Thankfully, My Wife had the Courage to Leave Me

A man considers the social pressures that led to a bad marriage and, ultimately, divorce.

The likelihood of a North American marriage ending in divorce is 40-50%. I’m already at the top end of the scale. 1 for 2.

Eighteen years ago, I met a girl, “Emily”. I was twenty-two years-old, she was two years younger than I. She was the General Manager at our college radio station; I was a DJ with long hair and an immature beard. After my shift, I would sit in her office and admire her stories of uphill battles against this little college radio establishment which she felt wanted no part of a woman occupying the station’s top spot. She was strong-willed, intelligent, motivated and attractive. We grew very close.

Eventually, I met her family. The dynamic in that household was everything I had heard families could be: her parents were well into their second decade of a loving marriage, her older brother and younger sister were jovial, warm and welcoming.

While I got along decently with my own family, our tree had a history of ugly divorces, conflict, and a long list of idiosyncrasies. I quickly adopted Emily’s family as one I wished I had grown up with. Despite having two older brothers of my own, her brother and I shared natural connections: music, movies, humor. Her sister had a sense of maturity and lightheartedness which made for effortless conversation. Her parents treated me with love and respect. Before long, I was treated as a son-in-law. I joined them on family vacations to Carribean destinations (at their expense), joined her father on buying trips for the family business, and eventually joined their work force as an insider; she, too, joined the company a short time later.

Throughout this two-year courtship, Emily and I got along well enough, though her strong will—which was so attractive in college—seemed to become combative. She seemed to be in competition with most people she came into contact with; including her own family as well as my closest friends. Still, being so entrenched in—and smitten with—her family and my new lifestyle, the relationship progressed. Eventually, she would joke about engagement rings and marriage proposals. It was clear we were headed for a wedding.

I cared for her, though arguments between her and me, as well as between her and her family, became regular occurrences.

“It’s normal to have fights” I was told.

“You work together and live together. There’s bound to be conflict; give it time.”

I was twenty-four, working full-time for a lovely family, living with their daughter, and not having much of a life outside those surroundings. The progression, I felt, was unavoidable. Less than a year into the relationship, I proposed marriage; she accepted. Both our families celebrated.

The wedding preparations were even more stressful. “Planning a wedding is one of the most stressful events in a person’s life” I was told. Though I felt there was little room for my input, I accepted that this stress as normal, and would pass after the ceremony was done. Besides, her family was footing the sizable bill for more than one-hundred and thirty guests; the least I could do was to buck up and follow along.

After the marriage, however, little changed. The pressure in the relationship built to a point where I felt angst even putting my key into our little apartment door. What would be waiting for me on the other side? What form would the conflict take today? I had also settled into a cocoon of my own; the relationship with Emily had developed to the exclusion of my other friends. I had no-one to vent to. Even when I did find an outlet, the advice would invariably be: “You’re not happy, and you need to get out of there.”

I was twenty-four, I had stood in front of more than one hundred people—everyone I knew, and then some. I had cost both our families more than ten thousand dollars proclaiming a life-long commitment to this woman. We went as a couple to Christmas after Christmas, event after event. Eventually, as with all couples, our names became synonymous with each other. We had no identities of our own.

But as the arguing intensified, we grew physically and emotionally distant. Ironically, I think one of the aspects of my personality which frustrated her the most was my lack of personal fortitude. I wouldn’t stand-up for myself. I knew this was true, but—like my divorced father before me—I preferred to acquiesce and keep the peace. Our families began to speak openly of the children we would have. Neither of us argued differently; we even continued those conversations at home. It was as if each moment of calm could be heralded as a ‘new beginning’, and each argument was just a ‘natural side-effect’ of a young marriage. I was truly miserable and depressed. I felt trapped, helpless and weak.

Then, one afternoon she simply stated: “This isn’t working out.”

“What to you mean?” I played stupid.

“This. Us. It’s not working and I think it has to end.”

That was all it took. “I agree.” I said.

Nearly four years after the wedding, we were separated. Less than one year after that, we were divorced. Like my mother, father, grandfather, and my grandmother twice before, I had an ex-spouse.

When, if ever, would I have found the strength to walk away? Would we have had children had she not had that fortitude? Probably. What upbringing would those children have had? Probably one similar to mine: two parents arguing so constantly that their sons and daughter would have no memory whatsoever of their parents sharing a moment of happiness together. That pain would have been the result of my weakness. Shameful.

I have since remarried, and have two children. I never knew how to answer when someone asked if their particular relationship is worth a ‘forever’ commitment, until my wife vocalized it to my sister, who is getting married in two weeks: “The relationship should be easy.”

That’s all she said, that it should be ‘easy’. It’s so simple, and so perfect. My sister’s relationship with her fiancé is just that: ‘easy’. She’s 37 years old, and has been pressured her whole life to marry. But those early relationships were never easy, and she was strong enough to walk away.

Nearly half the people on this continent walk away from their marriages.

How many of them, I wonder, knew they should never have walked the aisle in the first place?

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Comments

  1. “Emily and I got along well enough, though her strong will—which was so attractive in college—seemed to become combative. She seemed to be in competition with most people she came into contact with; including her own family as well as my closest friends.”

    Competitiveness not a feminine characteristic. The author’s unwillingness to confront Emily is not masculine characteristic. It was doomed from the start because the masculine attracts the feminine and vice versa.

    As well, such high conflict and combative natures are indicative of some serious personality disorders. Google up some “Cluster B” personalities.

    • Either you have a very dry sense of humour, or you don’t know any normal human beings. Women compete all the time, and men all the time weigh options about whether to speak up. There is no gender line in whether you are competitive or soft-spoken. The divide can come in the expression of those personality traits, but not in having them altogether.

  2. Not sure I’d say real lifelong relationships are “easy.” Certainly we shouldn’t be miserable! But that doesn’t mean we can expect “simple” or “perfect.” Conflicts are inevitable. When they arise, we should be gaining confidence we can engage productively and actually *accomplish* something in dealing with them — that nurturing the relationship is helping us grow as individuals and as a couple. It’s like being in training…

  3. This article really resonates with me. I got into a similar relationship; fell in love; got married while ignoring the doubting voice in my head screaming “this is a bad idea” because I was in love and because of the social pressure – you’ve made all these people come, you can’t let them down! Incredibly stupid, in retrospect.

    It took her cheating on me with my best friend, and my coming home one day to find she’d moved out for me to step back and realise that I wasn’t happy with her (nor she with me). In retrospect, I’m glad it ended when it did – even though I probably never would have ended it myself.

    I think I’ve also learned the skills to identify a relationship like that again, and end it myself if I had to.

  4. Our twenties represent a time of growth, figuring things out – who we are, who we are not, how to navigate relationships (all different types), what we want to do with our life, what’s important. Simply one of the greatest developmental times in our lives in many ways, but especially with relationships. Sometimes it is difficult to be truthful with ourselves or have the ability or confidence to speak out minds. I got married in my mid 20’s, and despite my doubts before the marriage, I got married. I divorced a couple years later. The learning curve. Life is a process. I think that importance should be placed on learning from that experience and choosing to do things differently in the future. It also means being honest with yourself, changing our behaviors if we deem that necessary so we don’t repeat those same behaviors, evolving, growing, being introspective, and remaining curious. 


  5. Andy Faking says:

    How passive aggressive is all I could think while reading this. Had a partner like this once. I brought.trust. friends community to the relationship. They sat pretending partnership with a huge withered space in their heart I didn’t know about. Yet they ate the fruits of what came with me. Yes, confessed to friends who told Anon sfter that they complained offered nothing. Brought nothing . Like this article did a great job explaining how screwed up they were to the friends I brought gaining sympathy that ran along the lines of I’m not perfect but their next wife will only hear how much better she is without asking him how much of a deficit he arrived with when with me. Women like Emily get written off as too overbearing. If you are like Anonymous please have the courage to not take the goods or atleast admit you got a good deal for which you paid bargain basement prices.

  6. Andy Faking says:

    Pardon the typos. I have a jumping cursor. If anyone knows of an article or articles that have some deep ownership/responsibilty without subtly demonizing the ex. I’d appreciate the links. Personal accountability not ‘man up’ hurtful posts.Thanks

  7. Odd Humor Man says:

    Let’s not be too hard on the author here. I can totally understand and empathize with a weakness sticking up for yourself. We are taught that many things are ‘selfish’ and insensitive if they aren’t done for ‘valid’ reasons. Some people aren’t comfortable being the bad guy.

    I can say that the woman I married was good for me at the time, but I don’t want to grow old with her. In fact I felt trapped even before our marriage. She is not abusing me, not cheating on me, but there is a big void in our relationship. We are good for each other as companions but I just don’t feel any passion for her. My family frowns on divorce, and I have a very real fear of being alone the rest of my life. We now have two kids, one a teenager and the other only four. I can say that my children give me such happiness and I have no way to justify divorcing and keeping them safe from the fallout.

    Several years ago I met someone at work I soon fell in love with. We began to cross the line and I felt like a teenager all over again. I wanted nothing more than to be with her, but she had the strength to end it. I was torn between the thought of love and passion, and the safety of a stable thing and avoidance of the label ‘divorced’. Eventually my wife found out about her and I saw a side of my wife I never knew existed – such hate and jealousy. Our life has never been the same. Initially I did tell her I wanted to leave but then very soon gave into fear. Both of us were scared, it turns out. Since then we have fought about many things, and I realize how cynical she has become. I never got to meet her father, but she is showing signs of his same aggression and apathy towards others. Over time I have had to let go of contact with all my friends. She has no friends and we have no life!

    People categorize you when you are divorced. Someone HAS to be the villain. It was always implied to me that unless you have a very good reason you have no right to leave a woman. Too many bad country songs… This tore me apart for a couple of years and has still caused stress over time. People who haven’t had co-dependent relationships don’t understand the irrational fears. Most of the time people associate this dilemma with women, but men have trouble too.

    I think one day my wife will have the strength to leave me too. I won’t like it, and it will hurt, but in the end we will both be better off. I just hope I am setting a good example for our kids.

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  1. [...] story came to mind when I read “Thankfully, My Wife Had the Courage to Leave Me” over at the Good Men Project. Unfortunately, the author, Alan Smithee, the most prolific and [...]

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