The Burden of an Unhealthy Marriage by Nena Ndioma

My former husband came over to my place about a week ago for a ten-day visit. He hadn’t seen the children in almost two years. My sister thinks I’m crazy to let him stay at my place during this visit. She’s convinced I need therapy to help me figure out why I have this need to be so ‘nice’ to my ex-husband.

"I don’t think I’m being ‘nice’ though, necessarily," I say to my sister. "I’m just being ‘me.’"

This divorce thing is new for me and new for him. If there’s a manual on how to do it ‘right,’ I haven’t read it yet. I’m just taking things one day at a time and doing what feels right to me at any given time.

When the marriage was in the throes of death (we were informally separated at the time), things got to a point where it became critical for me to have him find his own accommodation when he visited the children. Back then, I really didn’t like the sort of person I had become as a result of the downward spiral of the marriage. I had become a master sleuth.

I became a pro at hurriedly going through his cell phones (which he – an ordinarily not-too-careful individual – had begun to guard like a hawk all of the sudden) to see which calls and text messages had come in and gone out. It was hard to get a hold of his cell phones as he had also become a pro at not letting them out of his sight. I have a vivid memory, though (seems a bit comical now), of walking into the bathroom of the master bedroom and finding, to my great surprise, that he had actually forgotten them in there.

I methodically locked myself in the bathroom, sat down on the commode, and took my sweet time going through his phones. I heard him rush back to the bedroom in a panic, trying to figure out where he had left them. Not finding them, he rushed out to another room. When I was done, I casually told him that he’d left them in the bathroom, ensuring my voice and eyes didn’t give away the fact that I’d just ‘invaded’ his privacy. I was rarely ‘disappointed’ with my findings on the rare occasions when I did get a hold of his phones, and trying to reconcile the text messages and phone logs with the person I thought I had married was the most confusing thing in the world.

I wasn’t proud of my newly-acquired ‘private investigator’ skills, though. I loathed the fact that I was no longer myself – the fact that I, an ultra-busy individual who could barely keep up with her own email, and who would never have even thought of checking his email (not even in those days when I had his password), would now actually take the time to sift through his messages, trying to figure out what on earth was going on. Me, a professional at minding my own business and giving people space – I suddenly found the time and energy to care about who was calling and texting whom?

I couldn’t stand the new me. And because all this went totally against my nature, his 7 to 10-day visits would totally exhaust me. Upon his departure, I would invariably fall ill – totally spent – and it would take me about another week to recover.

During one of these visits, I fell asleep around 8 pm with a blinding headache. It was the end of his one-week visit and he was leaving early the next morning. I fell asleep thinking drowsily about how familiar all this had become: the sudden, terrible headache and my falling ill just as he was getting ready to depart. The headache was a sign that the visit was over and that it was time for my body to rebel again and go out of whack for another week or so while it fought to rid itself of my pent-up emotions.

I woke up from sleep with a start a couple of hours later. I was awakened by my son, who ran into the bathroom of the master bedroom with his Daddy’s phone ringing loudly. My son noisily announced to his father who the caller was.

It was one of ‘the other women’ – a former cherished friend.

The bedroom light was off, and the bright light from the bathroom worsened my headache. My son’s father took the phone without a word and let it ring ... and ring ... and ring ... until the caller gave up.

Why doesn’t he just answer it? I wondered. Does he realize I’m awake?

My hand felt around in the darkness for my phone and I checked the time. It was 10:58 pm.

At 10:58 pm that night, I decided that I would not let this happen to me again. I would not allow this continue to be my life.

I later told him to kindly make his own accommodation arrangements when next he was visiting. ‘The way you decide to live your life is really your own business,’ I said. ‘But when it begins to affect my health, then it becomes my business. Do whatever you want, but please do it within your own space.’

With his recent visit last week – his first visit since the divorce – I revisited these memories.

I compare how I felt back then to how I feel now. I find that everything has totally changed. I’ve totally ‘moved on.’ In fact, I had actually forgotten all about my 'no accommodation rule' until he (and then my sister!) reminded me. The rule came about as a result of a specific set of circumstances, which no longer exist. I no longer feel the urge to know what’s going on in his life, to dig into his business. We’re not married anymore, and that feeling has completely dissipated. I’m back to being me again – the ultra-busy person who doesn’t have time to sweat the ‘small’ stuff.

He was now here for the sole purpose of spending time with his children, who hadn’t seen him in forever, and – call me crazy – but I saw no reason why I shouldn’t do whatever I could to facilitate this. If I’m being ‘nice’ here, then I guess I’m being nice to our children, who deserve the best that I can possibly give them.


Nena Ndioma is the pen name of the writer behind Remembering my Journey, a blog detailing thoughts on being African, Christian and Divorced.