90. We Did Our Best

90. We Did Our Best

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Forgiveness

We Did Our Best

Forgiveness is beautiful and it feels good when someone gives that gift to you. But it’s one thing for someone you wronged to forgive you. It was another to forgive yourself.

~Kristen Ashley, Fire Inside

The door slammed. I yanked it open and watched my husband of almost thirty years tromping across the front lawn. As he opened his car door, he looked back and saw me silhouetted in the doorway.

“You’re wrong, you know,” he said so quietly I had to strain to hear him. “There was never anyone else but you. No one. Ever.” With those words, he disappeared into his car. Perhaps as emphasis, the car sputtered and shook before the engine turned over and he pulled away.

Tears ran down my cheeks. I became the twenty-year-old who fell in love with a slender young man with curly black hair, soft brown eyes, a tender but tentative smile, who was exactly a year older than me. A birthday wasn’t the only thing we shared. We were both hard working, loved our families, espoused similar political beliefs, loved children and knew how to live on a tight budget.

In four years, we had bought our own house, had three of our four children and established a comfortable, if frugal lifestyle. We agreed that I would be a stay-at-home mom and he would be the breadwinner. We made a good team. On our ninth anniversary we conceived our fourth child, who joined our family nine months to the day later. It was also our shared birthday.

My husband gained prestige and acknowledgement at his job while he pursued a college degree. He became the first college graduate in his family. When I expressed pride in his accomplishment, his eyes flattened and darkened with something I couldn’t identify. This was the first time I suspected all was not well.

Our children grew and thrived, we became more financially secure, but the seeds planted earlier cast shoots of discontent through our relationship. Our children attended college or secured jobs and I stepped back onto a road I had abandoned when I married and gave up my dream of a college degree. People often refer to stages in failing relationships as pounding nails into a coffin. Although I don’t believe it was my intention, that stage of my journey added nails.

Once begun, there seemed to be no turning back. Again, relying on hindsight, I wondered that fateful day in the doorway why we had ever fallen in love and how we had stayed together as long as we had.

When I described our meeting and what we shared in common, I failed to point out where our paths diverged. I was gregarious, outspoken, and loved a good conversation, especially one with a suitable amount of controversy to jack up the interest level. I was quick to say I love you, never able to stay angry, and optimistic to an annoying fault. My husband was my polar opposite—quiet, introverted, someone who refused to discuss religion or politics and was content to sprawl on the couch and watch sports during the few hours he wasn’t working, going to school or playing sports. I found it difficult to engage him in a conversation of any length.

John had a guttural laugh that seemed reluctant to emerge. I tried to make him laugh, but he withheld his laughter and I began to wonder what else he was withholding.

We argued about disciplining our children, what they could and couldn’t do. And we blamed each other when we didn’t approve of their behavior. The tenuous thread that held us together showed serious signs of fray. Angry words replaced words of love.

We made deals to get through activities. My studies intensified as I neared graduation. When I began working, I continued to prepare microwaveable meals, but we ate separately. I began to wonder if he had found someone else.

“Are you having an affair?”

“Yeah. What’s for dinner?” he replied, head buried in the refrigerator. I never knew if it was true, but I realized later he was trying to tell me our relationship was over.

We battled endlessly through the long divorce. Each of us took steps to move on but we never forgave each other. All the paperwork that accumulates in a divorce serves as one big tally sheet of wrongdoing that each partner carries in his or her head, sometimes for years. It makes for a major roadblock in moving on.

I joined a divorce support group. Although the support helped, I felt stuck. One of the speakers hit the nail on the head for me.

“Repeat after me,” she began. “In my marriage I did the best I could.” I did as requested and heard my words echoed by others in the room.

“Now, say my spouse did the best he or she could.” This time there was silence. The heck he did, I thought, and imagined others saying the same.

Because she had oozed compassion and understanding when she began her talk, the occupants of the room stayed in their chairs, albeit in silence. She continued to make the case that, up to that moment, all of us had done the best we could. “After all,” she asked, “who would choose to do the worst?”

It took a while before I could embrace that idea and forgive my husband and myself. He wasn’t the best husband for me and I wasn’t the best wife for him. But I had loved him and had really intended to do my best. And I believed he would say the same.

And my past, sorry as my efforts might have been, was the best I could do at that time. The speaker reminded us not to use the past as an excuse for poor future behavior. Seeing the limitations of my past is a strong motivation to do better in the future. My past is indeed made up of all my best efforts.

~Judythe A. Guarnera

You are currently enjoying a preview of this book.

Sign up here to get a Chicken Soup for the Soul story emailed to you every day for free!

Please note: Our premium story access has been discontinued (see more info).

view counter

More stories from our partners