I never thought that I would ever come to a point in my marriage that I would seriously consider divorce as an option. I had heard before that marriage would be a challenge at the best of times, I never expected that it would be easy. I also never expected that it would be as difficult as it is.
I never thought that I would go through phases where I would lose my sense of self, or identity. Where I would somehow become mom, photographer, wife, but would completely forget who Kendra was before all of that. I never thought I would reach a point in my life where I couldn’t remember the dreams I had once laid out for myself, where I would forget the purpose I gave myself for being here.
And yet, last year, after being legally separated for a just over a year, unbeknownst to many of our friends and family, Brad and I were faced with having to come to a very grim decision. Either decide to fight for our marriage, or go through with our divorce.
It has taken me months and months to come to a decision that has felt like my own. With so many influences such as what our friends and family thought, to the future of our daughter I really had a hard time tuning in to how I felt about the situation. How I felt about that god-awful “D word” – divorce. It terrified us so much that we stayed in limbo for a very long time.
I wasn’t until after a very late night talk with a friend at Foundation Workshop earlier this year that I was presented with a perspective that really put things in perspective for me. My friend said something along the lines of: “Divorce will only change your path for a short period of time, but it won’t change your destination. In the end you will get old. Tia will marry, have babies, you will end up in an elderly-home, and eventually you will die. If you work things out, the same. Tia will marry, have babies, you’ll be a grandma in a home, and eventually you will die. And even if you stay together until Tia is grown and then divorce the destination will remain the same. If you stay together it will be very hard. You will have to make a choice every day to be kind, compassionate, loving and trusting, even when you feel none of it. If you divorce, you will have to learn to be alone again. Neither will be an easy path, or a pleasant path. Living in limbo is killing you though, all you have to do is make a decision for where you want your life to go right now.” I mulled over those words for weeks, haunted by them. For the first time I became inherently aware of my own fear of failure. I decided to seek out personal counseling.
I had seen counselors in the past for many reason – but to be honest, I had never been just for myself. It was very interesting to go each week and just vent to a living sounding board. Someone who would listen, and point out contradictions in the things I said without ever passing judgement on me. Someone who could offer up advice if I asked for it, offer a little motivation, break problems that felt like mountains back into molehills, or just hear me out without interrupting me.
Prior to Foundation, I had been discussing art and the subject of my seemingly imminent divorce with another friend, and she asked me if I had ever photographed Brad, and once I started thinking about it, with the exception of stand-ins for light tests and whatnot or the odd family portrait, I hadn’t. I hadn’t ever taken a portrait of Brad, or documented him any way. I did, however, feel a great deal of resistance towards doing so.
I do believe that resistance is a sign we should do something. As Steven Pressfield says “The opposite of love isn’t hate; it’s indifference“. Meaning, if we really don’t care to do something we usually feel apathetic towards it. If we feel compelled or repelled by something, either way we are feeling something very strong, which means it’s of importance to us, and should be further explored.
In marriage you don’t go suddenly from being attracted to repelling your partner (with the exception of an unexpected interruption such as an infidelity, or violence). The attraction generally slowly fades until there is nothing. From there, resentment can build, and build until you slowly begin to repel.
So when I started seeing my counselor in March of this year I explained to her that I was pretty sure I was about to go through a divorce, now that we were at the repelling stage, but wasn’t really sure what I wanted, and that I was a photographer who had never photographed her husband in an intimate setting, but felt a lot of resistance towards the idea of it. Of course, she agreed that I should photograph Brad, as it might lead to some insight about how I really felt about our pending divorce.
The thing about photographing people well, is that you have to really SEE them. Over the course of our marriage we had somehow stopped really seeing one another. We had become business partners, parents, homeowners, but somehow stopped being humans who had agreed to be life long companions. We stopped being humans who made mistakes, humans who felt, humans who needed to feel loved and appreciated, and somewhere along we way, we became expectations of what we thought our marriage was supposed to be. I felt shame for not seeing Brad more, as I went though the process of photographing him.
It wasn’t immediately apparent to me. It wasn’t until I was editing some pictures I had taken of Brad that I realized I had failed to notice so much about him. When had his hair gotten so grey along the temples? When had these creases formed around his eyes? When had this young love of mine matured in a sophisticated looking man? Nearly a decade has passed since we’ve been together now. My, how our world has changed.
We used to joyride when we first met. Throw fruit off his 25th story apartment balcony into the highway below for shits and giggles. We used to eat at the beach, makeout in public places, get drunk on a Tuesday, and go dancing after work. We went out with friends. We did the things we wanted, and the things we loved. We traveled and saw the world together. We used to be young and reckless. We used to dream together.
Now we mostly wear sweatpants and try to make spare time to get the dishes done before they attract fruit flies.
How could we have ignored this transformation? How had it become somehow easier to exchange lonely and tired knowing looks, than to address them? Ignorance is bliss, I guess, until it’s not.
I think the toughest thing about marriage is that you are always kind of alone in it. Your friends and family will always try to give you advice. They will shame you. They will tell you that you are making the wrong decision, no matter what decision you make. They will be full of opinions for things they know nothing about, because they aren’t in the marriage day-to-day, trudging through the shit with you. They only witness the highest highs and lowest lows. Even within the marriage you can only be responsible for yourself. You are responsible for your feelings and your actions. You have to give up the fear of failure based on what your partner’s responses are to your actions. To put that in clearer, more personal terms: I had to make a choice to act in a more loving and compassionate way towards Brad, for myself – without expecting my actions to be reciprocated, and without letting my fear of rejection and failure keep me from acting at all.
At the end of the day you are responsible for how you feel, what your thoughts, words, and actions are surrounding your marriage. When I was finished editing my first set of images of Brad, I was pretty surprised by my thoughts about the images. He was suddenly handsome again. His smile made me smile. His eyes looked kind and bright. I suddenly felt a little attracted again. He looked a little worn down and tired in some ways too, I thought, and I couldn’t help but feel a bit empathetic towards him. My thoughts have slowly become the way I feel, and loving and compassionate actions are beginning to come easier to me now.
I’m not saying that I started photographing my husband and suddenly saved my marriage, because that’s not the case. What I am saying is that I started photographing my husband and it forced me to notice how much I was missing him in my life, and was the catalyst for change.
Mahatma Gandhi once said:
“Your beliefs become your thoughts, your thoughts become your words, your words become your actions, your actions become your habits, your habits become your values, your values become your destiny.”
Changing my thought patterns around my marriage has not been easy, but it has been worthwhile, and I wouldn’t have been able to explore my thoughts without first, the encouragement of my friends, and secondly without being brave enough to try.
Often times our fears stand in the way of self discovery. We are so afraid to discover what we might find inside of ourselves that we avoid self-exploration completely. Discovering that I wasn’t seeing my husband was a painful self-discovery to make, but making it has also given me a chance to explore why, to make a change, and to heal my broken heart.
So I end on this piece of advice, for those who find themselves in a place in their marriage that feels like purgatory and they feel like their lives are out of their control:
Let go of your fears. Choose what will make you happy right now. You can’t control other people’s actions or reactions. You can’t change other people, and you can’t change the destination point of your life. Eventually you too, will get old and die, it’s going to happen, there is no stopping it, so you might as well make sure that the things you do while you’re here are things you’ll have no regrets about. If acting with love, compassion, and kindness feels too far out of reach for you right now, just know that actions begin with words, which begin with thoughts. Thoughts are within your control, and thoughts can be changed.