I heard some news yesterday that came as a shock and surprise to me. For the past 24 hrs, it has been weighing on me as I have been processing my feelings around it. It has nothing to do with me personally, so you would think I would just shrug it off and carry on, but it has opened up the whole conversation about relationships and how they ebb and flow and if left to flounder without effort from both sides can lead to extreme pain and heartbreak for everyone concerned.
When I learned yesterday that author, Elizabeth Gilbert and her husband Jose (Felipe in Eat, Pray, Love) were separating, my own heart sunk. No, I thought, not them. Not them. Not them. If they can't make it, what hope is there for the rest of us? For those of you who are not familiar with their story, you might think I am over-reacting in my disappointment. For those of you who do know how carefully she entered her relationship with him after her very painful divorce, with trepidation and eyes wide open, you will likely be as stunned as I was that they were not able to go the distance.
It just speaks to the whole relationship journey and what a difficult road it is for many. No one goes into a marriage thinking it will end. We all dream of happily ever after and growing old together and celebrating loving milestones and having babies, maybe grand children, and creating a long and happy life as a team. I don't know why Liz and Jose are parting. I am sure there are many who are speculating as to why. No one really ever knows what goes on inside an intimate relationship. I know there are marriages that weather many storms and continue to thrive. There are marriages that last that really shouldn't. Some stay together for economic reasons (that's a biggie). There are marriages comprised of what appear to be couples who are more like roommates vs. intimate partners. There are so many marriages that are less than ideal unions. Is a mediocre marriage better than being alone? What are the necessary components of a great marriage? I often marvel at the long marriages. The couples who have been together for 50, 60, 70 years or more and seem happy. Note I said "seem". I am sure some are. But I think just as many of them are perhaps just too old and tired to bother making waves after 50 years. They have mastered the art of putting up and shutting up, or have carved out a sort of separate existence for themselves within the union. Besides, divorce is costly, and what would the kids say?
It is no doubt easier to step away from a spouse when money is not an issue. Like Liz. Perhaps they were not growing and evolving together or they no longer wanted the same lifestyle. Perhaps not having any children together made it easier to walk away. I would like to believe they just grew apart and that neither of them stepped outside the marriage with another, but even if that is what happened, we all know that a marriage is in trouble long before someone has an affair. So I guess what I am struggling with is how did they miss it? How did they miss the early unravelling? After all their past experiences with marriage and their vow to make it work this time, what happened? I think that is the crux of it. Knowing when you are no longer connecting in some area is the key. Recognizing that something is amiss is the first step. Both partners working through it, the second. Making concrete changes to re-connect is the third. Maybe they did all these things but could not reach a compromise.
If it really is true that we all just want to love and be loved, then why is that very love we so long for not enough to keep us together? Is it that we stop making the relationship a priority? I think that is pretty common. One spouse becomes so consumed by a career or cause or some other activity outside the marriage that the neglected partner starves to death. I just spoke to a woman yesterday who ended her marriage of 37 years last year. She told me she ran out of the strength to keep holding it together. In 37 years he had only told her he loved her 6 times. SIX. (she had kept count). Her eyes were glassy with unwept tears as she said that to me. She seemed so fragile and heartbroken I wanted to hug her but I barely know her. She is a friend of a friend, so I don't know their whole story, but what I do know is that she devoted 37 years of her life to a man who was incapable of expressing his love verbally and she was a woman that desperately needed to hear him say those words. Good GAWD! Why do we settle? Why do we keep hoping things will change? Why do we allow ourselves to accept less than we deserve? Is loneliness that bloody frightening? Is the thought of divorce that scary? Are our lives not worthy of more? Is a cake with Happy 50th Anniversary so damn important?
When Elizabeth Gilbert announced her separation yesterday, she was clearly speaking from a place of deep pain and heartache. No doubt her decision to not settle or remain in a marriage that was not making her happy is as painful, or more so, than staying. She said she would be absent from social media for a while as she stepped away to deal with her personal life. She reminded all of us that this was "not a story she was writing, it was a story she was living." She shared a poem with all of her fans that she felt was helping her through the pain. I will re-share it with you here now as it speaks profoundly to the notion that when a marriage ends, it is not necessarily a failure.