Oh My God, What Have I Done?

That was the last thing I heard for a month. “I was just getting my options.” My ex-wife, still then-wife, revealed by her slip of the tongue. I’m not sure if she was using the couples therapy to protect herself from the shitty turn of events. If so, our therapist played his role well. I still think today about booking a session with him to ask about this moment.

As I reflect back today, I don’t think there was any further effort on my part that was going to satisfy her need for a source of her unhappiness. Yeah, about that. Never mind. I did everything I could think of to improve “her” conditions of satisfaction. House in nice school district. Check. Nanny who also cooks and cleans. Check. Helpful husband who doesn’t pester her for sex. Check, but pending review. In all fairness, I was the cause of her trip to the divorce brochure showroom floor. I was done being cuckolded by my wife. I wanted answers. Change, or, I was out.

Never got to that issue in therapy together. She pressed each session with Rich at my depression, my unemployment, my problems. “Our problems” were kept under the list of complaints. But I was starting to ask the question. I was doing some research on my own.

<scene>

Married couple, in progress. I am in bed awaiting my wife’s return from putting down our youngest child. She comes in and notices a book on my side. “Solutions for a Sex-Starved Marriage.”

“You think it’s all my problem?” she demanded.

“What?” I was reading something on my computer and didn’t make the connection.

“This book, you think it’s going to help us? Sex starved? It makes me furious when…”

“Wait, this isn’t a book about you.”

“You try and make me out to be some kind of frigid bitch and…”

“Wait. This is about us, about a solution. I’m not pointing the finger.”

“Feels like you are blaming me.”

“Because I’m reading a book?”

“Just seeing the book feels like an accusation.”

</end scene>

What shattered over the next few weeks was our trust. I was beginning to press her, “in or out.” I was not going to held prisoner by someone who didn’t want to be touched. So I started asking questions. Asking for ideas and input from her. And we had couples therapy, so I was ever-so optimistic that we’d patch things up and keep our family together. And I would get an occasional moment of intimacy. That’s not how it went down. There was no sex ever again. “Fine by me,” she said in one of our arguments. We didn’t argue much, and Rich was teaching us how to listen better, reflect the other person’s perspective, and negotiate a win-win option together. Rich was into SCT, or systems-centered therapy. It was a way of getting at “what is true” vs. “what is made up.”

I had known Rich from years of men’s therapy. His sister’s brother owned a retreat center above Las Vegas, New Mexico, called Rose Mountain. Rich occasionally attended as a cook. His veggie curry made the most omnivorous of our group feel quite happy.

In the “oh my god, what have I done” moment, Rich was as surprised as I was. My wife was unusually docile as we tried to uncoil her revelation.

“We could just tell the kids you had to leave on a business trip,” my wife offered.

“Me? If you’re the one in so much pain, why don’t you go on a “business trip?”

“We just need a break. We all need a break,” she said, looking pleadingly at Rich.

“Would that work for you, John?” He asked.

“Fuck that,” I said. “I’m not leaving the house. I’m staying right where I am. If we’re headed for divorce, it’s going to take some time. I’m not moving out so you can feel better.”

The next moment we were “out of time for today,” but… And but was an agreement to one more “closing” session with Rich.

  • ~ *

A week later, our closure with Rich involved a summary statement of our work together. I described it as “optimistic and hopeful.” She described it as “cynical and hopeless.” And that pretty much ended the civil conversations between me and my wife.

Cynical. That about describes her mindset. The other blindside that I’m so happy to point out for her (then and now) is

HAPPINESS IS AN INSIDE JOB

I learned this truth along the next few years. I wrote and wrote and wrote. My anonymous D blog was trending and growing. A lot of unhappy marriages out there. And here was a male author who is not afraid to be vulnerable. He even references Brené Brown. I kept writing. And I had an epiphany about my co-parenting relationship, that was not going well.

FIRING ANGRY INSULTS AT YOUR EX WILL ALWAYS HURT THE CHILDREN

The part that I learned for myself was this. I can’t control much in life. I can’t control her behavior or how she treats me. I can, however, determine 100% of my response. I stopped responding to her shitty missives with returned fire. I just STFU. I stopped fighting with her. I took her emails about the kids and filtered for LOGISTICS and DATES. A helpful handle on post-divorce communication recommends you treat your ex-spouse like a convenience store clerk: you want to get in, get your Coke, and get out. You don’t really want to know about their troubles or their day.

I took my new approach and started a second blog about my divorce. The Whole Parent. This one, however, I would have my name and LinkedIn profile connected to. This would be my answer to a shitty divorce and a shittier co-parent: show by example how to do things better. Each time I would get a shit-text from my ex-wife, I’d begin crafting my response in ANGRY mode and POSITIVE mode. If I could add a story to my POSITIVE single dad blog, that’s where I spent my energy.

Arianna Huffington spoke at a conference in Austin, and during the closing of her presentation, she said, “Here’s my email address. To all you content creators, if you think it belongs on HuffPo send me a note.” I hit send while she was still shaking hands and signing books. Noted for being an amazing connector, Mrs. Huffington emailed me back on the way to the airport. “I think your single-dad voice would be great on The Huffington Post. I’ve cc’d the family editor, she will reach out with details.” And that was it. I was off to the races and garnering 200,000 unique reads per month. My ex-wife was apoplectic. “Do not write anything about me or your children.” She was not a fan. I was encouraged by both the audience and by the anger my weekly publications might cause her.

Positive only. I mean, I did my best, under the circumstances. I protected the kids. I masked the original divorce blog so it could not be found using my name. How did we get so bogged down in the weeds here? I write. I wrote. I’m writing this to you, right now.

  • ~ *

I held my breath for the next 11 years, wrote a few books, established a writing practice that transformed my life, and I looked to find “home” again with someone more suited to long-term cooperation and affection.

the one and the zero: > next | index

Spread the love