Longevity is a barometer of success when it comes to marriage. Kim Kardashian's 72-day marriage to Kris Humphries is a punchline, while Britney's 55-hour marriage to Jason Alexander in Las Vegas is considered a blueprint for how not to do a wedding.
But short marriages aren't necessarily void or pointless. Yes, they can be a drain on your emotional and financial resources, but they can teach you a lot about yourself and what you need from love, potentially helping to bolster a future relationship.
Jean*, 37, a communications manager based in Sheffield, was married for less than four months to her long-term boyfriend when she was 29. She is currently happy in her second five-year marriage. Ahead, she tells Refinery29 how her first marriage came to be so short-lived and the lessons she learned.
Marcus and I met at university. I was in my third year and he was in his first. He was welcomed into my group of friends because he'd only been at university for three months when we met. We were together for five years before he proposed to me – he invited our friends to a dinner at a beautiful hotel – a total surprise on the night, although we'd discussed getting married many times before. We were engaged for two years before we got married in June 2010. I saved every spare penny to pay for our wedding – we were officially married in a registry office in London and had a big party in a ramshackle barn in the Cotswolds a week later.
Looking back, it's easy to see that there should have been alarm bells ringing long before the wedding, but at the time I honestly didn't hear them. Then on Valentine's Day before our wedding, he told me in bed that he thought he'd developed feelings for a colleague. I'm still embarrassed to admit that I reacted by frantically trying to save the situation. I don't think I had the confidence in myself to take a stronger stand. He fumbled and walked it back a bit, saying maybe he was just getting pre-wedding jitters. Hours later we fell asleep and I thought maybe he was just confused.
Things deteriorated quickly after the wedding – we really didn't have a honeymoon period
I offered him a chance to back out a few weeks later. Our invitations had arrived and I asked him if I should send them out – he told me to go ahead. I think I'd convinced myself that I'd salvaged it. By the day of the wedding, I was completely immersed in it. I fed off my friends' excitement, and if I noticed that Marcus didn't seem that excited, I was getting good at deluding myself that everything would be okay.
Things deteriorated quickly after the wedding – we really didn't have a honeymoon period. It happened within weeks. He became cruel – he knew I suffered from an anxiety disorder and he played on my insecurities. He would go outside to make phone calls, spend all night texting and get angry with me when I questioned him. He began drinking more heavily – he'd go out with colleagues, including the one he'd told me he had feelings for, three nights each week, coming home later and later. The more upset I got, the worse it got. But he was affectionate and interested in me in front of our friends. I didn't know the term 'gaslighting' at the time, but that's exactly what was happening. And it was incredibly effective.
Just over three months into our marriage, we'd been talking about moving out of London and Marcus was offered a job near where we wanted to move. I thought it was a perfect opportunity. Things seemed to be getting back on track. But on one Friday, he texted to say he wasn't sure he wanted to go through with it. We arranged to meet in town after work to buy dinner and chat. Walking round the supermarket, he was really on edge and defensive. I asked what had changed his mind but he was unwilling to talk about it.
He liked to tell me his therapist thought our marriage was over
We got home and spent the night arguing – hours of awful rowing about everything. At one point, he said he only married me because he felt our friends had expected it of him. That he was peer-pressured into marrying me. This wasn't true – our friends loved us as a couple, but they honestly didn't care if we were married or not. I must have fallen asleep at some point but the argument carried on the next morning. He said he needed to leave, needed some space. I don't know where he went. I sensed it was the beginning of the end. It was – but it took a long time to end. He said he needed time to think about himself and I'd just have to wait while he worked it through. He wanted to see a therapist, so I paid for one. At the end of every session, he liked to tell me his therapist thought our marriage was over.
We continued living a bizarre life for a few months; doing things together with friends while I desperately pretended we were working things out. He was increasingly cruel – criticising my weight, telling me I had become unattractive. Then he'd come back and be affectionate to get me to have sex with him, only to turn around afterwards and resume the criticism. I put up with it – I was frightened of being alone again and ashamed I didn't have the strength to end it. I was also deeply embarrassed that my friends and family had been at our wedding less than six months before and now here we were, our marriage clearly in pieces.
He was too cowardly to take the final step and just leave. He wanted me to do that for him. It came to a head when I finally became more angry than terrified. While screaming at me for something or other, he threw a glass at me, narrowly missing my head and smashing on the wall behind me. I threw him out of our flat that morning.
I met my second husband only a few months after that Christmas. A friend had suggested I should think about meeting new people. She meant dating. I wasn't sure I was ready but thought it wouldn't hurt to at least meet people and start to enjoy being myself again. Dom was the first person I spoke to on Guardian Soulmates and we met two weeks later. That was seven and a half years ago. People thought I was out of my mind. My parents and friends were understandably worried about me. I'd been single for three months and suddenly I was in another relationship that was moving quickly. I explained it by saying I'd survived the lowest points of my marriage, but that I didn't want to wall myself off from a new relationship to protect myself from those lows, because that would inevitably mean missing out on the highs.
Dom and I had been together for nine months when I found out I was pregnant. Everyone was supportive but it was obvious they thought it was less than ideal for me. I was six months pregnant and unpacking clothes in our living room from a weekend away when I turned around and saw him on one knee. It was the polar opposite of the first proposal. But it was genuine, small, and just for us. We got married when our son was just over a year old, and I finally understood what it looks like when your fiancé is excited about marrying you. We got married just before Christmas, three years after my first marriage ended. Two years later we left London for Sheffield, and had our daughter in 2016.
My first marriage looked perfect from the outside, but I hadn't realised I was living with someone who didn't respect or value me. One of my favourite things about Dom is that he enables me to be braver and more confident about being me. From serious things like my career, which was stuck in the doldrums in my first marriage, to trivial things like being more aesthetically expressive with tattoos, piercings and my hair, he encourages me to try the things I've always wanted to but felt unable to before.
A failed marriage didn't make me a failure
Looking back on my first marriage, I can't say that I wish it hadn't happened – it taught me a huge amount about myself and my value. My life had been defined by my relationship with someone else. My personality had been subsumed into something bland and small. But I still resent that the separation blew apart our friendship group. Our friends were incredibly supportive, but I couldn't live the same life with those friends after he left. I felt out of place and completely at sea.
A failed marriage didn't make me a failure. If anything, Dom is getting a much stronger, more alive version of me because of what I went through the first time around. Dom and I work hard on our relationship, and on being parents. But now I also know that I need to work for myself, as an individual and as part of a marriage.
*Names have been changed on request