the right way to do it

A male work colleague and I have a standing bi-monthly lunch date. He is probably as familiar with my failed marriage saga as anyone, having lent a sympathetic ear along the way.

The last time we met, he asked me about the back-end logistics, the shared parenting, the legal details. And then he confessed that he and his wife had been deep in crisis, had discussed divorce and had gone so far as to sit down and develop their plan:

She would get the house, they would share parenting time, etc. It was then that she told him that he would have to find a place nearby, that they should still cooperate and share children’s birthdays, spend holidays together and more. He balked at being told where he had to live, and he was even more flabbergasted that she would think they could transition smoothly from marriage to best friends. Ultimately, they both realized that, even as a divorced couple, their expectations were going to be vastly different.

…which may be how they realized that they could just as easily work through those differing expectations within their marriage, because life wasn’t going to be easier or better outside of it. In planning every last detail of their landscape, they realized the grass really wasn’t going to get any greener. They acted maturely and decided to recommit to their marriage.

Although it may not work for everyone, I applaud their approach and maturity. And I congratulate them on developing their plans early enough for the possibility of staying together to occur as a viable choice for them both.

waiting is torture

About a year ago…

My husband had agreed to move out. We had discussed this in September.

He first said he would try to be out by October 31. And then he was going to try to move out by Thanksgiving. And when that failed to become a material reality, he stopped providing me updates.

As autumn became winter, the atmosphere inside our home chilled just as the weather outdoors. I was tired of waiting for my life to begin again. I was tired of being on edge. And I was tired of a surly man sleeping on the sofa, impeding my ability to do a morning yoga routine.

If I had felt as though I were walking on pins and needles during much of my marriage, I was now tip-toeing. Where we’d had a communication break-down in the past, we now avoided each other almost completely. It was miserable, torturous.

Finally, I drafted a few bullet points of what I thought might be a good “agreement” on my computer, offered him some cash to move out by March 1, and handed it to him.

We now had a timeline, and a basis for the discussions I would have with my lawyer. Forward ho!

the moment of opportunity

About 16 months ago…

My ex did a really dumb thing. I mean aside from all the dumb things that he did throughout our relationship, including eventually losing me. The really dumb thing he did was to get pulled over after having a few drinks. When the phone rang that night at 10:30pm, I didn’t answer. When it rang again, I knew there was bad news.

The sad thing about it was that I’d been waiting for it. I was pretty sure that the time would come when he would make the choice to drive after drinking too much. And, frankly, I think many (if not most) of us have probably also made that choice once or more and realized after the fact that we were past the point at which we should have been operating heavy machinery (i.e. a vehicle).

When he arrived home at 3:30am and crawled into bed, he reached to me. And he said, “I really want to turn things around. But I need a loving relationship to do it.”

This from a man who had, more than a year ago, pronounced me manipulative and controlling, then threatened to leave. Never once did he apologize, explain himself or make any attempt to make amends. And now it seemed that he was pushing responsibility off on me, again. He was to be charged with Driving Under the Influence (Driving While Intoxicated?), and it was because I wasn’t loving enough?! Bullshit!

I said, “I really hope you turn things around, for yourself and for your children.” And I rolled back over and went back to sleep.

But I was glad it happened, for two reasons:

  • He had finally acknowledged that there was no longer love in our relationship and opened the door for communication about it.
  • I no longer feared that he could ask for primary physical custody of our children. With all my travel, it’s possible he might have been able to argue that he was the primary caregiver and a stable force in our children’s lives. In the case he wanted to argue, I now had a counter point.

A few days later, I approached him while he was sitting on the sofa. I reminded him that he had asked for a loving relationship and told him that I didn’t want to try any longer. I told him that I had lost hope for us. And I explained that I had imagined every possible scenario, and could see no other way for the children to continue to live in our home but for him to move out.

It was one of the saddest, scariest and most empowering moments in my life. But it absolutely, positively had to happen.

And he agreed.

mantras and meditations

Trying to get my groove back has taken me back to some old-school ways — like yoga and meditation.

When my mind is racing and I have trouble falling asleep, I’ve taken to using a mantra as I focus on my breath. Sometimes, just focusing on my breathing isn’t enough. It takes words to overwrite the words of the racing thoughts. So, when I breathe in, I think “abundance,” and when I breathe out I think “gratitude.” In other words, I’m allowing myself to take in abundance from the universe and sending gratitude back out into the universe. And it does calm my mind.

I’ve added another two-word combo to my repertoire recently:  “allow” on the inhale, “release” on the exhale. I could use a regular reminder to allow myself to be open to blessings, and to release anything negative by exhaling it out.

What two-word combos will you practice?

on the phone with Max

About 17 months ago…

I was struggling, and it was obvious to everyone. My family life was a lie; I had yet to ask my husband to move out. School would be starting soon and, with two children in the same school and on the same schedule, I had no more excuses.

Max and I exchanged a few texts and, evidently, he was concerned or touched enough to call on Sunday night while waiting for a flight. I grabbed my phone and headed out to the back yard, where I hoped no one inside the house would hear my part of the conversation.

It was a lovely chat between friends, with only a hint of flirtation and no romance whatever. Max asked me then if there was any way I could save my marriage.

“No,” I said, “Don’t you think I would if I could?! How much easier would it be to go back to someone who knows me, whose touch is familiar, with whom I share domestic habits?What will I have left? It’s the unknown, and that’s very frightening.”

“Don’t be afraid,” Max calmed me. “You’ve made the decision that you know is best for your family. And rather than seeing the failure, see all the progress you’ve made in the past decade:  you have a house, you have two beautiful children, you’ve come far in your career.”

I was grateful for the reminder to view my glass as more than half full, to have a clear view of my blessings.

Too soon, Max had to board his flight and hang up. I went to bed that night with a smile on my face and a knowing in my heart:  I had found a true friend and confidante.

the 20-year reunion

About 17 months ago…

During the time that my textual flirtation with Max was going strong, I attended my 20th class reunion. By this time, I was open with others that my marriage was in trouble.

Some context:  I had grown up in a classroom full of rowdies in a small town. In the class ahead of mine, it was very cool to be athletic and intelligent. In my class, it was cool to be an underachiever, rebel or class clown. Indeed, many of the guys in my class had become blue-collar workers, some with two-year or vocational degrees, and most had stayed close to home . . . and what a delight they all were! These trouble-makers had become kind, friendly, engaging, successful and responsible men. Most were married with children, committed husbands and fathers. They were generous both with drinks and laughter. It was an unexpected pleasure to see them all again, particularly in this light.

Many of the women from my class seemed content, too. Most had achieved a higher level of education than the guys. Most were happily married with children. And none of them seemed as stressed out as I was, in their personal lives nor in their professions.

Observing this made me wonder about the life I’d chosen — ambition, a private, liberal arts college, international travel, art museums and theatres, my urban lifestyle . . . I wouldn’t have been happy staying in my hometown, yet most of my classmates seemed to find more fulfillment in their more modest life choices than I was experiencing in mine.

In the midst of our mirthful reminiscing, my best friend from high school and I were sitting at the bar. I was filling her in on the events of my life, telling her about Max, the one thing besides my children that seemed to put a smile on my face. Another classmate had joined the conversation. After quietly listening for awhile, he said, “‘Work crush,’ is that what you call it these days? It used to be known as adultery!”

Wow. That seemed a bit harsh. It hit me like a slap in the face. And it gave me something more to think about:  Was my emotional attachment to Max — or our attachment to each other — crossing an inappropriate boundary? It tried to be very cognizant of his marriage, but on some level, I maintained fantasies of our being together. Was the mere act of continuing correspondence with him morally reprehensible? Did trying to be a decent human mean I had to sever ties with Max completely, and now? And what if this doomed flirtation was the only thing I had going for me at the moment? Did it matter if this was my lifeline?

another break-up coming

While strolling through the bookstore on my lunch break today, I picked up a random book on relationships. I’ve been a little stressed lately, and snappish with my children at times… so when I saw a chapter on verbal abuse, I was compelled to look more closely to see if I could recognize myself among some of the highlighted behaviors and find some alternative ways to deal.

Instead, I found myself recognizing my ex…in many more ways than I ever anticipated. On some level, I was consciously aware of his means to undermine me throughout our relationship. And my growing strength in myself was what ultimately tore our marriage apart. Yet this book opened my eyes to a level of subtle and insidious behaviors that pervaded our relationship from start to finish. I’m ashamed to confess there were times that I didn’t stand up for myself or draw immediate boundaries (I found many new tools for dealing with verbal abuse in this book) — largely because I was caught so completely off guard that someone I loved — and who allegedly loved me — could possibly behave in such a hurtful and inappropriate way.

But I think the bigger realization I had today was that there’s another abusive relationship I need to break:  my job. I’m not in a bad “situation” there; no one is verbally abusing me. Rather, the nature of going into a place every day that no longer nurtures my passion nor values the tremendous assets I bring is causing me more harm than good.

I recently told my ex I was going to look for a new job. His response, “What, for $XX grand a year, you can’t give them what they want?!”

I said, “No. What they want is not in my nature.”

It’s a big company. We are all bound, at times, to feel like cogs in a wheel. So I’m going to find a place where my experience and skills are respected and rewarded.

I guess, with more presence of mind, I might have responded to my ex: “What? To save your marriage, home and family, you couldn’t stop drinking, see a counsellor and get a decent job!?”

But those things probably weren’t in his nature, either.

love is a verb

Sure, love is something we feel. But, more importantly, it’s something we do.

It’s something Stephen Covey talks about in his 7 Habits training. And there are actually several books by this title.

But I’m here to write about how this applies to men.

Men can be very charming and sweet and well-intended. They’ll say things that make your heart swoon. And the truth is, they often mean those things when they say them . . . it’s just that they maybe got busy with something else and forgot. We’ve all met guys who can talk smooth and woo any woman they meet.

And that’s exactly why you have to pay attention to their actions.

One of my neighbors is burly, acerbic and gruff. In fact, he’s more than a little intimidating before you get to know him. By all accounts, this is not the type of man one might consider even dating. But he is married to a sweet and strong woman who adores him. How is this? If you could just imagine he had a volume and you turned it all the way down, you would see that his actions are constantly full of love. He has remodeled their home on evenings and weekends; he is obsessed with the quality of the lawn; he took three days vacation to plan, prepare and host his wife’s 40th birthday party; he does anything she asks. In short, he treats her like a queen.

In your next interaction, don’t get so caught up in the words. Sure, his words are cues, and the conversation has got to be good. But his actions will tell you everything you need to know. Does he have great manners? Do you feel completely amazing when you’re with him because of how he behaves toward you? Does he speak kindly of others? Step back from the passion and fantasy and infatuation and really observe. How he treats you, treats others and treats his family are important signs of how he’s going to treat you and others in the future.

Love is blind.  I was so in love with my husband during our courtship that I took him for his word and missed important cues that might have saved me (or at least prepared me for) a lot of heartache later. If I had been paying closer attention to what he was doing than what he was saying, I might have seen some of those disasters coming.

baggage my ex left

I learned a lot in a decade of marriage to my ex. I developed several positive habits, and I loved the feelings I would get early in our relationship when I realized some wonderful change my husband had brought about in me. Love transforms. And that’s beautiful.

But relationships can also wreak great damage and destruction.

We all come with baggage, expectations or perspectives imposed or imprinted upon us through our upbringing, life experiences and major relationships.

Following are examples of the emotional baggage from my marriage that I need to shed:

I’ve let myself go and am undesirable.

I’ve come clean about the fact that I’ve put on a few pounds (like nearly 30) since having a second child or turning 35 or whatever reason / excuse I give myself. My ex used to tell others (I learned after I ended our marriage) that I “had let myself go.” He constantly judged others based on their weight. He made a joke of taking photos of me only when I was eating (as if to show that was all I did). And his lagging libido didn’t exactly make me feel desirable, either. One way he could feel good about himself was his body — he was sexy and fit and attractive, even at more than a decade my senior.

Truth is, I am well-proportioned and attractive — I come from good stock, and my DNA allows me the blessing of being able to wear a few extra pounds better than most people can. I’ve had more than a few guys (and a few gals) indicate that they find me sexy or attractive. Sure, I’d like to release some extra poundage, but I don’t let that stand in the way of living to the fullest. I accept myself for the sexy, curvy woman that I am, while working to create positive, healthy change from here.

I’m materialistic because I want things.

Another of the ways my ex made up for his own insecurities (he was not a good earner) was to scorn me for having wants and desires. Anyone who knows me is aware that I’m not a bigger- or more-is-better kind of gal. I live lean and green. I like having things around me that are nice, that function, that are beautiful and give me feelings of comfort, peace and security. I want a new car not because my old one is not good enough, but because it’s falling apart and I don’t feel safe. I’d like to take some road trips, and I’m not comfortable venturing outside of the city in the current state of my jalopy. I like receiving gifts because I feel considered. I like wearing nice sunglasses because I’m more likely to keep track of and take care of them than I am a drugstore pair, which ultimately saves money in the long run. I like to travel internationally and consider the experience an investment.

My ex never cared to understand or accept these things and tried to make me feel small for my innate tendencies. And now I have to learn to let go of his judgment and allow myself to want things, and to know that it’s okay to have wants, and to share my wants and desires. Because I feel pretty sure there are others out there who will help me in my path, rather than stand in the way.

I suspect there are more ugly bags that I’ll find and release over the next months, and probably some that I won’t locate until I’m in another relationship. I hope, by then, that I’ve developed the wisdom and insight and tools to manage to clean them up in a way that’s mature and respectful. But in the mean time, I think I’ll use a sledgehammer on these old, worn-out beliefs…if I can only figure out how to do it!