I’m still happy, but I’m mostly alone. That’s the hard part. I never really thought I would be alone again once I got married. Well, the second marriage, anyway. The first one was a bust from the honeymoon on. But I’m stoic, and I tried to stay in there even when all signs pointed to “get off the fkin boat.” Oh well, we live and live on.
So I was happily married. I had two kids, a boy and then a girl, and things were moving along swimmingly in my life. Well, I’m not saying there weren’t complications, but I’m saying I was working through them as best I could. We both were, me and my then-wife. But a couple of things happened over the course of the kids first 5 and 7 years respectively, that change the course of all of our lives. I was oblivious to some of the changes, and ignorantly, stubbornly, refusing to deal with a few of the others. We were sailing along, not smoothly, but together.
There was a moment when our kids were 1 and 3 that I found my then-wife in the bedroom crying. She was listening to a song, and it was hitting her in some deep sad level. I was a little afraid to ask her what was going on. The song didn’t do anything for me at the time. I couldn’t get into the guy’s voice. But the words and meaning were obvious, even if I glossed over the shock I felt at discovering her in such a tender and broken moment. I was afraid, I’m sure, for what it meant. The song was Goodbye My Lover by James Blunt.
Something in the lyrics talked about saying goodbye to someone forever, while still loving them. I knew it meant something deeper than I was willing to explore. And so I kept my distance from the topic. I did ask a couple of times, over the next year or so, but we never really explored what was happening for her in that moment of loneliness and heartbreak. What I knew at that very moment, was that it was her heartbreak, and she was choosing to not share it with me. She was crying alone, and isolating in it, rather than reaching out for me, to call me back in. She was saying goodbye in some abstract way. Maybe she was realizing the end was coming, and she was afraid to broach the subject when our kids were so young. I couldn’t read her mind, and I didn’t try. And the few times I asked about the song, I was met with a blank stare. As if I was looking at a ghost of my then-wife. It was weird. But we sailed along.
Years later, when things were hitting another stressful period we enlisted the support of a wonderful therapist who was helping us learn to communicate with each other on a different level. He wasn’t a marriage counselor, and thus, we meandered over the crisis of the day and the issues of major importance. There was an interesting moment, when our counselor and friend asked us how we felt our work was going. He asked for one word to describe how we were feeling.
I went first. “Hopeful.”
He thanked me. And we nodded and shared a bit about that. Then she went, “Cynical.”
She wasn’t kidding. The word carried a lot of power. There was something underneath the idea of cynicism that is already defeated. She was saying she was the opposite of hopeful. She was hopeless. I remember even the counselor being a little surprised by the venom in the word. But I would see later, that she was already well into her anger years. The final two years of our marriage when she never really got un-mad at me. I’m not sure I understand the mechanics of it. I’m not sure what she was talking about with her individual therapist, but she appeared to me as if she woke up on the mad side of the bed every morning.
Now, there are resentments and anger issues that can run in any relationship. And as a person matures they begin to take responsibility for their own anger, and their own issues. If they don’t, they may continue to blame others for the injustice in their lives. Either you do the work to resolve your issues or you hold on to them and all the righteousness they provide. But it’s a false protection. And inside the person who is shaming and blaming knows that they are off.
And during the course of the next year after the cynical comment, my then-wife had three very distinct “fuck you” snaps. Again, I can’t put my finger on what she as so mad about, but I *can* tell you that she believed that somehow I was the cause of her unhappiness. The first time we were eating dinner with another couple and we were joking about work, or politics, or something tangential, and in the course of the little banter we were flicking each other some grief, sort of tossing around the teasing comments and she just blew up at me. “FUUUUCK YOU.” She said, in a hot and frustrated tone. The conversation stopped. I was blushing. She apologized to our guests. I’m not sure if she ever said she was sorry to me, until later in therapy.
And two more times, this ripping curse came out of her in the same way. The second and third time, since we had discussed it in therapy, she caught herself afterwards and apologized for her outburst. But something wasn’t right about it. She was so angry, that she could no longer contain it in the course of everyday banter and play. There was no sarcasm in these outbursts, they were pure poison. And I kept feeling, “Wow, this is really something she needs to work on.” And perhaps she was. Perhaps this was the fuel she was using to psyche herself up to go meet with a divorce attorney and see what her options were. I can’t speculate on her timing or internal dialogue, but her actions towards me continued to vacillate between outward hostility and rage and distancing quiet.
And the counselor we were going to see was not really equipped to handle large emotional outbursts. It just wasn’t the kind of work we were doing with him. We reoriented and reset several times, but even I began to feel the futility of battling this anger demon that I couldn’t do much to influence or control. I did my best at being a loving and caring husband and father. I did my best at playing the happily married man, but the silence between the outbursts did not provide any closeness.
So for the last year and a half of my marriage, my then-wife was mad at me. How does that work? It’s not like I cheated on her. It’s not like I wasn’t making money, providing for the house, and doing my share of chores, dishes, kid duty, and lawn care. I *was* doing all those things. But I was also getting worn down by the constant unyielding anger. I couldn’t make sense of it. The counselor couldn’t make sense of it. And perhaps even my then-wife was struggling in her individual therapy to understand what was going on, but nothing shifted. Nothing shifted until it broke. And by then she had already met with a lawyer and the deal was half-way to being done in her mind, before she even let me know she was considering a divorce.
In my world, Fuck You was a long way from divorce. But maybe I was being stupid and refusing to see how “off” things were. Maybe. And maybe I could have worked harder at making her happy, each time these little ruptures occurred. Maybe.
But what I do know, is that no one can do the work for you. So I couldn’t do anything to help her work through her anger issues, except be the best man and husband I knew how to be. So that’s what I did. But I was an no-win situation. I didn’t know it, but she was crying about losing her marriage back when our kids were 1 and 3, listening to James Blunt. There wasn’t much that I could have done differently had I understood what she was crying about.
Really, there is nothing you can do to get the other person to change, heal, recover, stop drinking, whatever. I couldn’t make her be happy. And unfortunately she couldn’t, or wasn’t willing to, either.
The Off Parent
back to The Hard Stuff
- Maybe My Unhappy Ex-Wife Is Simply Unhappy
- What You Took Away; What I Get To Remember
- Love and War; It’s all Here – Seeking Love and Peace
- Growing Pains: Accepting that She Doesn’t Want Reconciliation
reference: Goodbye My Lover – James Blunt
image: 343/365, morgan, creative commons usage
my father moved through dooms of love through sames of am through haves of give, singing each morning out of each night my father moved through depths of height -- e e cummings - dooms of love
My posts/poems about desire are really about hoping and striving towards “what’s next.”
I had a friend ping me on Facebook yesterday after reading one of my poems. She said, “They make me so sad for you.” I was surprised. But I can understand how things might come off that way, especially if you are entering The Off Parent from one of the more emotional posts. But I want to be clear, this is a process, and this blog is large enough to contain the anger, the depression, the joy, the thrill of new relationships, and the frustration at dealing with a woman who no longer thinks I’m hot shit. (That’s okay, it’s mutual.) Overall, the picture I am hoping to paint… WAIT. That’s not the idea. I’m not trying to put a bow around the process of divorce. Let’s try again.
I would not want Divorce for ANYONE. That said, my divorce, has become one of the defining and re-defining moments of my life. I would not say I wanted the divorce, or that it was MY idea… BUT… I was starting to stand up for a situation that had become unbearable for me.
The difference between my ex-wife’s perspective and mine was minor. Critical, but minor. In the large scheme of things, I was also demanding a change.
MY PERSPECTIVE: this demand was the only way I had to effect change from within my marriage. I was arguing and demanding answers to some dark questions from the perspective that I WANTED THE MARRIAGE TO CONTINUE.
HER PERSPECTIVE: (somewhat paraphrased, but we went over it a number of times in therapy, so I’m not putting words into her mouth) she was unhappy with the marriage and saw no signs of things changing or getting better, thus it was better for her to move to something different.
The points of leverage changed dramatically when she let me know, in therapy, that she HAD consulted an attorney. I was crushed and panicked, but unsurprised. The anger she had been demonstrating in action and words over the previous 12 months had all but wrecked my positive outlook. And this admission, only revealed by my direct ask, “Have you already been to see a lawyer?” When she said yes, I just about hit the eject button right there. I did the sober thing, and expressed my dismay in a rational manner and left the session feeling absolutely lost about what to do next.
In the process of the next few days, primarily via email, I ranted and demanded she make a decision. She demurred and deflected for a couple of days. But in the end I was asked to leave the house and give her some space, so relief from the stress and tension she and the kids were experiencing. Um, what?
In the end, I refused. It was March. My line, “The process of divorce takes time. There is no hurry. And I’m not going to throw my kid’s lives into this hell before the school year is up. We’ve been living as roommates for a year, we can do it for another two months. We can split sleeping on the couch.”
Somewhere in the back of my mind, in my rapidly crashing heart, I was certain she would see the error of her ways and come back. I knew, however, in my rational mind, that this was not going to happen.
A few sessions before the hammer fell the therapist had asked a pivotal question, “How do you feel about the marriage and this process at this point.”
I went first. “Hopeful.”
Her word, and I knew more than I wanted to admit actually how hopeless I was feeling, was “Cynical.”
I think that was the beginning of my revelation into the darkness that now separated the two of us. It was different for each of us. But the pain, sadness, and anger was just a potent for each of us. I like to think I was on the optimist-side of the whole deal, but I was pretty disheartened.
All that said… as water under the bridge…
Today, three years later, I am happy. Alone. But happy. And I won’t pass judgement on her and the boyfriend who has given her strength and steadiness. My daughter likes him. That’s enough for me.
As I cursed, raged, pleaded, and cried at my wife trying to get her to come back to the marriage, I was also certain that I could not do it alone. Two people have to be IN for a marriage to work. So she exited before me. Probably, maybe, that whole year of blinding anger, was really her way of trying to help ME exit. But I’m projecting now.
When the agreement was made to divorce I also demanded the right to stay in the house until the kids were out of school. A shitty-hard decision, but I did not want to reenact the gross and bitter divorce struggle of my parents. And it was my argument, even against the therapist, that remaining in the house while the kids finished their 1st and 4th grade years at elementary school was much better than me leaving the house immediately.
Take heart. It gets better.
And today, I would assure you that my kids are thriving. And while the ex-y and I don’t communicate much, we have kids who love both of us and are seeing how we can still care about each other while moving in new directions with our lives.
So as I write poems about being “a poet rather than a player” I mean to be happy about it. This journey has taken some amazingly wonderful turns. And the next one is coming right up.
The Off Parent
- The Divorce Whisperer
- On the Turning Away: Fighting with Your Ex About Money
- Re-finding My Dick After Divorce
- The Light At the End of the Tunnel, It’s Yours
- The Divorce Library (reading list)
- Songs of Divorce (free listening library – youtube sourced songs)
- Laugh It Off (building a resource library of funny videos and other diversions)
- Facebook (follow us on Facebook and keep up with all the conversations)
- The 5 Love Languages (a book on love styles by Gary Chapman)
image: broken dreams, brandon satterwhite, creative commons usage