After Forty-Two Years Of Marriage, I Walked Away

I wonder what I could have done differently, and what I can do now.

woman standing alone overlooking town fizkes / Shutterstock

The last year has been the most challenging, most painful year of my life. After forty-two years of marriage, I filed for divorce, left my family, my friends, and the community I’d become so involved in, and walked away. 

This was not a decision I took lightly. 

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No one saw what my sons and I endured. My husband’s public persona did not match the private one. Appearances were of the utmost importance.


It was nothing for my husband to hold the boys up against the wall and threaten to break their arms. He beat our dog until it was nearly unconscious. He forced our 8-year-old to get out of the car on a country road and left him there for several scary minutes.

When our youngest was two he threatened to break his fingers if he didn’t stop touching the wall as he went up the stairs. The list goes on.

I was afraid of leaving them alone with him. That’s why I stayed. How could I allow my boys to suffer through visitation with him if we divorced? 

Once the boys were grown, my husband settled down as long as the boys were not around.


On visits home, he refused to greet them at the door, as I did, one visit he threw the patio furniture off the deck in a fit. He yelled at the grandchildren and spent most of the time in front of the television. I was constantly pulled between keeping him happy and shielding everyone else.

Never knowing when his anger would burst forth, I struggled with digestive issues, anxiety, and insomnia.

After a disastrous visit to our older son, I developed a severe case of hives, joint pain, and swelling, and sank into a deep depression

I was drowning in darkness and considered ending it all. Three times over the years I went into therapy in hopes of fixing him, ignoring the fact that I needed to work on myself, and that I could not fix him.  


Finally, our oldest hadn’t been to our home in five years, and the youngest in nearly two years.

When our oldest was getting married in North Carolina, he put out an olive branch for his dad to attend. My husband said he would have to think about it. I went to the wedding alone and had a wonderful time. This was a turning point. There was no way we would ever be the family I hoped for, and I was able to finally accept that.     

And so, I left.

In leaving, I lost members of his family that were dear to me, and most of the couples that were our friends that didn’t understand based on what they saw during dinners out.

I gave up a house that I’d carefully decorated, gardens I lovingly tended, as well as a community that had been the only home I’d ever known. 


I chose a town in Minnesota fifteen miles from our youngest son and thirty miles from my sister. I found an apartment that I furnished with what little I brought. Once life settled down, I set about making a home.

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I joined a book club, and a writer’s group, and volunteered at the local theater.

Surely, I’d make friends quickly. Not so. The people I met were nice, but I didn’t feel that click of a kindred spirit. I tried a church that gave me a sense of community and uplifted my bruised spirit, but a friend didn’t magically appear. This friend thing was difficult. I realized I had to be more outgoing.


The thought of dating was terrifying, but then a man from my book club asked me to dinner. I was flattered and surprisingly excited.

We had a nice meal and great conversation, but I realized he hadn’t mentioned an ex, although he spoke of children. I asked, and it was then he admitted to being married and proceeded to invite me up to his room at the hotel next door. I declined the offer and laughed all the way home. I will date again but that’s somewhere down the road.

There were days I smiled non-stop at the excitement of blazing a new trail. And then there were days that I felt I was floundering.

That is when I devised a method to keep me on track. When uncertainty, fear, or sadness reared, I thought, ‘What will my life look like on this day next year?’


That became my mantra. I knew this settling in would take time, and it was with certainty I knew that all would look different in a year’s time. 

I have attended festivals, art showings, and community events by myself. As I walk among families, couples, and groups of friends, I am alone, and that is okay. The choice is this —wallow in loneliness or acknowledge that being on my own is a temporary part of the life choice I have made. I choose the latter.

There was one major setback. 

My divorce was final four days before Christmas. The court proceeding, thankfully done through Zoom, was uneventful, and the great flood of emotion I thought I’d feel wasn’t there.


My soon-to-be ex and I had an unexpectedly nice exchange the morning before the proceeding which may have stemmed emotions.

But as the holiday approached, I found I was burrowing into myself. I didn’t go back to my hometown to celebrate with family as I’d planned.

I simply wanted to be alone, and I didn’t know why. When the holiday was upon me, I experienced a deep roiling sadness.

On Christmas day, I let the tears flow knowing they were necessary. Yet, as I navigated this despair, there wasn’t a moment where I felt I had made a wrong choice in leaving. I was sad that life hadn’t gone as planned.

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My sons and I have bonded tightly over this experience. I have learned to listen to their feelings regarding the past and fully see the damage that was done.

My youngest son has been my rock through this, listening to my frustrations and cheering me on. Two nights ago, my oldest son said, “You know, there were happy times.” I hang onto that.

Otherwise, what was the point of those forty-two years? That is what I struggle with. Everything happens when it is supposed to. We are guided by a force deep within us that sometimes will shake us to the core if we don’t pay attention. That is what happened to me.


There are still times when I ask myself, ‘how did I get here’ and ‘did I really do this?’ Just a year prior it seemed incomprehensible that I would take such a drastic step. Yet, I did. I had to for my own mental health. 

On New Year’s Day, I vowed to leave all the pain of the previous year behind and start afresh. 

Nine months after I left, I have made a friend, I recognize familiar faces in town and at church, and they recognize me. Hellos are more heartfelt, and at times a conversation will happen. A feeling of belonging is now nearer the surface.

There is so much yet to explore in my new home and I continue to be energized for what’s next. Early on I started a gratitude journal. Each night I write down what I was grateful for that day. It’s a positive way to close each day, no matter the struggle.


I have immersed myself in writing workshops, being more active physically, living life with intention and presence, and embracing my new surroundings. And I can enjoy life on solid, steady ground.

Still, I will forever struggle with not having left earlier and guilt from what my boys have been through.

This new life is being built day by day. Each day, in some way or another, I add a new brick to the wall of this life that is lifting me up. 

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Terri Kaiser is a romance author and writes a newspaper column and blog, Letters from Musky Falls.