As I pulled out of the driveway of the “forever home” my soon-to-be ex-husband and I purchased just a few years prior, I was acutely aware that things would never be the same.
It was March 1, 2015. I loaded my then 11-, 9-, and 6-year-old into the car, they hugged and kissed their dad goodbye, and we drove to our new home. It was no more than a five-minute drive, but it felt like a million miles and a different country away.
I was leaving my husband of almost fifteen years.
I was leaving my children’s father.
I was leaving the home and life we created. A life full of hopes and dreams for our family of five.
And as I drove away, I knew things would never be the same.
I also knew I could no longer allow things to remain the same. I honestly did not know if I would survive if things remained the same. The joy was gone. The happiness was gone. And I was gone.
Stevie was gone.
Stevie disappeared many years prior in the midst of raising kids, supporting a man’s professional goals while forsaking my own, and attempting to present a façade to the outside world that our life was whole and complete. Even happy.
But while I was smack dab in the middle of losing myself, I thought I was in a good marriage. A marriage that included the enmeshment and connecting of two lives. Two people becoming one. True dependence on and intertwinement with one another.
I thought my role, the role of a good wife, was to support my husband unconditionally.
This meant supporting his professional goals, which included an 11-year gap in my professional career that I likely will never recover from financially. And while this time gave me one of the greatest gifts I will ever receive of being a full-time stay-at-home Mom, it came at a major cost. When I re-entered the professional workforce, my salary was less than it was when I left my previous position 11 years prior, and much of the feedback I received when searching for that first role back was that the gap in my resume was too challenging to overcome.
Supporting him also meant forsaking my friendships and embracing his friends as my own. “His” friends became “our” friends and “my” friends, in many ways, I left behind. And I know “our” friendships were sincere in many ways. But I lost the friends that were solely mine. Friends that could help me remember and rediscover parts of me I lost during my marriage. Friends that I knew undoubtedly were in my corner because their loyalty was unwavering.
And supporting him meant sometimes choosing his family of origin over mine. This happened most often during holidays. Trying to juggle multiple families and celebrations and ensuring we spent time with everyone, often meant I gave preference to his family because I was supporting him. I wanted to be embraced by him and his family at whatever cost. I wanted their approval.
But nope. No way. Nuh-uh. That is not and was not a healthy marriage for me.
Writing this now, it feels so obvious to me that this was not a healthy relationship. But at the time I didn’t see it.
Or maybe I couldn’t see it.
Or even more likely, I wouldn’t allow myself to see it. I wouldn’t allow myself to admit how dependent I was on him.
Dependent on his approval of me. Dependent on validation from him to prove my worthiness. Dependent on his affirming how I lived my life, spent my days, and even who I was at my core.
I now know, seven-plus years out, a healthy relationship involves individual identities coming together to both stay true to themselves and simultaneously help one another flourish. To provide support, love, and care to one another while still having healthy boundaries and staying true to who they are as individuals.
I lost my independence in my marriage. And regaining my independence was one of the largest fears consuming me as I pulled out of the driveway that day.
I remember driving away feeling relieved to finally be taking that step and also terrified about the journey ahead. So much of my self-worth and self-confidence was tied to his approval. His values. His thoughts. I allowed myself to be dependent on him, our marriage, and our family to provide and sustain my self-confidence and self-worth. Regaining my independence felt like such a big mountain to climb.
Independence meant not looking to others for validation.
Independence meant relying on myself to figure it out. Whatever it was, I had to figure it out.
Independence meant prioritizing my mental and physical health so I could be a better, more patient, generous, and kind mother.
Independence meant rebuilding my career to financially support my family. Maintaining my own home. And successfully co-parenting to raise three amazing souls.
And goodness was that first year especially hard. Brutal at times.
I was in therapy weekly and on medication for depression and anxiety. I savored peaceful moments and also allowed myself to simply “sit in the shit” of difficult times.
I cried. I screamed. I talked. I listened. I read. And I wrote. I found multiple outlets to process my feelings and dig deep into who I was, who I wanted to be, and how I was going to get there. And then I worked my ass off to get there.
So, on March 1, 2016, exactly one year after I pulled out of that driveway for the last time as a wife in an unhealthy, enmeshed, and dependent relationship, a dear friend who walked by my side throughout most of the journey texted me, “Happy Stevie Independence Day!”
I instantly cried. And then I paused to celebrate the progress I had made over the past year. I felt grateful for all I had accomplished to keep moving forward. There was still a mountain to climb, but the journey felt lighter with my newfound self-confidence and no longer relying on external validation. I was once again independent.
Stevie Cromer (she/her/hers) builds authentic relationships and inclusive cultures. She strives to help others lean into life transitions and embrace the opportunities they present. You can find her on LinkedIn.
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