My marriage was fine as long as I was prepared to sacrifice my health and time with the kids to work. If I brought home the big paycheck all was somewhat jolly. Maybe not always for me, but the mom and kids seemed to enjoy it. And then I got laid off and asked for a moment to contemplate the future. I mean, the nice fat corporate job, that had stressed me out to the max and gotten me a lot fatter in the process, had also given me a silver parachute. 6 months, full pay and benefits. Seemed like a great plan.
And I remember the lunch date I had with my then-wife during the first weeks of my sabbatical when she came unglued at my idea. She calmly pointed out that is simply wasn’t that much money. My severance wasn’t going to last us very long. She obviously didn’t like the direction my thinking was going. And to be fair, with two kids, a nice house, nice cars… She had a point.
But the point that she failed to fess up to at the time, she really didn’t want to re-enter the workforce full-time. Ever. I don’t know this to be true. And the poetic justice of the divorce has mitigated those ideas, but she really got mad at me over lunch for not taking her concerns as seriously as she took them. Somehow, I was being immature, reckless, and self-centered in wanted to recalculate the work/life balance. And yes, my discussion would need to involve her plans for returning to work full-time as well.
It seemed, back then, that we were actually pretty close to achieving a more balanced and fair split of the financial obligations of the lifestyle we had chosen. Our kids were in 3rd and 5th grade, so they were less dependent on our extreme focus 24/7. It felt, to me, like things were in a position to lighten up for us. And this was a good time, while we (I say we, but she’d been maxing out at about 20 hours a week at that point) weren’t quite so strapped for cash, to look at what we wanted to create for our family over the next 5 – 10 years while they finished up school.
But I don’t think that’s the discussion she wanted to have. She wanted to know what my plans were for providing for the family. I was saying “we” she was saying “you.” Hmm. I guess we were at an impasse of some sort. I didn’t know it then, but we were crossing over a threshold. We took the issue into our couples counselor. We worked on things. We struggled. We tried to listen to each other. We tried to see eye to eye. Meanwhile, the severance, while paying the bills was being burned twice as fast, because she had lost her job at the first of the year too.
Yes, things were intense. But they were manageable. And in my optimistic way I was certain we were in a position to plan and strategize about “our” work plan rather than just “my” work plan. We tried.
I kept looking for work and interviewing at other big corporate jobs. And I put my all into the process. Of course, the layoff that culled 50% of my team was caused by the major economic collapse of 2009. No body was eager to hire high-level marketing staff. At least none of the jobs I was hearing about and applying for. Still we had my severance, and they were going to pay me 50% of my 2009 bonus as well. That bought us another month.
But I wasn’t saying the things she wanted to hear. And she wasn’t hearing me either. I wasn’t taking things seriously enough and she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do with her career. We floundered as a couple. We began to experience breakdowns in communication and trust.
She recounted the pivotal lunch in therapy as me completely disregarding her concerns about money. Somehow I could not hear her.
I recounted the same exact lunch as “we both expressed our ideas about the future and while I wanted to discuss changes, she wanted action and me to stabilize our future, immediately.” It wasn’t that easy. And the threadbare trust in our relationship began to break down. Even as I was feeling hopeful and collaborative, she was feeling scared and angry. We limped along, but the sparks between us were more angry than inspirational.
And that’s when our sex life fell off a cliff as well. So as a man, I was in a real double bind. I not only had my self-esteem all mixed up after being laid off and having a ton of unproductive interviews. I was also getting shut out of the bedroom and the emotional closeness that comes from being intimate. So both of my anchors were gone. I was floundering, but I was doing it mostly alone, with an angry partner who kept saying I wasn’t listening to her. She began to express how mad she was at me. And during this time she even blurted out how she didn’t really love me any more.
I suppose I had two choices. 1. Completely withdraw my demand of a recalibration of our future and just hit the “whatever works” job search and get the job and shut the hell up to see if that made things better; or 2. stand strong in my conviction that I was not willing to simply go back to the factory in support of my white picket fence and semi-supportive wife. I was not willing to go back into the cube farm without a fight.
And so we fought. Meanwhile the money ran out and things went up another step on the urgency and alarm scale.
Looking back as clearly as I can, I suppose at this time, after she had gotten laid off from her job as well she really was soul-searching in the same way I was. What were we going to be as a family? Who was going to provide the money and who was going to provide the nurturing? How would we split the obligations and parenting and chores? But the kicker for me, the thing I still struggle with as I try and reconcile this period in my marriage: for that entire year, from January to December 2010, my wife actually spent more money on her consulting “business” than she made.
When I try and imagine what was going through her mind the only thing I can come up with is
- She was determined for me to return to the high-paying job that would allow her the same flexibility she had enjoyed while the kids were younger.
- She was searching for her bliss. She didn’t want to continue the string of unsuccessful jobs that had not taken her further up the job satisfaction ladder.
- In all her fears and worry about money it was easier to focus on me and my work search than to pay attention to her own financial contribution.
- Since she was the “accounting” partner it, even as it was clear we were heading into crisis mode, she doubled down on me and my job search, rather than doing what she wanted me to do, and “take whatever” so that we could catch up on the bills.
- Maybe she was using the leverage of the economic collapse to force me back into the big corporate job so she wouldn’t have to figure out how she was going to contribute financially.
No matter which of my assumptions are true, the actions she took are now fact and not projection or mind-reading. In March of the following year, she decided she’d had enough and she made some decisions to leave the marriage and break up our family. No more “for better or worse,” she was going to greener pastures must exist somewhere else. I was devastated. Even as I was angry and frustrated at the current state of affairs, I was also beginning to express my anger at being emotionally isolated. And I try to let her off the hook most of the time, by owning my part of the anger and frustration in our marriage. But I was in the marriage to WIN and STAY. She decided to LEAVE.
I can’t take any of it back. And I can’t even gloat at how much she is having to work now, because it’s not how I wanted it to go. This moment, today, is not how it should’ve gone, in my mind. We should’ve come to a balanced plan where we BOTH hunted and landed good paying jobs, WE stabilized our financial situation, and WE made commitments to re-energize and re-invest energy in our marriage.
Had we collaborated instead of separated, today we’d be looking at much better economic times. All the money that has gone into two homes could have gone into the bank. She would be working a lot less today had we stayed together. But somewhere along the way, she lost the trust that I was a worthy collaborator.
The Off Parent
back to The Hard Stuff
- What An Angry or Distant Divorced Parent Looks Like
- The Fk You That Keeps On Giving
- The Crushing Impact of Emotional Infidelity on My Marriage
- When Did Our Halos Lose Their Sparkle? A Marriage Comes Apart
- I Was a Happily Married Man, and Now I’m Not: Tiny Hints of Doom
image: angry face, transformer 18, creative commons usage