I did learn to love full-on in this marriage. I learned to put my whole soul into the project and come back with the joy of being a parent, and being in love, and being married. This total commitment is part of what blindsided me in the divorce.
What I thought marriage would be like.
I was getting married for the second time so I was certain I knew what I was looking for. I needed someone much more stable than my first wife. I needed someone who understood depression; heck if she suffered from it herself that would be okay too. I wanted her to be solid, serious, and able to express herself creatively. And sure, we had to have fun.
What really happened in my marriage.
There was some drama in our courtship. As we were just getting started “dating” my future wife cut off our relationship. She needed to get right with her current boyfriend (WHAT?) and give that some time to sort itself out. It was a classic dear John lunch. And we agreed to not see each other for the foreseeable future. What she didn’t tell me at the time was she was actually living with the guy. Kissing me and living with the guy. I never knew until later. So we embarked on what I called our “moment of silence.” But what it really should’ve been was a BIG RED FLAG to get the fuck out. I didn’t.
She called me several months later, saying, “It’s done.” I was excited and we jumped into the “relationship” part of our courtship rather quickly and easily. She moved in with me several months after that. And I remember our first fight was over when we would start trying to have a baby. She was getting freaked out by her age, and really wanted children. I did too but didn’t subscribe to the drama of how quickly we needed to start trying. She freaked out. I consoled. We agreed we would start trying soon after we got married.
We bought a house in the fancy part of town (great schools, expensive, both of us had gone to the same fancy high school and we wanted the best for our kids) and rented my condo. Very quickly we had a mortgage together and were constructing our nest for the kids. She suffered an early (the first trimester – were we even into a trimester language yet, I don’t think so) miscarriage. This gave her some sense of urgency that we try really hard to get pregnant. She was very goal-oriented.
With the first kid came the burden of the childcare and the house upkeep weighing down on us, we began to show some stress. I was working freelance but had a steady gig with an online magazine. Times were good. 9/11 swept my business right out the door. And she was working part-time for her big employer, mainly to keep the insurance that would provide the coverage for our second child. I was crushed. We were both freaked out by money. We continued down the path towards having a second child, but we were both struggling personally.
I suffered a major depression after 9/11 and during the medically challenging birth of our second child. She and mom suffered from a rare medical condition known as Kell. Their blood was incompatible and the mom’s body was trying to kill the daughter’s body. We visited a neonatal specialist every Monday morning for a sonogram that determined if our daughter was would need to be delivered in an emergency C-section, or if we could make it another week. It was harrowing. And our relationship suffered rather than getting stronger. Doubt began to creep into my mind for the first time.
In order to keep our kids in school through the end of the year, I argued to stay in the house and keep things “as is,” so they would not have to deal with this until summer.
Then the hard middle years. Me struggling with depression, trying to find work, and the two kids eating up time, energy, and budget. Of course, we were also in the glow of being new parents. We did bask in the amazing joy of being parents. But it was more us and the kids rather than us as a couple.
Nothing ever seemed to be settled for her. There was always something wrong. There wasn’t enough money. There wasn’t enough housekeeping help. There wasn’t enough spontaneous super-dad repairman around the house. She was mad that she had to ask me a couple of times to change a light bulb in the hallway. I was asking, “But the bulbs are right there, you can change it.”
During this hard time, she confided in a new male co-worker. They shared several lunches together (just how she and I had gotten started) and I stumbled on an email between them where he was consoling her for being married to a person with depression. In my mind, they were having an emotional affair. She apologized when confronted, and though she never apologized for the actual dating, she said she understood how it could make me upset and she would stop immediately. She never said she was sorry for doing it. She was sure she had done nothing wrong. But she would stop because she saw how it was hurting me.
This issue drove a wedge between us that may have been the crack that broke the marriage. We took it into therapy. We struggled with our financial issues. We were both stressed and not really going to each other with the work that needed to be done. I was using the energy to stay up late and write poetry, stories, or go into my music studio and compose. She was going to bed with the kids and waking up groggy and late. I became the “kids to school” dad. I was up. I was energetic and enthusiastic. She was always still getting ready.
Somewhere in that hard period, she must’ve thrown in the proverbial towel. I don’t think she suffered from the same eternal optimism I did. I was solid and sure that we could return to the good times. I’m not so sure she felt the same way. She began to tell me how much I was disappointing her. It was part of our therapy that you could and should complain when something was out of balance. So she complained a lot. I struggled to find the way back to the joyful life that I knew was just around the corner. She began saying she didn’t believe that therapy or any of this “working on it” was getting us there.
In the end, she made a decision to leave the marriage. While I was still sunk in the business of rebuilding she began to imagine life without me, parenting without me, and perhaps finding a new love, finding happiness again, with someone else. That’s the only motivation I could figure. More happiness elsewhere.
The final straw was certainly on my back. I was let go from the job that had saved us financially. And for three days I struggled to keep it a secret as I was working a new contract gig and interviewing for new jobs. I wanted to tell her, but not from a defeated place, from a place of hope. I wanted to say, “I lost my job, but I’ve already found the way to replace the income, so don’t worry.” It didn’t go down that way.
I am conflict-adverse. I’d rather settle, negotiate, lie, suppress, than get in a fight. My dad the raging alcoholic didn’t give much room for conflict in my family of origin. This caused me, over time, to avoid raising issues with my then-wife as things got tough.
I was let go on a Friday. She and the kids were out-of-town for the weekend. When she returned on Sunday, I should’ve told her. Maybe I should’ve told her on the phone, but I didn’t want to wreck her holiday. She needed a holiday, for sure. So Monday rolls around, we’ve hardly had a chance to talk and I roll out the door just like I was going to my job, but I was going to my contract job, and later that day going to an interview. I kept the devastating news inside for one more day. I mean, I did have work. I did have a plan. It was a shitty plan and a shitty thing to do. I thought I was doing it to save our marriage. What I was really doing was giving her the perfect reason to ask for a divorce. My untrustworthiness.
On Wednesday, while I was out at my “job” a letter came in the mail about COBRA medical coverage options. The jig was up. She was rightfully freaked out, more than usual. I was the liar, the untrustworthy child who wouldn’t grow up and take responsibility for his life. And in that position, the only thing I had to argue was, “I think this is a turning point for us to regroup, reconnect, and recommit to our relationship.” It was a weak case at a bad time and she didn’t buy it.
That snap took place in March of 2010. In order to keep our kids in school through the end of the year, I argued to stay in the house and keep things “as is,” so they would not have to deal with this until summer. She did not agree, but the school counselor convinced her to wait. “Give them the summer to process this. Don’t do it while they’re finishing up their third-grade and fifth-grade years.”
We lived in stasis. One of us slept on the couch or in a bed with a kid. I still did the morning breakfast routine, but the “relationship” was gone. In June I left the house and moved in with my sister. In August the divorce was final.
What I brought to the divorce.
I am conflict-adverse. I’d rather settle, negotiate, lie, suppress than get in a fight. My dad the raging alcoholic didn’t give much room for conflict in my family of origin. This caused me, over time, to avoid raising issues with my then-wife as things got tough. When sex went south in the marriage, I simply took care of myself and hoped for better days. I should’ve stood up and demanded we figure it out together.
I also brought my depression to the marriage. As an artistic soul, I fluctuate sometimes between inspired highs and hopeless lows. I believe it’s manageable, but to some people, it’s too hard.
I also have had a strong desire to work for myself. The “day jobs” I had were often a struggle as I scrambled to find the hours late at night, or early in the morning, to do my craft. It strained the marriage when I was always looking to steal back a few hours for myself. In the last years of my marriage, I was helping put the kids to bed at 9 and staying up until 1 or 2 in the morning. Then going to work. I was burning the candle at both ends, and somehow napping, to my then-wife, was a sign of weakness, not a strategy to get more time later at night.
What was good about the marriage.
We did share some tremendous love in the early years of our marriage. While the time with the young kids was stress-provoking, we mostly managed to focus on the bliss of becoming new parents and the amazing evening activity of observing and interacting with these little humans. We loved our kids more than each other, I think, and that was ultimately the decision she made. Towards them (with 70% custody) and away from me. But for a good portion of our marriage, we were two artists in love with our children and each other.
We did a good job of focusing on parenting rather than the issues in our relationship. In divorce, this has been the saving grace. Our kids are now 14 and 16 and are showing signs of being intelligent, well-adjusted teenagers. While the fires have raged over money and the AG’s office, we’ve kept our kids above the fray. I’m sure there are frustrations they are aware of, but for the most part, the story is, we still love each other, we were just not right for each other in the long-term.
I did learn to love full-on in this marriage. I learned to put my whole soul into the project and come back with the joy of being a parent, and being in love, and being married. This total commitment is part of what blindsided me in the divorce. I was okay with things being a bit out of whack because I “knew” they were going to sort out. I knew we would be happy again. In fact, inside, I was still happy, though the relationship was quite hard for the last year. I still woke up with joy and hopefulness in my heart. I’m not sure my then-wife ever recovered that joy in herself as she seemed consumed by a deeper rage and a sadness that was deeper than our relationship.
[Note: I do my best, on this blog to make the stories and lessons about myself and my journey. Occasionally, you have to frame your experience of the other person.]
John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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I am a relationship coach and a dating coach. I coach women in small groups as well as individual 1 x 1 zoom calls. If you have questions about life coaching I am happy to talk to you. Please schedule a phone call HERE.
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related posts from Positive Divorce:
- Do You Know the DNA of Your Perfect Day?
- The Divorce Whisperer
- What I Need To Tell You: Take Heart After Divorce. It Gets Better.
- Your Kids Are Watching How You Cope with Divorce
- Field Notes for My Next Marriage (What To Remember Before Getting Married)
- How a Balanced Divorce Might Have Better Served My Children
Here are my books on Amazon:
- Single Dad Seeks: Dating Again After Divorce: Advice and Strategies on Learning How to be Loved Again
- Fall of the House of Dad: My journey through divorce, from loss to joy, again and again
- A Good Dad’s Guide to Divorce: One father’s quest to stay connected with his children
- The Sex Index: Getting Our Love Languages Right in the Bedroom
- Here Comes the Darkness: Surviving and Thriving After a Mental Illness Diagnosis
- The Third Glass: When Drinking Becomes an Issue
- The Storm Before the Divorce: When One Parent Wants Out, That’s the End
Now Available from Amazon
image: my daughter with pets on a Sunday afternoon, John McElhenney, creative commons usage