‘ We’re back to­gether from the brink of di­vorce’

Jamie Free­man, 35, filed for di­vorce from her hus­band Mark cit­ing ir­rec­on­cil­able dif­fer­ences. But with hours to go un­til it was fi­nalised, some­thing changed

Friday - - Front Page -

Watch­ing my hus­band Mark, 34, and our son, Benny, two, piec­ing to­gether a puz­zle, I dabbed away happy tears. Mark was ly­ing on the floor in the play­room, puz­zle pieces all around him, hand­ing Benny, who has Down’s Syn­drome, what he needed to com­plete the puz­zle. It made me re­alise that ev­ery­thing hap­pens for a rea­son. If our mar­riage hadn’t reached the brink of col­lapse, we wouldn’t be so happy now.

In 2004, I was hired as a store man­ager for a mo­bile phone shop, where Mark was one of the sales­peo­ple. When most of the team were made re­dun­dant, Mark and I ran the shop on our own for two months. We worked tire­lessly, but we worked to­gether and fall­ing for each other felt in­evitable.

At 6ft 4in, Mark was over a foot taller than me. He made me feel like I had a pro­tec­tor, some­one who al­ways had my back. We were such a tac­tile cou­ple; even when just watch­ing TV we were al­ways snug­gling and cud­dling.

Two years on, we bought our first home and one day, Mark sur­prised me with a new puppy, Ruby. As he al­ready had his own dog, Jade, he wanted us to have a dog each. With our two poo­dle-mix pups, we be­came a lit­tle fam­ily.

Our life to­gether felt so easy. We didn’t ar­gue over how to ren­o­vate or dec­o­rate our home. We were both easy-go­ing and nei­ther of us liked con­fronta­tion. We just didn’t seem to an­noy each other. We worked hard and played hard, of­ten go­ing on week­end ad­ven­tures with a group of friends. We loved con­certs and find­ing un­usual things to do in the city. If there was a scav­enger hunt through the streets of Detroit, Mark and I were there, front and cen­tre.

We mar­ried on Oc­to­ber 24, 2009 – a huge wed­ding in a cathe­dral in Detroit, fol­lowed by a re­cep­tion for 230 peo­ple. We said the tra­di­tional vows, but think­ing back now, I don’t know how much ei­ther of us were re­ally tak­ing them in. We were young, we didn’t un­der­stand what a mar­riage was. We spent the whole night danc­ing.

As newly-weds, we started try­ing for a baby. But month af­ter month, I didn’t con­ceive. As if that didn’t put enough strain on our re­la­tion­ship, our ca­reers were go­ing in dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions. I’d taken a new role train­ing em­ploy­ees and was trav­el­ling all over the US. As the mo­bile phone in­dus­try lev­elled out, Mark was mak­ing less money than ever in com­mis­sions and was bored and un­ful­filled.

Slowly, I re­alised Mark didn’t like the fact I was do­ing well. I’d come home full of news about an ex­cit­ing new project or some

recog­ni­tion I’d had from the com­pany for my hard work, and Mark would just zone out while I was talk­ing to him, or act like I wasn’t even talk­ing.

‘It’s a stupid com­pany to work for any­way,’ he’d say, shrug­ging his shoul­ders.

I could un­der­stand that he re­sented my suc­cess, but I thought he was act­ing like a child. If he’d been the one fly­ing high at work, I’d have been proud of him.

In­stead of telling him how his re­ac­tion made me feel, I avoided con­fronta­tion like al­ways. We didn’t ar­gue. In­stead, I’d go and make din­ner, hop­ing that if I made his favourite meal, he’d say some­thing nice.

Mark was un­sat­is­fied at work and it re­flected in his at­ti­tude. We didn’t have chil­dren and I was earn­ing a de­cent salary, so I urged him to quit and find his call­ing.

It was a bad idea. He left his job with no idea of what to do next, and in­stead of re­turn­ing to ed­u­ca­tion or ap­ply­ing for new jobs, he just stayed home all day, sulk­ing.

Our mar­riage started to spi­ral down­hill. Mark spent all night play­ing video games and all day sleep­ing.

Once, I came home af­ter a few days away, de­ter­mined that we’d get on like we used to. Putting my suit­case down in the liv­ing room, I went in for a hug. ‘Are you go­ing to leave your case there all week?’ he asked, ig­nor­ing my ef­fort to hug him.

Tears stung my eyes, but I still didn’t con­front his be­hav­iour. I just went and cooked his favourite meal. By the end of 2011, friends had started to share their con­cerns with me. Mark rarely came out when we all met up. I was go­ing out more than ever to es­cape the mis­ery of what waited for me at home. I took up as many op­por­tu­ni­ties at work to travel as pos­si­ble. We be­gan to live sep­a­rate lives.

By Jan­uary 2012, less than three years into our mar­riage, I’d had enough. We still hadn’t had a sin­gle con­ver­sa­tion about what was wrong, but I’d made a de­ci­sion. It was bro­ken be­yond re­pair.

One morn­ing, I plucked up courage and walked over to where he was on the sofa.

‘It’s over, Mark,’ I said, sad at hav­ing to have this con­ver­sa­tion, but clearly want­ing to step out of a mar­riage that didn’t seem to be go­ing any­where. I ex­pected him to be cold. I didn’t think he’d even look up from the TV. For so long, I’d con­vinced my­self he didn’t care about us any­more.

But Mark looked up at me. There was shock and pain on his face and I no­ticed that it had soft­ened for the first time in months. I’d never seen Mark cry be­fore, but now, tears started to stream down his face. Then he just broke down. Phys­i­cally and emo­tion­ally, he crum­bled.

‘Can... can we not try to fix this?’ he asked, be­tween tears. And af­ter so many months of be­ing at the re­ceiv­ing end of his cold shoul­der, it was my turn to be un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally cold. ‘Sorry, Mark,’ I said. ‘I’ve been want­ing to tell you this for some months now.’

Ev­ery­thing that had built up, ev­ery feel­ing of rage and sad­ness that was bot­tled up in­side me burst forth. I tried to hurt him with my words the way he’d hurt me.

All the while he was silent, tears rolling down his cheeks.

But I didn’t pause to see that. I grabbed a change of clothes and a tooth­brush and stormed out of the house.

A mix­ture of emo­tions flooded through me – anger, re­sent­ment, pain. As quickly as I could, I en­listed a lawyer to start di­vorce pro­ceed­ings. I put the house on the mar­ket and ig­nored all of Mark’s texts, calls, emails and Face­book mes­sages. I was so an­gry with him that I wanted the di­vorce over and done with as soon as pos­si­ble.

When Mark asked me if I’d go to cou­ple’s ther­apy with him, I re­fused. But my lawyer ad­vised me that it would look good in court, so I grudg­ingly agreed.

We met out­side the ther­a­pist’s of­fice. Mark looked so dif­fer­ent. He was a bro­ken man and the pain of sep­a­ra­tion and loss was writ­ten all over his face.

I pitied him, and for once hoped ther­apy would be quick. I just wanted

Since we both dis­liked CON­FRONTA­TION, we never AR­GUED. But af­ter mar­riage, I failed to CON­CEIVE and our CA­REERS took dif­fer­ent PATHS. These fac­tors put a STRAIN on our re­la­tion­ship

to get it over with. In our first ses­sion, our ther­a­pist asked a lot of ques­tions – from how we met and what our likes and dis­likes were, to how we han­dled stress and how much space we gave each other in the re­la­tion­ship. Once she un­der­stood the dy­nam­ics of our mar­riage, she had some home truths for me.

She ex­plained that I had fa­cil­i­tated Mark’s un­rea­son­able be­hav­iour. Ev­ery time he’d been rude to me, ig­nored my news or glazed over, I hadn’t con­fronted him, I’d cooked his favourite meal.

‘It was like you were re­ward­ing his bad at­ti­tude,’ she said. ‘Whether Mark re­alised it or not, it only fa­cil­i­tated more re­sent­ment.’ She was no more kind to Mark. ‘You have been emo­tion­ally abus­ing her,’ she told him.

Ther­apy was bru­tal. I al­ways thought I was a per­fect wife and Mark had all the flaws. She made me see that my non­con­fronta­tional ap­proach didn’t help. As she peeled away the lay­ers of my child­hood and the pat­terns I was re­peat­ing, she left me feel­ing frag­ile and hurt. Now, I was even more con­vinced that I wanted the re­la­tion­ship to end.

At the end of the ses­sion even the ther­a­pist didn’t think our mar­riage was re­pairable. She sug­gested we needed time apart, and af­ter a few months of twice­weekly ses­sions, I dropped out. It was too hor­ri­ble to go through, con­sid­er­ing I had no hope for our mar­riage. What was the point?

I cut off all com­mu­ni­ca­tion with Mark, and our lawyers dealt with the house sale. We started see­ing other peo­ple. I knew I didn’t want to be with Mark any­more, but try­ing to fit to­gether with some­one else just felt wrong. I was so numb and sad af­ter ev­ery­thing that had hap­pened, I wasn’t ready to meet any­one.

I thought I wouldn’t care that Mark was dat­ing other peo­ple, but when a woman he’d been see­ing posted a pic­ture on Face­book of her with our dogs, I was fu­ri­ous. It touched a raw nerve in me.

I was stay­ing at my best friend Kelly’s house at the time and I jumped up from my com­puter and started pac­ing the room. ‘Well, that did it!’ Kelly laughed. I was in­censed. ‘What?’ I replied. ‘That photo fi­nally cut through all the lies you’re telling your­self, that you don’t care about Mark any­more,’ she said. I just col­lapsed in the sofa. It was a piv­otal mo­ment. Kelly was right. I was so busy telling my­self Mark and I were over, I wasn’t al­low­ing my­self to ad­mit I still cared about him. I didn’t know how or what to say to Kelly and just buried my head in my hands and cried.

Three months af­ter our failed ther­apy ses­sions, in June, Mark and I started to reach out to each other. We didn’t see each other, but we’d oc­ca­sion­ally text. He was vol­un­teer­ing at a home­less shel­ter, go­ing to the gym and eat­ing healthily. ‘How are you do­ing?’ I’d ask. ‘Good,’ he’d re­ply. Some­times he’d text me and say what he’d done in the day or the food he’d eaten. He wasn’t spend­ing whole nights play­ing video games and the days sleep­ing any­more.

But I was cer­tain the mar­riage was over. Mark had given up ask­ing if we could try and make it work. He said he loved me, but couldn’t keep ask­ing.

In Septem­ber, we were due in court to fi­nalise our di­vorce. It had been nine months since I’d left Mark and I was sad, but re­solved that it was over. We met on the court­room steps. ‘Hi, how are you?’ he asked, his face streaked with pain and love.

We’d lost £24,000 (about Dh127,154) on the sale of our house and spent thou­sands on le­gal costs. Bar the sig­na­ture on that fi­nal doc­u­ment, it was done.

‘I’m good,’ I said, then looked away. I’d wanted to end this mar­riage and now it was about to hap­pen. My heart was rac­ing and I was feel­ing a bit weak.

Mark came and hugged me. It was warm and I could feel a lot of love come through. For a cou­ple of min­utes we said noth­ing but just hugged each other tightly. I re­alised I didn’t want to let go. It had been such a long time since Mark and I had any phys­i­cal con­tact. For years, we were al­ways hug­ging and hold­ing hands. It felt so fa­mil­iar to be in his arms again.

We were a few hours early for the hear­ing, so Mark asked, smil­ing, ‘Break­fast?’.

I’d learned a lot about my­self in ther­apy and had been think­ing about how Mark and I had stopped com­mu­ni­cat­ing. Go­ing for break­fast seemed like a sweet way to make our di­vorce am­i­ca­ble. ‘OK,’ I said. Then, some­thing hap­pened. We fought. ‘Why did you have to be­have like that when you stopped work­ing?’ I asked.

‘That was be­cause you were cold shoul­der­ing me,’ he said. ‘No it was you,’ I said. We cried and laughed. We com­mu­ni­cated in a way we never had be­fore. I didn’t get to the point where I felt we

Once our THER­A­PIST un­der­stood the DY­NAM­ICS of our mar­riage, she had some harsh TRUTHS for us – that I’d RE­WARDED Mark’s be­hav­iour by stay­ing QUIET, and he had EMO­TION­ALLY abused me

shouldn’t di­vorce, but as I looked at Mark, I re­alised I wasn’t 100 per cent sure that we should.

I felt if I wasn’t sure I didn’t want to go through with it, I shouldn’t be go­ing ahead.

When it was time to meet the judge, my lawyer ex­plained to her that we wanted more time. The judge smiled and said: ‘I grant you a month’s ex­ten­sion and wish you luck re­pair­ing your mar­riage.’

As we left court that day, I took Mark’s hand and en­twined his fingers in mine. A united front, for what­ever lay ahead. We had a month to fig­ure out what we wanted. Mark and I had un­com­fort­able, nec­es­sary con­ver­sa­tions and af­ter eight years, it felt like we were see­ing each other in a new light for the first time.

I was still liv­ing with Kelly, while Mark lived with his brother.

One day, we went on a date. Then, we be­gan to take fun trips away dur­ing week­ends. Dis­cussing how I felt was com­pletely out of my com­fort zone. But I knew that if I didn’t ex­plain my feel­ings, I’d har­bour anger. I had to push my­self to talk to Mark, to re­ally talk to him. And the more we talked, the bet­ter it felt.

We dis­cussed where we’d gone wrong be­fore and be­gan to build a hap­pier, stronger foun­da­tion for our fu­ture. And with a week to go un­til we were due back in court, it was our wed­ding an­niver­sary. Mark had a big day planned – he wanted to take me on a tour of all the places we’d been to on our wed­ding day. But first, we had some­thing im­por­tant to do.

We wrote new wed­ding vows, and alone in the bed­room at his brother’s house, Mark and I said them to each other. This time, we un­der­stood the mag­ni­tude of mar­riage and what our vows meant to us. Re­turn­ing to court a week later, we were cer­tain of what we wanted.

The judge spot­ted us walk­ing in hand in hand, and laughed heartily.

‘Do you wish to dis­solve your di­vorce?’ she asked. ‘I do,’ I said, smil­ing at Mark. It was a bit like get­ting mar­ried again!

As she dis­missed our case, the judge said: ‘I’m re­ally glad you guys worked this out.’

My lawyer was so an­gry he didn’t even show up, but Mark’s lawyer hugged us.

Our mar­riage saved, we started house-hunt­ing again. A month later, af­ter eight years of fail­ing to con­ceive, I was preg­nant. Benny was born in Au­gust 2013 and our daugh­ter, El­lie, was born this Fe­bru­ary.

We’re still the same two peo­ple, mar­ried, but ev­ery­thing is so dif­fer­ent. We have made fun­da­men­tal changes to the way we com­mu­ni­cate and when­ever we get com­pla­cent, we re­mem­ber why we’re to­gether. If Mark feels in­ad­e­quate, he has to talk. If I want to walk away, I have to talk. We work on our­selves as in­di­vid­u­als, to work on our mar­riage to­gether.

Al­most di­vorc­ing was hor­ri­ble. We’re only just com­ing out of the debt it cre­ated. It was the most raw, vul­ner­a­ble time of my life. But I wouldn’t change it for any­thing.

Our dis­so­lu­tion of di­vorce pa­per­work is framed above our bed. It serves to re­mind us how far we nearly went and how far we’ve come. Jamie Free­man is from Dear­born, Michi­gan, in the US, where she lives with Mark and their chil­dren.

We’re still the SAME PEO­PLE, mar­ried, but all else is DIF­FER­ENT. We’ve made FUN­DA­MEN­TAL changes to how we COM­MU­NI­CATE and when we get COM­PLA­CENT, we re­mem­ber why we’re to­gether

Giv­ing our mar­riage an­other chance was the best de­ci­sion Mark and I ever made, and now, with two kids, we couldn’t be hap­pier

A framed copy of our dis­so­lu­tion of di­vorce or­der hangs above our bed to re­mind us of what we nearly lost and how far we’ve come

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