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  • Writer's pictureMonica Dillon

A Vacant Marriage, Vanessa's Story

Updated: Jun 1, 2023

Vanessa’s Story
leaving a marriage lacking intimacy, honoring body & spirit
an excerpt

We accept the rhythm of routine in our relationships like the car sitting in our driveway. It is dependable. We count on it to run. To take us where we need to go.

There wasn’t anything particularly wrong with the transactional nature of Vanessa’s marriage. He worked and paid the bills. She took care of their home and children. When she felt sad about their lack of intimacy and connection, she scolded herself. After immigrating from Mexico to Miami twenty years ago, she knew what hardship look liked. Others would gladly trade places with her and take on her problems.

For a long time, Vanessa ignored the ache of neglect. She dismissed her sexual needs, telling herself nothing was wrong with her husband – he was faithful, a good father and provider. It shouldn’t matter they were no longer intimate. Most days she could shush her wanting and immerse in the operations of a full household. Describing her marriage as a partnership and her husband as a business associate.

Yet as her children grew, and her role of primary caretaker shifted, the drizzle of daily emptiness started to fill her. “I was already moving towards my mid-forties and felt like my body was shriveling. I was lamenting to myself, ‘I’m going to get old here.’ My sexual energy was ignored and depleted. I didn’t even want to have sex anymore. There was a part of me that that knew that wasn’t true. I wasn’t conscious of that then. But it hurt when I realized I was sexually starved.”

Vanessa’s body reflected her unmet desires. She started to experience severe physical problems and struggled to heal. Despite persistent symptoms and doctors’ visits, there was no diagnosis. She became so ridden with fear of her mysterious and painful episodes, that she refused to leave home. “My body felt like it had aged a million years. I had a lot of physical problems and that became a turning point for me. I was just so tired. I knew I had to make a change.”

It was a period where she felt extremely alone and ostracized by family and friends. Listing frame after frame of unsupportive advice imparted to her when she shared thoughts on wanting to leave her husband. "My mother, even though she said she supported me, kept putting out so many doubts, and saying things like, ‘Have you really explored or exhausted all the possibilities? It is a very difficult decision and very hard to be alone.’ I was not only leaving the marriage, but also going to a different place that I didn't know, and I would remind her of that, but in response she would share fear rather than courage.”

When Vanessa’s husband said, “nobody will love you as much as I do,” it almost stopped her. Yet she was able to understand why and reframe her thoughts in response, “His words appealed to the part of me that was scared. Well, nobody's going to love me again. That sucks then, and maybe you know, they'll love me differently. That's what I chose to believe instead. A lot of your life is lost when you move on. It was much harder when I was trying to figure out how I would leave, than simply doing it.”

After many attempts stay, Vanessa left her marriage of 27 years and her home in Miami, where she had lived for 20. The prospects were scary. Even though she had been seriously contemplating leaving for more than 5 years, her decision felt impulsive. She left with only a tiny box of personal items, and her dogs, to move to North Carolina. An unfamiliar territory, chosen on a map because real estate was reasonable, her budget was tight, and her adult children lived in the northeast.

She carries a vivid memory of that pivotal road trip, filled at first with self-doubt, and later an affirmation. “On that drive, out of nowhere, I heard a voice inside of me say, ‘thank you for really leaving’. I knew staying had meant not honoring myself anymore and I chose me.”

It wasn’t one moment but many, that helped Vanessa overcome her fears of starting over. She recognized she had to make a choice. “I was afraid of disappearing into nothingness. That fear was greater than the fear of leaving. My life would have been a lot easier in many ways if I had stayed. Much more financially comfortable. But I didn't want to feel comfortable anymore. I had this push of energy, ‘get me out, get me out of here’ because this is who I am.”

The anticipation of leaving is sometimes harder than the event itself. It's sitting in the angst of what you know, matched with impressions of what you believe, and what society has told you. That's the messy middle. When you know but you're not sure of the how, and you're trying to plan for all the potential outcomes.

Creating a new life outside of a traditional family has been a long journey. One, she sometimes still questions. Yet, her body reminds her of how alive she now feels. She has self-healed from what she once thought was a crippling disease, has vibrant energy, and describes feeling like herself again.

What Vanessa wishes she had known sooner, “Sometimes we can judge ourselves from the place of where we are now. But where was I then? I wanted to keep the family together so much I made personal sacrifices. I would just ask myself for more patience and courage.”
Vanessa's Because I left … “it’s my turn to be myself.”
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1 Comment

Jun 01, 2023

"Have a competent affair", was the advice -- prescription? -- given by a therapist to my friend in a similarly neglectful situation. She had the affair. Left that marriage. And in her leaving she chose to save herself. She's soaring now!

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