Sunday 12 April 2015

Divorce: Finally, the Other Side of the Story

Several times I have written about something which I find curious, even perplexing. When I peruse various blogs, articles, whatnot, about divorce, invariably I hear just one side of the story. And colour me sensitive, being a man, I end up feeling guilty by association with these stories of that two-timing sex addicted narcissistic bastard. I’m not sure why, but I always seem to read stories written by women and to be more balanced, I should actively seek out stories written by men. However, whether you’re a woman or a man, there is another side to the story and I’m curious to hear what that other story is. Why?

A divorce is an extraordinary life-changing event. Many times, the instigator, usually the man, is portrayed as an out of control lunatic. There is an incredible about face, a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde shift in personality, which remains unexplained. The victim, usually the woman, is left bewildered by this sudden seismic shift in the tectonic plates and being faced with a complete up-ending of their entire life. One moment, you’re sailing off into the sunset, then the next moment, like the Poseidon Adventure, a tsunami hits you and capsizes your life.

In June 2014, I attended a family event and heard the other side of one such story.

my blog: NPD: Diagnosing that @#$%^* bastard - Jul 25/2011
I have a family story dating back to the 1970s. My aunt Jane married Henry and they had three children. "Uncle" Henry was a printer by trade and started his own printing business. I remember as a young boy visiting this shop with these huge printing presses; it was quite impressive. One day, Uncle Henry walked out. He walked out on his business, his wife, his children, his home and his entire life. Why? As a young boy I wasn't necessarily privy to all the details but later I did ask my father what happened.

It seems that Henry wanted to be big. He wanted to be big and successful. However Henry made a fundamental business mistake in that everybody has to start at the bottom and work their way up. Everybody has to start small. Henry apparently was refusing to do small jobs, waiting for the big scores. They never came. He eventually drove himself out of business. He just couldn't swallow having to go work for somebody else so he left town.

My aunt was left holding the bag on a house with a mortgage and a family of three children. My aunt and uncle did divorce but she had to raise the children by herself. My aunt did not have a very good life. Henry was pretty much never heard from again but through the grapevine, I did hear he married a younger woman and did die prematurely from cancer in his early fifties.

In my posting "Why did that @#$%^&* bastard divorce me?", I ask why a man would one day decide to leave his wife and children, ruin his reputation, besmirch his good name, alienate his kids and turn himself into a "bad man". Yes, he's a sex addict; yes, he's a two-timing sonofabitch, etc. but why? Nobody starts out with a goal to be bad. Yes, today I'm going to berate my wife, be cruel to the kids and kick the cat down the stairs. What? Really? Do you have this written up in your day planner? Tuesday: tell the wife she's a bitch.

In 2009, Aunt Jane died and following her instructions, the family had her cremated. She wanted part of her ashes spread on her father’s grave and part left with her sister (my mother). Various members of the family gathered for an unofficial ceremony – there was no funeral, no memorial – but the curious point of the proceedings was that not one of Aunt Jane’s three children were in attendance. Yes, not one of her own kids showed up to say good-bye to Mom.

Monica is the youngest of Aunt Jane’s three children. For decades, I had heard Monica was married to a religious nut and she herself had been converted. In 2011, out of the blue, Monica and family moved back from out West and invited a few of the family for Thanksgiving dinner. I had not seen Monica in thirty years and was surprised to discover she is a charming lady with a wonderful husband. This is in complete contrast to the stories I had heard over the years. Why had Aunt Jane been telling such stories? They didn’t appear to be true.

Monica and I had a private moment to chat at a family mini-reunion in June 2014. I had been mulling over why Uncle Henry had left so suddenly and not wanting to pass up this opportunity, I asked her point-blank what the story was. She told me that Aunt Jane was whack-o. Uncle Henry didn’t just take off one day; Aunt Jane nagged him to death. Instead of supporting her husband, she criticised him and belittled him to no end until one day, he had enough and left.

But it didn’t end there. Aunt Jane went after the kids. She criticised them all, playing one against another until the kids themselves didn’t like their own mother. Aunt Jane remarried to a guy who worshipped the ground she walked on, but she didn’t love the guy having married him only as a meal ticket. She sabotaged that relationship and they divorced after ten years.

Suddenly I realised that all the stories I had heard about the three children, those ungrateful ne’er-do-wells, had all come from Aunt Jane herself. The stories over the past three decades had been the biased imaginings of an angry and bitter woman. Her sister, my mother, had married a good man and lived a good, stable life. In contrast, Aunt Jane had ended up in hell, mostly because of her own doing.

my blog: Negotiating: Take what you want or get what you want - Aug 1/2012
Over the years I have run into people who were, well, not very nice. Angry, nasty, even downright cruel, these people are an unpleasant experience best quickly forgotten. I have come to realise that those people must be having a really, really bad time in life. Why do I say that? I have met people who are living truly amazing lives and those people are kind, gentle, friendly, and generous to a fault. They seem to want to share their good fortune, spread their good luck, and show everyone how good life is. I meet somebody who is angry and I say that they must be living in their own hell. People with good lives are generally not angry, they are happy. I meet somebody who is angry or nasty and I feel sorry for them. Oh don't get me wrong, I quickly get out of the line of fire, but I'm not going to waste my time dwelling on some poor soul who has a grudge against the world. I may help if I can, but I'm not necessarily going to take it personal. I believe they have more than enough of their own misfortune.

I divorced in 2010, final official papers signed in 2011. I decided from the very beginning to say nothing about the divorce to anyone but a professional therapist. If anybody asked me, I would reply, “X is a good woman. I am sorry we couldn’t work out our differences, but she is still a good woman.” I refused to get into any details and I refused to say anything negative about her.

Nevertheless, I discovered that not all parties took the high road.

This past Christmas, I visited the couple who originally introduced me to my ex-wife. I was leery about seeing them because I knew my ex had done everything in her power to vilify me to the nth degree. In a court of law, you are innocent until proven guilty. In the court of public opinion, you are guilty until you prove you are innocent and many times you never get an opportunity to prove your innocence. You will carry the stigma of the accusation itself around with you for the rest of your life like the proverbial albatross around the neck.

I explained several aspects of the divorce to this couple they admitted they were not aware of. As I suspected, my ex-wife had presented a version of events which presented only those details which would paint me in a bad light and her in a good light. Fair? My wife was in pain and was lashing out at me.

I asked on numerous occasions to go to couples counselling. My wife always refused. I will wonder for the rest of my life what would have happened if we had a mediated dialogue. I know she thought there was nothing preventing us from talking, but the relationship had gotten so out of control, at least in my eyes, I know I wanted and needed an objective 3rd party.

A 16 year relationship (3 dating, 13 married) with my ex-wife’s two daughters from a previous marriage. I have written letters from both of them categorically stating they want nothing to do with me. Two words: parental alienation.

After 27 years of marriage, my brother and sister-in-law get a divorce. Shortly after the divorce, I go to my sister-in-law and say, “You and my brother are getting a divorce, but you and I are not getting a divorce.” We still see each other and I recently participated in her 60th birthday. My niece says she still talks about what I did.

Talking to this couple was, in part, my day in court, my chance to tell my side of the story. But I realise the damage has been done and my record will never be expunged. I will be the bad man, that common portrait of the two-timing sex addicted narcissistic bastard, for the rest of my life. But I attribute it to the pain. My ex-wife had been married before and apparently went through a traumatic divorce. If she was mad during our divorce, I think it had more to do with being mad at her first husband than specifically with me.

But, as I said, it was only partially my day in court. I continue to deal with the issues that started the whole thing: nearly getting fired from a career job, continuing to deal with the tyrannical insane boss who always can fire me, getting lost in life, losing my mojo as a man, possible depression, health issues, freaking out at growing old, suffering from erectile dysfunction, and facing retirement (now alone) with all the associated scary problems of financial independence. And heck, when I look at a list like that, I can’t help wondering if my ex-wife is far better off not having a man like that in her life. In that regard, the divorce may have been worth it.

my blog: Divorce: What's the other side of the story? - Jan 20/2014
Not every person is the same. Not every couple is the same. Not every divorce is the same. Nevertheless for me there seems to a common thread to many if not all of the stories. You don't really know what's going on in the mind of your spouse.

In the 2010 book "This Is Not The Story You Think It Is: A Season of Unlikely Happiness", author Laura Munson (my blog: Laura Munson: Save a marriage by doing nothing) recounts how her husband announced one day that he no longer loved her. Her response was that she didn't buy it. The truth seems to be that her husband was suffering a major personal life crisis brought on by a career failure, an excess of debt, and the fear of losing their farm. She let him work things out and after four months, he came back a renewed man. And a little contrite apparently.

Some of the comments to a newspaper article about the book condemned Ms. Munson by saying she was a doormat and she should have booted him out from the beginning. Obviously if Ms. Munson had followed their counsel she would now be divorced and she wouldn't have a book. Nevertheless she fortunately took another approach based on a more correct assessment of the situation and her bet paid off.

The question here is whether anybody truly knows what's going on in the head of the other person. If a marriage heads south, what's the reason? The real reason?

It’s not just me
I asked my divorce lawyer how many of his divorces were bad. He said that in his experience, 90% of the divorces ended with a mutually agreed upon settlement, 10% were confrontational. I’m not sure that explains what fighting may have gone on behind the scenes, or what fighting continues.

What is going on?

Female divorced blogger A writes an article enumerating all the faults of her ex-husband. God, what a terrible man. Three quarters of the way down the page she writes, ‘But I was such a bitch.” What?

Female divorced blogger B devotes her entire blog to her trials and tribulations, but turns around and admits she was combative and made her divorce that much worse.

Female divorced blogger C speaks about being deprived of sex during her marriage and feeling unwanted. She then explains her husband had put on weight and probably didn’t feel good about himself so didn’t feel like initiating sex. If she knew this, what did she do to help him? What did she do to make him feel good about himself so he would want to have sex? (We guys need to feel wanted too.) She never says.

Female divorced blogger D talks about her life, her divorce, her financial problems, dealing with the kids, taking care of a house, her pain, her anguish, her lack of love and sex, etc. In other words, she talks about herself over and over again. Me, me, me, 24 by 7. But, she constantly reminds us her ex-husband is a narcissist. I had to look up the term.

Dictionary.Com: narcissist (n): a person who is overly self-involved

Hmmm. Now, my question is: What’s his story?

Final Word
Divorce, the gift that just keeps on giving. Yes, sometimes I have to laugh about it. That beats sitting in the corner and sobbing uncontrollably. Years ago, I heard the saying, “We are born alone and we die alone. And in between, we spend a lot of time trying not be alone.”

I did a tandem parachute jump in 2010. Standing at the open door of a plane at 13,500 feet, I wondered if this time, I had made the wrong decision and was going to plunge to my death. I nearly pissed my pants. In 2013, I did a bungee jump. I stood on a platform looking straight down two hundred feet and thought my heart was going to explode out of my chest. I have never in my life been more scared than at that moment.

But bar none, I will categorise divorce as the scariest ride of my life. I said I would never get married again and explained why in a lengthy article. Getting married was a joy. Being married was wonderful. Getting a divorce sucks. I can’t help wondering if we are not the authors of our own fates. Because we freak out, we make things all that much worse. And because we freak out, the other person freaks out. Then there is an escalation of freaking out until the whole situation explodes into a nuclear Armageddon. I’ll be the first to admit I did not handle things well. I should be taken out then shot and pissed on. But I see now, I started my marriage in one set of circumstances:

* I was in control of my game.
* I was the master of my destiny.
* I was king of my domain.

and ended up in a different set of circumstances:

* Life is overwhelming. I can’t deal with it.
* I want to run and hide then curl up in the fetal position and sob uncontrollably.

I very much identify with Laura Munson’s husband (my blog: Laura Munson: Save a marriage by doing nothing) Life got me, and life got me good. It’s unfortunate that a 13 year marriage and a 16 year relationship had to come to an end, but we have to play the hand we are dealt, whether it’s our fault or not.

I explained to the couple, our mutual friends, that after almost a year of financial discoveries, the two lawyers had arrived at an objective assessment of our worth and a settlement number. Before we separated, I proposed making a lump sum payment to my wife instead of alimony. The benefit to the two of us was this.

1. I get the pain over all at once.

2. My wife has the comfort of knowing that if I ever died, or was fired and couldn’t pay, she would have her money.

I created a spreadsheet and punched in all the expenses for the matrimonial home (a condo apartment): annual property taxes, electricity, monthly services (Internet, cable TV, cell phone, land line), monthly condo fees, and annual maintenance, projected it all out over the next ten years with an average annual rate of inflation of 5% then took the net present value of all payouts. I had figured that with proper investment, that lump sum would perpetually renew itself and pay all expenses for living in the matrimonial home forever. I had promised in the beginning I would take care of my wife. (Even though she worked at a career job and had nearly the same net worth as I did.) I wanted to keep my promise.

When I saw the lawyer’s proposed settlement was far less than my above calculations, I made a greater final offer. I wanted to ensure two things.

1. My wife could live in the matrimonial home (a condo apartment) for the rest of her life without worry about finances.

2. The kids would always have a home to come home to. I always appreciated my parents “being there”, my home to go home to. I wanted my step-children to have the same comfort. Okay, I would no longer be there, but at least the three ladies would remain together.

Being part of a couple can be a wonderful feeling. It’s nice knowing you have a place to go home to, a place where you are not alone. But, we all have to be philosophical about it. For every door that closes, another opens and all that Zen-like bullsh*t. Okay, I still feel some pain once in a while.

And so, I soldier on trying to contend with life, the last two years of my working life before retirement, health issues, ED, fear of growing old, fear of death, etc., the usual suspects. Good luck to all of you. This ride will be over all too soon. Let’s make it a good one.

This is the last thing I wrote to my step-children, something I wish for everyone.

This whole mess is regrettable. I hope that everybody involved will be able to get on with the rest of their lives without suffering any lasting trauma. Believe it or not, I would like to see everyone happy, successful and at peace with themselves and the rest of the world.


Click on Site Map to find further musings about divorce.

my blog: I’m a 62-Year-Old Man and I’m Invisible - Mar 11/2015
Recently I ran across a number of articles about the issue of being a woman over 50 and being invisible in today’s society. What struck me as odd about this was that when I reflected on my own situation, I had to admit that I am, by their definition, invisible.

my blog: 62: 10, 9, 8… - Oct 20/2014
I amusingly recounted to some old friends last week my countdown theory. We start out at 10. Everything is good, we’re firing on all cylinders. Something bad happens, a health issue, and we end up at 3. Oooo, this is so not good. Life sucks. We visit the doctor. We take our pills. We do physio; we exercise; and ever so slowly, we manage to work our way back up to 9. 9 isn’t 10, but 9 is way better than 3, and for that we’re grateful. 9 is good. We can live with that.


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1 comment:

laura said...

It takes two people to ruin a marriage. No one is ever completely the only one at fault. That being said, it took me years to forgive myself my infidelity I perpetrated to end my marriage. I should have just said: "I'm done."