The Chameleon Effect Of Marriage On My Identity

For years I was nothing without my husband.

Young playful, vibrant woman being pulled to dullness Yourapechkinphotos, agrobacter | Canva

My first husband and I went to marriage counseling after his affair. I showed up crying and still in shock that he cheated. He didn’t sit on the couch with me. Instead, he took a chair directly across the room. It looked like he would rather have been anywhere else.

When the therapist asked him for his side of the story, my husband unloaded a lengthy laundry list of what he thought were my faults. He was justifying his affair by claiming I drove him to it. I sat silent as he told the therapist that I had no joy in my life, no purpose, and no fun.


He acted as if he had absolutely nothing to do with it.

After my husband left, I turned to the therapist and broke down sobbing.

"He’s done," I announced. "He might as well have not even been in the room."

I met my first husband in high school. Back then, I was a free spirit with lots of friends and no responsibilities. I skipped school more than I attended, and on weekends I was never in the apartment I shared with my mother, missing curfew on more than a few occasions.


At age 16, my mother ordered me to drop out of school because I skipped so much they were hassling her. I thought it was a great idea and looked forward to getting a full-time job and eventually my own place.

My ex-husband’s mother told me later that, after first meeting me, he came home and told the family that he’d met the girl he was going to marry. He said I had the sharpest sense of humor of anyone he knew.

Even though I did go on to marry him at the tender age of 20, there were honestly red flags in our relationship long before that.

He decided that I would be more responsible in life and also stop hanging out with other guys even platonically. Some of those boys were my best friends, but I let them go because it was hurting the relationship. It didn’t occur to me to say no.


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When I was 17, my mother kicked me out of our apartment because I missed curfew again. The full story was that she wanted to move in with her boyfriend. Either way, I packed up my clothes and makeup on the spot and went to stay with friends, promising myself that I’d never go back.

I saved up some money, lied about my age, and rented a studio apartment where some of my adult friends lived. We’d work all day and party around the pool all night. My guy didn’t approve of it and complained that I should be at his house watching him work on his car.

Living on my own both scared and thrilled me, and I was proud of myself for managing it for a whole month. He and I had plans to move in together as soon as he finished high school. I hoped it would make things better, but I was worried about what living together would mean.


He’d already been acting like a parent more than a boyfriend in every aspect of my life.

I used to tell myself that he saved me. I thought I couldn’t live without him. I thanked God that he moved in with me, so I didn’t have to be alone. My goal was to be the best girlfriend and wife to show him my appreciation.

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I stopped hanging out with my friends so much. I quit drinking after he determined I had a problem with alcohol. Never once did I question whether he was right. Friends complained that I wasn’t "fun" anymore. 

My once multi-colored life began to turn black and white.

I didn’t blame him, and it certainly wasn’t 16 years of misery, but sometimes I wondered if we simply filled a void for each other. He needed to take care of somebody, and I needed to be cared for. The divorce was not all his fault. In the end, it was up to me to stand up for myself, but I never did it even once during our marriage.


Like a paranoid person, I constantly worried when we were together that he would abandon me. When it actually happened, my entire life split into two. After that, there was simply before the divorce and after the divorce.

I wasn’t the same person as I was during our marriage, and I wasn’t the young free spirit I was before the marriage. There was always a part of me that would be broken, like a missing piece of a china set.

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Looking back, I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I’d never gotten married so young. Would I have thrived alone or been miserable? My husband took care of everything for years, and when we divorced I was embarrassingly unprepared to manage my life.


There were things like taxes and bills and a hundred other things that he took care of, and like a fool, I never bothered to learn. I realize now that I was completely dependent on him for everything, and I can’t imagine the pressure that put on him.

Both of us are better people not being married to each other.

He has been an incredible father to our children and now has a family of his own. I eventually learned how to stand up for myself and take care of things.


We are friendly but not friends, and we are both much happier. We love our children together and apart more than anything in the world.

I don’t love him anymore, but I still appreciate him. I’m glad for the progress.

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Glenna Gill is a writer and blogger from Charlotte, North Carolina. Her articles have been featured in Scary Mommy and P.S. I Love You. When I Was Lost is her first full-length book, a memoir of love, loss, and hope.