From the point of view of a child, a spouse, and a parent.
This is going to be a pretty tough one to write, but it’s been brewing inside me for a while and needs to come out.
My grief counsellor, who was helping me get through the feeling of loss and betrayal I felt (and still feel) at the end of a relationship that lasted more than half of my life, recommended writing to help deal with my grief. I’ve been writing about this on and off since my husband first asked for a divorce on my birthday in June. Writing is cathartic — it helps me sort out my thoughts and put things in perspective.
Although I had hoped the ordeal of my divorce would be over by now — indeed, I’d hoped to be finished before Christmas! — it drags on for a variety of reasons best saved for another post. Every day I’m stuck alone in a house I once made a home with the man I loved is another day that gets me thinking of — and writing about — the tragedy of the situation. After all this time — nearly nine months now — I still have trouble believing everything that’s been happening. As a friend recently remarked, it’s bizarre.
But this post will concentrate on one topic: marital infidelity. You see, this isn’t the first time I’ve lived through a husband’s betrayal of his wife’s love and trust.
I was about 12 years old, the oldest of three children, when my parents split up.
My dad had been having an affair with a woman 13 years younger than him — only 9 years older than me. She was 21 and already had a child with another man who she’d apparently married and divorced. She was young and, I guess, attractive. My mother, who was only 3 years younger than my father, was overweight and caught up in the task of raising his three children. When we went away to spend the summer in a travel trailer in the Catskills, my dad was left behind to go to work and the affair began.
My sister, brother, and I were shielded from most of what was going on for quite some time. Shielded from the cause, but not the fireworks. The arguments were loud and fierce, leaving my sister and I to seek shelter from the verbal storm in our attic bedroom. Eventually, the situation became intolerable and divorce was inevitable.
You know how there are events in your life that you can remember perfectly as if they happened only yesterday? Well, I still remember the day nearly 40 years ago when my dad came up to our bedroom to break the news. I was sitting on the floor in front of a low table my dad had made out of particle board and formica and screw-in legs. I was working on a floorplan — I used to sketch floorplans of dream houses that I made up in my head. This one was a one-story masterpiece with a central courtyard that had a built-in pool. All the rooms had doors out to this wonderful courtyard. When my father came up to talk to me, I was painstakingly drawing in the irregularly shaped patio blocks around the pool.
He told me that they were getting divorced, but didn’t say why. I probably already knew about the other woman. He assured me that he still loved us all and would still see us a lot. I don’t remember replying. I do remember the tears dripping down my face and onto those carefully penciled patio blocks.
And just like that, my father left. There was a brief time when they attempted reconciliation, but I can’t say it lasted very long. My dad moved into an apartment with his girlfriend and her baby daughter. The divorce dragged on — in those days, I think there was a required separation period. My mom lost weight and started dating — she was in her early 30s and had two single friends (one divorced, one widowed) that she’d go bar-hopping with. It was important to her to not only find a new husband, but to find a new father for her children.
My father fought for visitation rights and got them — every Sunday, I think. In the beginning, he visited us regularly, taking us out to a local hobby shop where they had slot cars that we would race. We did other things, too, but I don’t remember them much. I do remember that over time the visits became less regular and the frequency dropped off. But by that time, the divorce was final and both he and my mother remarried. He married the woman he’d left us for and adopted her child, who is technically now my half sister. My mom married a divorced man who had been through a similar situation; his three kids lived with his ex-wife. We moved to Long Island where my stepfather started a new job. My dad came to see us just a few times a year. And then he stopped coming.
There are many ways all this affected me as a child and as an adult. It’s interesting to take a look at them.
- I titled the previous section “Childhood Lost” for a reason. Although I was just 12 or 13 during my parents’ divorce proceedings, I was forced, in a way, to grow up fast. Because of the dire financial situation we were suddenly thrust into, my mom had to get a job. I had to take responsibility for watching my sister, who was 16 months younger than me, and my brother, who was 8 years younger than me. At age 13, I got a paper route — I still remember the first day of school one year when my paper route collection money was needed to buy school supplies for all of us. The financial situation qualified me for free school lunch and enabled me to get a summer job working with other underprivileged kids scraping rust off a chain link fence with wire brushes. Yes, I still played with other kids and had a life, but I’d gotten a very good look at a side of life most preteens don’t get to see until much later. It changed me and forced me to grow up a bit sooner than I should have.
- Seeing my mother abandoned by her husband also taught me a lesson — it taught me that there’s only one person you can rely on in life: yourself. It taught me to be independent, to have my own career and goals in life, to not depend on anyone else for financial stability. It taught me to work hard for whatever I wanted and to save money and to keep my finances in my control. These are lessons I’ve carried throughout my life.
- Being left behind to babysit while my mom and her friends hit the singles bars to find new husbands made me feel that having children can be a real burden. After all, she wasn’t just looking for a new mate. She had to find one who didn’t mind moving into a household that already had three young kids. That can’t possibly have been easy, especially for a 30-something in the mid 1970s when divorce was far less common. In the end, she found two men that she was willing to continue her life with, but she chose the one who would make a better father for us. I know it was a sacrifice, in a way, for her. But I also know that she made the very best decision, despite any doubts she might have had at the time. My stepfather is a wonderful man — a great provider who truly became my dad when my father left us. In any case, the lesson I took from all this is that having kids can keep you from getting what you really want in life. And I think that’s why I never had kids.
- When my mother married my stepfather, our financial and social situation improved dramatically. We went from middle lower class to upper middle class (if there is such as class system in this country). We could eat better and dress better. My stepdad took us to museums, giving me my first real taste of culture. We ate in real restaurants — the kind with cloth napkins and attentive waiters. When we vacationed, we flew on airliners and stayed in hotels. We got a good look at some of the better things in life, some of the things within our reach. And, for the first time in my life, I started thinking college might be an option — indeed, I became the first person in the history of my family to graduate college.
As for my father, our relationship isn’t bad but isn’t good. It’s hard not to feel abandoned when he simply stopped visiting all those years ago. We talk occasionally on the phone and I did see him at Christmas time last year. He’s still married to the same woman. Their daughter is on her second husband and has two kids. I haven’t seen her since her first wedding years ago and doubt I’d recognize her if she knocked on my door right now.
I know my father reads this blog once in a while and can assume he’ll read this. I’m sorry if what I’ve written here hurts him, but it’s the truth. Actions speak louder than words. It’s one thing to tell a 12-year-old child that you love her but another to prove it.
I’ve written quite a bit about my husband’s infidelity, discussing it in bits and pieces in blog entries since I discovered the other woman in August 2012. I’ll recap here. If you want details, follow the divorce tag.
My relationship with my husband had been deteriorating since about October 2011, when I got back from my summer work in Washington. He’d become moody and uncommunicative, never enthusiastic about doing anything interesting, always disapproving of anything I wanted (or needed) to do. He was 55 at the time, stuck in a dead-end job he hated, working for a boss who was becoming a bigger asshole every single day.
I was losing my patience with the situation, especially since he’d promised me five years before — right around the time we married — that he’d join me on the road in the summer months to pursue other more interesting ways of making a living. I was financially secure; he could be, too — if he’d just sell the Phoenix condo that was costing him so much money every month. Instead, for reasons I couldn’t comprehend, he insisted on keeping it; that forced him to be a slave to the 9 to 5 grind that was making him miserable.
There were some arguments — I won’t deny it. His mom’s visit from mid January through mid March 2012 was a serious strain. I’d been led to believe that she’d spend most of her time in the assisted living apartment he’d rented for her in Wickenburg, but yet she was at our house almost every single day. We had no time alone together at home. After a huge fight in February, I buried myself in my work, which had to be done at the Phoenix condo where I’d moved my office — ironically, so I could spend more time with him.
In March, he asked me to go to a marriage counsellor with him. I agreed. My anger had cooled off and I truly wanted to fix our broken relationship. We each attended one session alone and then one together. Maybe I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure the counselor recommended that we talk things out. I tried on several occasions to get him to talk to me about our problems, but he always said, “Not now.” And then it was time for me to start moving my equipment — the RV and the helicopter — up to Washington for the summer. And to make a trip to Colorado to record a course for Lynda.com. I left for the summer on the last day of April, feeling the strain of unfinished business.
In May we spoke on and off on the phone and exchanged emails. We started talking about him coming with the dog to spend the summer with me. He’d gotten a new job and he could work from anywhere. The job involved a bunch of travel. If he came with Charlie to stay with me, I could watch Charlie while he traveled for work. Then, when my summer work was over, I could travel with him. It was his dream job — my dream job for him, too — and I really thought it would save our relationship.
But despite what he said on the phone to me, he was really doing other things. I didn’t discover what was going on until much later, in August, long after he’d asked for a divorce and had assured me several times — including to my face — that there was not another woman.
In reality, less than seven days after I’d left for Washington, he’d joined at least one online dating site. In May, he went on at least one date with another woman — and may have even taken her on a trip in his plane to Las Vegas. When that affair fell flat, he tried again with a woman who sent him photos of herself in lingerie. He was dating her for less than a month when he asked me for a divorce. He’s living with her now, letting her manage our divorce for him.
The pain of my husband’s betrayal cannot be overstated. Simply put, after 29 years together, I trusted him with my life. Although we each did our own thing throughout the years of our relationship, I thought we were still partners working for the same goals. But instead, he’d changed his goals and hadn’t sent out a memo. I was working hard to make a good summer place for both of us; he was working on another goal: to replace me.
What makes matters even worse is the way he’s treated me since asking for the divorce. Lying and cheating is only part of it. Dropping all communication, leaving me to wonder what the hell was going on at home. Sharing my personal financial documents — like tax returns and investment statements — with his girlfriend and lawyer. Locking me out of my home and hangar. Fighting me in court to keep me out of my own home, thus trying to make me homeless. Lying about me in court, under oath. Demanding the return of a truck he told me I could keep in the settlement. Instructing his lawyer to send my lawyer threatening letters. Falsely accusing me — without any proof — of destroying his property. Preventing me from selling my personal property. Sending the police to my home to investigate me on unsupported claims of harassment. Allowing his girlfriend to present false evidence in court to support her injunction against me — which, fortunately, was overturned when I presented the truth.
Bizarre is a word a friend used to describe the situation. It’s fitting. Most of the people who know us both well can’t believe the things that have been going on — the things he’s been doing purposely to torment me for the past few months. It’s beyond simple marital infidelity and betrayal. It’s a systematic attempt to wear me down so I accept the absurd settlement proposal he insists on presenting to me and my lawyers.
And it hurts. It hurts because I remember what our lives were like for 29 years. I remember the good times and the bad times. Learning and doing things together. Traveling all over the country. Sharing the excitement of good news and achievements. Crying together at his dad’s funeral. Walking hand in hand on beaches and city streets. Cooking and cleaning and making homes together. Sitting across the table from each other at mealtime. Making plans. Making love.
I remember all of that. Doesn’t he?
I could never to do him what he’s done to me these past nine months. Never!
And I’m left wondering: How can he do this to me? How can he do this to us?
How does love turn to hate? How can he show such utter disregard for the woman he spent half his life with?
And that’s why I cry every day. I cry because I just don’t understand. I cry because I know I’ll never understand.
The Intent Makes it Worse
One of the most painful aspects of what my husband has done to me is the fact that he knows my parents are divorced and he knows why they split and he knows how I feel about it. He knows the emotional toll it’s taken on me and my siblings and how we all feel about cheating on spouses.
So never in my wildest dreams did I think my husband would do to me what my father did to my mother nearly 40 years ago.
But there is a difference here, subtle as it might be. It has to do with intent.
You see, I believe that my father had an affair because he was young and bored and wanted a little excitement in his life. I don’t think he actively went looking for a new wife. I think the affair probably just “happened” and he went with it because it made his life interesting. Sex with a younger woman, an escape from family life. I don’t think he ever intended his extramarital activities to destroy his family.
My husband, however, was actively looking for a replacement for me. He dated at least two women within a two month period before finding a replacement and promptly asking for a divorce. He intended from the start to dump me for someone else. He wouldn’t divorce me without a replacement lined up because he simply isn’t brave enough to live life on his own, no matter how unhappy he might be with his relationship. And, at age 56, he probably realized that his options would be limited so he took the first suitable replacement he could find, a woman who just happened to be 8 years older than him and even more desperate to secure a mate.
So although what my father did was bad, what my husband did was far worse.
Misleading me by making me think he wanted to stay together — even while he was shopping for my replacement — is despicable.
There’s More than One Victim
I think that’s what’s affecting my family — my mom, sister, stepdad, and brother — so badly. You see, it’s not just me who’s traumatized by what he’s done (and doing) to me. It’s also them.
As my mom said more than a few times, he didn’t just betray me. He betrayed all of us.
My family loved him as a member of the family. My mother and stepdad thought of him as a son. My sister and brother thought of him as a brother — hell, my brother was still a kid when I brought him home for the first time. They all loved him and trusted him, probably just as much as I did.
I still remember the day, not long after we met, when I talked to my mother on the phone. “I think this is the one,” I told her. She was thrilled. We never thought he would be the one to shatter my heart and leave my life in shambles 29 years later.
Worse yet, knowing firsthand what I’m going through, my mom and stepfather are being forced to revisit the feelings they had when their spouses cheated on them. My mom is now talking about things that happened years 40 years ago, things she’s never told me, things that make me understand how much pain she endured while she was trying to rebuild our lives.
No parent wants to see their kid go through the same painful experience they suffered through. My mother has been losing sleep since all this began; it’s been affecting her health, too. Many times, when some new shit hits the fan in my life, I hold off on telling her about it until things settle down again. No need to make things worse.
Both my mother and sister are also angry about the way he’s betrayed all of us. My stepdad, who had a very strong connection with him — they used to hang out and talk or do little projects whenever they were together — doesn’t want to talk about it at all. Neither does my brother. I know it hurts all of them when they see or hear me cry.
Divorcing me because of irreconcilable differences is one thing. But cheating on me, lying about it, and then tormenting me for months afterwards?
How can he do this to us? None of us can explain it.
An Unusual Question from my Friends
There’s one more topic to cover in this blog post before I wrap it up and dry my eyes. It’s a question I’ve gotten from a number of friends.
Was my husband jealous of my friends?
You see, the vast majority of my friends are men: tech people, editors, pilots, winemakers, the list goes on and on. Even when we first met, my best friend was a guy — although personally, I think he was gay. In general, I find guys more interesting than women — they like to do more interesting things. Most women seem so hung up on petty things like gossip and shopping and getting their hair and nails done. Or family things like school or their kids or their grandkids. That stuff simply doesn’t interest me. Even my few female friends aren’t interested in that stuff. Most of them have mostly male friends, too.
So the question is, was my husband jealous of my friends? Did he think I was sleeping around?
Before all this crap began, I would have said, no, of course not! After all, I trusted him and I assumed he trusted me. Given my family history and my feelings about cheating on spouses, it was out of the question for me to even think about such a thing.
But now that I know he was untrustworthy, I can only wonder if he thought the same about me. After all, if he thought cheating was okay, did he think that I thought the same thing?
Was my husband jealous of my friends? At this point, I honestly don’t know.
But I do know this: I was faithful to my husband throughout our relationship. I never slept with another man. I never wanted to.
Even now that our relationship is over, I’m finding it tough to even think about sleeping with someone else. It just doesn’t seem right.
That’s just another thing I need to get over as I rebuild my life.