In 2005, my husband left me for another woman and filed for divorce. Everyone kept telling me I was so lucky that at least we didn’t have kids. Though I agreed that divorce wouldn’t be good for children, being childless did not make me feel lucky. For me the possibility of divorce was devastating.
It is now almost eight years from the day my husband told me he wanted out of our marriage. I had told him “no” and contested the divorce. I chose to be a Stander.
A Stander is someone who seeks to remain married while his or her spouse is seeking to escape the marriage; legal actions may or may not have been initiated or finalized. Some are Standers by action, with a goal of reconciliation, while others are strict Standers in philosophy, believing divorce is an immoral action. Standing usually provides an option of conditional return to a functional marriage for the spouse who is leaving, but some Standers simply stand by, refusing to seek or recognize legal divorce and refusing other relationships in honor to their vows.
Today, my husband and I are still married. We reconciled and are now trying to adopt. And I have a new career. I’ve always been a writer, but my focus is now on writing to help abandoned spouses who are dealing with their spouses’ midlife crisis and infidelity.
Standing makes no guarantee. A lot of marriages still end, but it helps left behind spouses set aside their anger and resentment and focus instead on what they want — to love their spouse in their marriage as a loved spouse. I loved my husband even when he cheated and left, even though hatred was a tempting emotion. The divorce process creates conflict not comrades; it enables hatred, anger and resentment. Fortunately he stopped our divorce quickly; unfortunately that did not stop his affair and midlife crisis. From the beginning I made a deliberate choice to remember that he was Sweetheart (even though he was playing the role of someone not so sweet) and that this was just one of those for worse and in sickness times mentioned in our vows. Standing is about building relationships rather than building enemies; that means it can enable reconciliation or a cordial rather than confrontational after-marriage relationship.
One of the common phrases Standers hear is that they deserve better. I agree. Infidelity is a form of abuse and we do deserve better! But if spouses come through their midlife crisis, will being divorced be the better option? I did not deserve divorce. I deserved the opportunity to heal rather than have my wounds opened and added to in the boxing ring of divorce court. And most of all, I deserved a choice. Eighty percent of divorces are unilateral—only one person wants out. Many Standers eventually choose to stand down, but they make that decision on their own and it becomes empowering. Having the choice made for them is disempowering.
In the beginning, Standing is a grace period, a buffer zone between abandonment and betrayal and whatever comes next. It enables a return to wellness so that a person can make life-changing decisions with a healthy balance of emotion and reason by guiding them through the initial days and months of shock and anxiety. Since cheating spouses refuse to participate in marital problem-solving, Standing guides the Stander to focus on themselves and their healing rather than focusing on the problems in their marriage.
Standing can become a continuing decision to Stand after using it as a grace period, or a person may choose to no longer Stand. During the interlude, there may be an opportunity for reconciliation and Standers don’t want to destroy that chance —just in case. When a person turns their focus inward toward self-healing and discovery, they prepare themselves for a new and healthier relationship with a willing spouse or with someone else. Without healing they risk repetition of the pain when in new relationships. And we know the high statistics for the failure of second and third marriages.
Standing can also serve as a grace period for the abandoning spouse. It gave my husband time to go through his midlife crisis without worrying about fixing us or having me pressure him. It’s triage; fix the greatest threat first—in my case, my husband’s internal strife and confusion.
Let me emphasize that Standing is not working together to fix a marriage. It’s not a solution to marriage problems. It’s not pressuring and it’s not an ultimatum. When a spouse is gone or they change their mind from love to hate ever few days like my husband did, the saving part isn’t possible. Reconciliation will eventually take the deliberate effort and desire of both partners. But Standing keeps options open by setting the marriage aside in a place of protection to be worked on later if possible.
Indeed, my husband came and left our home multiple times over three-and-a-half years as his affair continued. After he ended it for good, we lived apart for a period as part of a reconciliatory-transition from infidelity to monogamy. We have now lived together again for three-and-a-half years.
We are doing well! The only sort of bliss is the imperfect sort. Imperfection is realistic, but this new imperfection is more stable. When we are placed with children, they will be coming to a home that respects relationships and that understands that fragility is a key to strengthening because now we will no longer take each other for granted.
 Furstenberg, Frank and Andrew Cherlin, Divided Families. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991, p. 22.