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