I Made My Husband the Hero of My Memoir; Then My Marriage Ended

Lucy and Desi

I did not dedicate my book to my husband — even though, in nearly a third of the essays, he’s portrayed as the long-suffering, lovable protagonist who patiently puts up with my messiness as I work to make sense of an ADHD diagnosis at age 35. If I was still married by the time my publication date rolled around, I figured the fact that I’d made him a charming central character in my life story would suffice. There’s a sweet acknowledgment in the back, too.

Highlighting the most charming qualities of my burly, bearded husband in conversational prose was easy, and nothing I wrote about him was untrue. He’s one of those universally beloved guys, and in some ways, he was a wonderful partner. But as I wrote the bulk of the book in 2022, I made a very conscious decision to leave out anything that might reveal too much about what was actually going on inside of our marriage, and to really lean into my signature brand of self-deprecating humor. I had plenty of material for the latter, too, since I — an overspending direct talker who craves novelty — wasn’t exactly an ideal mate myself.

In between the missing dedication and the formalities at the end, the pages are peppered with jokes about my spouse being mad at me for pretty much everything. But turning my troubled marriage into a punchline was far less painful than detailing all the anger and resentment that had been snowballing since I got the flu on our honeymoon a decade earlier, and nobody wants to read about days-long marital disputes anyway. Plus, when we knew people were looking, we could usually pull off a kind of “I Love Lucy” dynamic in which Ricky lovingly rolls his eyes at whatever trouble his kooky wife has gotten herself into on this week’s episode.

Last year, as I worked on edits and marketing assets with my team at Hachette, I kept getting hung up on how my relationship would be sold to the world. My first moment of pre-publication panic came in May when my editor sent her attempt at the overview that would appear on Amazon. One of the plot points she highlighted was “finding the love of your life and then fighting to keep him,” and I immediately revised it to read, “settling down and then almost screwing it all up.” By the final draft, I’d insisted upon a simple, sweeping reference to “complicated relationships.” Later, when my publicist shared an early version of the press release, the first change I made was amending “getting (and staying) married” to read “getting (and barely staying) married.” Because no matter how hard I tried to push it down and away and out of my brain, I couldn’t shake the feeling that everything was about to unravel.

Maybe I’d read too many stories of creative women whose personal lives fell apart just as they inched their way toward peak professional success. Maggie Smith is a recent example, but it’s always felt like a cautionary tale burned into my brain by the fairy godmothers of pop culture past. Or maybe it was men sending the message all along, warning talented, ambitious girls that we shouldn’t dare fly too close to the sun, otherwise, look at what you could lose.

Either way, that marriage was never something I was going to be able to keep.

I can see now that we were probably doomed from the start. We brought a disastrous combination of trauma and baggage into the relationship, and by the time we noticed how it was eating away at us, the worst of the damage had been done. But nothing anyone could have said would have convinced us of that when we stood up in front of 200 of our closest friends and family at our painfully trendy 2012 barn wedding and promised to love each other forever. We were good on paper and we both wanted to settle down and have kids. Back then, we weren’t thinking about attachment styles, emotional labor, postpartum anxiety, neurodivergence, career struggles, money problems, or how we might handle being confined to a modest bungalow with a preschooler and an infant for 453 days straight. We also had no idea how profoundly my hyperfocus on hobbies, house projects, and side hustles would trigger him and lay the groundwork for a lifetime of resentment.

It’s not like we didn’t try to make things better. I so badly wanted us to be one of those couples who regularly enjoy each other’s company, even behind closed doors; I think we both did. We read the self-help books, did a few stints in couples therapy, downloaded an app that was supposed to be as good as therapy, and made date nights happen on the rare occasions we could get a babysitter. I even took a six-week FMLA leave over the summer to enroll in an intensive outpatient therapy program because I thought perhaps I could fix myself enough for the both of us. (Spoiler alert: I couldn’t.)

By the fall, things had gotten so bad that it was very clearly affecting every aspect of my life, including my work and my health.

“I can feel the stress of this marriage slowly destroying my body,” I told a friend one night.

As my February book launch loomed, I knew I had to do something to break the cycle — especially with two young sons and a full-time job also demanding my attention. So, the first weekend in November, I asked for a separation.

A month later, we sat down with our third marriage counselor (fourth if you count the one who fired us 10 minutes into our introductory session). After we’d each delivered our opening salvos, she said, “I’m going to be honest with you guys. Usually when things have gotten to this point, it’s too far gone. But I’m willing to put in the work if you are.”

There in her office, it sounded like a challenge, but in the days that followed, it started to feel more like someone was giving me permission to admit what I had been too scared to say to myself or anyone else: that my marriage was over. Eventually, I came to realize that I’d already been grieving that loss for quite a while.

A few expensive and time-consuming legalities aside, I no longer have a husband, but I’m more okay with that than I feel like the world wants me to be this soon. In fact, I’m happier and healthier than I’ve been in years. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited for this next phase of my life, but there’s a small part of me that holds out hope I can still have one of those marriages that functions as a true partnership (at least most of the time). And it’s nice to know that if it happens, I’ll go into it with much more self-awareness and a better understanding of what I need from — and can bring to — a relationship.

Either way, from now on, when my story has a hero, it will be me.

Emily Farris is a Kansas City-based writer and author of the essay collection I’ll Just Be Five More Minutes: And Other Tales from My ADHD Brain. She posts sporadically to Instagram @thatemilyfarris and writes an even more sporadic newsletter called Everyday Distractions.

P.S. “Five things that surprised me about my divorce,” and nine women talk about their divorces.

(Photo from PBS.)

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