At some point in my marriage, we both began to harbor resentment. As the “fk you” phrase came bursting randomly out of my wife, I was amazed at how much anger she seemed to be stoking inside herself. Somewhere, along the path to going from young parents to parents with kids in school, she began to imagine that her happiness was a result of my disappointing failures. It was sort of amazing how we could be in couples therapy and everything became about me, my depression, my job loss, and my lack of trust and support of/for my wife.
It’s Me, I’m the Problem, It’s Me
I got us into couples therapy TWICE. The second time I was trying to keep my marriage together with a person who woke up angry and stayed angry all day. Went to bed angry. And the next day, we started all over again with how many times in 24 hours I could disappoint and infuriate my wife.
Here’s the thing: she seemed happy when I met her, she seemed happy when our kids were young, she seemed less happy as our kids began school, and she seemed furious the minute I asked to revisit our money and career agreements.
“The kids are now in middle school. It might be time to talk about rebalancing the cash flow responsibilities.” I had just been laid off from the highest-paying job of my career. I was given 6 months of severance with benefits. And as I was looking to reconnect with my wife and determine what our best course of action was, my wife was furious. “It’s not enough money,” she said. She too had been laid off from her freelance job as an SEO specialist. “You need to get the big job again, so we can have time to figure out what we want to do next.”
My first day off in several years and she’s railing at me to “get a new job” before it’s too late.
I did get a new job. She floundered in her work-quest. Questions about “fulfillment” and “what you really want to do” kept popping into my mouth. Even as I was getting ready to go back to a full-time, balls-to-the-wall job, she was still seeking her “bliss.”
Her bliss was not about me. Her anger and rage at the world was not really about me either. I did, however, make a convenient target. 13 years later, she’s still vitriolic and stupid when it comes to our kids. She doesn’t seem to have solved the inner happiness question for herself. And I’m certain her OCD husband is not going to help out in that department. And yet, her focus is like a sighting laser on a rifle. She takes aim occasionally at my two kids with the objective of disrupting our relationship. She’s furious when I’m happy. She’s not super happy about my close relationship with my daughter. But, it’s still their mom, so I try and keep above the fray. How this looks: we never speak.
When you become a parent, your entire world shifts. If you let it, parenthood will break you and give you a purpose. Instantly, I knew, that my priorities in life had just shifted to be after the priority of being a great dad. I was committed to being a great husband as well. In the early years, the kids provided enough entertainment that we didn’t worry about the cool state of our partnership. As things got tough, following the 9-11 economic collapse, my wife turned on me as the reason.
I didn’t do enough chores around the house. There was not enough money in the bank. I didn’t mow the lawn as often as she would’ve liked. And she’s had to ask me five times to clean out the gutters. She shouldn’t even have to tell me. And that burned-out lightbulb in the hallway, a clear demonstration of how clueless and irresponsible I was. Um. Guess what? I don’t care about the burned-out light bulb. And if YOU do care about the lightbulb, but you don’t change it. And even more curiously, you don’t tell me you’re getting furious about the lightbulb. I never knew what hit me. The lightbulb was an issue we had to deal with in therapy. Um, hello. If the lightbulb is out and it bugs you, change it. Blaming others and not fixing it or telling them, is a kin to starting your own ground war.
It’s a word men often use to describe learning their wife wants a divorce. I talk to men all the time. “Blindsided. 4 year old daughter. Afraid I’m going to lose everything.”
I wouldn’t say I was blindsided by the problems we were having. Heck, I got her to go to therapy with me. “We can solve this,” I said, optimistically. She was not that optimistic. In fact, this second round of couples therapy was a cover for her planning and ultimately her visit with a divorce attorney to get her “options.” How could she not be ashamed of such a stupid move? No wonder she’s gotten even more angry with me since the divorce. I’m telling the story. I’m telling the truth.
I was not blindsided by the problems. I was willing, ready, and able to work on my side of the problem. My wife was convinced that I WAS the problem.
If that were the case, I suppose she should be happy at this point in her life. She’s remarried. They are doing a multi-year aspirational remodel of her husband’s old house. What could be more fun? Oh, wait, you say she’s going back to work to pay for the remodel? Well, that’s stupid. Does she want to go back to work? What’s in the new remodel for her?
What I was starting to get angry about myself, was the lack of touch or kindness in our relationship. I wanted to fight FOR the relationship. I was determined to break through the bluster of her anger and get to the heart of why she was never intimate with me. Never. It wasn’t the chores, or the money, or the help around the house. She was freezing me out. She was already done. She was trying to figure out how to divorce me. And while we were in couples therapy she forgot to mention she was going to see a lawyer. She didn’t tell me or the therapist. She got caught.
What I was blindsided by was her decision to go for divorce. I thought we were fighting about how to stay in the marriage and even remove some of the misguided anger that had begun creeping in. I was interested in learning to communicate without yelling or freezing.
Men In Divorce
Men are not all cheaters, liars, and assholes. In divorce, however, men are given the short end of the stick from the moment the “d” word is brought out. Men understand we’re going to lose 50% of everything we’ve earned. More importantly, we’re going to lose over 70% of our time with our kids. Just like that. Just for the asking. My soon-to-be-ex was looking forward to having two weekends off a month. She was going to get the money to make the mortgage payments. I was going to get my freedom.
Turns out, I was much happier out of the marriage. Yes, I got depressed about the kids, but I never wanted to be back in a relationship with this cold and vindictive woman. How she developed into this angry antagonist is still unclear. But, somewhere, even today, she points to me as the scapegoat for her unhappiness.
Guess what? Happiness is an inside job.
What this means is this: I am responsible for my own happiness. Even in divorce, I am responsible for keeping my side of the street clean. When I am unhappy, it’s not my ex-wife’s fault. I can embrace my unhappiness. I also have to let go of whatever it is that’s hurting me. If I’m mad because I can’t afford a new sports car, that’s one thing. If I’m mad at my ex-wife for the divorce which put me in financial trouble and prevented me from being able to buy the sports car, I’m rationalizing my unhappiness. My unhappiness is up to me. I don’t want a fancy sports car. I’d like one. I don’t need one. Thus, I can let go of the car idea without much resistance.
My ex-wife has never embraced her own inner happiness, nor confronted and befriended her inner unhappiness. She’s still oblivious to her own transgressions in the marriage, divorce, and time after divorce. She’s well aware of her failings. She just can’t admit them to herself or anyone around her, so she stays MAD to cover it up. When I was backpedaling in therapy sessions from her list of complaints, I was certain she would see how wrong she was. When I refused to simply walk out of the house and stayed until the kids had reached the summer between 3rd and 4th grades for my daughter, as well as 5th and 6th grade for my son, I was certain she would come to her senses.
She stayed mad. She stay justified. And she flipped back our cooperative 50/50 shared parenting agreement like it was old news. She went for the divorce package. Three years later, she filed our decree with the AG’s office for “enforcement.” I was one week late on my child support payment. I was telling her exactly what was happening in my job. I begged her not to file until after I’d refinanced my house. She didn’t care about me or my house. She didn’t care if I had a place to be with the kids on my “weekends.”
She’s still capable of harming me and my relationship with my kids. And she tries. Why? Why would someone attempt to mess with the relationship between her kids and their father? Still? 13 years later? Apparently, she’s still somewhat fixated on me as the root of all evil and unhappiness in her life. Sorry. It’s not me. I’m not the problem. (apologies to Taylor Swift.)
Sorry, there is no good reason for any parent to take
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