Six years and one week ago, I overheard my husband on his cell phone. He was speaking to a woman. It was Tuesday.
I could feel and hear the blood pulsing through my neck. It was the sound of intense fear.
I thought to myself, this is it, I was right, that nagging thought for a while that there was someone else was true, I was not crazy.
When he had hung up, I went into his office, asking angrily who that was. He had some crazy answer, and I knew in that moment that despite how smart he was, at this, I was smarter than him. I knew I would find out, and SOON. I maintained my outward cool while inside was a total fight or flight response. I decided to gather information before a flight.
The next morning while he was showering for work, I quietly turned on his cell phone to check the call history. It had been cleared.
As soon as I’d gotten the kids off to school, I found some old cell phone records with a number that kept reappearing – a partial story. It took me four hours that morning that morning to register our phone bill online, download the call history, google some of the repeating numbers, and identify the owner of the most frequently-called number. So I called it, and she said I had the wrong number. At lunchtime I called again and got her voicemail. Bingo. Her full name was on the outgoing message. Now I had the information I needed…but I still did not know if I was ready for a “fight” or for my flight.
I wanted then and there to throw him out, but we had kids, I did not want to divorce their father. We were a family. So there was to be no flight. At least not yet.
I waited till Saturday. That very morning, his affair partner had left him a cell phone message and I had listened to it. She was trying to be calm while things were tense, but she loved him and would wait until they could be together. I told him then that I knew about her, and he confessed, saying it was just a few times, it did not mean anything to him. But I had proof of months of calls and her declaration of love. I asked where they had sex; he gave me hotel names. I insisted he end it immediately, and even suggested how he could do it so as to keep her husband protected. I thought myself a better person for my compassion.
We went to couples counseling, and I kept saying I believed there were many women for many years, and he denied it all. I insisted on full transparency. It never came. Now there was no fight…he simply would not talk about it.
By now, poring over cell records and hotel bills, I was getting to be a first class Private Investigator which was making me crazy. I had been in fight-or- flight mode for over 5 weeks, anxious and barely eating or sleeping. I was paying with my mental health.
After a while, I began to feel I had lived a lie. Every family event and holiday over the past 6-7 years was marred by the knowledge that he’d called various women on all those dates. Nothing felt sacred anymore. The betrayal I felt was boundless. Every special moment was spoiled. I saw myself as damaged, duped, betrayed, angry, and resentful.
I focused on his choices, and all the times he could have chosen another path but did not. I focused self-righteously on all the good I had done for others when our own marriage was disappointing.
This constant feeling of fight-or-flight made me lose my compassion and objectivity. I become a person who tried to survive day by day. I was unaccustomed to being this self-centered, angry, suspicious, jealous, snooping, distrustful person, and I did not like this new me. I knew I had to find a way to the other side, to thrive again.
For two years I was a wreck, later telling people that I’d had a nervous breakdown. At his request, I told no one other than paid professionals. I isolated myself socially, did only what I had to do, and avoided people and places that would trigger what I deemed my PTSD. Since I knew many of his affair partners, and had to drive by many of the hotels in my daily rounds of work and kids, it was hard to avoid it all. I made myself crazier by compulsive snooping, and it never helped me a bit, never made me feel safer, never made the situation better, and just perpetuated a cycle of craziness for me.
Above all, I wanted to talk to other women who had been through this, but found none. If I had to do it all over again, I would have told a select few people because not having the support was so tough for me. Later, we separated, and I told a lot of people. They all judged him harshly. And I learned that once you give someone your story, you can never un-tell them…so be careful about whom you chose to hold your intimate history. I should have told only people whom I was sure would be there for me and not judgehim. Everyone has an opinion about she/he would do in this situation, but until I had been there, I realized there is no black and white answer…only lots and lots of gray.
Six years and one week later, I am stronger and wiser. Perhaps I am not the same trusting person, but the new me is one I finally like and which took years to accomplish. I felt so bad about myself for so long; if I’d been kinder to myself, if I’d been able to release myself from that intense fight-or-flight mode, my recovery might have been faster. But I accept now that I did what I felt I had to do. Now I am a good, kind, compassionate, and wiser person. I wish I could add “trusting” to that list, but that is still a work in progress.
She is just so cool and says everything I need and want to say.
Commenting in Salon last month on Beyoncé’s Lemonade video that grapples, in part, with her cheating partner (“I know you’re cheating on me.”), Esther Perel in the article titled “Grief sedated by orgasm, orgasm heightened by grief”: Beyoncé, “Lemonade” and the new reality of infidelity“, applauds the singer’s frankness and platform used to plunge the public into the taboo infidelity, a conversation which Perel believes should be opened repeatedly. In fact, she believes that’s her job as a therapist and author–to help couples find themselves and their options past the ravine that betrayal opens between partners.
After noting the European and American moralistic difference in how couples suffer infidelity, she suggests Americans need to lose the strictures on discussion and judgment of both perpetrator and victim (think Hillary Clinton for staying when she could have left), which shames and thereby stifles examination of and learning from infidelity to repair, renew or reject relationships shattered by infidelity.
After profiling American attitudes about the subject, she exhorts:
Given this reality, it’s time for American culture to change the conversation we’re having about infidelity—why it happens, what it means and what should or should not happen after it is revealed. The subject of affairs has a lot to teach us about relationships—what we expect, what we think we want, and what we feel entitled to. It forces us to grapple with some of the most unsettling questions: How do we negotiate the elusive balance between our emotional and our erotic needs? Is possessiveness intrinsic to love or an arcane vestige of patriarchy? Are the adulterous motives of men and women really as different as we’ve been led to believe? How do we learn to trust again? Can love ever be plural?
These are important questions to begin the healing and ensuing path in any relationship that is pierced with this not always fatal rending. As Perel states, infidelity has existed longer than marriage, though she does not justify it as right for having lasted. She merely points to the reality of its persistence.
And just as Beyoncé is fire and ache, Perel is compassionate logic and measured reason, which is her (both) allure.
credit: http://i2.wp.com (No, this is not my family; it’s just weirdly entertaining, kind of like my marriage)
April 19th is my wedding anniversary. In four days I will have been married 35 years–to the same man. Though we have an open marriage, enjoy physical intimacy no longer, I consider our marriage meaningful and committed. We have created and continue to raise two incredible human beings while caretaking two others safely through their twilight. Barring unforeseen calamities, including death, I see no reason for our marriage not to last.
Perhaps my years as a divorce attorney fueled the longevity of my marriage. Witness all day–so many days–to so much grief and acrimony, the willful and unwitting destruction of lives small and big, I avoided arguing when I came home at night. The running joke was always, “If we argue, I have to charge you,” while glancing down at my wrist to the non-existent watch timing billable hours. From clients to opposing attorneys, court clerks, and even my own staff, I was argued out by the time I got home and wanted conciliatory peace. And we did live peacefully in those days, most of our days, for the most part.
My marriage has not been without huge dips in the fairly steady, even road. There were times of grave disappointment and betrayal, cheating and lying, exasperatingly long periods of financial deficits and child rearing disparities. Though most of the big ticket items to tear at the seams of a marriage were little or non-issues for us–religion, in-laws and politics–there was still enough shared life to rend our lives into separate camps, feeling isolated and alone, the union itself contributing to that loneliness, for me anyhow. I confused belief in our couplehood, being on the same team, with sameness. I thought we should never be at odds to such an extent that we bring one another down.
Yes, we have laid each other low at times, blew out our ugliest selves at each other, guts a’spew, but we have also propped each other up, been the very scaffolding of each other’s lives at other times. My husband rescued me in my lowest days and shared in my greatest moments too. And I suppose that is the crux of it: we share history. The one thing that is nearly impossible to divorce is history. Observing hundreds of divorcing couples over the years, I believe that is deepest cut–slicing away the shared past. Many divorce tears shed are in mourning a communal past.
Concluding from my own marriage, those who can simply last–endure disappointment, suffer patiently and hope daily–are those who benefit most from marriage. My husband loathes change and I inherited blind optimism, which provides some of the glue of our togetherness. But apparently additional factors contribute to marital success or failure, according to Woman’s Day and its 10 Surprising Divorce Facts: parental influence, education, location, income, religion and age at marriage.
If your parents’ marriage lasted, you’re college educated, enjoy a substantial income, are Catholic or Protestant and don’t live in Alabama, your marriage is likely to last, surprisingly. I have never lived in Alabama. My parents have been married for 61 years, which would explain my 35-year marriage but not my sisters’ three divorces between them, one of them having lasted only one year–twice. But it would explain my brother’s 29-year marriage, my one sister’s 23-year marriage before it went south, but not my still another sister’s never having been married yet in her 44th year.
So take it for what it’s worth, an “ah, that’s interesting” reading that may supply your ten minute coffee break with entertainment. This short fact list provoked in me a pondering over the definition of marriage: What makes a marriage? What makes a good marriage? Longevity certainly is not the litmus test for quality, though one might assume so. People can be unhappily married most of their lives.
Trite as it seems, a good marriage consists of two people with realistic attitudes about the institution specifically and human beings generally. My marriage was a convenience in its inception but grew into the shapes it has taken over the years: love, family, loyalty, convention and the inverse of all of those too. Perhaps the lack of expectation going into it explains in part the “success” of my marriage. Unfulfilled expectations did not root itself in the initial contractual arrangement. Certainly they arose organically as my husband and I developed expectations over time.
Perhaps it’s because we didn’t believe in the institution as much as we believed in each other. Marriage formulas or divorce statistics abound in the news and in the confines of counseling offices, but ultimately, the unique chemistry and conversing, the melding of two people’s lives, people harkening from separate beginnings, nature and nurture, are the core components of the mysterious making of a marriage. Each marriage rises and falls accordingly. Belaboring the obvious? Yep.
Sitting at the corner bar, satisfying the urge for a beer and relieving the boredom jitters, I’m tormented by indiscriminate shouting of barflies and distant diners lining the walls of the dark, decor of seafaring ships, anchors and fish. Sea legs. Clearly this place lacks intelligent acoustic design, much to the chagrin of the owners who honestly tried to reduce the clamor crawling the high ceilings, especially with a yoga studio above it. I once heard the story, sitting at this bar with M many months before.
My girlfriend’s already signed off for the night, so I am unconcerned about my phone’s rings, dings and buzzes. I am wherever for whatever. Thinking about the last time we met at the hotel for a quick grope and a tickle, sneaking a hurried sigh and a fierce kiss, my mind smiles, my face impassive.
The pretend-lover is off somewhere in the night, leaving town for the week tomorrow, as the story goes still smoldering in the musk stains left in my hair, emitted in the toss of my head as I spy the inhabitants of this sultry Thursday crowd. At least we got to do the fuck-and-lie before the morning’s 8 a.m. departure. What’s the weather like in the Southeast?
Often it’s the simplest moment that lingers on the tongue of my thoughts, savored in sensorial bites: a shy side glance of the twenty-something deeply brown-eyed half of the pair sitting on the stools next to me sends static up my spine, an imperceptible eye-twitch, my senses on electricity. What does it mean?
I crave quiet corners most of the time, am in love with intimate spaces with or without another. In an unsuspecting moment, memory flashes the scent of heat rushing from a wall heater mixed with bleach and sweat in a dark room in mid-afternoon while we nap, your arm dead over my hips and belly.
Though the time is so little, so simple, it stays. Maybe that’s the draw, the beauty of it, it’s simplicity and freedom to be whatever we need it to be, something of our own creation without the stress of trying to make it be too much, like living and planning and being together, which is complicated and full of friction. Our island is tiny and sporadic, though well-timed. Maybe it’s the island that is the draw more so than I.
His wife hates him as much as she loves him, that’s what the bar fly kitty corner to me yells over the blaring music to his companions. I wonder why. Perhaps she cannot stand the way he mispronounces the names of her favorite artist, or his snoring, explosive anger, criticism, taken-for-granted use of her body for his release coupled with the inability to fulfill her because she never figured out how that could be, relied on him to figure it out, but could not relax enough to let him, guide him or even try.
Nat King Cole croons “Unforgettable.”
Filling out a daily diary of calories in my phone app is tedious, a task I assigned myself as consciousness raising more than dieting but it has, like so many other healthy exercises enthusiastically commenced, deteriorated to an obsession.
The same guy three stools down shouting over the next song, a 70s favorite I recognize but will have to focus on more if I want to remember the artist and title, whinnying really in a high tinny voice, about his divorce and how his wife regrets the divorce being the way it was. Also, his daughter and plans for spring break to be with her and her friends, Abbey her name, is really shaping up. Oh, so a divorce has permanently taken up residence in his conversation. The ex hates and loves him.
The divorce story’s addressees are a big bald dude and his Asian-looking companion, petite and smartly dressed with discreet cleavage, smooth-skinned soft peaks demurely and tastefully displayed below a string of pearl-like gems. She speaks with an unidentifiable accent. Like her, I am only half listening. The divorce story seems to be aimed at her, a polite, captive audience, while her boyfriend baldy winks at her looking away from the divorce tale-teller. Divorce guy wants to be heard. Baldy stays quiet, polite agreement here and there. He wants to be home fucking pearl girl. “That’s the way God meant it to be in some ways,” Divorce says. I missed the context of that statement.
Brings me back to a lover and his week of agony, strife with the wife, severe enough for him to act deflated, distracted passion, wildly unusual, so that I had to ask, as he collapsed away from me and sunk into the mattress, fists fretted together, face pinched in deep furrows, what was the matter. Did he expect me to sense his grief and ask? He is not as mysterious as I once thought.
In our fifth year he took up confession; home life was bad, stressful, not good for the kids, he told me, the emailed story unfolding in exclamatory bursts, philosophical resignation, religious retreat and cautionary reminders. I did nothing to provoke the last so have to conjecture: it crossed his mind, the thought of leaving, running to me, but he got scared or sober or logical. He tasted the bitterness and stinging hate of hurt and revenge, the loss of power, prestige and pleasure, time spent with his children, too soon gone.
Imagined scenarios of our making are the engine of creation, the mechanics of our story trotted out for each other to admire and merge into on cue.
Hate, vengeance and righteousness of god, fashioned to her fundamental beliefs in a church that spreads the selective word of a deity who manifested love, she believes he must be the man she wants him to be. The wont of their ilk is to toss sacred words to trump one over the other.
An ancient story repeated, their love grown in children and the grace of goods bought and sold, possession of a union, a house, a garden, two cars and a dog, they loved and rubbed each other right until it was wrong. Humans are pattern makers. God chuckles.
But he was clearly jarred, sorrowed, repentant, and seeking comfort in a resolve to improve, surrender, endure and abide, a solution time tested. Biding time is what we do. Some call it the journey. With attention, it is often referred to as presence, the fullness of time and the conjoint spirit of one. I am content.
I prefer small pockets of pleasure disturbed by the occasional deep, destructive pothole in the roads I travel. So many lovely beings reach me, their intentions like silk tendrils of touch-full caressing care and wonder like Debussy’s Bergamasque piano silently accompanying the undulating drift of bar meanderings.
“I will be unavailable to you that week of your return.” I told him that, and he let me go.
Divorce boy just informed baldy’s girl that he is going to finish his bottle of wine, though he apparently has had enough, and try his luck picking up on some girls situated elsewhere in the bar. The incongruence of girls in a bar strikes me.
I have seen divorce boy passively sitting at the bar before–beak-nosed and paunchy with a deceptively young face, not unpleasing. He tries. I am not here often–eight or nine times a year–and the last time I was here he was too. Look at us, the lonely people.
The two women to my left are pouring the remainder of their wine from their glasses back into the bottle. All neighboring eyes are turned to the task, like a netted tightrope walk to safety, the risk not too terrible but for the stains. The two young women have been sharing a small space, huddled in the corner of the bar, phones in hand illuminating the luster of their eyes and lipstick, checking social media, I presume, and speaking in tones reserved only for them.
Big baldy says, “I’d have to kill the guy.” Clearly man talk. I cannot imagine the stool mates to my left saying that kind of shit, defending their territory. Like R. He would do that, kick someone’s ass who looked at me had we been daylight lovers, out of the bedroom partners in a real life relationship. But I speculate.
How far can a fantasy stretch? What does anyone need beyond a little relief, some tenderness to ease the strain of survival? Maybe nothing. A will to bend, a neck crook for a weary head, an arm flung over a curled-up thigh and those who know your name may be the sum substantial of existence.
The article starts with the confrontation, suppressed rage: “Are you fucking my husband?”
But then she settles into the reflective tone she adapts to chronicle moving through her thought process.
More than my husband’s actions, what I found most curious was his mistress’ lack of remorse, remorse for her part in a marriage’s end, especially where three young children were involved.
She ponders this idea that sticks in the craws of most who weigh in on the subject. What is the responsibility of the mistress to her lover’s wife? The clear dividing line is between those whose policy it is to never go near a married man and those who do. Rosen enters the nebulous area of those unknowingly lured. What of those who get involved innocently, or blindly? Again, the choice can be as clear as the no-married-men-no-matter-what policy or the struggling or not so struggling cost-benefit analysis of a relationship in those three-way circumstances.
Some might disqualify a liar on the grounds of failing the integrity test, considering the future-going prospects of someone who starts a relationship with deceit. Others may evaluate the relationship in terms of the state of the marriage, i.e., waning or holding steady, and the aims of the parties. Two may simply share time as they may until it is no longer viable to do so. Much depends on the parties’ intentions and expectations, which, of course, tend to be as fluid as Rosen’s in the end.
Within every lie there exists its opposite — the truth. In my eyes, this was it. The truth I saw that evening came in the form of a man desperately looking for the attention and appreciation he was obviously not feeling at home, likely why he exuded such warmth when we first met and the chemistry between us was so heated.
Empathically, Rosen “sees” the lonely man, acknowledging her own loneliness, and grows an understanding of why someone might seek comfort in another who can provide it, despite his allegiance or vows to another who no longer does. So much, to me, depends on the honesty of the individual confessing his truth and the self-awareness to do so.
Indeed, if we are not careful, marriage can become the loneliest place on Earth. I know.
Though Rosen spends only one night with someone whom she suspects lied about his marital status, she does earn valuable insight about the complexity of marriage, monogamy and human beings.
Today I question whether my husband’s mistress is the same homewrecker I had once thought.
Putting herself in the position of her husband’s mistress even momentarily or to the degree that she felt appropriate–she is not the same woman as her husband’s mistress, obviously–she concludes that the fault cannot be so easily attached to one person in a triad of lies and need. Though omitted, the underlying foundation of Rosen’s conclusion is the realization of her inattention or unawareness, her own part in the destruction of her marriage
My husband and I seemed to do a pretty good job wrecking the home we had built together without any of her help.
Perhaps I have been too much a subscriber to cause and effect, but my assumption about cheating and divorce has always been that something was wrong whether it was the character of one or both parties, self-delusion, denial, youth, mid-life crisis, incompatibility, unrealistic expectations, the failure of monogamy, fateful accidents or illness or any number of life circumstances providing the impetus.The client who tearfully confessed he or she was blind sided by the cheating, that everything seemed fine was suspect. I could not help but flash on whether the person before me was willfully “blind” in some way.
Perhaps the cynicism of the job ripened the seeds sown in me at birth. Or maybe I was to some extent right.
We get caught up in life. We fail to open our eyes wide enough, a self-imposed squint implemented to maintain focus on the daily business of getting through the days. How can we expect to “know” ourselves let alone the other one we have sucked up into the motion and madness, scooped up and absorbed as if two were only one? We forget our spouses were once human beings we wondered about and ached to discover.
It is easy to say with conviction that cheating should never happen. Accepting why it often does is what remains a challenge.
She does not excuse behaviors, anyone’s. She stops short of rationalization, only hinting at her own one night allowance and commendable perceptiveness in suspecting a lie when she smells one. The take-away is the understanding that snap judgment, the black and white of it, is an unconsidered stance, too raw. Empathy, compassion and reason gathered her into the grey.
A refreshingly mature, well-composed letter that reads like a how-to manual in its full cognizance of the nuanced trials that await complex family dynamics post-divorce with children, Tina Plantamura’s open letter to the newcomer to her expanding family (she is remarried) is sensible, sensitive and rational. One passage stands out as particularly the hallmark of all three aforementioned adjectives:
This might sound weird, but I’m so excited about you. My sons will see a side of their father that they don’t even know they missed. They’ll witness the kind of happiness that blooms from the excitement, joy and mystery that comes with a new relationship. They’ll see their father beaming with hope. They’ll hear him laugh (too much and too loud, as they’ve reported to us) and speak with a new charm in his voice. And because they love and admire him, all of these things will make them happier, too.
A healthier response about relationship healing and moving on I have never seen in over twenty years of divorces I’ve navigated; although, I did not often get to see the aftermath, the farther down the road recovery phase of my clients. Most divorces with new significant others, especially those who were part of the divorce causes–and there are always multiple causes–were complicated by yet another person’s agenda and sensibilities to consider. Generally, the path from conclusion to fresh start was far more difficult with outsiders to the divorcing family.
While Plantamura is optimistic about the relationship her sons will develop with the addressee of this letter and attempts to reassure her that the connection she and her ex (the new boyfriend) have is solely the children, both of those emotional and potentially volatile components of the newly emerging “family” are often insurmountably difficult to surrender.
Most mothers jealously guard their possessory interests in their children, emotional, behavioral, and instructional, interests that could easily be threatened by an outsider/insider mothering figure. For instance, being their father’s girlfriend, she inevitably will require, may even demand, a modicum of respect from her lover’s children. She may imagine a future with this family and want to establish and ensure her place as adult and potential permanent roommate. If she lives with him even part time, that demand may be even more insistent. And the longer the relationship persists, the likelier the intrusion on the mother’s coveted role as advisor, consoler, and role model. Disagreements are likely to surface.
Also, the connection two people have with respect to their children is unique, something the girlfriend will never have regarding those children who affect her life, individually and with her husband. Jealousy and friction are foreseeable no matter how warm the welcome and sincere the assurance and encouragement by an ex.
All in all, skepticism aside, I enjoyed the idyllic embrace of this letter and even if only a stated intention of good will and hope, it serves as inspiration for those willing to accept responsibility for raising healthy children as well as for their own happiness.
Fuck You for cheating on me. Fuck you for reducing it to the word cheating. As if this were a card game, and you sneaked a look at my hand. Who came up with the term cheating, anyway? A cheater, I imagine. Someone who thought liar was too harsh. Someone who thought devastator was too emotional. The same person who thought, oops, he’d gotten caught with his hand in the cookie jar. Fuck you. This isn’t about slipping yourself an extra twenty dollars of Monopoly money. These are our lives. You went and broke our lives. You are so much worse than a cheater. You killed something. And you killed it when its back was turned.”
― David Levithan, The Lover’s Dictionary
The breakup of a relationship, for good, bad or indifferent reason, is a death, and like any death is experienced by each singularly yet somewhat uniformly except as to degree or duration. Some breakups are beyond hateful, downright murderous, while some are as near to a handshake and wave goodbye as two acquaintances parting ways after lunch. The degree of hate or hurt or shock seems commensurate with how quickly or slowly someone moves through mourning. I’m sure individual personality also figures in the pacing of the mourning process.
As a lawyer, I used to counsel my divorce clients about the five stages of loss and grief: denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I learned of these stages first by observing and listening to clients, but later by reading about them in pop psychology pieces in books and on the Internet. Often I asked my clients if they had a solid support scaffolding somewhere, either in friends or family, and, if not, to seek therapy in whatever form that took, psychological, physical or emotional outlets. Divorce was death, but a slow death.
Most clients came to me in the anger stage, though I did see a good deal of clients in the denial stage, even some in the acceptance.
White dress. Peach roses with baby’s breath. Long Veil. Happily Ever After. That’s the way it was supposed to be. I believed it. I wanted it. I needed it. Then he lied. Then he cheated. Then he left me.
Those in denial were usually hit with a surprise, a husband who announced his love for another or wife who announced hers, and the other spouse was unsuspecting for whatever reason: denial, blindness, self-absorption, busy, children, work, etc.
He left me! I don’t get left! If anyone’s going to do any leaving, it’s darn well going to be me! The betrayal after 17 years of marriage and 2 children was paralyzing. I felt as though my arms and legs had been brutally torn from my body and everything I knew of who I was disappeared in the instant he uttered the words, “I have something to tell you.” I was lost, bobbing in the waters of what remained of my life, certain that drowning was imminent.
These poor souls would come in needing me to tell them what to do as they felt lost and disoriented. I found my job then not so much as legal advisor as counselor and human being, trying to give them the benefit of my years of seeing couples and families go through the process of breaking down and rebuilding. Mostly, I listened, however–the best consolation I could give.
Some clients with cheating spouses came to me in the planning stages of strategic divorce either in calm revenge mode or blind anger, marking both ends of an emotional spectrum.
Then one day it started to change. About 15 days into my paralysis, the shift began. The sadness and loss gave way to unrelenting thoughts taking me back through the prior year revealing the numerous time his behavior didn’t quite make sense. The lies came into focus and I realized that I had not only been betrayed, but a fool as well. And I became angry. I’m not talking about “mad” angry, I’m talking “hunt-you-down-put-a-fork-in-your-face” angry!!! And it was utterly consuming.
Clients who had known about their spouse cheating for a long time whether by admission from the cheating spouse or by evidence, usually came to me to plan how to extract themselves in the most advantageous way. They were in battle readiness stages, so often they were angry and had already gone through the first two stages of trying to figure out what had gone wrong and what could have been done better.
The anger was with me in the daytime, at my job, during the time with my kids, even in my dreams. I felt it in my chest as a gnawing heaviness that demanded to have a voice, demanded to be validated.
So instead of focusing on my own recovery and being strong for my kids, I found myself stalking his Facebook page, looking for evidence of his misery. I wanted him to be miserable. I found myself outside his apartment, fantasizing about putting a rock through his window and going Carrie Underwood on his car. I fantasized about meeting his girlfriend in a dark alley and going gangsta’ on her ass.
Occasionally I would come across people who saw the inevitability of death and had come to some degree of acceptance, though there can never be full acceptance until the divorce is over since it takes so much rehashing and reliving and negotiating with someone who is already or soon to be an ex spouse, who used to share life, dreams and future. Some were just moving out of depression.
My health deteriorated. I couldn’t sleep, drank too much, and gained 15 lbs.
Even clients who were in acceptance, and both spouses wanted the divorce and were cooperative, that final day of judgment and dissolution, when the papers were signed and the judge’s stamped signature dry, usually brought tears of sadness, perhaps relief for the dreaded manifest death in papers and courtrooms shouted out to the world, reminding the parties of their perceived failure. Then again those tears may also be fear in the mix, the fear of moving on and setting new expectations only to have them turned into dashed hopes–the scars of battle.
The wonderful part of being human is that resilience, that ability to be torn, battered and bruised and still risk the same beating and near death experience in pursuit of love and happiness, the need for connection to another so strong. Or perhaps the wonderful part of being human is the inability to recall to the same degree as once experienced, the pain of heartbreak, divorce or childbirth. Thank goodness for that or the human population would not have made it past a single generation.
The next morning when I opened my eyes, the sun was just a little brighter. The sky was just a little bluer. I even felt a little prettier. I had no idea what the next chapter would hold, but I was ready to put my big girl panties on and find out.
This time of year at the office was typically slow, most keeping their acrimony in check until after the holidays–an exercise both admirable for the self-control, patience and concern for loved ones (other than the one who is the future extraction like a rotten tooth in decay) and hypocrisy of necessity. Many intent on divorcing would seek consultation in November, planning for the divorce such as what papers to gather, where to find money and taking inventory, enduring one last holiday with that rat bastard. Then January 2nd would hit and the divorces would come in, followed by the bankruptcies. Such is the life and death of marriage.
With the exception of two five-year plus divorces in my twenty-four years of practice, most people moved through the divorce process within the six months the California Legislature prescribed for the termination of a marital status. Most, like the writer of ‘The Betrayal After 17 Years Of Marriage And 2 Children Was Paralyzing,’ who clearly survived relationship death, also move through the five stages of mourning within that same six months. The death of a relationship, like the death of a loved one, whether sudden or slow, is a trauma most survive, though not without wounds big and small worn on the sleeve, in the heart, or deep in the recesses of the psyche, for a lifetime.
Kelley M. Flanagan’s Huffpostarticle isolating the most threatening issues to a long lasting marriage is interesting, hopeful and thoughtful, even if somewhat obvious and common sensical. I especially like the introduction as she reminds me how humans are short cutters and labelers in nearly everything. She comments that communication always takes the rap for failed marriages, which is untrue.
When I have my students write an essay on marriage and counseling, the parroted mantra is marriage breaks down for lack of communication. Counseling helps couples communicate better. Well, that always seemed to be broad to incomprehensibility as well as reductive. Whenever two people show up in a room it’s more complicated than that let alone show up to a supposed life-long commitment.
I particularly like the point she makes about marriage and loneliness:
Marriage doesn’t take away our loneliness. To be alive is to be lonely. It’s the human condition. Marriage doesn’t change the human condition. It can’t make us completely unlonely. And when it doesn’t, we blame our partner for doing something wrong, or we go searching for companionship elsewhere. Marriage is intended to be a place where two humans share the experience of loneliness and, in the sharing, create moments in which the loneliness dissipates. For a little while.
As a 34-year marriage veteran, I can speak to the greatest advantage of marriage, regardless of the perceived strength or quality of the union, which is the frequent haven from loneliness even as couplehood sometimes increases loneliness or at least puts that human condition in sharp relief. Flanagan reminds her readers that marriage is neither a panacea nor a merging. When she goes on to point out the shame baggage marrieds bring to a marriage, she hammers home that point that–and I’m extrapolating a bit–the union is of two individuals not a solitary unit.
The rest of the article underscores the more obvious and familiar about boredom, blaming, not taking responsibility and the like. She does mention another item that resonates with me, two actually: marriage is life and empathy is crucial to survive and thrive in both. True?
Studies show that 45 to 55% of people will stray at some point in their marriage. Some marriages may appear monogamous on the surface, but have secret affairs. Some have affairs and recover, moving on to a more committed type of marriage. Some partners negotiate a more fluid type of monogamy with outside partners or sexual agreements that do not threaten their emotional monogamy. The integrity of the relationship is maintained through emotional commitment, not sexual exclusivity.
This passage excerpted from an article entitled The Future of Marriage by Tammy Nelson, PhD, in a Huffpost Divorce section is both a stark reality and a breath of fresh air. The reality gleaned from the cited statistic is that monogamy is hard pressed these days. Over half of marriages or more, depending upon whether the “some marriages” that “appear monogamous” are included in those statistics, involve cheating, straying, non-monogamy–pick a term that appears descriptive or indicting as you please. The hopeful part is the elasticity potential of marriage as a lasting institution–if the participants acknowledge the nature of marriage as a constant set of negotiable points, as a pact of two (most often the case nationally) with constituent parts of emotionality, physicality, mentality and spirituality, and that all of those constitutional needs are not met in one person.
In addition to a more fluid definition of marriage, the article also addresses a concomitant fluidity about divorce, which reflects current trends of “conscious uncoupling” and “divorcing with integrity,” what the doctor asserts is a possibility given the trend toward mediation and out of court options. She states that “Divorce can be heartbreaking, for both partners,” and so, implicitly, couples would want to seek more civil ways, less heartbreaking ways to divorce, she states.
Though Dr. Nelson may be right about the trends toward mediation and less combative ways of de-coupling, most probably due to financial considerations than the foresight to avoid heartbreaking battles, I am dubious of her prognostication about kinder, gentler divorces.
Having been a divorce lawyer for over two decades, I know divorce is devastating, whether the divorce is consensual or non-consensual. Divorce is like death, includes the same stages of shock, denial, anger and acceptance, in most cases. It IS a death of a relationship, a marriage, an expectation, a family, a future, and a life envisioned and lived. Facilitating hundreds of divorces in 24 years, I cannot deny there is heartbreak, but there is also hatred, fear, insurmountable loss, guilt, sense of failure, vengeance and often temporary insanity, among a host of other human emotions.
Divorces destroy men, women and children, a little or a lot. They often leave permanent scars. And it is not only because people do not know how to behave. It just may be due in part to the delusion of what marriage promises historically but not currently–a life-long betrothal of two, dipped in everlasting love and sacrifice. The probability of two people growing in the same direction with static needs is, well, hovering still at about 50%, which has been the steady first-time divorce rate for at least the last ten years of my practicing law.
The ideology of marriage is endorsed socially through media imagery, parental lore and financial incentives permeating the laws of the land (tax and insurance). Perhaps the broken promise of societal “norms” and the deception of popular television and magazine images are reasons for the incendiary explosion that divorce is oftentimes. Until that ideology changes, divorces will be experienced as they are–the death of a dream.
So, I agree with the doctor that there needs to be revisions to the myth of marriage; it needs adjusting to reflect the realities and trends she outlines in her article. Perhaps a revised marriage concept will lead to corresponding divorce expectations and thereby less destruction. But it’s not there yet.
The article is interesting; the following passages are particularly intriguing, even if perhaps a stretch:
In the future, in order to avoid this, marriage will be defined by shorter, more renewable contracts, in five year increments, or smaller two year contracts with options to renew. These agreements will be revisited at the end of their lease, and either renewed or ended, depending on how the requirements and expectations of the contract are being fulfilled. Both partners will make the decision to stay and renew or both will agree to move on. We renew our license every four years, why not renew our marriage contract?
In the future, gay marriage will have been legal for decades. More arrangements between couples will include open marriages with sexual agreements, polyamory will be more common and perhaps even polygamy will be visited in the legal system.
More of us will be bisexual, transexual and even more sexually androgonous than ever before. More babies will be born without clear gender identity and will not have surgery to assign a sex. We will judge less on sexual identity and more on how we treat one another
Since the majority of her predictions are based on a definition of marriage, she must be right about that definition or the conclusions she draws from those premises fail. Is she right about the five components of marriage?
I know there is someone else. Well, I don’t know, but I sense something has changed. I am his wife. I should know.
There is someone else. I feel guilty and afraid, but I cannot seem to end it. She gives me what my wife stopped giving me a long time ago, respect, tenderness and yes, sex. She makes me feel alive. Unlike my wife, who should be doing that for me. But she hates me. Hates sex. She doesn’t understand my needs.
And I wonder how he, who needed sex from me every day in the early days and later upon demand and pleading and arguing, gets his needs fulfilled since I first said no. I denied him more and more frequently as time went on. I don’t know why or how it got to be so hard to want to. It just felt like more effort than it was worth. And I was always so tired. So much changed when we had kids. I was so tired and all he seemed interested in was getting his rocks off, even though I was so tired and worn out from feeding them, cleaning them, making sure they were safe every minute of the day and even when we slept, he did anyhow, and then woke up, he off to work and me to start the whole cycle again, feeding, cleaning, watching…
I work every day with people I don’t respect, who don’t respect me, and don’t care about whether the company survives or not. It’s my job to make sure that the company makes money and the people under me hate me for it and the people above me don’t appreciate what I do for their company. She has no idea what I have to deal with between employees, managers, vendors, consultants, shareholders, Presidents, and the public, all wanting something from me I cannot give, money and time. It’s a constant war. I feel like I get my ass kicked every day from those who resent me, and then I come home to more resentment. Where do I get my comfort and support if not from my family, my wife? She should be my rest, my place of refuge and my biggest cheerleader. Doesn’t she realize that I don’t want to be working a thousand hours a week and that I would rather be spending more time with my kids?
I do my job. She decided her job was the kids, even though she has a degree in environmental engineering. But she seems so resentful, accusing me of not caring enough about the kids and her, not spending enough time, not helping enough. I’m doing all I can.
The time when Joey was so sick, puking all day and sobbing all night for two days. And he came home from work late, but I got up from my sleep to talk to him. When else could I? I knew not to call him at work, not since a long time. Too busy, an interruption of his tons of work and people to direct and money to watch over. So I told him all about Joey as his eyes glazed over and his eyes drooped. But he stayed awake, fighting sleep to listen. And I cried and he cried, we were so worried about him. He was our first, and we could not imagine anything happening to him, anything making him hurt we loved him so much.
Don’t get me wrong, though. She’s a good mom, takes care of the kids really well. But she doesn’t seem happy doing it. I told her she should get a job outside the home if she wanted to, but she said she didn’t want to. She does a good job with them; they’re great kids.
And we had that moment, and then he caressed my hair and my face tenderly. But then his hands moved to my breasts, and that look in his eyes took over, the one that turns from tired to interested, the glaze turning into glare and gaze. I couldn’t believe it! I just told him how I had been up for two days and was wrecked and worried and beside myself in fear, and that made him hungry? It felt so greedy. I couldn’t get over it. Is he just always looking to get himself satisfied, clueless to how I might feel? He has no idea how that feels, how I feel.
But when it comes to me, she doesn’t seem to have the time or the motivation for me. She doesn’t want to go out and do things together like we used to like go to movies, dinner, basketball games…It’s like I Iost my best friend. It’s like I have no life.
Ever since then, and so many times afterward, I was reminded of how everything turns into sex with him, how thoughtless and selfish he is. How am I supposed to feel about him? And then there is the sex itself. It just doesn’t do it for me any more. It’s the same old thing and not as exciting as it used to be when we could not keep our hands off of each other, when we would just spontaneously rip our clothes off and fuck on the table, or leave a party after giving each other that leering look. And he was wild and I was always wet for him, just his kiss, his hunger for me.
When we talk about the kids is when we have a real connection. She tells me about what Joey said or Nita did, the teachers, their friends…she knows everything and she fills me in so I can be more a part of their lives; working twelve hour days every day as I do, I miss a lot.
And her eyes are lit up and she is full of pride or hurt or anger, and that’s when I feel close to her. I want to touch her and ease her burden, her pain. Show her love and give her some release. But she doesn’t want me to make her feel loved. She doesn’t want me to touch her, like I’m some kind of horny leper. It makes me so goddamned frustrated and angry.
But now it just seems like we’re both so tired, put no effort into it. He used to at least try to find my spot and a challenge to give me an orgasm. He doesn’t try and I don’t want him to. He has accused me of not liking sex, of being a prude, and closed up about sex. He has basically accused me of being a derelict wife. And to talk about it, that just makes it worse. What could I tell him? I don’t even know what I think, what I need. I just know it feels like he just wants to use my worn out body to deposit sperm into.
I don’t know how to please her. I let her take care of her job, don’t interfere, empower her, but then she accuses me of not caring about what goes on in the house I live in. I don’t want to have to come home after spending my day making a hundred decisions all which affect the future of the company, our livelihood that she certainly enjoys, the one that pays for Joey’s football, Nita’s dance lessons, her hair color, both their colleges and our retirement, and then have to decide which fucking plumber to use for the broken toilet in the kids’ bathroom.
So when I decided I wasn’t going to go through the motions just to please him any more, lose any more sleep so that my day is worse for the extra half hour I lose letting him have his jollies, he stormed, he argued with me, he threatened to leave me, but I knew he wouldn’t. He would never leave his kids and disappoint his parents, look bad in front of his friends and colleagues. It would tarnish his sterling silver reputation. So he came to me then in a standoff, given up, til today. He doesn’t even ask any more. We are roommates.
I’m convinced she just doesn’t like sex any more. Maybe she never did. Her parents were pretty fucked up toward each other. I don’t know. She’s a crazed bitch sometimes. I’m tired too, but that doesn’t stop my need to be close to her, for sex. She’s my wife. I think she just hates me. She won’t talk about it. And I don’t know where to begin if she were to open up.
All I know is I can’t keep jacking off the rest of my life to ease the tension of endless days, and I don’t want to fight any more. I just want to keep it peaceful for the kids, just have some peace and not argue.
He is still kind and gives the obligatory affectionate display of married people, a kiss on the lips hello, a pat on the ass, though without the leer. He has always said it is important that the kids see affection between their parents. Maybe that is why he does it. But I know the cold disaffection that lies deep in his pupils, in the lack of even the slightest glint in his eyes when he looks at me, even as the corners of his mouth are upturned. I feel him gone dark.
But when I’m with her, whether in her car or in our hotel room, I find my place of peace. She can’t keep her hands off me and has this total focus and excitement in her eyes all for me. And after we rock it hard and lie in bed, she listens to me bitch about work, laughs at my jokes, bad as they are, and holds me, caressing the hair on my chest. She wraps her arms around my neck so tight when I cum and makes me feel young, like I could go for round two and three in one session. I haven’t felt that with my wife in years, maybe ever. I feel young. She makes me feel alive, like rising from the dead after being buried for so long.
So how does he get by? I know he gets himself off. I have heard him in the bathroom and walked in on him in the shower once or twice, even as he disengaged quickly and covered up the act with an innocent turning into the raining water to hide the evidence. But I know. It’s been months, maybe years. How does he work his twelve hours a day and come home to tightlipped tenderness and feigned affection? Where does he release? He doesn’t seem crippled by the loss of our sex life. There must be someone else. How could there not be?
But I can’t help it. When I’m with her, I am afraid and feel guilty about my wife. How hurt she would be if she knew, if she found out. I don’t want to hurt her. She is the mother of my children and someone I basically grew up with. We have so much history, so much we built together like our good times, our house and our savings and our retirement money. She would go crazy and divorce me, probably. Bad mouth me to everyone, especially my parents. Yeah, she would make my life a living hell. She’s got a mean streak and is a fighter. It wouldn’t look good at work, maybe jeopardize my job. And what would it do to the kids? What would be left for them? I don’t want to fuck up my kids with a divorce. They’re really amazing kids, headed in the right direction, and a divorce would certainly derail them. And when would I see my kids? I want to see my kids every day. I can’t lose them.
But I will never ask, never accuse. I have no proof. I don’t think he would, after all. I don’t even think about it. I have to drive the kids to football and soccer and the dance, then the orthodontist and then make dinner. I don’t think about it, him, unless it is to feed him or ask if I should pay to get the toilet fixed or wait til he can do it, to which he usually replies, “Make an executive decision.” Except when I do, he asks me why I would spend a hundred fifty dollars on something that costs fifteen to fix. There is no winning, and he makes me feel stupid. It’s no wonder I don’t feel up to it, feel like fucking him. Let someone else.
And when I’m home and my wife’s bitching at me for every little thing I haven’t done or have done, just some days, or wake up in the middle of the night reaching for her warm, smooth skin just to be close to mine, I think about her arms, her touch, her scent and how I just want to close my eyes and fall into her in some dark hotel room. It’s like I can’t relax in either world. I can’t fully enjoy either.
But if I ever found out, I would divorce him and make him pay through the nose. I would make sure he never saw his kids again because they would know what a shit he is. I would be so hurt, so betrayed, so devastated. After 23 years, all we have been through. It would crush me to the floor. I wouldn’t know what to do, how to live. He would have to pay me to stay home with his kids, pay me for the rest of his life, pay a fortune. Then maybe he would regret having hurt me and his family so heartlessly, so selfishly. Fucker, he wouldn’t dare! I’d cut his balls off and serve them to him in his dinner, in his favorite dinner, steak and fries, the thin kind not the curly or the crinkled or the home fry cut, the bistro style thin kind that is easier to cook to a crunch. Fuck him and his fucking fries!! Oh please, God, don’t let him be cheating on me.
Every time I think it’s going to be the last, that I should stop before I get caught. But I can’t stop. Not yet.