‘Sometimes, a dead horse is just that’: why we leave a relationship

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Hollywood sells you this dishonest idea of what love should look like. When you’re young, you lap it up, believing love should – and will – conquer anything. I was heartbroken but tried to make it work for a while.

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Of course, we couldn’t, and after a year we split. I went partying like a mad woman let off the leash and became pregnant after a one-night stand. I was terrified that my pregnancy meant I’d never reunite with my ex, but he felt God had called for him to be a father to this child.

We got married and soon followed up the birth of our first with babies two and three. There were red flags all over the place, but I focused on the kids and moving forward. He probably did the same. While he was feeling called to the church, I was being called into comedy. We tried to support each other, but ultimately we were just moving out of each other’s orbits. Initially, I tried to go along with his beliefs, attending church and social groups, but as an agnostic I felt like a fraud. As the kids got older, he started voicing opinions I couldn’t stomach – including a strong opposition to same-sex marriage.

I was struggling with his increasingly fanatical belief system. Our kids were enrolled in a conservative Christian school where they were taught that God created the world in six days, and I realised I couldn’t sit back and let them accept everything as fact just because their dad believed it. I had to intervene.

Eventually, in a last-ditch effort to save our marriage, we moved into our dream home, complete with chooks and a puppy. However, I soon realised that none of it mattered. He didn’t believe in divorce, but I didn’t believe in our marriage any more. I finally walked out with the kids in 2014.

“The biggest lesson learnt? Love alone is never enough.”

I was terrified of being on my own with the kids, but it wasn’t long before I felt the thrill of liberation.

I eventually met and married someone who shares the same fundamental beliefs and values as me, and that’s been freaking awesome. I’m not saying I regret my first marriage – I don’t – but neither have I regretted leaving. The biggest lesson learnt? Love alone is never enough.”

“When the sense of adventure went, the passion followed”

With no projects left to distract her, Fiona Harper, a 56-year-old travel writer, realised she was trapped in somebody else’s dream relationship.

Fiona Harper: “If you have a gypsy heart, it’s worth honouring.”

Fiona Harper: “If you have a gypsy heart, it’s worth honouring.”

“I’ve always had an adventurous spirit. When I met my ex in 2000, I was living on my yacht after moving from Fremantle to Melbourne, while he was pretty much retired and living the good life. Fifteen years older than me, he spent his days in his favourite restaurant in Toorak, meeting friends, eating and drinking.

My arrival took him out of his comfort zone, and his way of life was equally foreign to me. We were captivated by each other’s different lifestyles.

Looking back, I know our 10-year relationship worked for as long as it did because we were always distracted with projects; there was no time – nor was there need – to examine the reality of our union. We were forever looking for businesses, renovating houses, before I talked him into buying an incomplete 48-foot yacht. We spent a year bringing the yacht to life before embarking on a five-year journey around Australia.

Living within 48 feet of each other was good for our relationship. At sea, we had to rely on each other, and considering some of the more remote places we sailed to, we became very attentive to each other’s needs. It worked because we had to make it work. I didn’t realise how much things would change once the pressure was off.

“To think that the rest of my life was going to be spent living someone else’s dream was confronting; I felt trapped.”

During our journey, we decided to buy some land on Magnetic Island, settle and build a house. Once it was built and there was nothing left to distract us, it all started to fall apart.

He wanted to open up the house to his grandkids and sit around drinking shiraz all day. I wanted to continue chasing adventure, and wasn’t into the role of de facto grandmother. I’d never wanted to have children, and to think that the rest of my life was going to be spent living someone else’s dream was confronting; I felt trapped. In the end, it took a year to leave the relationship and a further six months to leave the house.

Since then, life has been an adventure. The last few years have bolstered what I already knew about myself, deep within. We often try to fit the right societal moulds: get married, have kids, buy a house, work hard and retire. But if you have a gypsy heart, it’s worth honouring. Despite being single again, for now, I am certainly happier for it.”

“We became parents and I grew up overnight”

Finding middle ground on how best to look after your young family proved impossible for Sally-Anne Trapple, a 42-year-old business owner.

Sally-Anne Trapple: “Women change after they become mothers.”

Sally-Anne Trapple: “Women change after they become mothers.”

“We didn’t have the most traditional start to our marriage, I suppose. I was 18 when we started dating and only six months in, I was shocked to discover I was pregnant. Although I was petrified, I offered him an out but he refused to take it, insisting he wanted to stay and create a family unit together.

After I gave birth to our daughter, things continued as speedily as they had started: we bought a house, had a son, got married and then had our third child, another son. From the outside – in those early days at least – we looked like any other young family.

Women change after they become mothers and I was no different. I felt like I grew up overnight and became not only a mother to our children but the parent in our relationship while my husband stayed the same. He worked hard to pay the bills – I can’t fault him for that – but I still had a niggling feeling that I was taking on most of the responsibility around the house.

“I felt like I grew up overnight while my husband stayed the same.”

The problem was compounded by the fact that our sons, one after another, were diagnosed with a range of debilitating conditions, from ADHD and OCD to auditory processing disorder and dyslexia.
My days soon filled with endless specialist appointments, therapies and hospital visits but my husband never rose to my expectation that he would be there right by my side.

What really started pulling our marriage apart is when he showed little interest in all the lifestyle changes I was making in the house, based on the advice of our sons’ doctors. Most of it revolved around dietary changes, and also sticking to a routine, but for these things to work you need consistency across the board.

Of course, the inconsistency in the household was a medical nightmare, and incredibly stressful for me, so I eventually realised it would just be easier if my husband and I didn’t live in the same house any more. Our youngest was four years old when we separated.

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Co-parenting initially was tough. The kids would go from my house, where everything was based around medical advice and research, to eating KFC and lollies for two days with their dad, who was keen to behave more like a mate. Eight months in, he decided he only wanted the kids on their birthdays and at Christmas, rather than every second weekend and half the school holidays. And then, within a year, he didn’t want them at all.

I got married again four years ago and it’s been great for me and the kids but hard on them at the same time. They don’t have much of a relationship with their father now and that’s sad. I think it’s only when they see how great my new partner is with me, and with them, that they realise what they missed out on.”

This article appears in Sunday Life magazine within the Sun-Herald and the Sunday Age on sale April 18. To read more from Sunday Life, visit The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

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