On Tuesday 7 March, three days before I was to celebrate three years of continuous sobriety, my world as I knew it changed. After a day of crisis talks, the husband and I decided that separation was now our only chance to potentially salvage our marriage. So on our return from swimming, the husband sat Cheeky Chap down and told him that he was going to live somewhere else, maybe for a little while, maybe forever. He explained that mummy and daddy still loved him very much but we simply weren’t getting along with each other any more. With tears in his eyes, “I’m so sorry” on repeat and his head bowed, he walked out.
It wasn’t a complete shock. We had discussed separation before but until that day neither of us thought it would come to that.
There was no “Other Woman” or “Other Man”. There was no stand out incident.
It was an accumulation of things. We were both desperately unhappy and we knew something needed to change.
So he left.
For a month he slept in his car, coming to the family home every day to eat and wash and attempt to rebuild something. He would come over mid afternoon, wash and eat, spend an hour or so with Cheeky Chap before heading off to work for the evening. After work he would find a spot to park his car, usually around The Downs and he would sleep there. That first month was hard and I felt like life was in limbo. I felt like I was in a haze, on auto pilot as I tried to piece my life back together. I think, deep down, I expected him to get fed up and decide that he wanted to come home.
But he didn’t.
Then he found somewhere to stay. A caravan on a camp site 15 miles away, just past Bristol Airport, that he could use in exchange for cleaning duties around the site. He would talk about how peaceful it was out there, away from the constant interruptions and noise that come with living in a block of flats with a communal garden in the suburbs of a city. I stopped worrying about his safety and wellbeing and started worrying about whether he would ever return. And if he wanted to, would it be for the right reasons? And what even are the right reasons anyway?
As I look back, I can see a gradual, subtle erosion in our relationship. That is what is most frustrating. There is no point in time that I can look back at and say “That is when things changed”. I realise now that somewhere along the line we lost our sense of us. Neither of us had the best of childhoods so we have both focussed on giving Cheeky Chap the best life we can. We became so wrapped up in our roles as parents that we lost us as a couple, and as individuals.
One of my biggest fears has always been whether I would be able to manage life without him. We have been together since I was 21, he was my first relationship. I thought he was vital to my existence and that I needed him. And actually, to some extent, I think he felt he needed me too. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s normal for couples to need each other to some extent. However, what is not healthy is when the fear of being alone overrides the desire to be together.
Quite aside from the emotional dependency, I needed him on a practical basis too. I became so worried that I would tire myself out more or trigger more pain in myself by doing too much, that I stopped doing any housework. Which is kind of the main point of being a stay at home parent. I wanted him to have a job which meant he would be around during the day so I wouldn’t get overwhelmed during school holidays. Him leaving meant I had to step up and start doing things I had long since stopped doing. I started to take more responsibility and set up my own routines. I’m not sure I will ever be a domestic goddess but I have definitely made progress!
I know now that I want the husband to come home because I want to be with him. And he wants to come home because he wants to be with me. We’ve rekindled the love we thought we had lost for each other. We have started counselling and although we’re only a couple of sessions in, it has been an eye-opener for us both. We’re both starting to be more honest with each other and learning what each others boundaries of acceptable behaviour are. My faith has grown as I’ve turned to God to meet my needs. I’ve learned to seek support from friends and family and to ask for help. Four months in and I’m beginning to sleep better again, beginning to feel a bit of hope and optimism.
If you had told me six months ago that all this would have happened and I’d do it without a drink, I’d have told you that you were crazy.
We have a long way to go still but hopefully, one day at a time, we can find our happy again. And maybe, just maybe, he might be home before our tenth wedding anniversary in August.