Divorce, Single Parenting, Dating, Sex, & Self-Recovery

Posts tagged “waiting for the other person to change

Fundamental Flaw at the Beginning of My Marriage

OFF-last-winter

I didn’t know it when we started going to lunches together, but the woman who would eventually become my wife and the mother of my children was living with another man. I’m certain that he didn’t know she was seeing me across town at some organic restaurant and sharing smiles and flirts and “catching up.” And years later, as things were getting tough in my marriage, I didn’t know that she was having lunches with a younger man across town. She didn’t tell either of us about her lunches with other men.

I caught on when I read an email that looked like spam to be deleted from the family computer. It wasn’t spam. It was an explicitly intimate letter about their lunch, their trip to our local library, and a few of the deep topics they discussed, including my depression and her unhappiness.

The real crux of her secrecy was how it came out in other ways, and ultimately how the issue of trust was paraded out over and over again as “my” issue.

I guess that’s how it starts. Emotional infidelity might eventually lead to a sexual affair, and most likely to divorce. But we were struggling, that’s for sure, but in my mind we were struggling together, to get through tough emotional and financial times. The break in our team effort, the inclusion of this stranger, a man I’d never met, felt almost unbearable. I WAS struggling with depression. And I was in one of the deepest periods when I came across this letter. I entered a period of deep detachment.

I confronted her. We went to therapy. We worked through it. Sort of. She apologized. She said she understood how this could be hurtful to me. She never owned the infidelity aspect of what she’d done, but she said she’d never do it again.

Years later as our sex life wained, and I was asking and trying to unlock the combination to her sexual desire, the ideas of this “other man” haunted me. What was preventing her, really, in this obviously unhappy state, from seeking satisfaction outside the marriage? How was I supposed to understand the total lack of intimacy with me, and not imagine that she was being open and sharing with someone. Maybe her therapist. Maybe another man.

And throughout the course of our marriage there were casual dates with her ex-husband that she didn’t tell me about. So in some corner of her mind her “lunches” were none of my business. I didn’t get it.

The real crux of her secrecy was how it came out in other ways, and ultimately how the issue of trust was paraded out over and over again as “my” issue. When I got a speeding ticket and didn’t tell her, I was being deceitful. All these little things kept adding up and dominating our couple’s counseling. My problems. My depression. And until the tail end of our marriage, as I was gainfully employed and beginning to feel some of my natural self-confidence back, I just went along with the story that I had a lot of issues to work through. But wait…

I did begin to speak up that Christmas and January/February before she asked for the divorce in March. I had started asking about closeness. I had started challenging her isolation and anger issues as she pointed them at me. I began to hear her “fuck you” outbursts when they came at random times. And at this time I was unwilling to bow down to the plea that I was the problem. It wasn’t me, baby, it was WE. We had a problem and it was time to either put up (“Let me out of the glass box,” I would say.) or break up. Even as I would like to put the “asking for divorce” on her shoulders, I was pressing the issue of closeness.

In the final moment of exposure and truth, I expressed my love and desire and my hope that we could rebuild from ground zero.

And in my expressions of passion mixed with righteous anger, I was saying, “Either things change, or I’m outta here.” My flaw was, I was fighting to say in the marriage, I was fighting from a belief that the foundation of our family was more important that any “issue” we had between is. I was stripping the relationship back down to its core to examine the fundamentals. “How can we go months without kissing? How is that okay with you?”

And in that last moment, I still believed we were in therapy to join together again. However, I also knew that our therapist was not a marriage counselor, he was working to get us actually hearing each other. He was trying to get us to the reality of our relationship, and not biasing our conversations in any way, but allowing us to sort through the issues. In these last sessions I believe we began to hear one another. And in the final moment of exposure and truth, I expressed my love and desire and my hope that we could rebuild from ground zero.

My then-wife expressed her dissatisfaction with our relationship and how I was not changing enough to give her hope that things could be different. She was talking about trust. She was claiming the high ground at that last second, and pointing the finger at me, saying I was not honest enough. Her statement of clarity at the end of our marriage was that she did not see any hope that I was going to become (change to become) the man she needed.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

Note: I think this poem unlocked the feelings to make this post possible: love and what was missing

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image: winter depression, gerald gabernig, creative commons usage


I Was a Happily Married Man, and Now I’m Not: Tiny Hints of Doom

OFF-firestarter

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.

I began to feel the futility of battling this anger demon that I couldn’t do much to influence or control.

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.”

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.

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.

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.

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.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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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

Perils of Dating a Relationship Blogger, Especially If You Know

OFF-kissbye

When she broke up with me the first time, I wasn’t sure if she knew about my blogs. And I wrote about the experience. She contacted me and said that what I had written was very honest and accurate, but not very flattering. She didn’t ask me to take it down. And eventually we continued dating.

She vowed to not read this blog. I know I would not be able to keep away if I knew she was pouring out pieces of her heart and soul. It’s too tempting.

She let me know that my love poems really tripped her out. “I don’t want to hold all that expectation for you. That’s not me.”

Her objections to my love poems, however were more troubling. As our relationship continued, I continued to express my desire, hopes, fantasies, and ultimately my sole-created projections.

And as much as I tried to explain to her that the love poem was an art form, and though she had been the inspiration for the passion and fury of the expression, I often lifted off into some altered state where I was writing to the gods. The love poem to end all love poems. The best love poem, ever. Still it freaked her out. So I learned not to share them. And she continued to profess not to read the blog.

But she read the blog and broke up with me several times over the next month. Still, I understand.

I can’t imagine what it would be like if the tables were turned. Well, in fact, I sort of can, a woman I dated for a while is also a blogger. And it’s a bit voyueristic. But we’re no longer involved, so it’s cool.

Anyway, the one time before that I dated someone who knew about the blog it didn’t go so well. I told her that I would not blog about us. And we proceeded to implode rather quickly, but I couldn’t write about it. It was my promise.

Moving on towards the present moment, I can understand the temptation to read the words of the person you are in a relationship with. In fact, it’s hard for me to imagine that I wouldn’t read the entire tome back to front, just to get oriented.

But rather than learn and explore with me, this woman tended to defend or take offense to much of my writing. And that was a bummer. She would miss the entire point of a post, to share her take on where I got it all wrong. Um, excuse me? Which part did I get wrong? The part where I didn’t agree with you?

Her objections to my love poems, however were more troubling. As our relationship continued, I continued to express my desire, hopes, fantasies, and ultimately my sole-created projections. I am aware that poems and even some posts are simply projections of what I want. She was not so easy to convince that not every single line was about. her. So she stopped reading the love poems too, and I learned not to send them to her. But that’s a bit of a problem right?

It makes me very sad to have invested so much heart and time into this wonderful startup, and yet have it fail.

It’s as if this blog is a loaded gun, pointed directly at our relationship. And if I am already unable to share what I’m thinking, dreaming, and hoping for… Well, that says something about how the relationship was going to progress, unless something amazing changed. And I know waiting for the other person to change is a big problem. (see: Waiting for the Other Person to Change)

Okay, so things aren’t going to change. And my poems and posts are going to freak her out… forever. That’s no way to be. And she’s now let me know, once again, that she’s not right for me. At this point, I am inclined to accept her protestation.

It makes me very sad to have invested so much heart and time into this wonderful startup, and yet have it fail. And now she can read this blog freely as I stumble to learn and move on from the experience of loving someone fully again.

Here’s how the story ends: Walking Away from the Wreckage

Here’s how it felt when it ended: don’t tell me how it ends < a poem

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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image: bye, bye 288, tim, creative commons usage


Waiting for the Other Person to Change – The Path Towards Divorce

OFF-dead

[This post was written as a response to this post from Divorced Moms : The Moment I Knew It Was Time to Divorce.]

Here’s what I wrote in the comments section:

Sorry to say it, but you’re story says to me, you are already gone. You say it yourself. And whatever has happened between you and your husband, with and without of your therapist, is water under the bridge. Here’s the rough part: He’s not going to change.

But here’s the win for you: You can and must change yourself. You are the only person you can influence. And you owe it to yourself and your daughters to get yourself healthy. Get the support you need. And do what YOU need to do. This state of dysfunction and living with your corpse-like husband is not likely to evolve into a healthy relationship. And a lot of it IS your perspective and YOUR unspoken agreements or wishes.

Here’s the full post:

A lot of your story resonated with me, so I thought I would comment and share some perspective from the other side of the bed. Yep, you are waiting for your husband to change. And that’s a trap, for both of you.

As the kid of an alcoholic dad I got an early experience in Alanon groups and Adult Children of Alcoholics groups as well. And one of the guiding principles is this: You cannot change the other person, you can only change yourself.

I hear that you are trying to act with compassion (in some aspects) and looking out for your girls. But I also hear your resentment and anger at your husband. I get it. You’re pissed that he’s not doing enough, that he continues his pattern of irresponsibility, and you are doing everything you can to revive a dead marriage. Um, well, I’ve got some good news and some bad news for you. He is never going to change. You on the other hand, can and have to change. It’s all you can do. Everything else is wishful thinking, fantasy, and victimization.

When she was healthy again, and we resumed our coupling, she would go through periods of coldness. And even that’s normal, I get it.

More good news, you are not a victim of this marriage. You also have all the tools and resources at your disposal to help you through this, regardless of which path you take next.

Here’s the part that’s like me, the part I resonated with that’s part of your husband’s failure. You mention him taking the “just enough” approach to a lot of his responsibilities. And on a few of your examples, my mind was saying, “Oops, that’s me too.” Let me try to pull some of those issues apart, in hopes of illuminating some of my own dysfunctional thinking, but also to share some of my perspective, that it’s not really a problem, it’s the disagreement between the two of you that’s the problem.

I am a “just in time” kind of person as well. I don’t like to pay bills. But a few late payments doesn’t really worry me either. When these issues came to light in my marriage, a lot of the friction was because we assumed we knew the other person’s reasons for their behavior. I figured my then-wife was really uptight about money because she had come from a family of origin that struggled for money. I came from a background where money was not the issue, love and time was the issue in my early memories of my parents marriage.

Okay, so I didn’t mind paying a few bills late and possibly even letting a few go longer. This drove my partner crazy. Was I being irresponsible as she claimed? Was I refusing to grow up? Of course, those are perspectives about why I would think and act differently around bill paying, but they were not the answer. However, the resentment around this issue was much worse that the issue itself. There was a lot of energy coming from my partner about bill paying. And the intensity of that emotional panic gave a lot of insight into how differently we saw the money issue, but mainly, it revealed a few of our “unspoken agreements.”

She believed that if I loved her I would pay the bills with precision and promptness. I didn’t connect the two items at all. For me bill paying was a pain in the ass, even if I had the money. She was very disciplined (maybe obsessed) about chores and I was not. We could walk down the same hall day after day and I would never notice the burnt out lightbulb, yet every day she would get madder and madder that I was not a responsible or caring husband. Why? Because I was not changing the lightbulb. What?

We saw the world and the house in very different ways. And it took a while to uncover a lot of these assumed agreements, that weren’t agreements at all. In her mind, if I cared for her, I would change the lightbulb when it was burned out. Anything else demonstrated my irresponsibility and disdain for her priorities. That wasn’t really it at all, I just didn’t notice the damn lightbulb. And for her part, she was waiting for me to change, to notice things like lightbulbs and scruffy lawns, and just do the work. Just take care of it. Just fix it. “Just pay the damn bills on time.”

Now I can see this had something to do with me: she was mad about something, she was withholding intimacy because she was trying to get me to change, she was using intimacy as a tool.

Uncovering the assumed yet unspoken agreements is hard work. And while, I am not saying this will change your husband into the caring and loving person you want, it might get to the core of what is bothering you.

Your initial reaction that things were over, that it was a dead relationship, however is harder for me to fathom. And this is just the point that hit me the hardest. I read your title, and kept the email in my inbox until I was ready to read it. See, I think my ex, also, decided at some point that things were over, she just failed to mention it to me.

And when you mention his addiction to porn, um, are you sure that’s what’s going on? Again, I can’t possibly see into your relationship, but sometimes the “addiction” has more to do with sexual issues in the marriage, rather than his insatiable desire for 19 year-old porn stars. I’m guessing that as you decided he was a corpse in your house that your interest in sex with the dead man has been almost zero.

In my marriage we had periods of peak sexual connection and then nothing. The connecting activity of intimacy, even that didn’t involve sex, came and went with the emotional tides of my partner. And when the tide was out, she rejected all offers, all invitations, all teases, all strokes, that MIGHT lead to intimacy. She exited the relationship emotionally and one of the ways that showed up was in her lack of desire to connect with me on ANY PHYSICAL LEVEL. Nothing. Nada. She could go a month and never think of closeness.

Meanwhile, I was frustratedly pining away. And sure, I turned to porn. It was even a spoken agreement between us. When she was recovering from giving birth to each of our two kids we went through the normal periods of asexual intimacy, and I would take care of myself in other ways. So I did, but it was no substitute for her, or the real thing. It was cold, emotionless, release. And sure, people can get deep into it, and addicted to all the varieties of fantasy that they might never act out in real life, but that wasn’t my case.

But when she was healthy again, and we resumed our coupling, she would go through periods of coldness. And even that’s normal, I get it. I understand that women are very different from men in their need for sexual release. It’s something about testosterone levels. But when the woman shuts the passion down completely, something else is happening.

I can guess at what my wife’s dysfunction was, but that would also be silly. So much of sex and sexual intimacy is in our heads. To try to pull apart her lack of sexual desire, for me, would be a serious case of projection and bullshit. So I didn’t do that. I asked nicely. I asked jokingly. I set aside special kid-free times. I did the dishes and bills more often. I looked for the lightbulbs that might be out. And guess what? Nothing worked. She was still closed for any form of closeness.

Okay, so now I can see this had something to do with me: she was mad about something, she was withholding intimacy because she was trying to get me to change, she was using intimacy as a tool. Bad idea. And she was having issues of her own: antidepressants maybe, overworked and overwhelmed maybe, unresolved anger issues with her family of origin. And of course, unresolved issues with me. But when the distance and anger goes on for days and weeks, the issue is much deeper than her and me. And it was. Or, I assume it was, I still don’t know.

But in my experience of the fracture and fallout at being placed in this emotional prison was horrible. And I thrashed a little, while trying to get things to change. I tried new things. I tried different ways of asking, connecting, nurturing. But again, that wasn’t the issue. I could not make her change. I could not make her be someone else.

You can and must change yourself. You are the only person you can influence. And you owe it to yourself and your daughters to get yourself healthy.

As I realise, now, four years later, that I was just like the partner of an alcoholic, waiting for them to change, I am glad I was ultimate released from that unwinnable spiral of loss and frustration. And for my kid’s sake, I hope she’s happy. I hope she figures it out with her new boyfriend. I really do. Because I don’t want to see her in pain, even now. Even divorced, I want her to be happy. Her happiness is directly tied to my kid’s experience of happiness and hope.

I learned my dependency in my family of origin. I was the little kid trying to be a hero, magician, football star, to get my dad to notice me and my value. I was trying to get him to stop drinking by being valuable enough as a son to be worthy of his attention. Of course, that’s not how it works. Nor, does that path ever work. Ever.

Sorry to say it, but you’re story says to me, you are already gone. You say it yourself. And whatever has happened between you and your husband, with and without of your therapist, is water under the bridge. Here’s the rough part: He’s not going to change.

But here’s the win for you: You can and must change yourself. You are the only person you can influence. And you owe it to yourself and your daughters to get yourself healthy. Get the support you need. And do what YOU need to do. This state of dysfunction and living with your corpse-like husband is not likely to evolve into a healthy relationship. And a lot of it IS your perspective and YOUR unspoken agreements or wishes.

Speak now or forever hold your peace as you move along for the good of yourself and your daughters. Your husband will eventually have to take care of himself.

I wish you the best.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@offparent

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reference: The Moment I Knew It Was Time to Divorce – Divorced Moms

related posts:

image: hurt, nicu buculei, creative commons usage

A big part of my recovery program is the serenity prayer:

God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change
The courage to change the things I can
And the wisdom to know the difference.