the truth that they’re just another human. They’re struggling through life too, and I’m going to be challenged to love them warts-and-all. I’m going to have to learn to love the parts of myself that I have projected onto this other person.

With enough experience, when you find yourself attracted to someone, and you get that sense that they’re somehow special, you begin to recall the truth. You know how this goes. You know how this story plays out. It always plays out the same way. Boy meets girl, they put each other on pedestals, then they learn the truth about each other (really about themselves), then they struggle, finally they either accept reality and go deep, or they experience a painful and growthful breakup.

Before getting married, I wish I had really known myself. Get to know who you are and what you want. Learn to validate what you want and go for it. Prioritize taking care of yourself. Start and end relationships. Find out what you like and want. Maintain deep friendships, so you have a reference point of what if feels like to be cherished. Good luck.

This post was syndicated from Medium.

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