Tag Archives: Marital Separation

The Friday Reclamation Project

Weekend Loading Please Wait

(Image/picturequotes.com)

Five years ago today, I didn’t want to go home.

Our entire lives, most of us look forward to weekends. TGIF and stuff. Weekends are fun. We associate them with doing things we want to do instead of things we have to do like go to school, or go to work.

But five years ago today, my marriage was total shit. Awful. My wife and I would go to bed or leave the house without acknowledging one another sometimes.

Maybe it’s only because I was being a massive wimp, but I’d watch her dote on our son while greeting him or saying bye to him.

Right in front of me, I had the evidence of what it looked like when my wife loved someone. Thus, the absence of any of that in her dealings with me could only mean one thing.

It was hard. I hurt all over and acted like it, which couldn’t have done me any favors. No one likes pouters who wear their “I’m Feeling Sorry for Myself” badges for everyone to see.

I imagine that’s especially true for wives who feel as if they’ve been abandoned, neglected and unheard in their marriages year after year after year after year.

Even if you didn’t mean to, when you hurt someone long enough, they lose their capacity for hiding all that fuck-you rage and/or apathy simmering beneath the surface.

One of the things I remember most from the final 6-12 months of my marriage was how the joyful anticipation of Friday night had been taken away from me.

At work, I mattered.

At work, people liked me.

At work, I didn’t feel anxious.

At home, all I had was our son, and at a time when our marriage was a complete shit-festival, you can imagine how often my wife found ways to be doing things with him. Sometimes she would invite me to things like hikes or bike rides, but it was always miserable and sometimes I wished I was dead.

Going on a family hike or bike ride DOES NOT make you a family. I needed to be a family to do family things.

I needed to be in a marriage to do marriage things.

It was broken, and everything I needed was missing. So on Friday at work, I didn’t want to go home. I didn’t look forward to weekends anymore because it felt like a prison.

I’m thinking about the loss of anticipating fun so many of us felt sitting at our classroom desks on Friday afternoons at school, and looking forward to the break from the stresses of work on Friday afternoon at our respective workplaces.

But something MUCH bigger actually happens. We lose home.

We lose the place we can retreat to, to feel loved and safe and relaxed and comfortable. This space that is ours becomes this polarizing thing. It’s supposed to feel good. Safe. Fun. Welcoming. But when your closest personal relationships with those you live with are broken, you can feel it in the very air you breathe.

Alcohol is the only thing that ever helped. But I never could drink enough to erase the pain I felt when our friends would leave, and the joy and normalcy she’d display in the company of others would vanish entirely.

I don’t know if she was faking fun and happiness for them, or intentionally communicating her angry feelings non-verbally to me. Either way, the change was always jarring and a reminder that my wife really wasn’t my wife anymore.

She was someone else.

Getting the Weekend Back

Today, I’ve reclaimed Friday. I’ve got the weekend again. Sitting here on a Friday afternoon, I can look forward to all kinds of fun possibilities with friends or my little boy.

I can feel fun again. I can breathe in the same house that just five years ago felt like a prison.

I took the hard way to get here. For much of my life, I had to learn things the hard way. It’s sort of a defining characteristic.

I’m so grateful to be able to breathe again—literally and figuratively. But that’s not without a pocket full of regrets I’m always carrying around with me.

Back when I first lost the weekend, there were two ways to recover it.

One way was to go through hell, and feel like dying for a long time before eventually healing and recovering the ability to anticipate weekend fun a half-decade later while living an entirely new life as a divorced, single parent rebuilding and reshaping his future with a whole new set of rules.

The other way was to exercise humility and demonstrate personal accountability and lead by example in my own home and marriage. The other way was to apply all of my intelligence and problem-solving skills to determining WHY my wife was feeling and acting as she was.

What if, much earlier, I’d determined how much some of my past and reoccurring behavior HURT her?

What if I learned what it means to practice intentional empathy before the impassable fissure appeared in our home?

What if I’d recovered the weekend by identifying what ACTUALLY was wrong, and done something about it when there was still time?

I don’t like being Advice Guy. I’m just some divorced person, and I don’t and can’t understand how it feels to be you in your own home and relationships.

But if you’re in that place in life where you can no longer look forward to the weekend and smile—where you can no longer feel hope regarding life’s simplest little pleasures—you probably only have two weekend-reclamation options as well.

Both options are long.

Both options are hard.

Both options are humbling.

But, when you imagine the best version of your life, who are the people standing in the photos with you? If it’s your spouse and/or children, then I hope you won’t do what I did—feel sorry for myself. Avoid the problem. Wait for her to “come around,” as if she’d eventually see things my way.

When you can’t even look forward to Friday anymore, that’s Life telling you something is wrong. That something is broken, and that the broken thing needs fixed.

It may not be fun or feel good, but a Friday you’re not looking forward to is the PERFECT opportunity to begin fixing what’s really broken.

I made my shitty weekend problem ANOTHER selfish bullet point on my Life resume. ANOTHER thing I made about me.

But I should have made it about her. I should have made it about us. And because I didn’t, my wife chose my weekend-reclamation path for me.

There’s a better way, and I hope you’ll choose it. To make the last day of the work week Friday again.

Together.

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Writing a Letter Won’t Convince Him to Stay, and Your Life Won’t Be Better if He Does

crumpled paper

(Image/Recycle Nation)

My heart was in the right place, but I think maybe I got it wrong when I tried to write a generic letter in response to the question: “What should I write in my letter to my husband to make him stay?”

It’s not a particularly popular blog post, but it gets read a lot because people frequently type variations of that question into Google.

The combination of fear and sadness we feel when our spouses shake the foundation of our lives with comments like “I don’t know if I love you anymore,” or when they actually pack bags and leave, is a feeling hard to describe.

Abandonment hurts, even when you deserve it, because at the time you’re feeling it, you probably haven’t figured out how much them wanting to leave makes sense.

I can’t fathom how it must feel to people like children, or to excellent spouses and parents who don’t deserve it at all.

So, a bunch of people are reading this silly letter I wrote every day, and one of two things are happening:

  1. Readers are dismissing it because it’s probably a little bit bullshit to many people, or
  2. They’re ACTUALLY sending some version of that letter to their partners, and it probably comes off inauthentic as hell, because unless someone thinks and feels exactly the same as I did in January 2015, sharing a letter written by the Then-Me WOULD be inauthentic.

And this is important: Fake, inauthentic shit never works for long.

‘But, Matt! I Really Don’t Want My Husband to Leave! What Should I Do?!’

Not long ago, I had the pleasure of publishing a Q&A with author Mark Manson the day of his second book launch.

In that post, my final question to him kind of, sort of tackled WHY a stranger could never write any sort of meaningful letter that would convince a husband intent on divorce that he should change his mind.

Here’s that exchange:

Matt: The No. 1 question I get is: “How can I get my husband to understand what you’ve written here? He never listens to me any time I say anything he perceives as critical.” I care about helping others, and I believe husbands actively listening to their wives (hearing her, I mean; not following her directives) would dramatically improve relationships/marriage. What advice would you give women on how to communicate concerns or dissatisfaction in ways men are more likely to truly listen to?

Mark: Questions like this are hard because they’re so person-dependent. It’s hard to say with certainty without knowing the couple. After all, maybe there’s something in the wife’s communication style that is preventing him from hearing her. Maybe the husband has some deep insecurity that is causing him to avoid dealing with the issue. It could be a million things.

But in general, the short answer, is that whenever someone in a relationship has problems with their partner, it always needs to be communicated in such a way that responsibility or blame for each person’s emotions are not shifted to the other. For instance, many people naturally approach their partner by saying something like, “You don’t care about me and make me feel horrible because all you want to do is X.” Because this is said in such a way that puts all of the responsibility on the partner, they will naturally become defensive or seek a way to avoid dealing with it. After all, I can’t control how my wife feels 24/7!

A much better way to communicate it is something like, “When you do X, it often causes me to think/feel badly because I feel unloved. Maybe that’s my own insecurity, but is there something we can do to make it better?” In this example, the person approaching their partner with the problem is owning their responsibility for their own feelings and reactions, and are looking to find some solution. There’s no blame or guilt-tripping going on. This is far more likely to be successful.

Then again, a lot of men are raised and socialized to be emotionally shut down and distant from pretty much everyone (but especially women), so it can be a much more long-term issue that may actually have little to do with the wife herself.

Idealism is Often Irrelevant in Real Life

Never lose yourself to keep someone else.

I have issues with idealism. Many of my beliefs, life philosophies and political opinions are rooted in an Ideal World.

I have a habit of forming my strong beliefs based on The Way Things Should Be (which yes, is subjective). I sometimes describe common marriage scenarios that I believe most people can relate to, and sometimes I frame them as Husbands Often Do This, and Wives Often Do That. The Mars/Venus stuff. Sometimes people get offended by that.

I do it because I believe it’s pragmatic. Because EVEN IF things ideally shouldn’t be described in terms of gender differences, I believe in Real Life, explaining it that way allows MOST people to relate to it. I think it’s likely the most-helpful way to explain relationship conflict to the regular guys and couples out there like me trying to keep their families together.

The IDEAL way would be to promote gender equality across the board, because it’s something I believe strongly in. Without all of the people who protested my word choices and story framing, I would have never come to believe what a powerful force I believe Accidental Sexism to be in the destruction of modern male-female relationships.

Ideally, you could write a letter to a husband saying all of the “right” things about why the couple is always having the same fight, and why it’s HIGHLY ILLOGICAL to leave a marriage over most common relationship problems to go be with someone else because hedonic adaptation GUARANTEES many or all of the same relationship problems will crop up with them too.

But the world is not ideal. Not even close.

I have no idea what kind of men these women are with. While I will never advocate divorce, I think it’s safe to say that at least some percentage of women are married to men they SHOULD NOT be married to.

In real life, people are broken.

I don’t want to write letters that might convince a dangerous someone to stay, or that might reinforce feelings of inadequacy within a wife desperately craving her husband’s approval.

Listen up, ladies: You might be messing a few things up, just like every other human in world history, but you don’t need to sacrifice your identity to appease some guy intent on abandoning you or your family without cause.

Either: A. You’re an obviously horrible spouse, and a very healthy, intelligent person is wisely moving on, or B. You’re experiencing the injustice of a man refusing to fulfill the vow he made to you.

And in either case, my personal goal is not to write some crap letter that can’t possibly mean much to guys on the brink of ending their marriages.

My personal goal is to encourage you to look at the mirror and not see the distorted image your broken insides trick your mind into seeing, but the human being—the most wondrous and miraculous thing the world has ever seen—who possesses the freedom and capability to wake up every day and choose to be whoever you want to be.

No one gets to decide who you are. But people will try.

And it doesn’t matter that you and I have never met for me to know this about you:

You’re already tall enough.

It takes a long time to see it. Like some dusty old antique or oil painting, it isn’t always obvious to us how much something’s worth.

But once you figure it out, you get to start feeling proud of it. You get to appreciate and value it. It gives you balance. Strength. Courage.

When you have those, you don’t plead with other people to choose you. Because YOU get to choose yourself.

People who don’t choose you back aren’t welcome in your life anyway.

So, “What should I write in my letter to my husband to make him stay?”

Maybe instead of writing that letter, you can begin the work of loving yourself as much as you deserve.

Get that part right and I’m pretty sure the rest takes care of itself.

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“What should I write in my letter to my husband to make him stay?”

dear letter

“What should I write in my letter to my husband to make him stay?” she typed into the search box.

She must be so sad and afraid. In her search for answers, she stumbled onto this place yesterday.

Maybe she found something that made her feel better. Probably not.

What should I write in my letter to my husband to make him stay?

If she had asked me, what would I say?

I don’t like imagining her sitting there so desperate for answers that she typed it into Google.

It wasn’t that long ago, I was asking questions a little bit like that.

I can’t stop thinking about her question. If he wants to leave (because he wants someone else or because he wants the freedom to do as he pleases), there’s almost nothing she can say. He’s going to leave.

But, what if deep down he really wants the marriage to work too? What if his heart is in the right place? What could she write?

I’m not this woman’s husband. And maybe I’m not even like most men.

But something like this might work for me.

 …

Dear Husband,

I am afraid.

I am afraid and I need you.

I am afraid you’re going to leave and we’re going to lose everything. All these years. Because all I’ve ever wanted since meeting you was to grow old with you.

This all feels so fragile. You’re the person who makes me feel safe, and you’re not here making me feel safe because there’s this wall now.

I know that sometimes I make you feel like you need to run away from me. Because I’m asking all of these things from you and it feels to you like criticism. Like I’m telling you you’re not good enough.

I know that I can be a mystery to you. That you’re pretty steady and consistent, and that I’m less so. That I can respond differently to the exact same event and that sometimes I lash out at you when things don’t go my way.

I am sometimes more emotional and sensitive than you to things that happen. I know that frustrates you. I understand and appreciate that I sometimes direct my anger toward you as a result even though you had no intention of hurting me. You don’t try to hurt me. And I sometimes make you feel as if you did try to.

I wish I could feel what you feel sometimes. So I’d know what it’s like to be you. Then maybe I could understand.

I always wish you could feel what I feel. So you’d know what it’s like to be me. Then I think you’d understand. I think WE would understand and we’d forever change the way we communicate and treat one another.

I really think everything would be different then.

I feel so hurt sometimes. So sad. So angry. And I just cry. And you’re not available to make me feel better. And sometimes I feel so hurt by you that I’m not sure you even could.

In those moments I wonder if my life would be better without you in it. Maybe with someone else.

We go through life giving our hearts to different people. Falling in and out of love. So happy at the beginning. So sad at the end. We feel so broken and we ask ourselves how we will ever love or trust again? Can we find someone to make us feel loved?

And that’s when it hits me.

The relationship cycle that all couples deal with. Over and over again. People sometimes believe the lie that everything will be different with the next person but it’s always the same because WE’RE always the same.

We think the grass is greener over there, but it never is. We just did a lousy job taking care of our own lawn. If I move over there and keep doing the same things I’m doing now, that lawn will look just like this one.

We can trade one another in. Find replacement partners and try to do this all over again with someone new.

But it all feels so foolish and wasteful.

I choose you.

Out of every person I have ever met or ever will meet, I choose you.

I am so sorry for making you feel like you’re not good enough or as if I regret marrying you.

There’s a little piece of me that’s broken. And maybe a little piece of you that’s broken, too. And it’s hard enough for the put-together people to make marriage work with all of the things that go on in life constantly driving a wedge between us.

But maybe if I work on fixing me. And maybe if I dedicate my life to helping you fill whatever’s missing in yours, we can make this what we always talked about it being.

You are smart and talented and capable. And when we’re not getting in our own way, no one makes me feel as good and whole and safe as you do.

I BELIEVE in you. That you can be and do and achieve whatever you want. I’m sorry I don’t say it more.

I APPRECIATE you. That you give so much of your time and effort to providing all that you do for me. I don’t say ‘thank you’ nearly enough. I am so grateful for you.

I FORGIVE you. Because I know you do not set out to hurt me. And I’m sorry that I hold grudges and put up walls with you when my feelings are hurt. It’s a defense mechanism and I’m trying to stop.

There are many people in my life that I love. I inherited almost all of them. Parents and siblings. Grandparents and extended family.

But I didn’t inherit you. I picked you.

I love you. Because I woke up today and said “yes.” And I’m promising you right here and now, as I did on our wedding day, that I’m going to wake up every day and say “yes,” no matter how I’m feeling.

My feelings are always going to change. But my choice on this matter will not.

I am yours. Always.

I don’t know what forever looks like, or how to get there. But I know that with you holding my hand, we’re going to find it.

Please say yes too.

Love, Me

Actions speak louder than words. But if I got this letter, I’d like to think I’d say yes.

Then keep marching toward forever.

…..

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Lift Him Up

Image by Imajali at Deviant Art.

Image by Imajali at Deviant Art.

Maybe I was wrong.

When I said that men have the most power to save their marriages or long-term relationships.

The thinking was, men have so much room for improvement, that if they can get some of these little things right—these little things that make their wives or girlfriends feel unloved, unsafe, and insecure—that men can collectively make incredible gains toward a future where divorce occurs much less frequently.

And while I still believe that to be true—that men wield a lot of power in the fight for marriages—I’m questioning whether men actually have the most responsibility.

Bear with me for a minute, please.

Divorce is bad, I think. Worse than most people give it credit for. It’s the second-most-stressful thing that EVER happens to you, according to the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale. Marital separation is No. 3 on the list. It is only behind the death of your spouse, and ranked ahead of things like going to prison and the death of a close family member or friend. When it happened to me, I FREAKED. Hard to describe, but I don’t think I have to. I think most people understand what freaking the hell out feels like. It’s worth avoiding. (Free life tip!)

I repeat: Divorce is BAD. And it affects 95 percent of us.

We are not arming young people (or ourselves) with the information we need to make good marital choices. It ends up with a whole bunch of broken homes and broken hearts and economic hardships and children growing up in more-challenging environments than we’d all prefer.

It’s an epidemic.

People collectively freak out and band together to fight all kinds of worthy causes in this world. Causes that impact barely a fraction of the people that divorce does.

It matters to me.

It affects me every day in one form or another.

And I believe as we collectively become more enlightened in the information age, it’s something that can get incrementally better as we move into the future.

Boys vs. Girls

I have no idea how girls (and women) experience the world. I won’t pretend to.

But I know what it’s like to be a boy growing up in a reasonably typical environment in small-town Ohio.

Political correctness keeps a lot of people from being honest with themselves and others about differences between boys and girls that are generally true. (I KNOW there are exceptions.)

Here’s how I remember it:

Boys liked to play sports. Roughly. And with trucks and action figures and watch superhero shows on TV.

Girls liked to play with bedroom vanity and kitchen sets. Much more orderly. And with dolls and watch Jem and Strawberry Shortcake.

Boys were generally stronger and faster and got in more trouble during school, more prone to fighting, but also pretty good at getting along with other boys.

Girls were generally better students, stayed out of trouble, would go to the bathroom together in groups (I still don’t get it, ladies—totally weird!), and were generally less successful at getting along with other girls not in their immediate social circle.

Boys wore blue. Sports t-shirts. Air Jordans and Reebok Pumps.

Girls wore pink. Pretty things. Jewelry.

I think it’s important to admit that boys and girls are different. If you think your husband or wife thinks and feels exactly like you, then it’s no damn wonder you communicate poorly and get so frustrated with one another.

But. If you acknowledge the differences. Respect them. Understand their complementary value. Then you can understand why conflict and misunderstandings are taking place. You can learn empathy. You can attempt to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. THAT’s where compromise, balance and peace live.

Ladies: You Can be the Superhero

Depending on your individual chemical makeup, I understand that you want—check that, need— to feel supported, loved, respected, cared for, protected. It’s necessary security and I can appreciate now more than ever how important feeling secure really is.

I also understand ladies that when some of your critical individual needs aren’t being met… (you feel alone in your marriage, he doesn’t touch you or look at you like he used to, he chooses other things over spending time with you, he seems oblivious to all you do for the household—thoughtless and insensitive, he repeatedly does things that hurt you even though you tell him over and over and over again that it does. He tells you that you’re acting crazy. Like you’re making it up. That how you feel ISN’T what’s real. He just doesn’t get it. I understand.)… that it’s really hard for you to exert the energy to carry the responsibility of the relationship on your shoulders as well.

You already do feel that way because the vast majority of the time, you’re WAY better at performing the functions of married life than your male counterpart.

You just are.

At the risk of sounding like I think my ex-wife wasn’t supportive, an honest look at my adulthood yields the feeling that she didn’t have much respect for the things I was (and am) good at because I fell short in her eyes in so many other areas.

In the interest of fairness, perhaps that wouldn’t have been the case had I gotten my husband duties right. I did not. The net result was a broken marriage. It takes everyone pulling in the same direction. Always has. Always will. No cheats or shortcuts.

My ex grew up around tough guys who fixed and built things with dirty, calloused hands. Guys not unlike my father (who I was rarely with throughout my formative years). Men who fought in wars. Men who fixed cars and broken water heaters. Men who chopped down trees and repaired household appliances.

I am not like those men. And I’m fucking tired of trying to be.

I write. I read. I talk. I like watching sports on TV. And playing poker.

I find joy in cooking. In laughing with friends.

I can’t build you a car. I can write you a book.

I can’t fix your furnace. I can cook you a five-course meal.

I don’t think working all the time is nearly as valuable as living all the time.

I think my wife, in conjunction with all of the typical husband failings I committed, really tired of me not being the kind of man she respected and idealized.

And I’m very much done worrying about not living up to expectations in that regard.

I will be judged on my behavior. And you’ll leave the who-I-am part of it the fuck alone. Thanks.

Ladies, I think men need your help.

Because I do believe strongly that you are, just, BETTER, at relationships and marriage than your male partners. Not always. And not about everything. Just most of the time about most things.

And those with the most power to do something, in my humble opinion, have the most responsibility to.

You know things. You feel things. You inherently understand things that he does not.

Help him.

If he’s not successful at whatever he’s working on, his inclination is to stop doing that thing and to find something in which he does succeed. It might look like quitting to you. It might look like giving up. Like he has no follow through. But he’s NOT quitting. He’s simply chasing success. And it’s because he WANTS you to be proud of him.

Help him.

Maybe you don’t respect him because you feel unloved. He craves the respect, though. Needs it. Like water and air. Having your respect is every bit as important to him as having your love. It’s true.

Help him.

You’re not crazy. You’re not psychotic or delusional. It really happened. When you met him, you were totally smitten with him. Desire. Love. Respect. And you HAPPILY and WILLFULLY entered the relationship with him based on all the evidence that he was every bit the man you could ever want.

But now he’s changed, you say.

But now you’ve changed, he says.

He’s got work to do. I’m not saying he doesn’t.

But… maybe you do, too?

What if you just believed in him like you did back then? Encouraged him? Told him you were proud of the things he does well? Of all the things he takes care of so you don’t have to?

Believe in him.

Because that’s the same man. There’s more guilt now. More shame. More stress. More… just… life and baggage and bullshit piled on all those shoulders.

But he will carry it to the moon and back for you if you can find a way to love him and lift him up even when you don’t feel like it. Even when it’s inconvenient.

Maybe you feel like you’ve been the bigger person all this time and just don’t have the energy or desire to do it anymore.

I can’t save your marriage or relationship and would never think otherwise.

But I know that we all meant it when we said “I Do,” and most of us do a really shitty job with follow through years later when life and love stop being easy.

You loved him once.

He loved you once.

And you probably both still do.

You probably just don’t feel it. And sure, that’s important.

So maybe don’t wait for him to “get it.” Because maybe the way you’ve been trying to get through to him doesn’t work very well.

We all learn differently.

And maybe if you’re the strong one—the superhero—you’ll lift him and your relationship to places you didn’t know it could go.

Maybe if you believe in him, he’ll surprise you in ways you didn’t think possible.

Maybe if we choose love even when it’s hard, we change the world.

But there’s really no “maybe” about it.

Choose love.

Change the world.

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The Storm

If you see and hear the warning signs, maybe there's still time to save yourself.

If you see and hear the warning signs, maybe there’s still time to save yourself.

My phone made a sound I’d never heard before.

I picked it up and looked at the screen. Tornado warning.

I lived through three hurricanes in Florida. Frances. Ivan. Jeanne. I respect severe weather, but don’t fear it.

It was my five-year-old son’s bedtime. But he wasn’t with me. I texted my ex-wife to make sure she was aware of the storm warning. She was.

On television, the weather lady encouraged us to seek shelter and the safety of basements if we had them—my son’s mother does not. Massive red blotches of rain and lightning strikes painted the screen. Areas of cloud rotation were forming as cold air mashed into warm air at high altitudes.

The sky grew darker and darker over our suburban Ohio rooftops.

The thunder rolled.

The civil defense sirens howled of impending danger.

A wife I know is going to leave her husband Friday.

He doesn’t know it. Their two young kids don’t know it. But I know it. Because the totally defeated wife and mother is calling the game for rain. She’s been one of my dearest friends since grade school.

I wonder how many people knew my wife was going to leave before she actually did last year.

My friend married a guy not so different than me. A really nice guy. A really nice guy who ended up being really shitty at marriage. He never figured out that being nice isn’t enough. He’s about to learn though.

She already left him once. On January 4. It was the premise for An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 5.

He came home from work to discover his wife and kids were gone.

He freaked.

Begged her to come home. Promised to change.

And seven weeks later, she and their two children moved home. A family, reunited.

You’ve heard the phrase: Old habits die hard?

The old habits didn’t die.

It just didn’t sink in, I guess. Maybe he thought she wasn’t serious. Maybe he lacks the discipline to make the transition. And now she’s leaving. He got the second chance I once prayed for every night for months and months and months. And he fucked it up.

For video games.

For afternoon naps.

When you take your wife for granted, one of two things can happen: 1. She can grow to resent you and lose all respect for you. Or, 2. She can do that AND leave you.

Hit the road, Jack.

I know what it feels like when your wife leaves. I know what it feels like to sit in an empty house without the familiar pitter-pattering of little feet running around. I know just how loud silence can be.

He’ll be eating shit sandwiches for a very long time. Near as I can tell, you never get used to the taste.

Tragic.

He got a legitimate second chance.

And blew it.

What a waste.

Helpless.

There’s no better word to describe how you feel when the people you care about most are in danger and somewhere else.

About a year before my wife moved out, I was traveling for work and got a text message from her telling me she’d been in a car accident. A snow plow hit her, and she and my little son were stuck in a ditch. And I might as well have been on another planet being in a faraway city.

The two people I care about most were in as vulnerable a spot as they’d ever been, and I was nowhere to be found.

My ex probably thinks that’s a metaphor for our marriage.

It was excruciating—my inability to be there for them in that moment. They were fine, of course. But the “What ifs?” are enough to make you nauseous.

And last night was the exact same feeling.

My God. What if?

The black sky rained lightning and hail on our little slice of the world. The lady on TV was telling us not to leave our basements.

And my son and his mother were hunkered down in a first-floor bathroom in their house with no basement.

Totally helpless.

And maybe even unwanted and unneeded.

These are not the things husbands and fathers want to feel, regardless of marital status. But that’s what I felt.

My friend’s husband, if past behavior is a good predictor of future behavior, is going to scream and point fingers: “Look what you’ve done!!! Look what you’re doing to the children!!! How could you be so selfish!?!?”

That’s what he will say. That’s what he will think.

I don’t think this world has taught him how to look in the mirror and ask the really hard questions. The ones that make our skin crawl. The ones that make us look away from the stare of our own reflection from pure shame. The ones that require us to take off the self-righteous masks we all occasionally wear.

But maybe this will finally teach him. Maybe he can learn how to hold his own gaze in the mirror. Maybe he can begin a journey of self-discovery. Maybe he can grow.

How can a man teach children how to accept responsibility for their choices if he never learns himself?

He’s as nice a guy as I’ve ever met.

I didn’t need to learn the lesson because I’ve already learned it. But no situation has quite driven home the point for me like watching this oncoming train wreck has.

Being a nice guy or a good guy DOES NOT mean you can’t also be an extraordinarily shitty husband. I foolishly believed the opposite for years. And learned the hard way.

Good guys lose their families all the time. And sometimes, they deserve it.

Because they chose themselves over their marriages even if they weren’t always conscious choices.

You have to know the signs. And you have to take action when you see them. If you’re married. If you have a family. They must come first.

“But Matt! It’s just a stupid video game! Who cares if the bathroom sink’s a mess!? It’s just going to get messy again after we clean it!”

It’s important BECAUSE it’s important to her. (Write that down.)

This is true of your romantic relationships, of your relationships with your children, with your friends, with your extended family, with your professional network: Give more than you take.

It’s the only choice. Do that, and your relationships will thrive. All of them. Don’t? Everything breaks.

The Dark Horizon

The storm is coming for so many husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, and children.

The storm is coming for my friend. For her husband. And for their kids.

I think maybe some people get married and it’s bullshit and it never really mattered and they get divorced, go their separate ways and everyone is better off for it.

But then I think there are people who really meant what they said when they made their vows.

‘Til death do us part.

And then their souls fuse together, making a clean break impossible. There’s no dotted line to cut. Because the two are mixed. So, you end up just ripping them apart and hoping for survival.

Those people end up on spiritual and emotional life support right up until they’re not anymore. And the timetable is different for everyone.

I’d never been so afraid.

I’d never been so angry.

I’d never been so sad.

So you learn how to be courageous.

You learn how to forgive.

And you commit to choosing hope.

Because it’s the only way to survive.

It’s the only way to thrive.

But you never quite shake the feeling: What if I’d listened to the warning signs? What if I’d acted sooner?

Then the thunder rolls. And the wind and rain pick up. And the sirens scream.

And you turn to protect that which matters most.

But it’s just a bunch of empty space.

And then the sirens scream again.

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The Separation Anniversary

separation agreement

She took off her wedding ring one year ago today.

That’s when I learned she did, anyway.

It was Easter Sunday, but nothing was coming back from the dead in our house.

I will probably be doing a lot of reflecting this week.

Lisa at Lessons From the End of a Marriage published an important post titled When Will I Feel Better?” which tackles the question every person dealing with a life trauma wants the answer to.

A person doesn’t really understand the full spectrum of human feeling until they experience a great loss. Some people lose parents or siblings or friends or someone else close to them at a young age.

But their experiences, while unfair, raise an interesting question: Are they better equipped to deal with life trauma as an adult due to being tempered in fire at a young age?

Maybe.

But it doesn’t matter. Because everybody is going to go through their own personal hell sooner or later. I don’t think there’s any defense except to make your life the most-balanced and content it can possibly be.

It’s officially been a year.

Do I feel better?

So Many Stages

There’s nothing one-size-fits all about any of this.

Everyone’s situations are different. And everyone’s ability to cope mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually varies for a million different reasons.

Here’s what happened at our house.

A Great Loss

Without warning, we lost my wife’s father. My son’s grandfather. The closest thing I had to a dad locally.

He was a fantastic human being.

There was nothing fair about what happened next for anyone. My sweet mother-in-law lost her husband and a home she helped build with her bare hands. My wife and her brother lost their father. A really good one. They lost the only “home” they’d ever known. Their place to go on beautiful summer days. Perhaps the perfect place to wake up Christmas morning. My son lost his grandfather. Both deserved more time with one another. I had a million things I wanted to do with those two and my brother-in-law.

Nope.

And I lost my wife. Right then. It just took me several weeks to figure it out.

I’d heard of grief changing people. But I’d never seen it up close and personal.

She shut down hard.

And instead of leaning on me, she told me losing her father meant she lost the only man in her life that really mattered and made her feel safe.

She pushed me away. She said I could not help her.

That everything she thought she felt about me and our marriage was now uncertain.

That’s when I moved into the guest room.

The Guest Room

I slept in the guest room for about 18 months.

It was an extraordinarily challenging time.

Every day consisted of me waking up sad and going to bed sad and waiting for her to make a decision about whether she was going to choose to stay married.

At some point during that period, a light bulb went off. And I knew who I wanted to be.

I did the best I could to piece it all back together. Whatever I did was wrong. Nothing worked.

Sleeping in the guest room was the second most-horrible experience of my life. But that’s where I became a better man.

Whatever I am today that is good—that can maybe help people—came together in that guest room.

The Exit

It felt long and drawn out. After breaking the news she was leaving on a Sunday night, I had to work the next day and came home to watch my wife pack a suitcase for her and our son and take him to her mom’s house.

If you’ve been there, you know how surreal it feels. We’d been married nearly nine years. Your brain is in complete denial.

Maybe she’ll come back!

Maybe she just needs some time away!

And at that point, I did think she would come back. Maybe an absence-makes-the-heart-grow-fonder situation. Or maybe she would decide to not break up our son’s home. Or maybe she would simply decide the horror of losing half of her son’s childhood seemed worse than the horror of being married to me.

This lasted exactly 11 days.

The Boyfriend

My wife was in love with someone else.

I found out 11 days after she moved out. My then-four-year-old son let it slip in a conversation when asking me if I knew the guy. It took me about 30 seconds to piece it all together. Who knows how it would have played out had he not asked me that.

That information changed everything.

I went nuclear. Not the stable kind.

Because regardless of the details, timeline, circumstances, etc.—that’s when I realized the person I thought I knew best was someone I didn’t know.

That is some earth-shattering shit. When you find out someone isn’t who you thought they were. It’s easier to deal with when it’s just some person at work, or a friend of a friend. It’s more complicated when it’s the person you married and had a child with.

This is the thing that left the biggest scar of any life event I have ever experienced.

It has poisoned me in ways that are hard to explain. The wounds have closed. The pains I feel now are merely ghost pains. But I still feel them.

I still dream about it.

I still get goosebumps when I drive by the hospital where they met.

I still cringe when I hear his name.

I have an unfair hatred for cyclists now. Simply because he was a cyclist.

I never want to go see our local minor-league baseball team for the rest of my life because that man was part of my son’s first-ever baseball game. I put a tee-shirt on my son the other day with the team name on the front. It gave me a stomach ache.

I took a girl out to dinner a few weeks ago. We went to a restaurant where I feel certain my wife ate with that guy. Ugh.

I care about being strong. I care about pride. I care about holding my head up.

But the complicated feelings associated with that entire period still course through my veins almost every day.

Almost every day, I think about that man.

And I think about her liking him. Loving him.

Our marriage legally ended exactly one week after our nine-year wedding anniversary. And that was the day I found out her relationship with that piece of shit ended.

Not even five months after she left.

Not even five fucking months.

It was good that it ended.

But it was bad, too.

So cheap, my entire adulthood.

What a waste.

Acceptance and Healing

There was no healing during those five months. None. I foolishly tried online dating because I insanely thought that if I could be with someone else that I would balance the equation and not feel as bad.

As if that would put us back on equal footing.

But I wasn’t ready to date, and I sucked at it, too.

I was so tired of feeling like I didn’t have any control. Like she had the upper hand.

But she always did.

Once that relationship was over—and I knew she and my son were in a healthier, safer place—real, actual healing finally did begin.

That was August.

And here we are. Seven months later.

And, yeah.

I feel better.

I don’t know if I’m better. Sometimes when I talk to my father about divorce and he tells me stories about my mom driving me 500 miles away from him when I was four years old, I can hear the anger and resentment in his voice. More than three decades later, you can still hear the bitterness.

Maybe I will always feel this.

Maybe that’s my penance for all the things I got wrong in my marriage leading up to it breaking.

Maybe that’s going to be part of the fuel that helps me continue to grow as my years advance.

One year later?

I can breathe.

I can laugh.

I can relax.

I can enjoy being in my home.

I can look forward to seeing a girl who isn’t my wife.

I can say bye to my son without breaking down crying after he leaves.

But, one year later?

I can’t let go of the anger.

I can’t stop wanting her to care.

I can’t shut off my desire to try to protect her.

I can’t escape the memories that haunt me.

I can’t make her stop mattering.

She dropped off our son at my house over the weekend. I asked her if I could hug her. I do miss her. I do want her to know that I’m trying hard to be a big person. That I care.

She said I could.

So I did. And kissed her cheek.

She didn’t reciprocate.

Which is okay.

Because, one year later?

A lot of things are different. A lot of things are better.

But a few things?

They’re exactly the same.

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