She was living with another man when we started having lunches. She started dating me before telling me or him of the other person. Along the way, that summer, she shut down our relationship so she could go “finish up” with him. She called me about six weeks later.
That opening volley should have been a red flag. But I was smitten. She was/is very pretty. I was very lonely. We hooked up soon after she moved out and she moved in with me in a matter of weeks. She made a very sensible move. She let go of the man who was unlikely to ever give her a child, something she had desperately begun to think about, and she found a man of means who was also ready for kids. Bingo.
There were a couple of wrinkles in her fantasy, however. 1. I did not make enough money to support a stay-at-home mom in the neighborhood we were committed to raising our children. 2. I suffered from occasional bouts of depression. She did too, but that’s another story all together.
So there we were, heading towards kids with some drastic changes to make. I was playing in a band, working for myself, and living in a condo that was paid for but not big enough to raise a family. What she needed was for me to get a real job, quit the band, and buy a house that could support our desired 2 kids in the neighborhood with the good schools. I caught the vision to. And so that’s what we did. I quit the band, got a full-time job, and we moved from my condo to a house in the “good schools” neighborhood. Of course we were 5 – 6 years ahead of needing those good schools, but hey, we were kids, we were in love, we were becoming parents.
So time goes along for a bit, we have two kids, a boy and then a girl, and we start having the frictions that married-with-children couples do. And a lot of that trouble had to do with money. I didn’t really think of it at the time, because we had decided to have her stay home with the kids as much as possible, while I continued the “big job” pursuit. While things went okay, the job market after 9-11 was awful. Our boat was taking on water. We spent most of the cash from the sale of the condo, and we were down to bare bones on our mortgage and house repairs.
It was about this time, and for some of those reasons, that I started a major slide into overwhelm, otherwise known as major depression. Not only was I responsible for an entire little family now, and a house payment, I also had lost my self-employment opportunity when the real estate market shut down after 9-11. Everybody had it hard, I get that, but somehow we didn’t join together as a team. Somehow we grew apart and the plan was for me to work, and work harder at finding work, and for her to … Well, we weren’t really sure what she was going to do. She didn’t know what she “wanted” to do, so I was committed to letting her fish around and figure it out. Meanwhile, our finances are swirling down the drain. But I never was one for being a stickler around money.
About the time things got really hard, she began to take lunches with a co-worker from a new group she was consulting with. Of course, I had no idea she was doing lunch with anyone. I stumbled upon a series of emails between them one afternoon while I was de-spamming our communal computer. BOOM. I was punched in the dick. She was revealing her deepest secrets, her concerns for my depression, her loneliness, and even her own inner struggles about being married to someone with depression.
I remember she came home with the kids and tried to talk to me about the evening plans. I was almost incoherent. It might have been easy to chalk that up to my struggles with depression, but this was different. Somewhere along the way she had taken out our personal love story and begun sharing it with another man. She was introducing him to the free coffee at our neighborhood library. She was doing lunches with a younger man just when her actual man needed her the most.
She came clean at this point. Not at doing anything wrong, but in acknowledging how this behavior might hurt me. She agreed to never do it again, and to end the “relationship” with this other man. But the damage had been done. She’d broken our sacred trust. And I am not sure if I ever felt 100% secure in my relationship after that. When sex went on hiatus, I remember wondering if she were seeing another man on the side, this time with physical comforts as well as mental comforts. I don’t think that was ever the case, but I’m not 100% sure.
Once the infidelity happens, even if it’s only emotional, the trust suffers. The odd thing, however, is how she made our “trust” an issue that I was mostly responsible for damaging. The “trust” issues seemed to all be about me. Not us? Our therapy sessions were less than productive as we searched for answers to MY depression and MY trust issues. She was the “okay” one.
Today, it’s easier to see how the entire relationship had been based on half-truths and omissions. I don’t have any regrets, at this point, because I look at our kids and I know we did the best we could. The best we could, however was less than 100% from her. At the moment when your partner is suffering and in need of your comfort, that is not the time to begin a “friendship” with a new person from work. A woman, maybe, but a handsome man?
I have learned a lot about trust and honesty in my life. My first and second marriages have taught me many things. I know that I will not tolerate infidelity, emotional or physical, and that TRUST is an issue that is shared. We had a trust issue in our marriage. While she was actually out doing something untrustworthy, I was the one being attacked. Perhaps the attack was the only defense she could come up with, for the way she was feeling inside.
She knew the moment I spoke of it, that afternoon when I found the email, that she had betrayed me. She never fully apologized for it. She said she wouldn’t do it again. That was as good as it ever got between us. I think that fracture is what led me towards divorce once it was offered. While I fought against the divorce, when I saw what I was up against, I gave in and complied. I guess I did the same thing at the beginning of our relationship when I first heard about the other man she was living with.
Things would be very different in my life had I walked away. I did not.
The Off Parent
< back to The Hard Stuff
- Kids, I Did Not Choose to Leave You Alone In the Divorce
- Why Fathers Give Up After Divorce
- You May Think I’m the Enemy, But You’re Misguided
- I May Never Reach Serenity with my Ex-Wife
- When You’re Trying to CoParent with a Narcissist
image: bathroomismine, creative commons usage
[This post is a continuation of this thought: You Are Ahead By a Century]
Perhaps the mere fact that my then-wife must’ve been “planning” her exit rather than talking to me in couples therapy about it… I mean, why didn’t she tell our therapist she was thinking about divorce? Why didn’t she tell me, so we could work on that. It seems the whole premise of collaborative is “we’ve worked on it and we agree we’d be better off alone.”
When the other person goes to see a lawyer, WHILE YOU’RE IN COUPLES THERAPY, the idea of collaboration is BS. She was collaborative to the extent that I would agree to her terms and conditions. Other than that, she was sort of taking advantage of my good nature, my conflict aversion, and my willingness to see the best in her.
Was she manipulative? Certainly the divorce was pre-meditated. As in murdering our family in cold blood, BEFORE we had a chance to talk about it in therapy.
See, I asked, point-blank, during a particularly confusing couples session.
“Have you been to see an attorney?”
She looked shocked, embarrassed, and mad all in the same second.
“I have. I’m sorry.”
I should’ve shouted, “Then what the fuck are we doing here, paying $120 an hour to talk about our relationship. You’ve already moved on to your ‘options.’”
What I said was, “Oh, that puts a different spin on things. Now I feel pretty hopeless.”
I did feel hopeless. It’s as if the months leading up to the confession had been a lie. How long ago did you go see a lawyer sweetheart? I mean shouldn’t we have been talking through that idea right here, instead of dropping the revelation on me… Or me having to figure it out and ask you. That’s not how this couple’s therapy is supposed to work.
But something about honesty and letting me know in advance was not in her best interest. And there were minor indications that this might be our fate earlier in the relationship. There were signs that I should’ve walked away from the relationship. But I was infatuated too soon to let go.
At the outset of our relationship we started a series of casual lunches. We’d known each other in high school, so in my mind we were just catching up. But early on the tone of the lunches and the texts in between got very flirty. The part she forgot to mention, she was living with a man.
And later in the course of our marriage, when I was having a rough time, she also shared a few lunches with a coworker and a few very deep and connected emails about my depression and her loneliness. Um, that’s called emotional infidelity, folks.
There were other things too. Like when I’d learn two weeks after the fact that she’d gone to lunch with her ex-husband. What? Why not just tell me, like I told her, when my crazy ex called me to have coffee. What was she afraid to tell me about? Why would you withhold that little detail from your discussions, if you are going for 100% honesty and transparency? Well, you wouldn’t.
And yet it was HONESTY that she was killing me on in therapy. Like I was hiding a mistress or late-night drug habit. I couldn’t understand the urgency, when I failed to tell her that I’d gotten a speeding ticket. To her it was as if I’d cheated on her or developed a closet drinking habit.
Week after week in therapy we skipped around about how unreliable I was. How I didn’t do enough chores and it made her too tired for sex. How I was the one with the honesty problem. Maybe it was her projection. I was simply doing my best at minding my own business, sharing what seemed appropriate (like a lunch with my ex-wife) and getting hammered for not being trustworthy. Really?
The issue I really wanted discussed was why I was unable to convince her to have sex for months at a time. And how that was OKAY with her, but me forgetting to bring home the dry cleaning was a fucking disaster. The crisis seemed manufactured to deflect the deeper issue.
And that’s how things are today. Crisis after crisis is manufactured to illicit some response, to get something she wants. And I’m better at spotting a false alarm these days. I simply don’t respond for the first 3 – 4 text messages. It really is NOT a crisis, it’s just her way of driving the conversation and demanding that I respond to her. It’s as if she were saying, “You’re not responsible if you don’t help take our daughter to the doctor this afternoon, with no notice, and it’s a really big deal, so you should pay attention.”
I’m no longer paying attention to the crisis. I am listening for the message underneath the crisis. You never help with doctor’s appointments. You never help with the kids. Our daughter is in crisis. I’m in crisis. You need to take care of your responsibility.
If I understand this perspective now, that the crisis is her way of controlling the situation, I begin to see how and why her “divorce attorney” revelation was sprung on me. The crisis was created immediately. The imbalance in power was complete. I reeled for months while she planned, strategized, and got me into parenting plan discussions, and financial split discussions, before I was ready to even consider that we were heading towards divorce.
We weren’t “heading” towards divorce. We were divorced, she just hadn’t told me yet. I have taken years to catch up. And today, 6-years later, I’m just starting to put the picture together. She sprung the divorce on me. It was to her advantage NOT to talk about the relationship in the couple’s therapy, she was already planning her escape.
The Off Parent
This post continues here: Where the Sidewalk Ends
< back to The Hard Stuff posts
- You Are Ahead by a Century
- The Painful Business of Divorce
- Your Contempt for Me is Hurting All of Us
- The Humans Of Divorce, Dear AG’s Office Special Cases Officer Mr. McK!
- And Just As We Reach A Calm Moment
- What I Still Fail to Understand About My Ex-wife
- When Kids, Money, and Divorce Collide
- Trusting Your Unreliable Ex
image: a few good months before the end, the author, creative commons usage
One of my posts on The Good Men Project got a very interesting comment from an articulate and intelligent woman. She was clearly trying to figure out the parts of her relationship (and sexual) experience in marriage. And I hear this a lot, about the fundamental differences between men and women when it comes to sex and sexual appetites. But let’s clear a few misconceptions up. There has been a lot of new science recently that shows women are just as interested in sex, and historically have not always been as repressed as they are today. I’ll get to that in a second, but here is my response to Erin’s comment. You can go read her full comment here on the GMP, but I think you’ll get the idea from my response.
Hmmm… You make a few assumptions that I don’t necessarily agree with, Erin.
1. Sex is about not disappointing your partner. Hmmm. I don’t think that’s the point. Sex should be a mutually desired part of any relationship. I don’t agree with all this stuff about monogamy becoming boring over time. After 11 years of marriage I was never bored or uninspired by my then-wife. Ever.
2. Men are just men and need sex, women can either comply or risk losing their man. Um… Well, some of that is true. But sex can come in many forms. Intercourse is not always the best option for either partner. And it’s true the male of the species has a more dominate drive, fueled by higher levels of testosterone. But both partners should want to be intimate, at least occasionally. Your milage may vary.
3. Sex is not about maintaining monogamy. And men will not necessarily go wandering sexually if they are not getting sex in their marriage. Just as not all women grow bored with sex after being married for a while. It’s simply the average story. But we’re not average, are we?
4. Men deal with the exact same thing, from the other side of the bed. Being constantly rejected for intimacy is hard to handle. I got creative with my requests. I had unspoken attempts. I had happy and playful attempts. I had lustful and passionate pleas. When nothing (and I mean nothing) worked, we were dealing with something other than a difference in libido.
So let’s take as an assumption that men and women desire closeness and affection with the same intensity. And for men, often this affection is driven by the sexual drive inherent in our higher levels of testosterone and our natural hunter instinct. This is biological. BUT… That’s not the whole story, and it’s definitely not the answer for our differences in sexual desire, or desire for frequency of sex. It is part of the story, but in my opinion, not the most important part. Hear me out.
Sex is about hormones and release. Sure. I can agree with that, from an animal perspective. When we were beasts we conquered dinner on the hunt and we conquered women back at home, partially as reward for our prowess and success as a provider. Well, dear women and men, the modern era is much different. The concept of the hungry and sexually frustrated male is convenient, but not all that helpful in navigating or negotiating an equitable balance in touch and intimacy, both sexual and non-sexual.
If we put the imbalance idea on hold just for a second, let’s assume that both partners desire closeness and this involves cuddling, kissing, holding hands, and sexual interactions. If we start with the idea that both partners desire closeness, we can start solving for how to get that closeness, regardless of if it involves intercourse.
What started happening in my marriage to curb our intimacy (and this was just as much about casual touch and holding) was my then-wife began distancing herself physically and emotionally from me. As she got activated by something, anger, fear, frustration, overwhelm, exhaustion, she would withdraw rather than engage. Now, I do understand how any intimate interaction has the potential to become sexual, but that was not the issue. For me, I would’ve been happy with snuggling. But the threat of sex may have kept her from even asking for that simple nurturing.
When I get scared or sad I feel closer and more supported by a gentle touch. That connection, even a hand on my neck, shows me (in some animal – dog-like perhaps) that she is near, she cares, and she is available. Available not for sex but for hearing and supporting me whatever I’m going through.
I can see how in many relationships that are based on much more base, caveman-like, relationships that even a hand on the neck might signal, “hey let’s have sex” but this wasn’t how our 9 – 10 years of closeness had developed. I was as fulfilled by a hug, sometimes, as a good roll under the sheets.
But something emotional was beginning to happen in my marriage that was more fundamental. It was not about sex. It was about being seen and being honest.
If you have sex in a full and open way, you begin to see deeply into the other person’s nature. (I’m not talking woo woo here.) You begin to feel more connected and in my case, you crave that connection, that transparency. I could tell when she was closed down and when we were close, and some well-thought-out touches and supportive words were often all it took to get her to open up and tell me what was bugging her. And most of the time this was not about sex. I was sincerely opening my heart to hers to hear what was hurting her or freaking her out. And more often than not, in the earlier stages of our marriage, it was about external things, or someone else who had done something hurtful.
But… As we began to experience more stress in our marriage, due in large part to the financial collapse of everyone’s economy including ours, she began to avoid being close. If she got scared she would often withdraw. When I had energy and passion for her I would frequently seek her out and dig in my heels until she let me in and told me what was going on. This was the equivalent of a housekeeper making sure nothing was getting swept under the rug. And this type of closeness rarely evolved into sex. It was not about sex, it was about closeness and intimacy.
After a while, however, as things continued to slide, she was harder to reach. And she began to express uncontrollable anger, that would pop out from time to time as a “fuck you.” It was shocking the first time she just blurted it out. The second and third time I had the impression she was bottling up so much anger and rage (in her mind it was 100% about me) that she could no longer contain it in her isolation. But she was so withdrawn that I couldn’t talk her down either.
In some ways maybe she was avoiding sex too. But I think the sex we had was so open and opening she was avoiding sex in order to not be revealed. Whatever she was afraid of or angry about was so frightening she didn’t want me to open her up. She didn’t want to tell me what was really going on. And in the end she really didn’t want to tell me she was consulting an attorney and trying to figure out her best options in asking for a divorce.
So sure, she was withdrawn and withholding of sex at this late stage. But it wasn’t about sex. It was about the closeness that often opened us both up to each other’s deep feelings. She didn’t want to share her hurt and pain. She didn’t want to tell me she was actually considering divorce and not just randomly shouting curses as me. She was so far gone she didn’t want me to see into her at all.
Sex opens you up to another individual in a human way, that is very different from our Neanderthal ancestors. Some of us are still stuck in the model of that old hunter/conqueror vs breeding partner/reward dynamic. That no longer holds true, if you are consciously coupling and relating with all of your intelligence. I do know that some relationships are not based on honesty and sharing, and I’ve seen examples of the caveman mentality too often to count. But that’s not us. That’s no you. That should not be your default understanding of the man vs. woman equation.
And it’s not the way it should be with sex. Sure we men want sex more often. And it is the woman who is the gatekeeper to her own body and the gift of that intimacy. When the intimacy dries up completely, it’s more about the relationship than it is about the animals in the relationship.
The Off Parent
reference: Good Sex: Or Five Ways to Avoid Bad Sex – The Good Men Project
- Dating A Divorced Dad: We Might Be Good For Each Other
- 5 Wonderful and Unexpected Benefits of Being a Serial Monogamist
- The Honey Trap: How Beauty Can Lead Us Astray
- a little love poem – a poem
image: fk, marina caprara, creative commons usage