My marriage ended because I made my husband a hero in my memoir
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I did not dedicate My book to my husband — even though, in nearly a third of the essays, he’s portrayed as the long-suffering, lovable protagonist who patiently puts up with my messiness as I work to make sense of an ADHD diagnosis at age 35. If I was still married by the time my publication date rolled around, I figured the fact that I’d made him a charming central character in my life story would suffice. There’s a sweet acknowledgment in the back, too.
It was easy to highlight the most charming characteristics of my bearded, burly husband in conversational prose. Nothing I wrote about him wasn’t true. He’s one of those universally beloved guys, and in some ways, he was a wonderful partner. As I wrote the bulk the book in 2022 I decided to leave out everything that could reveal too much about our marriage and to really lean on my signature brand self-deprecating comedy. I had plenty of material for the latter, too, since I — an overspending direct talker who craves novelty — wasn’t exactly an ideal mate myself.
The pages are full of jokes about the fact that my spouse is angry with me for everything. The jokes about my troubled relationship were much less painful than describing the anger and resentment which had been building up since I caught the flu on our honeymoon 10 years ago. Nobody wants to read about long-running marital disputes. Plus, when we knew people were looking, we could usually pull off a kind of “I Love Lucy” dynamic in which Ricky lovingly rolls his eyes at whatever trouble his kooky wife has gotten herself into on this week’s episode.
Last year, while working on edits with my team at Hachette and creating marketing assets, I became obsessed with how my relationship was going to be sold. My first moment of panic before publication came in may when my editor sent out her attempt at an overview that would be featured. Amazon. One of the plot points she highlighted was “finding the love of your life and then fighting to keep him,” and I immediately revised it to read, “settling down and then almost screwing it all up.” By the final draft, I’d insisted upon a simple, sweeping reference to “complicated relationships.” Later, when my publicist shared an early version of the press release, the first change I made was amending “getting (and staying) married” to read “getting (and barely staying) married.” Because no matter how hard I tried to push it down and away and out of my brain, I couldn’t shake the feeling that everything was about to unravel.
Maybe I’d read too many stories of creative women whose personal lives fell apart just as they inched their way toward peak professional success. Maggie Smith is a recent example, but it’s always felt like a cautionary tale burned into my brain by the fairy godmothers of pop culture past. Or maybe it was men sending the message all along, warning talented, ambitious girls that we shouldn’t dare fly too close to the sun, otherwise, Look at what you can lose.
Either way, I would never be able to maintain that marriage.
I can now see that we may have been doomed to failure from the start. We brought a combination of trauma and baggage to the relationship and, by the time that we realized the impact, the damage had already been done. No one could have convinced us that we would love each other forever when we stood in front of 200 friends and family members at our painfully fashionable 2012 barn wedding. We both wanted to settle and have children and were happy on paper. Back then, we weren’t thinking about attachment styles, emotional labor, postpartum anxiety, neurodivergence, career struggles, money problems, or how we might handle being confined to a modest bungalow with a preschooler and an infant for 453 days straight. We also didn’t know how my obsession with hobbies, house projects and side hustles could trigger him, and lay the foundation for a life of resentment.
It’s not like we didn’t try to make things better. I so badly wanted us to be one of those couples who regularly enjoy each other’s company, even behind closed doors; I think we both did. We read self help books, went to couples therapy, downloaded a free app that was said to be as good a therapy as we could get, and had date nights when we were able to find a sitter. I took a 6-week FMLA over the summer in order to enroll in an intensive therapy program. I thought I could fix myself for us both. (Spoiler alert: I couldn’t.)
By the fall, my life was being affected in every way, including my job and my health.
“I can feel the stress of this marriage slowly destroying my body,” I told a friend one night.
As my February book launch loomed, I knew I had to do something to break the cycle — especially with two young sons and a full-time job also demanding my attention. I asked for a divorce the first weekend of November.
We sat with our third marriage counsellor (fourth, if you include the one who fired at us 10 minutes into our initial session). After we’d each delivered our opening salvos, she said, “I’m going to be honest with you guys. Usually when things have gotten to this point, it’s too far gone. But I’m willing to put in the work if you are.”
It sounded like an interesting challenge in her office. But in the days to follow, I began to feel like someone was giving permission for me to admit something that I was too afraid to tell myself or anyone else. My marriage was over. Eventually, I came to realize that I’d already been grieving that loss for quite a while.
A few expensive and time-consuming legalities aside, I no longer have a husband, but I’m more okay with that than I feel like the world wants me to be this soon. In fact, I’m happier and healthier than I’ve been in years. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited for this next phase of my life, but there’s a small part of me that holds out hope I can still have one of those marriages that functions as a true partnership (at least most of the time). And it’s nice to know that if it happens, I’ll go into it with much more self-awareness and a better understanding of what I need from — and can bring to — a relationship.
It doesn’t matter. From now on, I will be my story’s hero.
Emily Farris, a Kansas City-based photographer, is an expert in the field. WriterThe author of the essay collection I’ll Just Be Five More Minutes: And Other Tales from My ADHD Brain. She posts intermittently to Instagram @thatemilyfarrisThe newsletter is called Everyday Distractions.
Photo by PBS.)
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