There probably was a time when I assumed that people from failed marriages had no business giving advice to people trying to prevent the same fate. But then, not long ago, Gerald Rogers, recently divorced, wrote a beautiful post listing the marriage advice he wished he’d followed sooner. And then, soon after that, someone who comes to ProjectHappilyEverAfter.com regularly got the news from his wife; She was filing for divorce. He sent me the following email. I’m grateful that he’s allowing me to post it here:
A few years ago, when my wife and I were going through some rough times, my daughter, who is a therapist, gave us a copy of Project: Happily Ever After. We had read many “marriage fix-it” books already, but because it was recommended by my daughter, I knew my wife would read it. And maybe heed the advice. So I read the book and started following the blog and found a kinship with those who have posted over the years. PHEA has been a source of solace, comfort and information. I can say that the lessons learned from Alisa and others have kept me going through times when it was nearly impossible to face the next day.
I had hoped and hoped and hoped that one day I would be able to write a glorious post about our triumphant “Happily Ever After” project, but alas, today I am writing with quite the opposite news. My wife filed for divorce last week, and it has been a whirlwind of confusion and sadness and 64 different emotions mixed in all at once as we told our 5 children and our closest friends and relatives. It is so true how one goes through the stages of grief as they go back and forth from moment to moment. I wish I could feel that numbness that some say they feel at these times, but I have been anything but numb.
My wife has been unhappy for many years since we had a major fight about what to do with the children’s schooling. Some harsh and regrettable words were said, and it turns out that those words completely and forever changed her. It was as if our love was a priceless crystal ball that we both cherished and carried together, always with both hands carefully holding it, and when those words were spoken, one or both of us let it fall to the ground and shatter. Regardless that it did not shatter for me that night, it shattered for her.
So she never had enthusiasm for the counselors we saw, nor did any of the advice that we were given. The first therapist didn’t get it at all, and he blamed me and patted me on the head and told me that when she recovered her self-esteem, everything would be fine. My protestations to the contrary were ignored or passed off as uninformed, a pattern that unfortunately got repeated with every counselor we saw. I knew her, and I knew that she tended to write people off after a major incident, and I feared that a husband could be written off as easily as had been some friends and relatives with whom she had severed contact. I knew this woman, and I knew that our marriage needed intensive care, but all I was told was that it would take time, and it couldn’t be rushed. That was the numbskull male way of trying to fix relationships, and if I were to just listen and be patient, all would be good again. I am a medical person and they redoubled the advice–”this isn’t something you can cut out or take a pill for; it simply doesn’t work that way.”
So I waited and went to therapy and journaled. I put love notes in our “Love Jar” with a ratio of about 20:1. Mine were heartfelt and sought forgiveness and to show that our love mattered more than anything. Hers were, “thanks for driving.” No professional seemed to have a problem with this. We were told to date and to do loving things together. To go to a sensate focus therapy group. She declined all of these. Our only dates were on birthdays and our anniversary, because we were both “too busy” to arrange for any other times. Trips away together were rare and mostly awkward. When we tried to talk about our issues at home, she shut down and didn’t want to talk with the children around. So when we went out, I wanted to talk about our problems at least a little bit…to get SOMEWHERE. I knew that that was a bad idea from all the books, but I began to want and need to know where I stood. She told me she was trying and asked for patience. At times, I was better at that than others. I worked 60 hour weeks and she was busy with kids and years passed.
I found a therapist who helped me immensely. I began to understand my contributions to the demise of our marriage and I learned humility of spirit. With this I was given the Gift of God of learning unconditional love for her. As I went through this process, I was convinced that all we can control is our own response. I learned self-forgiveness and forgiveness of her and others. I wrote her heartfelt, soulful letters to see if she could open her heart again to me, to try to piece together that shattered glass that was our love. Our family is extraordinarily loving and close, and it broke my heart that we might lose this gift. I kept waiting.
Two years ago she said she was done. Neither of us could muster the courage to tell our children and then several life events pushed away the inevitable until she could no longer live with her unhappiness. And now we are going through this horrible process that is divorce. Do not let anyone tell you anything to the contrary. Even with the best of intentions, it is horrible. It is adversarial and full of contention, and the legal system that governs it promotes this contentiousness. I have been asked to switch gears in my thinking about my wife, for whom I had every desire to save our marriage just one week ago. I have been told to get over it, get on with my life, put this past me…you name it, any of the “wave your magic wand” over your emotions statements you could imagine. All within one week!
So my advice to the professional counselors who may read this blog is, please listen to men. We may not be as emotionally literate and we may seem to have the inability to grasp your concept of relationship healing, but we have a wisdom and an intuition all our own. And to ignore that is to promote the demise of marriages, no question. When my wife told the therapists she was done with the marriage, only one asked her why. She never went back to her. With the others, when she said she no longer loved me, that was that, and the next recommendation was for divorce.
So my advice to you if you are unhappy or, even worse, considering divorce, get therapy. Get INTENSIVE therapy. Do NOT think that yours or your spouse’s unhappiness is their problem alone. You are on a journey together. Go to a divorce lawyer and let them scare the crap out of you about the process. Then go to a good counselor who will listen to you AND your spouse and do what they say…and a lot more. Guys, get off your asses and help around the house; think of the little things she likes and do them; show that you are thoughtful and how much you care for her. Ladies, cut out the criticism and nagging and be appreciative, and learn to be sensual again if you have lost that part of yourself.
But most importantly, remember that you both, with both hands, are carrying around a most precious crystal ball, a Gift from God, and even one hand slipping away from either of you can cause it to fall and irrevocably shatter–with it go your dreams and aspirations to grow old together. Believe me, that loss is more regrettable than any moment in your marriage, no matter how ugly, nor indelible it may seem.
So blessings to Alisa, and others like her, who have had the courage to make the journey, and commit to the life that keeps two people together. I wish you all the peace and joy the Universe has to offer.
If you’ve survived a failed relationship, what did you learn from the experience? What marriage advice would you give your younger self? What advice would you give your children or grandchildren? What advice would you give this struggling reader now to help him move forward? If you are reading by email, click through to the blog to comment.
If you’d like to read more about what it takes to have a great marriage, click over to Babble.com and check out this post about love being like a juice cleanse.
A professional journalist, Alisa Bowman is the author of Project: Happily Ever After, a memoir of how she saved her marriage, and coauthor of Pitch Perfect, a must-read if you've ever had a sense of dread tie up your insides before a speech, presentation, or conversation. If you enjoyed this post, you will no doubt love her updates on Facebook and Twitter.