I was 15 minutes early for the church thing.
My ex-wife lives close so I expected her and our son to show up soon. The church thing was for him and other kids his age.
His mom and I are good about going to events together to support him. It’s the kind of thing that was uncomfortable in the early months of separation and divorce, but I now find totally okay and occasionally pleasant two and a half years later.
I asked a guy if he knew where the kids and families were sitting. He pointed to a spot on the far side of the large church. I recognized a few faces. Whenever my son and his mom showed up, we’d sit over there.
But the minutes ticked by. And everyone filing in for the 9:30 a.m. start time wasn’t my son and his mom.
At 9:26, I finally sent a text: “Are you here?”
She replied at 9:29: “Walking thru parking lot now. Where are you?”
I told her to go through a back entrance. There are two of them. I stood by one while I waited, guessing incorrectly that she would choose it. It was 9:31 and church was starting. I sent a text describing a lady passing out things our son would need to grab.
She asked again where I was sitting, but instead of answering, I told her where the kids and families were sitting together.
Because I’m divorced and feel shame easily, particularly among the school and church parents where it seems like all their families are still intact, I didn’t go sit with them, electing to wait for my son and ex to arrive.
For that same reason, I also chose not to walk across the front of the entire church in front of hundreds of people to meet them after the Catholic mass started.
Long story short: My son wasn’t sitting with his parents together like we’d planned. Mission: failed.
My non-Catholic ex-wife spent the next hour with our son who was upset because he didn’t know where I was, and was forced to do a semi-ceremonial Catholicy thing with him that she might have felt some discomfort doing.
I was a little pissed because she arrived late and perceived her lack of punctuality as a sign she didn’t respect this Catholic thing she wouldn’t have to worry about if it wasn’t for me (which isn’t true).
She was a little pissed because she felt I didn’t try hard enough to sit with them and didn’t like that me not being with them upset our son.
She lives close. So I assumed she just didn’t try hard enough. But what actually happened was they spent the night at his grandma’s house much farther away, and when they arrived with what would typically be enough time, they found no parking spots and ended up having a long walk to get there.
She thought I was being unhelpful not telling her where I was sitting, instead telling her where our son was supposed to sit with his classmates.
OF COURSE I wanted to be next to my son. But I thought him being with his classmates for this special occasion was the bigger priority.
That probably seems like a typical misunderstanding.
But that’s exactly my point in telling it. THIS RIGHT HERE, is how divorce happens. She didn’t do anything wrong and tried her hardest to make the moment special for our son. I didn’t do anything wrong and tried my hardest to do the same. With limited information about one another’s thoughts and feelings, we were both a little bit pissed at one another, even though NO ONE DID ANYTHING WRONG.
That’s How Your Marriage Ends
Sometimes he’s a drunk or an addict.
Sometimes she’s financially manipulative.
Sometimes he’s a degenerate gambler.
Sometimes she’s sleeping with a guy at work.
That’s not usually what happens. Usually, two well-meaning people get married with the heartfelt intention to love one another forever, and raise good kids, and enjoy backyard barbecues with friends, and holiday gatherings with family, and trips together to Disney World and the Grand Canyon.
And then slowly, sometimes imperceptibly, little moments like the one I described above start to invade and infect our psyche and emotional chemistry.
She thinks he’s thoughtless and irresponsible.
He thinks she’s unfairly bitchy and never happy.
She thinks he’s selfish and that all his decisions revolve around self-interests.
He thinks he’s already changed so much of his behavior and lifestyle for her, he doesn’t understand why she’s always so dissatisfied with him.
She decides he’s never going to change and eventually grows exhausted by him. Because there are only two possibilities: He’s a childlike moron incapable of being a responsible adult partner and co-parent, OR he’s as smart as she thinks he is and cares so little about her feelings that every day he chooses all the fuck-you-I’m-going-to-do-things-my-way stuff that she’s been pleading with him to stop.
In either case, she can’t trust him anymore. He’s no longer SAFE.
Not because he had sex with someone else.
Not because he gambled away their money.
Not because he’s an unreliable financial provider or not physically capable of protecting her from harm.
But because when she bares her soul to him, nothing changes. So she must not matter enough to him. She loves him in theory, but the feelings go away. It’s hard to stay in love with the person who hurts you every single day. Because he’s no longer safe and behaves like someone who doesn’t love her, she stops being sexually attracted to him. Sex becomes super-infrequent or dries up altogether.
All this time, her husband thinks she must be a little bit crazy. She’s hormonal and imbalanced. SHE MUST BE. Because he does love her. Very much. Of everyone he has ever known or currently knows, she’s the one he chose to spend the rest of his life with. She’s the one he was willing to forsake all others for. If he’s a father, there’s a secondary layer of love and protection he feels. He loves his kids a lot and he knows how amazing she is at caring for them. He could NEVER do what she does, thus her safety and wellbeing become even more important to him.
He spent his entire life going to school and hanging out with his friends.
Many of his best memories are Friday nights on the football field, or up in the stands at basketball games, or playing golf or soccer or poker or video games, or watching MMA or boxing or pro wrestling with his friends.
He has this loyalty he innately feels to his friends. They’re like brothers. Either because they played sports together, or roomed together in college, or served in the military together, or worked together, or any other bond-forming activity guys often do.
Now, he spends maybe 5-10% of his social time with them, or participating in hobbies ingrained in him from all those years. He thinks it’s REALLY unfair that even though he gave up the vast majority of those activities and hobbies for his marriage, she still complains about what little time he spends on all those things he has always loved.
She didn’t sign up for this. Not a life where she constantly feels invalidated because he either offers a hundred reasons why she’s being an unreasonable, nagging bitch, or he totally withdraws and doesn’t communicate with her at all.
He didn’t sign up for this. Not a life where he is constantly disrespected and made to feel inadequate even though his PURPOSE in life is to provide the best life possible for his family.
She stops sleeping with him.
He starts jerking off thinking about the office receptionist or that waitress at his favorite lunch spot.
She gets huge crushes on any man who appears to show genuine interest in her because her husband hasn’t talked to her or looked at her that way in years. He really gets me, she thinks. I want to sleep with him.
He gets his kicks from the female friend or coworker who listens to him complain about how unappreciated he is at home. She feels bad and wants to help so she puts his penis in her mouth, and he justifies it because his wife hasn’t slept with him in several months. What did she expect me to do!?, he thinks.
The guilt and shame pile up for everyone.
The shoulders are just a little bit heavier every second of every day.
Quiet moments alone are no longer peaceful because those are the moments the skeletons rattle loudest.
No one feels peace or innocence anymore. Not like when you were kids. You miss it so much, and it’s amplified by watching your kids. Because they’re pure and innocent and you want them to stay that way, but you can’t protect them from all the shit. There’s just way too much of it.
You feel like you’re constantly failing them because how can a broken, flawed person like me ever expect to raise children to be great people while protecting them from every danger?
What You’re Doing Isn’t Working
- The above example is a fictional hypothetical situation that is NOT autobiographical but I believe is one super-common example of how marriages break and deteriorate into tar pits of shit.
- Your marriage or relationship has some element of all this going on in it. The reason it’s so easy to write this off-the-cuff example that will probably resonate with a kajillion people is because I read and hear the same stories over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. It’s totally frustrating and depressing.
You’re doing the same things everyone does, and when you do that, you get divorced and often end up sad and angry and hurting with sad and angry and hurting kids. It’s a real shit show.
A suggestion: TRY SOMETHING ELSE.
Hey Husbands: Your wife is going to leave you, and may or may not start sleeping with another man and take your children away. It’s horrible, and you and your family deserve better. If your wife tells you there’s a problem, and you don’t agree because you don’t think it’s as big a deal as she does? I have bad news. There’s a problem, and she’s going to leave.
Hey Wives: You’re not wrong that your husband who pledged to love you forever is a little oblivious and thoughtless, and should absolutely be prioritizing your feelings on all matters related to your emotional wellbeing so you can feel safe in your own life and trust that it will be here tomorrow. But you are wrong about your husband not loving or caring about you. And you’re doing a piss-poor job choosing WHEN, HOW and in what TONE OF VOICE to tell him how dissatisfied you are.
If I knew how to cure marriage problems, I’d have already written the magic-bullet bestselling book of all time, and currently be enjoying the spoils of commercial success while also kind of saving the world.
Every couple, and every individual, is different. Unique. Nuanced. Special.
And when we pledge to love and cherish and serve one another for as long as we live, it is our solemn duty to figure out what we can do to make our partner’s lives better.
Guys, marriage isn’t for you. It’s for your wives. You don’t need to agree with her. You simply have to care that the person you love most feels serious pain and fear. And if you put your mind to solving that problem—alleviating her pain and fear—you’re going to be much happier.
Ladies, marriage isn’t for you. It’s for your husbands. You don’t need to agree with him. You simply have to care that the person you love most in the world feels seriously unappreciated and undervalued. And if you put your mind to solving that problem—making him feel respected for all of the positive traits for which you originally fell in love with him, and valued for his many contributions to your life—you’re going to be much happier.
My ex-wife had a choice: Be pissed because I wasn’t with them during the church thing. Or appreciate that I tried my best at the expense of my own happiness to make sure our son was getting the most out of the moment.
I had a choice: Be pissed my ex-wife didn’t make a better effort to arrive sooner. Or appreciate that she—a non-Catholic—goes out of her way to support and participate in things she doesn’t always understand or agree with.
The moment passed.
Later that night, I had to run a pair of our son’s pants to her house. We do little favors like this all the time.
The anger and frustration from earlier was gone.
Despite her annoyance, she had sent me a video in the afternoon of our son riding his bike like a big boy. I appreciated it.
Despite my annoyance, it was my pleasure to bring clothes to her that he needed for school. She appreciated it.
And just maybe, while you’re searching for answers on what to do next? On how to get through to him? On how to get her to respect you or sleep with you? On how to save your marriage? On what else you can try?
Maybe you can start with something you learned before entering kindergarten.
Saying thank you.