After Their Divorce, She Was ‘Best Man’ at His Second Wedding


In Unhitched, couples tell the stories of their relationships, from romance to vows to divorce to life afterward.

Marissa and Mike Mitchell, of Newburgh, Ind., met in seventh grade and became sweethearts. They parted before high school, but reconnected in their late 20s and married. Ms. Mitchell was deployed by the Army to Iraq within weeks of their wedding. They said the stress caused by the distance and her subsequent re-entry 16 months later was one challenge to the relationship. The 11-year marriage eventually ended when Ms. Mitchell, after much soul-searching, came to understand that her attraction is to women.

Dates of marriage December 2006 to October 2018

Age when married Ms. Mitchell was 27; Mr. Mitchell was 28. (They are now 44 and 45.)

Current occupations She’s a high school teacher; he’s a police officer and sheriff’s deputy.

Children One daughter, age 13. He also has a 3-year-old son from a second marriage.

How did they meet? In middle school they bonded over being “nerds,” she said. They became a couple and he was her first kiss.

What was it about the other? “Marissa is the smartest person I’ve ever known and very different from most girls,” Mr. Mitchell said. “She was more like one of the guys.”

“Mike was charismatic, playful, fun and tall — over six feet in seventh grade,” she said. He “broke her heart,” she said, when he severed their relationship before high school.

After high school they lost touch. In May 2006, she was in Newburgh after serving as a captain in the Army in upstate New York and Afghanistan when he reached out to her on Myspace. In November, he proposed. She was recalled to active duty 10 days later.

Why did they marry? “When I reconnected with Mike, it felt like it was meant for us to be together,” Ms. Mitchell said. “I loved him and was comfortable with him.”

How were the early times? In April 2007, she was deployed to Iraq. They talked several times a week. He bought a house for them while she was gone, and they found themselves bickering on the long-distance calls. “We argued about silly things,” he said. “I think that was the only way to get an emotional response from each other.” She was gone for 16 months.

“I was absorbed with what I was doing,” she said. “I could have been more compassionate; Mike really needed to feel loved during that time.”

Were they happy? After her return in 2008, things were good for about a year, though she often avoided intimacy. “I came home and was different,” she said. Their daughter was born in August 2010. “It was exciting and also overwhelming,” Ms. Mitchell said. Mr. Mitchell worked nights; left alone with the baby, she felt tired and alone.

First signs of trouble? They had different expectations of each other. He had a large group of friends; she always preferred to stay home. More differences began to arise. She is very organized; he is more of a go-with-the-flow guy. She is a saver; he a spender. Two years after their daughter was born, she returned to college and become certified to teach. She also earned a master’s degree in library science in 2020.

“It began to feel like we were roommates raising a child together,” he said.

Did they try to work on things? In 2012, she began seeing a therapist on her own and they saw a therapist together several times. In 2015, the couple bonded during a vacation to Tennessee and agreed to focus on being better parents and spouses.

When did they break up? In May 2018, she developed a crush on a female friend. Though unreciprocated, it threw her sense of self. “I grew up in the 1980s and 1990s in southern Indiana,” she said. “No one talked about being gay,” she said. “I went through a lot of grief.”

In July, she told him about her sexuality. “It made sense to me,” he said, “but it didn’t change the way I felt about her.” He offered the option to stay married and have an open relationship, but she didn’t want him to be trapped in a marriage that wasn’t right for him either. Both agreed they should divorce while still friends.

How did their child react? Their daughter was at 8 at the time, and cried a lot when they told her of their split. They explained they would do whatever it took to make it work for her. They continued to have family time together, including shared dinners, vacations and holidays.

Did they feel stigmatized? She offered to keep her sexuality private, but he told her it was OK with him. “I didn’t want Mike to be embarrassed because he was always kind throughout,” she said.

“I’ve never been one to care what other people think,” he said. “I’ve known Marissa for so long and knew something was different about her, so if she was happy with the way she was, it didn’t bother me.”

How did they move on? He quickly jumped into another relationship and remarried in 2020, he said, with Ms. Mitchell as his “best man.” This raised some eyebrows in Newburgh, where they still live. “But no one knows me better and longer than Marissa,” he said. His second marriage recently ended.

In 2020, she began dating, though she wasn’t fully out yet and finding a queer community was “near impossible,” she said. In 2022, she met a woman who works with Mr. Mitchell; they are now engaged.

What would you have done differently? “I have no regrets, we are both pretty happy and have a great 13-year-old daughter,” he said. “But I should have been more present in the early years and after my daughter was born.”

“Straight women are taught their relationships are destined to be unsatisfying, both sexually and emotionally, which is not helpful,” she said. “I wish I’d listened to my doubts early on, but I also have no regrets about our relationship.”

Looking back, what advice would they offer others? “Someone being gay is not a personal affront,” he said. “Marissa is not gay because of any failure of mine.”

He added, “I grew up anti-gay and was raised in a religion that taught that homosexuality was a degradation to society. I know now that is wrong. People are people.”

What is life like now? They talk every day. Their children are inseparable, and Ms. Mitchell is godmother to Mr. Mitchell’s young son. “I’m living authentically and am so grateful that my family extends to my ex-husband who is one of my best friends,” she said.

“You make a commitment when you marry to be there for the other person,” he said. “We were best friends before and we are better friends now.”



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