I read somewhere that if you find yourself Googling, “Should I leave my relationship?” you probably should. I don’t know if this is true for everyone, but it was absolutely true for me. If you’re asking yourself (or asking Google), “Is this what love is supposed to feel like?” it probably isn’t.
The most helpful thing I did when traveling the rocky road to the decision to leave my marriage was to keep a journal. A friend had given me the advice—she was navigating her own painful split and shared what her therapist suggested. “She says to keep a log. Dates, actions, words, and everything he says and does. You might need it in court,” my friend told me.
Ugh, I thought. I am never going to court. I’ve kept that promise to myself, so far. But the journal proved to be gold for me in other ways.
Making a huge life change, especially a sad one like ending a relationship, comes with a lot of confusion. Writing things down helps untangle things. It helps you see patterns. It helps you see the truth.
If you’re like me, breaking up is not at the top of your bucket list. I want to see every state park, run one marathon . . . oh, and also I want to cry every day and have everyone in my life gossip about me. No, thank you! But living a life of integrity is on my list, so walking the hard road is the right one.
I kept a journal for three of the hardest years of my marriage, seven black-and-white composition books filled with the intention of understanding my role in the patterns I engaged in with my partner.
I bought the stack of notebooks at the grocery store and tried to write every night after the kids went to bed even if it was just the date and a few words. “I’m confused” or “Getting better.”
After a fight, I’d write a lot. I’d try to see the situation as an anthropologist, an outsider. I’d try not to take my own side. But I always did. She’s so plucky, this heroine! Look at her go!
I’d write how the fight started and what was said, and yes, I’d write down those brutal things he said to me in anger. These quotes have helped me immensely on the days when I forget how hard it truly was, or when I start to think it was all in my head, all my fault.
The journals helped me in therapy, too. I saw more than 10 therapists in the course of my marriage, both as a couple and solo.
Many of them frustrated me with their trite advice, “Have you tried using ‘I feel’ statements? Have you tried a date night?” Yes, people! I have tried those things, and I think we are dealing with bigger issues here!
I brought my stack of journals to one of my more recent solo therapy sessions. I said, “I realize we only have 50 minutes here, so I am going to talk fast.”
She looked at my sweaty face and shallow breathing and said, “Sweetie, I have all day.”
I began to read. I read them all. She said, “Thank you for sharing. This relationship isn’t healthy.” The logs helped me validate what my heart already knew.
My partner knew I was writing in them and suspected I was writing hard things. He criticized me, saying, “You only focus on the negative. This is the problem.” I told him I wrote on the positive, too. I made sure I kept the journals somewhere safe.
I trusted myself.
After my therapist heard my journals and shared her opinion, I stayed in my relationship for eight more months. I even fired that therapist. I said, “I appreciate you, but we are not on the same page, yet.”
She advised me to call a lawyer. What I needed was a bath. She was pointing in the right direction, but I needed to take my own road.
If you are lost in your relationship, I see you. Take your time. You’ll jump when you’re ready. I tell my kids when they’re trying new sports or new foods, “You’ll try it when you’re ready.” I don’t push, I trust. We need to offer this to ourselves as well.
I felt shame for not taking action sooner or taking half-actions that got me out of my relationship for a minute but soon sucked me back in. But now I see it all with more gentleness. Leaving something you committed to—like marriage—is a big commitment. Staying is a commitment too. What are we committed to?
Keep your captain’s logs, keep your network of support, keep getting good sleep and gathering information, save up resources, and keep going. Keep pouring love into your relationship until you can’t. Invest in every road, invest in making yourself the best version of yourself you can be.
And after every lesson has been learned, every rock turned, every book read, every communication style practiced, you’ll know. It will be the easiest thing you ever did.
The road ahead may be foggy, but it’ll emerge as you take those baby steps away from the past. You are walking toward what you know you deserve. And you’re walking your kids into that safety and the promise of healthy relationships for their future, too. If you wouldn’t want it for them, don’t live it for yourself. They are watching, not listening.
Love you, mama!