Browsing Category

Divorce

Divorce, Family, Guest Posts, motherhood

Coda

October 20, 2019
affair

By Erin Branning

It was the day after Mother’s Day that Myles, my then twelve-year-old son, started questioning me. The night before, he’d gone to dinner with my husband alone – I forget now why I agreed to this on Mother’s Day – and the next afternoon on the drive home from school the questions began. “Mom, tell me what really happened, tell me the real reason you and Dad are getting divorced.”

“We told you,” I answered, praying to god the questions would stop, reciting the lines that the therapist had given us.

“The adjustment of your dad being back in Chicago after working in New York has been difficult.”

“We’ve tried very hard to work things out, but we can’t.”

“We love you and we promise to make this as painless for you as possible.”

My husband and I had agreed there was no reason for our children to know the specific conditions of the dissolution of our marriage. They’d simply know that things had been bad and now they were going to be better. This was the only truth they needed to know. This was what I told myself, what the therapist had said and what I thought my husband felt as well.

But all the things that sounded so good in the therapist’s office now sounded ridiculous and hollow. They weren’t answers and Myles knew it. He wouldn’t stop probing, wanted specifics. I stayed to the script. This went on for a few days until my husband called me a few minutes after I’d dropped the children off at school.

“I told Myles the truth at dinner the other night,” he said.

“The truth?” An emptiness, a pit, opened up below my heart.

“I told him you’ve been having an affair and I was willing to forgive you, but you had decided to choose him over our family.”

“You told him what?” I felt lightheaded, like the ground had given way. I gripped the steering wheel and pulled over.

“That you’re having an affair and that’s why we’re getting divorced. And I’m going to tell the other kids too. There’s been enough lying.”

Our other children were ten, seven and three.

“The therapist said not to tell them. You promised me you wouldn’t.”

“A marriage is a promise to stay faithful. I wouldn’t bring up promises if I were you.”

***

The truth was this: A few weeks earlier, while I was out at breakfast with our four children, he went through my computer and found texts and emails with a man who had become the love of my life, the person I could not imagine living without.  Matt was my chiropractor but his methods encompassed everything – the full range of body, mind and soul. We connected on music initially – Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Jeff Tweedy—and then books. At some point I realized every book I had read over the past year that wasn’t required as part of my MFA program, was recommended by him.

During the winter, Matt and I, who had always confined our communication to his office, slipped into texting. A lot. First daily, then a few times a day, then hundreds. It was a numinous relationship, one therapist said. Numinous – spiritual, divine. Of course, it was meant to be. Never mind the fact that at the time my husband discovered our correspondence, we had not done so much as kissed.

The texting made it all too easy – the distance and time to be witty and use innuendo, to share thoughts, photos, articles, music. An entire consciousness can be sent through a phone. Of course, I couldn’t just delete the messages as they came, I had to save them by sending them to myself. I needed proof of what was happening. My inability to let things go into the ether was ultimately how my husband found out about our emotional affair. Since my divorce, I’ve had friends tell me about phone flirtations because they know I won’t judge. I have a hard time telling them to walk away. For me, my virtual relationship with Matt was a lifeline – what ultimately what got me out of something I’d been very unhappy in for a very long time.

In the weeks leading up to Chris’s and my separation, when I was in the throes of my texting with Matt, Myles played “Layla” on repeat in the car. I wondered if he was reading my mind, if he knew what was going on with me and if that was why he constantly played a song about an affair, about longing, about forbidden love, about betrayal.

When I used to hear stories of people cheating on their spouses I would think: how awful; if you can’t stay faithful, don’t stay married, and certainly don’t have kids. What I used to think about Eric Clapton and “Layla” was that he was a terrible person for falling in love with his friend’s wife. But when Myles played that song I thought, what incredible art. Clapton knew.

***

So why didn’t I leave earlier if it was so bad?  We had four kids, a full life, lots of friends. I adored his family. He had a high-profile job that “needed” a wife. How could I abandon him? Marriage was supposed to be hard and I wasn’t trying hard enough. I always thought I should be able to do better and my husband constantly told me so. For years, I thought the despair I was feeling was because of my own failing at love.

I never told anyone how suffocated I felt. My husband told everyone how much he loved me, all the time. But behind closed doors he loved me so much I couldn’t see friends if he was in town, couldn’t speak on the phone if he was home, couldn’t have male friends. When we moved to Beijing for his job, he asked me why I was making friends – wasn’t he enough? I read old journals. Five years before, as the movers were packing up our apartment in Beijing for a move to Tokyo, I had written – I don’t know if I can move to Tokyo with him.

I told my children and friends that I wasn’t leaving my marriage for Matt. I said falling in love with someone else was just the final thing beating me over the head telling me to leave – something I’d felt I had to do for a long time but been too scared to. And I wonder whether I let the marriage end as it did so that he wouldn’t be blamed, so that he could look like the “better person” and whether I was performing a service I had done for most of our marriage -protecting him at the expense of myself.

***

So, the narrative of our divorce became this: I was solely responsible for the end of our marriage because I had an affair. Chris told the children and anyone else who would listen that he was the victim and I was the victimizer. I imagined my children thinking of me kissing this man, wasn’t sure if they imagined sex too. At twelve, Myles certainly might have been, but I didn’t know about the others. I told them nothing physical had happened when their dad found our texts, but what did this mean to them? To them, their mother had fallen in love with another man while married to their father and wasn’t able to stop it, couldn’t walk away, was reckless with their lives and her own. In committing infidelity, emotional or otherwise, I’d lost all standing, not just as a wife, but as a person – especially as a mother.

And, while I felt shame standing in front of my children, I also felt relief. The worst thing I could have imagined had happened – my husband telling my children I’d had an affair – and yet, I was oddly okay. It clarified everything; I knew couldn’t go back. Every day I steeled myself for the children’s questions: What did Dad do to you that’s worse than cheating? Why do you want a divorce if he wants to forgive you? Why don’t you love Dad anymore? In my best moments I would say: I’m not going to talk badly about your dad.  And in my worst moments: God help you if you think this is the worst thing that could ever happen to you.

***

One afternoon in July, two months after Chris and I had separated, Myles and I were driving to a Jay-Z/Beyonce concert.

Shortly into the drive he looked up from his phone and said, “You’re not wearing that to the concert, are you?”

I was wearing a black motorcycle jacket that I’d recently bought, edgy, unlike anything I’d worn before I left Chris.

“You look stupid. Take it off.”

“I’m wearing it. I like it.”

“I’m not going into the concert with you then.”

“Look at me and apologize right now,” I said.

“Apologize for what? I’m allowed to have an opinion.” He said this, looking down at his phone.

And I suddenly felt overwhelming rage – rage that this night with my son already felt ruined, rage at my own impotence in the face of my son’s anger, and rage at the fact that I knew this argument wasn’t about my jacket. We were sitting at a stoplight and I ripped his phone out of his hands.

“Give it back!” he shouted at me.

“Not until you apologize.”

“You know the family is ashamed of you, right? You know that Dad’s family hates you and that even your own mom sent Dad an email saying how you made her sick.” He screamed at me, his face red now and contorted in pain. His words came at me:

Nothing is worse than what you did.

You’re a cheater.  

A liar.

I hate you.

And without even thinking, in my own blind rage, I slapped him. His hand went immediately to his face and he looked at me, shocked. “And now you hit me? Good job. Wait until I tell Dad.”

And I started to cry and knew I couldn’t take it back, couldn’t take anything back I’d done to hurt him. The agony on his face in that moment – my heart breaks every time I think of it.

***

Recently, Myles, now seventeen, and I were walking down Michigan Avenue and passed by Lowry’s Prime Rib.

“That’s where your dad and I met,” I said. I remembered what I’d been like that day – so young and hopeful, filled with the excitement of new love.

“What would you say to yourself now if you saw your younger self standing there with him?” he asked. I understood what he was really asking. He wanted to know if my marriage to his father had been a mistake, if I’d take it back if I could. The relationship with Matt had been short-lived, did I think that I’d broken up my family for nothing?

“I would say that you’re going to have a full life together for many years and many adventures. And have four amazing children.”

I wanted to add, “and it won’t be forever and that’s okay.” I wanted to tell him what I’d come to feel – that what I’d done was extremely painful and difficult, but that that didn’t mean it was wrong. I wanted to say I’d struggled and was still struggling to know who I was and what I wanted and how to love, but that didn’t make me bad. I wanted to say what is rarely acknowledged, that as humans – even as adults, even as mothers – we are all just figuring it out.

But that moment in front of Lowry’s I couldn’t say it was okay. I felt his pain and that of his siblings and knew that for them our divorce might never be okay. I felt overwhelmed and heartbroken by what we all had lost. So I said, “and it won’t be forever and I’m so sorry for that.”

He nodded and said, “I know Mom, its okay.”

I turned to look at him, tears threatening to spill down my face, and hugged him.

***

Layla has a coda – a piano solo that contains a shift, a calmness and peace in contrast to the rest of the song that precedes it. Not long ago, I asked Myles how that coda made him feel. He said it was like rebirth. New life.

Erin Branning holds an MFA from Northwestern and lives in Chicago with her four children. She is working on her first novel.

 

Upcoming events with Jen

****

THE ALEKSANDER SCHOLARSHIP FUND

Divorce, Guest Posts

Answering the Call

August 14, 2019
oprah

By Audra Carmine

My current divorce coping strategy– I walk my dog, I cry and I listen to Oprah Winfrey’s Supersoul Conversations on headphones so that no one will talk to me. My husband and I are on our second separation, and we aren’t even actually divorced yet.  There’s still time for a few more break-ups, a few more punches to the heart, and honestly, there’s a chance I’d totally do it again, get back together, be reckless like that. Say the word, almost ex-husband, and I’d jump back in, heart on my sleeve, divorce papers burning in my wake. If anyone ever told you that divorce is clean cut and the best decision they ever made, well, I am not that person. And the world needs to hear from more than just the people whose divorces served as an instant reincarnation machine, a propeller toward success, a doorway to a life they never dreamed they could have lived. I kinda want to punch that person in the face. Because the truth is, I long for my marriage. I long for it in a way that feels like an addiction. I yearn. I crave. I have withdrawls. I sweat it out. I ache. I fantasize, I idealize. I want to recreate that first blissful hit of togetherness over and over again. My abandonment issues have never been louder, and no matter how many pictures I see of happy divorced women with surfboards and small dogs living in LA, I just don’t buy it. I’m not there yet. Continue Reading…

Divorce, Guest Posts, Self Image

A False Sense of Security

August 1, 2019
self-worth

By  Jamie Carmichael

It’s 6:50pm when I pull in to the condo complex in the minivan. My 12-year old daughter is next to me and her toddler sister is in the back.  The timing is deliberate.  I don’t want to be home too early and I don’t want to be back so late that we have to stress through the nighttime routine. The large white van is parked in front and I sigh. He’s home.  Not surprisingly since he usually gets home between 330 and 5 but still.  Once in a while he’ll work late and I’ll be giddy with the quiet space that will welcome us. I can unload the bags. The girls will shake off their coats and let out some energy. We’ll eat whatever we picked up from McDonald’s or the pizza place or I’ll make something and then put the dishes in the dishwasher, fold the laundry and just be in peace.

But those days are few and far between.

Usually what happens is that we’ll come back from the library or the grocery store and my husband will be upstairs in the bathroom where he spends an inordinate amount of time doing whatever it is that he does.  I’ll be in the kitchen or helping with homework with our older daughter and then at some point he’ll come down instantly ramping up the tension.

Will he acknowledge me or go straight to asking the girls how they are as if I’m not there?  Will I greet him in a measured way so I’m not being superficially upbeat but also not ignoring him? The thing is that I’m not ever entirely sure where we stand that day.

Partial disclosure:  We have been married for 16 years. We haven’t slept in the same bed for 12.

Full disclosure:  I had an affair 6 years ago and filed for divorce.  After confessing both to my husband said he eventually said he wanted to stay together.  I didn’t think it would work out but the fact that he wanted to stay together automatically made me want to too. Continue Reading…

Divorce, Guest Posts, moving on

My Ex-Husband is Getting Remarried

May 2, 2019

By Robin Rapaport

Three weeks before Thanksgiving, my 28 year old daughter told me during dinner that her dad intended to propose to his girlfriend of two years, after the holiday. My daughter asked if I was okay with the news, and I said “Yes, I am fine. I let go a long time ago”. I desperately tried to control the code red alarm sounding off inside me. I feigned joyous enthusiasm by displaying an inauthentic I’m- Happy For- Your- Father smile. My perceptive daughter didn’t further question me. After dinner, I was left with a mess bigger than dirty dishes to clean up.

The news leaned in with force and threw me off balance, sending my head spinning. I even woke up the next morning with my frenemy, Vertigo, who commands thoughts, actions and life to slow down to a near halt, when I can’t downshift on my own. By afternoon, reeling in a vertigo hangover, I tried to organize and clean up the reactive thoughts in my head – mental dirty dishes, piling up and ready for a good soaking and scrubbing. Please. Where can I get a brain washing?

Why did I care, 19 years later? I have little to do with him anymore. Except that he will forever be the father of my children, the grandfather of my grandchildren. That’s about it.  He is only the father of the most important people in my world, who I love with all my heart.

I am a single 62 year old divorcee of 19 years. I have been almost married 3 times since the breakup. Almost being the key word, which loosely translates as I was unable to love, unwilling to share, and unable to commit to men who saw me as their absolute life partner. I am more ready now to raise the almost bar, but that’s a different story. Continue Reading…

Divorce, Guest Posts

The Perfect Blue: A Restless Bird, a Good Dog, and The End of a Marriage

April 7, 2019
blue

By Wendy Cohan

I drive too fast from Missoula, west through Spokane and the scablands of Eastern Washington, through the industrial maze of the Tri-Cities, along the other-worldly beauty of the Columbia Gorge and on into Portland. I drive up to our family home—painted a color that we worked so hard to choose: the perfect blue. Now, my husband and I face the task of going through our remaining belongings, separating his life from mine, over the next five days.

I’m staying at my friend’s empty house, just up the street, to limit any awkwardness and to give myself some private time and space. I play it cool: I’m helpful, generous, and not too inquisitive about his new life and new love. Although it’s difficult, I avoid playing “Do you remember?” too much. Continue Reading…

Divorce, Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood

Seven Cupcakes

January 14, 2019
cupcakes

By Sara Rayfield

Seven is an odd number. It’s also prime.

“Hi, baby!” I greet my son warmly, as if doing custody exchanges at the police station is totally normal. Just like prime, odd numbers – this is our normal. It’s where shit like this happens when you have a restraining order against your ex. When things are bad enough, he’s not even allowed in the police station, so I get the pure sarcastic joy of my former in-laws every other weekend. That’s also what happens.

“How was your birthday party?” I ask, while getting a weekend’s worth of dirty clothes shoved into my arms. And cotton candy. And McDonald’s bags. And the packages of cupcakes that I had packed with care on Friday afternoon. Seven cupcakes: one for my son. One for his grandmother, one for his grandfather. Two for his aunt and uncle. Two final ones: one for my son’s dad, one for his stepmom. Continue Reading…

Divorce, Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood

Where the Love Is

February 16, 2018
love

By Danielle Scruton

Her voice was muddled by dreamsleep, but I heard the words nonetheless: “This is where the love is…”. She had that look of peace about her. The one that melts me every time. The one that helps me feel less like a mother who can never get it right and more like a hand of love: helping her, guiding her. Her face lit softly by the nightlight, she looked years younger than ten. She would lose this babyface soon and while- as a mother- I was far from ready, as a woman I smiled within at what the tween and teenage years would bring.

It’s a bit unusual, her situation. Her father and I are divorcing and she has two other men in her life. It’s not something I give much thought to, but it is different I suppose. She will never have a stepmother, though it is very likely she will have two stepfathers. My bond with my daughter is as unshakable as any other mother-daughter relationship, but it’s possible she needs me even more because of where the chips have fallen. I could be wrong. In any case, I feel the importance of my influence in every exchange we have.

And her slumber-filled words meant more because the day had been hard. It was like that sometimes and more so with her than with my son. She had spent a weekend with her father. Her emotions loomed around her and came at me with defiant words. Tons of attitude. She was annoyed and yet wanted me close, only to push me away again moments later. Continue Reading…

Divorce, Guest Posts

Not My Happiest Place on Earth

May 26, 2017
divorce

By Heather Grossmann

Mickey Mouse ears and divorce. Probably not an association the relentlessly family-friendly Disney would appreciate, but — with apologies to Walt — one that was cemented for me during a summer years ago and resurfaced recently, when my dad unearthed some architectural drawings of the prenatal Epcot Center.

My complicated relationship with Epcot — well, to the extent that a geodesic sphere and a 5-year-old girl can engage in a “relationship” — began in the early ‘80s. Epcot was a pretty young thing on the eve of its international debut, a stunning 160-foot diameter dome hovering 14 feet in the air in Orlando, Florida. I was a cute pre-K kid on a post-divorce junket, a little thing awash in dreams of pirate boat rides and spinning teacups, 3,000 miles from my hometown of Oakland, California.

I had only just joined the ever-growing ranks of the “children of divorce.” This was the trendiest club in town at a time when the U.S. divorce rate hit its all-time high. But in an age when many parents followed up their separation announcements with a balm of Cabbage Patch dolls and Barbie playhouses, I had something going for me the other members of my not-so-exclusive fellowship did not: My father was the project architect on Epcot.

When my parents sat me down at our kitchen table in the summer of 1982 to say that their marriage was over, there was major upside to the news — the next day, I was going to the Magic Kingdom. I knew something “bad” was happening, but a trip to Disney World? Come on! What could be better than that?

As it turns out, a lot. Continue Reading…

Divorce, Guest Posts, Marriage

Alpha and Omega

May 7, 2017
husband

By Pam Munter

Even now, all these years later, I have a recurring dream about driving alone around Madison, lost and trying to find my way home.  I am driving around hills, the lake always on one side. It all looks so familiar but I am not sure I am heading in the right direction.

When he was nine, my son and I flew to Madison, the coincidental location for a family reunion with people I had not seen since I was his age. Aaron was eager to see where he had been born so I took a photo of him by the Madison General Hospital sign, his arms cradled as if holding a baby. For me, his sweet spontaneous pantomime brought the backstory roaring back as if it had happened yesterday.

***

By 1972, I had been married for two years, living in Madison, Wisconsin, where I was doing a post-doctoral year in clinical psychology at Mendota Mental Health Institute. The husband had found a job as a social worker in a government agency. We agreed we wanted to have a child, hoping to time it to coincide with the end of my internship. There’s nothing like good planning and perseverance. By Christmas that year, I was pregnant. Continue Reading…

Divorce, Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood, Relationships

Deconstructed: The Adventures of Co-Parenting And Running A Business With My Ex-Husband

December 8, 2016

By Ally Hamilton

You know the fairy-tale about the princess who marries the prince and has babies, and opens a yoga studio with him and gets divorced and has to figure out how to keep it all going? Yeah, me neither, although I’m living that story now.

When I tell people I’m in business with my ex and we have two young kids, they say something along the lines of, “Wow. How does THAT work?!” Most of the time it works really well. Of course I have my moments when I’m reminded of why we’re divorced, and I might even curse him with every expletive I can think of, but those moments are few and far between. I’m sure he has his moments, too.

The thing is, my life looks nothing like any five-year plan I ever would have devised, and nothing like the picture I had in my head of “how things should be”. Growing up, I went back and forth between my mom’s and my dad’s, three nights here, four nights there, switching that fourth night every other week. If you’ve never lived that way, it’s crazy-making. I was forever forgetting my keys and finding myself locked out, or leaving something essential at one place or the other. The rules were different in each household, as was the energy. When I was at my dad’s I missed my mom. When I was at my mom’s, I worried about my dad. When my step-parents joined the circus, it got even crazier. My mom and stepmom did not like each other, and did not hide that fact from me. My dad said disparaging things about my step-dad. You know who never said a bad word about anyone to me, or within my earshot? My step-dad, and I remember that to this day.

Continue Reading…

Divorce, Guest Posts

How To Be Divorced: A Stepdaughter’s Wish List

June 1, 2016
divorce

By Teri Carter

When asked, “How many brothers and sisters do you have?” I might give any of the following answers: only child, oldest of 3, or oldest of 5. All true. This is what it means to be a stepdaughter.

1,300 new stepfamilies are created every day. I am a statistic, a stepdaughter three times over, starting at ages 2, 9, and 15, with two half-brothers, a stepbrother and a stepsister. Everyone offers advice. Over the years I’ve heard dozens of opinions from the well-intentioned about how divorced parents and new stepparents should and should not behave. Most get it wrong.

If anyone, including my own parents, had asked, this is what I would have told them. Continue Reading…

depression, Divorce, Guest Posts, Marriage, Relationships

Construction Season

November 14, 2015

By Patti Carlyle

Summer seems an incongruent time to ponder life’s harder questions. Long and brutal winters in the Rust Belt present a more fitting time to look inward, everything thickly coated in Suicide Gray. Thoughts deepen and even darken, and it makes sense. By contrast the warm, sparkling days of Cleveland’s early summer are arguably the most beautiful, demanding a certain carefree hubris. But instead of fish tacos on patios, gin and tonics, afternoon sex or campfire lazing, I slid into a dizzying circular conversation with myself. Depression or divorce?

Orange barrels rush past the window, a translucent blur of stout, gaudy grandmas. Squinting into the distance looking for some broad blinking arrow, I try to predict lane changes. Sit up straight, hands at ten and two. The speedometer needle sinks left and I sharpen my focus. Rumble strips hyphenate the road mid-lane, a startling warning of a new traffic pattern. A driver for over 20 years, I still tense up in construction zones, still roll my eyes when the barrels begin gossiping in medians each spring.

And as the work begins each summer, I find myself muttering ‘didn’t we just do this?’

Depression or divorce? For two summers, this alliterative question worried a groove into my journals and tortured my therapist. Amused at my binary thinking and familiar with my white knuckle grip on a fanned deck of pessimistic options, he suggested that I refrain from applying intellect and instead feel my way through. Deep thought and analysis might not save my marriage, and I may still need clinical intervention. Worst case? Both. That’s how I saw it: terrible options all.

Predictive pessimism doesn’t protect me from much, though. I need to do before I know much of anything. Lowering myself into the tides of experience, sometimes the water is fine and frolicking like a four-year-old is the only appropriate response. But sometimes the relentless and punishing waves are frigid and teeming with jellyfish. Bystanders can hear me screaming from shore.

Ending my marriage to experience divorce is an obviously myopic move. Eyeballs deep in the struggle, I flailed and clawed for a cognitive buoy. The goal was simple: tease out which was cause and which effect. Is my marriage foundationally broken, resulting in situational depression? Or is my fundamental problem clinical, my relationship merely its casualty?

The gaudy grandmas have waddled off. Concrete lane dividers stand shoulder to shoulder in their place. The effect is menacingly close. My phone is face down on the console and I poke a finger at the dash, silencing the radio. Any distraction could have me trailing sparks along the barricade wall or sliding onto the gravelly shoulder. Adjust the mirrors and glance back.

I started circling the drain a few years ago. The well-received launch of my alternative health practice had me so certain. This was my calling. I might have been suspicious when the aspects of entrepreneurial adventure I enjoyed most turned out to be designing the website and writing the blog. After shuttering the business in 2012, I tumbled into a shame vortex. Struggling to make sense of how I had misread myself so terrifically, I cocooned. It took months of shame and denial before finally deciding to close, abandoning years of training, the encouragement of friends and family and a lot of invested capital. Continue Reading…

%d bloggers like this: