Tuesday, February 19, 2008


Four of us got together for my birthday. Between us we've been married 85 years. We have 11 children. We've lived in the neighborhood 50 years. While swinging from one conversation to another, light to heavy and back again, we swapped stories on who is going to college where, which high schools our kids are going to in the fall, which meds our children are on and how they are working. There was news of who is moving, how we think the New Little Store is doing, and which couples from our community are getting divorced.

"What happened?" One friend asked each time another name came up.

That was on Thursday, and I've been asking myself that same question ever since.

What happened? In each instance the couple had been married for over 15 years, in some cases over 20. When I was a little girl I found each divorce a shock, especially of the longer marriages. "If you've made it that long, why not finish what you start?" I'd think to myself in my ill-informed, Pollyanna brain.

You know what "happened?" Life.

In some cases there were affairs. But affairs don't "happen" to a marriage, the marriage is vulnerable to an affair for a whole host of reasons, the affair is just a smoke screen, an exit strategy, in many cases.

Children "happen."

Typical children and those with special needs.

Health comes and goes.

Parents age and need our care.

Dreams die and are born.

Incomes, jobs, fortunes, come and go.

Our friendship circles change.

We move.

We lose community and support.

Mental illness, depression, anxiety cripple us.

We age.

We evolve at different paces.

We hit certain ages and say, "enough."

We find the life together more toxic for the children than the trauma of divorce.

We add straw upon straw on the backs of our bumpy hides until one day, the most "minor" infraction sweeps us at the knees and we are down for the count.

We are done.

We cannot fight for the marriage and fight for ourselves simultaneously.

We will die if we go one more turn around the hamster wheel. One more time over the same ground, the same core issues, the same fight recycled.

We've given it all we've got and there is not a drop of "got" left to give.

Every resource has been tapped. Every tool in the relationship toolbox has been put to use. Every book has been read. Every avenue explored.

We are done.

That's what "happens."

* photo from www.jmolnar.com


Suzy said...

And life goes on.

Love you.


Eileen said...

I agree Carrie, sadly, when we are done, we are done.


Trish Ryan said...

It's tough to look at the stark reality of how raw life can be...this is a really brave and compelling post. Thank you.

Wanda said...

Beautifully, wonderfully, painfully true.

marge said...

17 years!!! Yes, sometimes painfully life happens and things change. We just can't take it anymore. Loved the cartoon. How true it is.

Terry Whitaker said...

It sure do.

lo said...

As much as I am NOT a Dr Phi fan, years ago, when he was on Oprah, he said this and it has stuck with me over the years as I've held the hands of friends going thru divorce- "You have to earn your divorce' and like you and some of the comments have said 'when we are done, we are done...and life goes on.

Kim said...

Extremely powerful writing, CP. I keep rereading this.

You have such a gift, to be able to distill such messy, complicated subject matter into simple, crystal clear nuggets of truth. It is one of the many things I love about your writing.

deb said...

You grow in different directions.

Dreams change.

Goals change.

Children are grown and leave.

Jerri said...

Life does indeed go on. And sometimes it gets even better.

But we usually have to go through the fire to get to the better.

I agree with Trish--this is a brave and compelling post.

riversgrace said...

It was a HUGE epiphany for me to realize that, also, there doesn't have to be a 'crisis'...it can truly be about each having a different destiny. Different paths.

I agree, wonderful writing and distillation.

Jess said...

Indeed, very brave and compelling.

Big love.

shauna said...

In response my post yesterday I had someone email me and ask if I could work it out with my husband--somehow chip away at the ice dam in my marriage. I've been struggling to write another post in response to that email and have failed in all counts. How do you explain why a marriage ends? This post did just that. Artfully.

Thank you, Carrie.

kario said...

You know, marriage is the only relationship we are expected to maintain throughout everything. We understand when friends agree to disagree and go their separate ways. We are even sympathetic when those around us choose to 'divorce' themselves from certain family members because the relationship is too difficult or unhealthy. Marriage is no different. Remaining in an unhealthy relationship serves no purpose except to demonstrate our willingness to suffer.

Love you. Love this post.

Carrie Wilson Link said...

Thank you, everyone, for your comments. They are very much appreciated, both on-line and off-line.

Kario - I really appreciate yours, especially, because I know what a happy marriage you enjoy. Thank you for not giving me the, "can't you work it out" speech.

April said...

Thank you for understanding that those of us who enter a divorce do not do so lightly. I define my friends by those who never asked me, "wouldn't it be better for the kids if you were still together?" The answer, quite simply, is no.

shawn said...

Thank you ... the piece between the two "we are done" describes exactly the heart-breaking moment when that realization breaks over us ...

this is one of the most powerful pieces I've read in the blog-iverse ...

thank you for sharing it ... it is awesome.

JaniceNW said...

Well said. We watched our youngest son die 12 years ago. This puts such pressure on the marriage esp.when the wife/mother decends into her own little hell. Less than 10 % of couples are still married 5 years later. We made a promise not to be one of the 90%. Disabled and high maintence kids take a toll. I think couples need to realize on some days, some month, some phases aren't about the marriage, not totally. I have no magic cure. Sometimes divorce can be about selflessness. For whatever reason no one deserves to be judged.

Kristi O said...

Thanks for being braver than me. I related with every line. some took my breath away more than others. I am speechless

holly said...

Can't stop coming back to this, reading and rereading.

You nailed it here. That is what happens.

Deb said...

Loving you and trusting your heart to lead you where you need to go. I can so relate to your words - Done is done. Thank you for sharing this.

Go Mama said...

Hey, I think I missed your birthday, so, Happy Birthday Ms FC! On another note, I have been riding the seesaw for almost 13 years now. Some days, I think we are done and it is close to "just happening," then other days, we find our footing again. So precarious, I never know which foot is up. In the end though, I believe we are either moving toward each other or moving away. Rarely are we in equilibrium. Ah, the dance.

Nancy said...

Such strength and clarity. You always know how to nail it.