If your partner is lying to be with you, watch your back.
I didn’t know it when we started going to lunches together, but the woman who would eventually become my wife and the mother of my children was living with another man. I’m certain he didn’t know she was seeing me across town at an organic restaurant, sharing smiles and flirts and “catching up,” as we’d known each other years earlier. Years later, when things got tough in our marriage, I didn’t know she was having similar lunches across town with a younger man. She never said a word—the first time or the second—about her lunches with other men.
I caught on when I read an email that looked like spam to be deleted from the family computer. It wasn’t spam. It was an explicitly intimate letter about their lunch, their trip to our local library, and a few of the deep topics they discussed, including my depression and my wife’s unhappiness.
I guess that’s how it starts. Emotional infidelity, a sexual affair, and eventually divorce. I knew my wife and I were struggling, but I thought we were struggling together, to get through tough emotional and financial times as a couple. I hadn’t known, until reading the email, that she was no longer on my team. The inclusion of this stranger, a man I’d never met, felt almost unbearable. I was struggling with depression. And I had entered one of the deepest periods when I came across this letter. Smack. After reading it, I fell into a state of deep detachment.
I confronted my wife. We went to therapy. We worked through it. Sort of. She apologized. She said she understood how this could be hurtful. She never owned the infidelity aspect of what she’d done, but she said she’d never do it again. I forgave her, and we moved on.
Years later as our sex life waned, I began to wonder. As I was struggling to unlock the combination to her sexual desire and restore intimacy, the idea of this “other man” haunted me. I recalled that throughout the course of our marriage there had been “casual dates” with her ex-husband that she felt no need to tell me about. So in some corner of her mind, her meetings with another man were none of my business. Why weren’t they my business? I didn’t get it. I wondered what was preventing her, in her obviously unhappy state, from seeking satisfaction outside the marriage? Did her lack of desire for me mean she was being satisfied with someone else? How was I supposed to interpret her total lack of intimacy, and not infer, from past experience, that she was being intimate—emotionally, if not sexually—with someone? Maybe just her therapist. Or maybe … another man.
The real crux of her secrecy was the real truth she was hiding: that she had already “left” the marriage. Ironically, at home and in counseling she paraded the issue of trust over and over again as “my” issue. When I got a speeding ticket and didn’t tell her, I was being deceitful. Instead of her lack of openness, my omissions and her other issues with me came to dominate our couples counseling. My problems. My depression. Me. And throughout this end stage of our marriage, until I was employed again and beginning to regain my confidence and equilibrium, I went along with her story that I was the problem. Mostly.
I did begin to speak up that last Christmas and after, before she asked for the divorce in March. I started asking about closeness. I started challenging her lack of attention and the anger she directed at me. I began to note her “fuck you” outbursts when they came at random times. And I stopped accepting the narrative that I was the whole problem. It wasn’t me, baby, it was WE. We had a problem and it was time either to put up (“Let me out of the glass box,” I would say) or break up. As much I would like to put the “asking for divorce” on her shoulders, I was expressing my own displeasure and pressing my need for closeness.
My intense passion and righteous anger fused into a an ultimatum: I was saying, “Either things change, or I’m outta here.” The problem was, I thought she wanted to stay. I thought we were both fighting to keep us together, and that she shared my belief that the foundation of our family was more important than any issue we had between us. I knew I couldn’t go on without intimacy, but I believed, at least hoped, she wanted to return to it. “How can we go months without kissing?” I asked. “How is that okay with you?”
So in that last therapy session, when it finally fell apart, I still believed we were there to join together again. I didn’t know she had secretly departed. Although our therapist was not a marriage counselor, he was working to get us hearing each other. He was trying to get us to the reality of our relationship, and he—and we—were starting to succeed. At the final moment of exposure and truth, I expressed my love and desire and my hope that we could rebuild from ground zero. But my wife had already left the remains of the building. Yes, she was still sitting in the room with me. But instead of joining me and sorting through the rubble, she expressed her dissatisfaction with our relationship and said I had not changed enough to give her hope that things could be better. She was talking about trust—and blaming me for not being honest enough! She was claiming the high ground, having never addressed her own dishonesty. Perhaps I’d been naive to believe, despite our lack of intimacy and connection, that we still had a chance of making it work again. Still, I was stunned. Like the lunches with me when she was living with another man, the meetings with her ex while we were married, and the trip to the library with her confidant, she hadn’t felt the need to tell me—to tell me that in her mind, the marriage was over—until now.
The Off Parent
< back to The Hard Stuff posts
- My Divorce: A Searching and Fearless Moral Inventory
- Waiting for the Other Person to Change
- My Funny Man Divorce: A Little Bill Murray a Touch of Robin Williams Mixed w/ Ferris Bueller
- The Divorce Whisperer
- Of Course You’re Not Happy With Me, We’re Divorced
image: winter depression, gerald gabernig, creative commons usage