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“I love you,” I said on our wedding day.
“I love you, too,” he said.
“I promise to love you forever.”
Fast-forward three and a half years later. As I stood in the kitchen of our two-bedroom apartment with our 14-month-old sound asleep, staring at the faucet running, I finally had my “I can’t do this anymore” moment.
Let me back up a little.
You see, I married my college sweetheart one month after I graduated from college. I was 22 and he was 26. We were young and in love. He was perfect. We were perfect together. We came from the same religion and culture, our families knew each other, and we both checked off all of each other’s boxes.
So of course it was easy to make those promises on our wedding day. We genuinely did love each other at that moment.
But, over the course of the first year of our marriage, I knew things weren’t right. I chalked it up to us still getting to know each other since we didn’t live together before getting married. I chalked it up to me being young and still learning about myself. And, I chalked it up to “he’s tired,” “I’m tired,” and “we’re just stressed.”
This continued for two more years. During this time, we got pregnant and I gave birth to our son. Having a son definitely changed the dynamics of our relationship for the short term, but our core issues continued to persist.
I deserved to be happy and to be in a relationship that provided mental safety. And more importantly, that my 14-month-old son deserved better, and what better looked like was different than what my culture or society pushed.
I knew I had to leave my marriage, but my fears and insecurities kept me stuck for another year. The voice inside of me continued to get louder and louder and eventually started impacting my mental health. I shared my marriage problems with my parents and was told that leaving wasn’t an option. That in our culture, this was not allowed, people from our family don’t do this, marriage is forever. And, I had to suck it up, I needed to think about my son and stop being selfish.
So, I stopped being “selfish.” Instead, I went to see a therapist and suggested marriage counseling — to which we only ever went once.
None of it was working. I knew that the life I wanted to give to my son was not possible if I stayed in my marriage. He didn’t need an environment where both of his parents were constantly fighting. He didn’t need a mother who was sad all the time and who debated how to run away or end her life. He didn’t need to see his parents struggle. What he needed was two happy and healthy parents, even if that meant that they weren’t together. What he needed was a safe and vibrant environment where he could thrive. He deserved that.
So, as the water ran under the kitchen faucet, I realized that I wasn’t actually crazy. That my feelings were valid. That it didn’t matter what my parents said. That I deserved to be happy and to be in a relationship that provided mental safety. And more importantly, that my 14-month-old son deserved better, and what better looked like was different than what my culture or society pushed. I realized that I needed to overcome this social conditioning even if that meant going against my family, culture, and religion. And that’s exactly what I did.
With a 14-month-old in tow, defying everything I was raised to believe, I asked my son’s father for a divorce for the second time. And this time, I meant it. Because this time, I had my mental health and son’s future at stake. It was the hardest decision of my life but the clearest one I’ve ever made.
So, I put blinders on, stopped seeking advice from my family and friends, and did what I believed to be best for my life and my son’s life. No, I didn’t have everything figured out. But, I knew one thing — that I was going to figure it out. I chose to believe in myself and doubled down on my future.
It’s been almost 11 years since the day I asked my son’s father to leave. A lot has changed. We’re both now happily married to different people, have new kids, and are co-parenting our almost 13-year-old. Leaving my marriage was the best gift that I could give to myself, my ex, and our son, who is thriving in school, in our community, and in friendships.
So, if you’re reading this, I want you to know that you’re strong, too. That the life and future you want is possible for you as well. You don’t need to know all of the steps to get there; you just have to take the first step and everything will start to fall into place. Trust your inner wisdom. You got this.