I often wonder what drives a woman to walk out of her marriage especially in this country where she is practically born, raised and sealed into a box full of stifling convention. Those of us who dare venture beyond its corners still feel the excruciating pressure pushing into our psyche even after we have jogged a million miles away, boarded a plane, donned a space suit and have blasted off into space. But more and more women I know are doing it–leaving everything they know to answer a call of the spirit. They stay in their marriages forever, you think, and then one day the wind shifts and you sense that they are feeling it for the first time even if it has always blown for them. But only now -–after years of working at the dead marriage, of raising children in spite of the less than ideal environment—-are they ready to accept it. Though there is an immense sadness there, it seems that something more powerful takes over; something that tells them they have walked this rough road for the last time.
I know women who have made the best of seemingly hopeless situations. That fate dealt them a cruel blow didn’t stop them from making lovely homes, raising wonderful children and even finding contentment and happiness in that home, but I’ve also seen their woman spirit come charging back to claim them. And I think everyone knows by now that the woman spirit cannot be denied. You can appease it for a while with little offerings here and there. You can temper it with reminders of vows and obligations and always, we will do what we have to, but the spirit knows when it is dying and will put up a hell of a fight to stay alive. In time it will let you know when the palliatives cease to fulfill even their temporary promise. And that’s when a woman begins to move away.
In our country, toxic marriages seem to drag on interminably until a woman reaches her true limit. Only then does a bad marriage finally end. Men seem to be able to coast in unhappy situations longer; will very rarely come forward and say, “I don’t want to have my cake and eat it, too. I want to have my soul back and that means I can’t be in this marriage anymore.” He will just sit there picking at his fragmented pieces until someone kicks him out and, even then, he probably won’t see the point; won’t see why he has to leave the warped illusion of his comfort zone. He will find ways to delay and deny, float, hover, be nowhere because the alternative requires too much of him. Not a woman. At least not one who has heeded the call of her spirit.
For a woman, especially if she’s a mother, a decision like this takes monumental strength. There are children to think of and, more often than not, the practical matter of finances. These are the elements that keep her parked in a bad marriage until something snaps and she knows that the time for leaving has come. But the journey is long, painful and full of sacrifice and self-doubt. One night finds her mentally packing her bags, marching through her options, even allowing herself the unexplored luxury of re-aligning forgotten dreams, but the sight of her child sleeping happily in his father’s arms a moment later will keep her home for at least half a decade more with neither remorse nor regret.
I don’t think it’s one particular thing that brings her to the end, though certain transgressions may serve as triggers, the last straw, the final push; rather, I think it is an accumulation of assaults to her spirit that will push her to say “this is it”. When this happens, there is usually no turning back. By this time all survival tools –excuses, rationale, self-sacrifice—- have been so overused, exhausted, beaten to death that the only real option left is the open door and either she walks out of it, or she pushes her husband through it. Whatever it is, the marriage is over.
A woman will suffer through anything to keep home and hearth together but even the strongest of us have breaking points. These usually surface when we get a knocking in our soul that I can only describe as a resurgence of self. It is the uncontainable blossoming and bursting forth of a woman’s core. If she is in a happy place—-at the very least a place that honors her spirit and gives her space to nurture her soul– it simply unfolds as it should. But if her woman core is constantly ignored, insulted, crushed even, it will demand release. (Or recede, harden and turn into cancer. Don’t even doubt it.)
It’s sad that it takes a woman too many years to pay attention to that; that we are so programmed to put everything and everyone else before us that we only start to look and listen when our lives are falling apart. But this seems to be part of the universal woman struggle we have come to know too well. This is why I admire the woman who takes that giant leap out of the box to claim herself. No, it’s not that I like to see marriages crumble. It’s that I like to see women valuing themselves, enjoying themselves, making their lives vibrant again and, more importantly, clearing the path for their daughters to live their lives with uncompromising reverence for their woman spirit always, no matter what. The image of millions of girls coming into the world with this awareness and the natural ability to live from and within this force fills me with hope. The possibilities of a life built on that—-and the world it will create– thrill me no end.
For now, we do what we can. If we have to bleed until we get it, shuffle and crawl to find our way out, we do it. Though the end of a marriage is always painful, tragic and infinitely sad, sometimes it is the only path to a woman’s salvation.
I look at my brave women friends and rejoice in their courage. Through them I have learned that it is never too late to honor our woman spirit. It doesn’t matter if you’re fifty or seventy. No matter what hell you’ve been through, what drought in your spirit, what famine in your soul, it is never too late to make the journey home.