I ended my marriage after 20 years. It should have ended years earlier.

Marriages don’t end the day you hear it’s over. 

In my marriage, the end had been arguing for its existence for years, even decades. If you are like me, you refuse to listen. 

There is a myriad of reasons to stay — children, guilt, finances, fear, pride, or stubborn inertia a.k.a. conflict avoidance. 

Or maybe it’s choosing to end the perpetual conflict by letting the things that bug you go, kind of like Frozen but less fun. But those things that irk you don’t go away do they? Instead, we manage our reactions to them.

Watch: Robin Bailey and Bec Sparrow share why their first marriages were big mistakes. Post continues below.

Video via Mamamia

Eventually, there comes a personal reckoning. A moment when you realize this is your holding pattern and it has consequences.

The one thing you can’t justify or argue with is time.

Do you have enough time to be happy?

It’s an odd question. Since when does a mother, wife and businessperson prioritize her happiness? I know we should, but the reality is we rarely do.


After a long-term relationship turns sour or goes cold, all the plans we’ve been making for other people’s success, have conspicuously left us out of the equation. It doesn’t seem fair, but it’s been our choice to stay and struggle. We put others first. It’s not even a conscious decision; it’s how our operating system works.

Then one day, twenty years into your marriage, you wonder, “What’s next?”

Answer: More of the same….cue mid-life crisis.

What I noticed when I asked myself this question is that hindsight is a useful predictor of future behaviour. When a compulsive optimist like me looks backwards, I do a much more objective analysis of events and emotions. 

I’m not required to respond and manage outcomes, so I can sit with the memory and reflect on whether I see any patterns. This is what I found.

Romantic love doesn’t disappear entirely over time, but when it’s a struggle to connect and agree, it does mutate. 

In some ways, it’s like a rock you have to protect from water. When it rains continuously in your relationship, how do you stop the inevitable erosion? For me, once love receded, it’s was near impossible to recapture. I was hurt and wary.

To keep love safe, you need the deep compatibility and mutual strength of real partners. 

My ex-husband and I had unbalanced degrees of grit and commonality, and it wore us down. Relating to each other felt like work, and that’s the antithesis of love and respect.


The end generally starts at the beginning.

For most of my married life, I had a sinking feeling about our future and was functionally miserable for years. I tried to look on the bright side, but the problems wouldn’t stop manifesting themselves in petty arguments and everyday disappointments. 

Eventually, I stopped complaining (much to my beleaguered friends’ relief.) We are who we are, and marriages that hang on for the long haul, realise this more than most. There was a cost to this decision, though.

The thought that nothing would change arrested my idealism and stole my hope.

And what are we without hope in a marriage? Alone.

What I wanted was a man I would choose over anyone or anything else. I had felt it before in previous relationships, and I had seen it in my friend’s marriages. I knew what I was missing, and I wasn’t prepared to delude myself any longer.

I wanted to watch my partner across a room and notice the things I love about him all over again. From the serious fold of his brow when he’s thinking, to the funny words he uses that make me laugh, or how his eyes dance when he catches my eye. 

It’s an intimate connection that speaks of hours spent memorizing each other’s every detail.

By contrast, good enough love isn’t a reason to fight, makeup and put your battle gear on again tomorrow. 

It’s a buffer against making bigger decisions. If you’re on the precipice of deciding what to do about your unhappiness, I suggest you do what I did and take stock of your life. What I saw was, barring a complete personality overhaul on both sides, change was possible but not likely.


For some, seeing love lose its endurance is a process they can stop, re-route, and repair. For others like me, it was the early relationship problems, which I hoped were minor, that became the issues we couldn’t conquer.

Things like:

· Radical optimism versus immovable pessimism

· Perpetual self-esteem struggles

· Conflicting goals and expectations

· Parenting beliefs that don’t align

· Extreme introversion and extroversion

· Hypersensitivity versus cold objectivity

Written down, I’m surprised we lasted as long as we did. It’s a testament to our determination that we stayed together for 20 years. That being said, if they were giving out medals for this kind of thing, I wouldn’t display it in my living room.

It was a long, hard road to nowhere.

Mamamia’s award-winning podcast The Split discusses navigating separation and divorce. Post continues after audio.

I didn’t give up on my marriage. I fought any hint of failure tooth and nail because marriage to me was capital F — Forever. I made a promise, and I was going to make it work because I loved him. It was a daunting proposition to consider changing the narrative now, twenty years in, regardless of how I felt.


Ultimately, I treated our problems as a matter of will power. To compensate, I focused on the positive parts of life rather than the negative to find contentment. It was an ostrich’s approach to marriage; not recommended.

To be clear, we tried to reconcile our issues for what felt like forever. We did therapy, often, both personally and as a couple. We did this for thirteen of our twenty years together. At a certain point, I got tired of being fixed.

As much as I tried to avoid the obvious, I realized in my moments alone that I didn’t need him as much as he needed me. If we weren’t together, I wouldn’t mourn for overly long. I seemed to be missing some emotional bits, and I wasn’t sure if that was a personal flaw or relative to him.

Self-doubt is sometimes preferable to being alone.

Justifications, therapy and toughing it out.

I realized in the more difficult moments of my marriage, that love is a choice. No relationship or person is perfect. Our flaws make us human, and those are the quirks our partners love about us. At the very least, they laugh at them because they’re you, not reasons to leave.

When we’re with someone who doesn’t complement us, we’re less forgiving of those flaws. It’s not kind or fair, and it does both people in the relationship a disservice.

The best partners for us fill those gaps naturally because their talents complement ours. We learn by being with them. It provokes our admiration and respect, which is like air and water to a relationship. We’re proud to be with someone who makes us better and strengthens the only team that matters, us.


In the absence of this in my relationship, I also learned that enduring love knows that when you need someone, they can carry you, and you would do the same for them. A crisis won’t happen often, but it will happen.

And it’s not just someone who will carry you — it’s someone who can carry you. That’s an important distinction because you need both elements.

Without faith in your partner, you can’t have trust. Without trust, the relationship seesaw you’re on together hits the ground hard and sends you flying. Realizing your partner is dead weight is crushing, and that alone can take years to process and accept.

I need another warrior.

So, I did what I had been trying not to do for years — I asked for a divorce. It included all the shitty parts I expected but more than anything, it came with a huge sense of relief.

I finally changed the narrative.

Now I’m in a new relationship. It’s early days, but I’m encouraged. He’s solid. He’s also hard to know at times, but when I look in his eyes, I see everything he feels. It’s a connection I can’t resist, and I’m following it to see where it goes.

Feature Image: Getty.

This post originally appeared on Medium and has been republished with full permission.