The first time my husband brought up divorce was on our honeymoon.
We were lying on a bed in a kaleidoscopic room, bright colors and patterns on every pillow and wall. But the Cancún sun had begun to set and soon the vibrant room dimmed. He looked up at me, pleading with me to understand. But I didn’t.
We had been married only eight months and had waited until our busy work and school schedules subsided to go on this belated honeymoon. I was 21; he was 22. We were so young and so unsure of what to do next.
Despite the problems early in our marriage, I loved my husband. I believed we could fix it. We had covenanted with God and signed up for eternity. I told him that I wasn’t giving up on us yet. He agreed to keep trying.
Over the next couple of months, that word divorce would come up when I least expected it—when we disagreed about politics, and even when I had trouble parallel parking the car. It kept hovering over our heads.
I understood that marriage isn’t always easy. I wanted to remain faithful to my husband and the covenants I had made. So, I told my husband how much I loved him every day, even when he wouldn’t say it back to me. I tried to resolve our issues every way I could. I asked for help. I spoke with Church leaders. I tried to change myself. I arranged for marriage counseling. I fasted and prayed and read my scriptures, aching for a solution.
My husband couldn’t or wouldn’t help me fix the problems. His actions and words hurt me over and over again. I tried to be patient and forgiving, but doing so just made me more of a target for his mistreatment and led to more and more pain.
My mental health was plummeting. The flame of my faith was flickering. I tucked myself into a new, empty bed in a new, empty apartment, living off of hot cheese puffs and doing jigsaw puzzles. Some days all I could do was focus on breathing until the day was over.
One day, my father asked my husband, could my father trust him to love me and take care of me? My husband said no. Our marriage counselor asked him to serve me to increase his love for me. No. I asked him to do anything to get help. No. No. No.
I heard a lot of stories about women who just held out until one day their husbands changed. I studied general conference talks. Most of them emphasized that most marriage problems could be worked through. Was my marriage the exception? Or was I just not working hard enough? Where did I fit? If I chose to leave, would there be a place for me? Maybe if I kept trying and had enough faith, it would all miraculously be better. But it only got worse.
All of my life I had learned that marriage was God’s plan, but I was so brokenhearted and miserable. I felt like I was shattering under the strain of single-handedly trying to save my marriage while dealing with neglect and mistreatment. I didn’t know how to reconcile my pain and trauma with the doctrine of eternal marriage. I pleaded with God for answers.
One evening, I went to the temple. After sitting numbly through a session and begging God once more to change my husband and save my marriage, I walked into the celestial room to find a breathtaking painting of Christ with His arms outstretched.
Gentle words came into my mind: “He already has a Savior. You don’t need to sacrifice yourself further.”
That was my answer. Not, “Get a divorce immediately,” or, “Don’t give up yet,” just the realization that my husband’s path to salvation was his responsibility and his choice, not mine.
I realized that I had been sacrificing myself at the expense of saving my marriage. I was experiencing major health problems and barely eating or sleeping. My husband was focusing on himself. I was trying so desperately to help him—but no one was taking care of me. A few times, I thought it would be simpler to just not exist. I knew this wasn’t what God wanted for me.
I had to let my husband choose whether or not he would experience the Savior’s power for himself to overcome his problems, and I had to apply the Savior’s Atonement myself to heal.
I trusted that God was aware of me and would help me through. And He did. But I struggled to find my place in His Church.
Soon after my decision, I wasn’t sure how to move forward. I wondered if there was something wrong with me, or if my answer had been wrong. Feelings of failure loomed over me in every Sunday School lesson on marriage and every wedding invitation on my fridge.
Until this point, my life plans had revolved around my marriage and our future family, but now I was suddenly alone with an uncertain future. None of my friends my age had been divorced, and I didn’t know where to turn.
For a little while, I attended my old married ward alone, smiling and muttering something about sickness when people asked where my husband was. But I couldn’t sit in a ward full of couples and listen to lessons on improving your marriage when mine was ending.
I wanted to find a ward where I would feel the most comfortable. I wanted to be useful and needed. I wanted a community and a calling. But divorce takes time, and I didn’t know where to go in the interim. So I floated to different wards. I survived.
Once the divorce was finalized, my options were to continue going to my family ward without my family or return to a singles ward, where dating and marriage are huge priorities. I was starting back at square one, and every Sunday reminded me of my loss.
I chose the singles ward, but I felt like I was walking around with a scarlet D on my chest, like everyone could see the stitches where I had been sewn back together. I started posting about my divorce on my social media accounts, partially to help people in similar circumstances and partially so people would know my story without my having to explain it to them.
Once I started sharing my story, so many wonderful women in similar situations reached out to me and we mourned and rejoiced together. When I felt like there wasn’t a place for me, my friends and ward members embraced me.
I kept circling back to “A Summer with Great-Aunt Rose,” a story that Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles told about a woman whose life was “one heartbreak after another.” She was single and childless—and oh so happy.
Rather than give up, she decided to fall back on faith and hope, and she found her place as a beloved member of her community, even though her situation hadn’t changed.
“Faith in the Savior taught me that no matter what happened in the past, my story could have a happy ending,” Rose concluded.1 That hope lifted my soul.
Now, there are still times that I feel like an outsider. Sometimes I worry that people judge me or don’t understand my circumstances. But I remember that I put my faith in God and walked away from abuse, and that makes me another brave soul in a legacy of brave souls. Like so many Saints and scriptural protagonists before me, I gave up what I thought my life should look like, took a step forward, and found joy in the way it actually is.
Though it is hardly a solution for everyone, divorce for me is evidence of God’s mercy. My parents love me and I am theirs. That is what I hold on to when a ward member says something insensitive or when I don’t feel like I belong.
Around the time I was adjusting to being newly single, the Provo City Center Temple was completed. At the open house, I walked through the beautiful new temple and thought about how it had once been a tabernacle—a stunning building with an entirely different purpose.
In December 2010, a fire destroyed all of the tabernacle except for the outer walls. People mourned the loss of the beloved building. But God consecrated the ashes and turned them into a temple, exchanging “beauty for ashes” for “them that mourn in Zion” (Isaiah 61:3).
I examined the remnant ashes of my former life and felt that I had no idea what great things God had in store for me. I offered Him my messy life to consecrate it and build something beautiful out of it.
That temple looks so different from the rest of the temples, but it still has a holy and unique purpose. And so do I. “[God] denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female,” divorced or single (see 2 Nephi 26:33).
In the end, I am a young, divorced woman, but my divine value is the same. I am not a failure. There is a place for me in the Church. And I truly belong.