The Guilt, Shame (And Eventual Courage) Of Leaving Your Spouse

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How To Get The Courage To Leave Your Husband

My first marriage started a little something like this:

The hot summer breeze whirled gently around us while our toes sunk into the warm, soft sand. The seating for our families was lined with seaweed and shells, carefully placed in lines through the gentle sloping dunes, the spot where she and I first met.

This is where my wife to be and I walked on the beach towards our vows. All our family and friends were gathered in one place and stared adoringly as my gorgeous bride walked towards me.

A few readings from a pastor from the good book and an exchange of vows of eternal promise, and we were off to a big ol' party to seal it into happily ever after.

Picture. Perfect. Marital bliss. Nice, huh?

Now, I'm not a pessimist who's going to start a rant about how my marriage (and all marriages) are futile endeavors. For some, it works and works well but in my experience, the vast majority end in divorce. Why is this?

Is society our problem? Is there too much stimulation from social media always showing us what we don't have? Is it because our exes and potential love interests are thrown in our faces every time we pick up our phones?

No, it's more personal than that. It's about you and your partner and what you can handle together. The rest is white noise.

So, why did I vow to never leave my life and then pack my bags and move away?

About 6 years into being married, I felt my wife and I had beaten the odds. We got married young when so many told us not to. It felt as though we'd evolved into something that felt invincible.

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Until one night, my sense of everything I believed about our marriage was washed away. Without going into the dirty details, something happened — something that broke my heart. Made me angry. Destroyed my pride. But you really never know how to get the courage to leave your husband.

There was alcohol involved (a major catalyst for fighting in our marriage), a betrayal of one of my best friends and my wife, who stepped outside the lines we'd drawn for one another all those years ago on a beach.

(Y'all picking up what I'm putting down?)

Immediately after this devastating night, I got mad and drunkity-drunk. Then I picked myself up, hiked up a mountain, and sat at the top for hours, contemplating what I felt and what I should do.

Ultimately, in that moment, I came to the conclusion that holding true to my word was the honorable thing to do. What's a little hurt pride in the grand scheme of things?

So, down I hiked towards home and she and I fought it out ... for a very, very long time. Months and months. And then a year had passed and things were somewhat back to normal, but my very definition of "forever" and my ideals of "love" were forever altered.

Sadly, I could never shake the bitter taste that devastating night left in my mouth. The trust was lost.

Eventually, I found it easier and easier to flirt with other women and after a while, be with other women. Something in me wanted mine, as selfish as that might seem.

This behavior wasn't one-sided. We used every excuse in the book and told each other that being with other people was progressive and was simply recognizing the animal within us — our marriage was only a piece of paper.

Our life partnership would stay strong and we'd make arrangements with other people to satisfy our needs for the greater good of our marriage. I was so sure of this lifestyle that I even preached it, until one day ... I decided to be honest with myself.

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My personal epiphany: I was making excuses for my actions because I'd fallen out of love. I didn't want a partnership based on what we are as "animals." I wanted, despite all I had been through, to find someone who shared my original ideals of what love and a life-partner meant, someone who shared my dreams and supported my needs — and vice versa.

I wanted more; I wanted out. And so, I left.

"I'll never leave you" turned into packed bags and a final conversation where I knew I had to redefine my life and, in turn, redefine hers. I was scared and I knew that all hell would break loose.

I lost half my friends and all of her family, who didn't understand or know anything about what had happened that heartbreaking night. But I had the courage to do what was best for me and what I truly believe was best for her.

It was time for both of us to admit we needed to learn our next lessons without each other.

So, "never" apparently can have an expiration date. Sometimes life moves in and love moves out.

There's a reality hidden amongst the pomp and circumstance, the ritual and ceremony, the tempered emotions that make up a relationship, married or not. But the truth lies in that we're in a constant state of reformation — both as individuals and in our relationships.

We just aren't designed to stay happy all the time. We're supposed to fail, learn, and fail again. It's how we evolve. It's how we learned to walk as toddlers and how we, as adults, learned to make the world around us more functional to serve our needs of survival.

Happiness happens when we apply a lesson from our failures and successes. But even success and the pride we feel from that must fade to make room for more failure to continue a never-ending onslaught of change and learning.

RELATED: Why Leaving My Husband At Home Saved Our Marriage

Howard Hunter is a songwriter, stepdad, and adventurer from Nashville, Tennessee.