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Writer Jackie Gillard and her husband renewed their marriage vows at a Las Vegas chapel recently. (Credit: Chapel of Crystals)

I hit 'refresh' on my marriage

A writer explains why she and her husband chose each other, instead of divorce, which "often seemed the easiest solution."

By Jackie Gillard

My husband and I recently renewed our marriage vows. It had all the trappings of a grand romantic gesture: the date was the 13th anniversary of our engagement, the ceremony was held in the Las Vegas chapel formerly owned by Priscilla Presley (no, Elvis didn't officiate) and we both shed a few tears repeating traditional vows with new additions of our own. However, the event came as a surprise to many because only 10 months earlier, my husband had moved out of our marital home in a last-ditch attempt to save our very broken marriage.

We met online as two lonely people who were divorcing previous spouses. Within eight months we were engaged, and 14 months after our first date, we were married. It was a whirlwind romance that, in retrospect, was rushed. In the beginning, our love seemed magical, but all that passion became lighter fluid to our tempers and strong personalities. The relationship baggage we foolishly believed we had packed and stowed came tumbling down onto our new marriage. The first few years of matrimony brought some bliss, but also multiple failed fertility treatments, a blended family lifestyle with my husband's young son, the terminal illness and death of a parent, and the international adoption of our daughter.

All stressful experiences for the most solid of couples, but to our fledgling relationship, the strains created deep fractures. Throw in our very different upbringings, values and belief systems, extended family tensions, and mismatched communication styles and our bond was stretched beyond capacity. Counselling didn't help outside the therapist's office. After 12 years of shutting each other down and out, battling for appreciation, attention and affection, and some very destructive words and actions, there wasn't much left to fight for. Divorce seemed inevitable and almost a balm for all of us from the continuous conflict.

Divorce often seemed the easiest solution, but we couldn't let go. Was it passion? Friendship? Fear of loneliness? Belief we were meant to be together? Habit? The kids? Fear of financial loss? True love? Yes, to everything.

Over our months apart, I sought guidance, knowledge, understanding, and perhaps even divine intervention. I lived some of the challenges of single motherhood and developed an even greater admiration for women who excel at it with far fewer resources and less privilege.

I spent time with single female friends — some not single by choice — and envied their joy in renewed independence, empowerment and confidence. I felt none of that. Yet I also heard about their loneliness and felt dismayed as I vicariously followed their attempts to find romance in an online world. I had no desire to swim in that pool again and reasoned that perhaps any efforts required to find a suitable new partner for myself someday would be better served invested in the problems and man I was already intimately familiar with now.

I spent months uncomfortably sitting with my own uncertainty. I'm typically a decisive person, but the gravity of the risks in choices confronting me left me terrified to take the wrong path. Also, I needed to see change. I knew any attempt at reconciliation would require each of us to show a departure from our own toxic contributions. Initially, neither of us were willing to point our accusatory fingers inward, but knowing who to blame doesn't fix the problems. Divorce often seemed the easiest solution, but we couldn't let go. Was it passion? Friendship? Fear of loneliness? Belief we were meant to be together? Habit? The kids? Fear of financial loss? True love? Yes, to everything.

Just 10 months before they renewed their marriage vows, Jackie Gillard's husband had moved out of the home they shared. (Credit: Chapel of Crystals)

We still work hard to not repeat the destructive patterns of our past. We've learned to confront our demons with the knowledge we all deserve better than before. We stopped being two "I's" and started thinking as "we" while still respecting the other's individual needs. Most importantly, we've let ourselves become open and vulnerable; to one another, to professional assistance in navigating our challenges, and to sharing our own emotions without shaming or blaming the other. 

It's been the toughest year of our lives. Marriage is a daily commitment to one another, but also to doing hard work sometimes. It's easy during times of harmony, peace, respect and loving attentiveness, but it's harder to keep showing up and holding space — and grace — for a spouse when you don't particularly like what he or she is saying or doing. We've both learned that maintaining a near-constant state of forgiveness is our most valuable tool. While this worked for us, I also acknowledge not everyone should stay married. It's not for everyone and divorce isn't failure, but growth in understanding.

Our vow renewal ceremony was an occasion to celebrate the hope we felt for our future, which we hadn't felt in so many years. We needed a symbolic exodus of our rainy season and to welcome a new era of mercy, accountability and acceptance of our efforts to keep our marriage healthy. Most of all, we needed some fun and romance to commemorate our triumphant climb over the wall that almost divided us forever.

Have we become the perfect couple? Of course not. We've accepted some goals are unachievable. We're still human and challenges are a part of life. The difference now is we know we can take on whatever comes our way if we continue to show up for our marriage and family.

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