The Painful Reality of Growing Apart

By Shelley Wetton

“I don’t want to be married anymore.”

A whisper moved across my husband’s lips as if he couldn’t find his voice. A whisper, a barely audible cluster of words, were about to change the trajectory of my entire life.

“What?” I stammered.

We stood in the kitchen, our two year old son playing at our feet. It felt like the time dad told me grandpa passed away and that Ritz cracker I’d just popped in my mouth turned to sawdust.

My husband looked to me, pained, then covered his eyes as if to hide. His shoulders slumped.

My instinct was to comfort, to soothe, to tell him everything was going to be okay. But how could I console the person who was wounded because he was hurting me? My reasoning began to fail (it was just the beginning of losing my mind.) I tunneled further and further away from my body, from that moment, from that cluster of words that changed my life.

This couldn’t possibly be happening to me. Other people got divorced. Not me. We were the first among our friends to be married (in a cathedral, no less), the first to have a child (after five years of marriage), and now we’d be the first to divorce. Oh, the sudden cruelty of first place. I knew some marriages weren’t resilient, I just hadn’t expected mine to be among them. Mine. And as helplessness washed over me, I felt as if I was watching someone walk into the path of an oncoming train, only I was too far away to warn or save them. And then that person was me. A nightmare.

There was nothing I could do.

My instinct to console him splintered into shards that pierced my entire world. I didn’t hate him for his honesty – it was more of an aching disappointment, the kind that made me wonder if this little hiccup could be resolved or righted. Maybe this would just “blow-over.” The only problem was he’d actually said the words and now they floated around the universe, waiting to come to fruition. Once the word “divorce” is uttered it has a way of burrowing into and fracturing the foundation of marriage. I tried to digest his words and repeated them over and over until they finally felt like they belonged to me.

He doesn’t want to be married anymore?

So, he doesn’t love me anymore?

He doesn’t love me anymore.

Questions slowly turned to statements.


As the life I knew swiftly became past tense, all I could do was stare at my husband and wait for emotion to push to the surface. Part of me wanted to scream, but I didn’t feel anything at all, at least not yet (the crying would come later and last a few years.) I just stared at him as silence stretched between us. Then I noticed how light glinted off his wedding ring. And my heart ached. He was mine and had been for twelve years. He was the second boy I’d ever kissed.

I loved him.

Sure, we’d had problems. Didn’t everyone? Our marriage sort of flat-lined over a period of time as if afflicted by an undetected disease, slow and stealth in its destruction. A progressive disconnection from each other proved lethal. While I admit I stood at that edge of divorce more than once myself, he had already been pushed right over. And I couldn’t pull him back because he didn’t want to be saved. There had been a lead-up to this, of course, but one that was far more definitive for him than it was for me.

He doesn’t love me anymore.

There were no tears – my body couldn’t react to a world that didn’t yet make sense. And I struggled to process the scene, especially my son who was playing in complete and blissful oblivion while his world crashed around him. My son. The thought of him was enough to push a ripple of panic through my chest until denial swept-in like a savior. Denial is time’s way of holding us up until there’s a safe enough time and place to fall.

I knew no matter how hard we’d tried, we’d grown apart, that phrase people use when they can’t point to abuse or affairs or addiction, the usual suspects leading to divorce. In fact, those reasons are (understandably) far more forgivable than merely growing apart. If my husband had hit me, I’d have a reason to leave him. Many don’t think divorcing for lack of love is reason enough.

I’ve heard it all: “Why couldn’t you make it work?” “You just didn’t try hard enough.” “You’re so selfish – look what you did to your child.” “Marriage isn’t supposed to be easy, you know.”

Thanks for enlightening me on the most devastating experience of my life.

I wish the judgmental would accept that when someone’s wife or husband wants out of marriage, those left behind have no control. We certainly can’t hold our spouses hostage. And there is always pain, even for those who do the leaving.

The thing about growing apart is that it rarely happens to couples at the same exact time. It’s a slow and painful unraveling that begins as an inkling that’s assumed to be benign but grows into something that is, with time, insurmountable.

There is no cosmic synchronicity when it comes to falling out love – it only exists when falling in.


Shelley is a writer who works in corporate branding. She’s also a wife, ex-wife, mother and stepmother who’s co-parented for over a decade.She shares her experience of successfullynavigating ex-wife/new-wife relationships while blending her family through mindfulness. Shelley is a Featured Blogger with The Huffington Post and her work has appeared worldwide, includingMamalode,, iVillage Australia, The Divorce Magazine (UK), (South Africa), among others.Shelley lives in Northern California and holds a BA and MA in English.

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