Then he told me he was in love with another woman (and this news ended up being a gift in disguise).
I thought of you today. It happens almost every Christmas when I put up the Christmas tree. The scene replays in my mind and I swear I can once again hear you saying to me, "All I want for Christmas is a divorce; I'm in love with someone else".
My body still recalls the moments after you said those words. My heart stopped, I couldn't breathe, and it felt like the roof and walls were caving in. For a moment I thought I would die.
But, I didn't.
It's almost funny now (years later), but it certainly wasn't then. I remember thinking: Are you freaking kidding me? It's Christmas Eve!
If I had the wisdom and the emotional resilience then, that I have now, I'm sure I would've done things differently. Perhaps, after time and the shock wore off, we could have even parted as friends. That wasn't the case.
Instead, my autopilot survival switch kicked in, and 40 thousand hormones began surging through my body, preparing me to fight or flee. If memory serves me, I did both at the same time.
If, in that instant, the wisest part of me had shown up, with the emotional intelligence and resilience I've developed since then, I'm sure I would've asked for a time out, gathered my thoughts, and regained my emotional balance. Instead, I threw you, your clothes and my wedding rings out the front door screaming "Merry f*cking Christmas to you and good night, you lousy cheater," while in the same breath begging you not to go.
I wish I'd been more emotionally resilient; it would have saved us both a lot of pain.
If the emotionally present, authentic, and wiser marriage partner in me now had been a party to our relationship, I would've done things differently, both in that moment and in our marriage. I would have loved me, listened to and honored the quiet voice inside me, instead of hiding from my fear that you were having an affair.
I would've stepped up, taken responsibility for my feelings, and actively voiced my concerns about the marriage many years before I did. I was ready to call it quits long before you did. The fact is, I left you (and myself) emotionally long before you left.
I stayed in the marriage because I didn't want to experience the fear and the pain, the same pain I watched my parents and friends go through on their divorce journey.
I didn't know than that in the end, you were honest about your betrayal and dishonesty. I wasn't honest about my dishonesty with either one of us.
Now, I'm absolutely sure that you "don't know what you don't know until you know it." You won't know what you don't know, unless you're truthful with yourself and others.
The gift you gave both of us that Christmas was the freedom to share authentically with ourselves, each other, our friends, and family.
Over the years, I've come to appreciate and value the courage it took to show up and ask for what you wanted, regardless of the risk or cost. I consider it one of the best presents you ever gave me; but, I admit it took some time to get here.
The events that night forced me to dig deep inside myself, reclaim the parts of me I'd tucked away, and begin reinventing my relationship with myself from the inside out.
One of the insights I discovered along the way is that while honesty, compassion, unconditional love, acceptance, and forgiveness are typically my autopilot response with others, I rarely give those to myself.
This year, I'm giving myself permission to store the memory of that night away for good. Next year, when I pull the tree out and all the boxes of decorations, I'll leave that box of memories on the shelf.
I'll invest my emotional energy in creating Kodak moments with the man I share my life with now, who's also a beneficiary of your gift. We both thank you and wish you and yours a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
Learn more about finding emotional health on the other side of divorce.