What I Thought I Wanted
You probably already know what drives me to write this blog and teach my teleclasses. Just in case you don't, it was getting exactly what I thought I wanted 25 years ago, when my resentment outweighed my love for the man I married, the father of our son. I write and speak to stop you from going after what I thought I wanted.
First I wanted him to change. I wanted a fairer division of chores and responsibilities. I wanted more hugs and kisses. I wanted more understanding of my very stressful job and long commute. I wanted more communication. I wanted a partner for dance lessons. I wanted to get out more and do things. I wanted more for our son than just someone to read to him and cook him dinner.
When my husband wouldn't change and my resentment grew and grew, I wanted a divorce. An amicable divorce, of course, one that would not in any way harm our nine-year-old son. (Odd that I gave up believing in the Tooth Fairy long before I gave up believing you can reject a child's other parent and not hurt him. Or that I thought our son could not see I was already rejecting his father in so many ways.)
The day after those words came out of mouth, deeply hurting my husband of 13 years but not really surprising him, I got full custody and 100% of all our assets. And while I did not receive any child support payments, I did receive his life insurance.
I also received the biggest comeuppance of my life. (Do people still say comeuppance? It means a fate one deserved, karma, payback.)
My husband had been ill for a long time, but it was a chronic illness, seldom a fatal one. We had thought he was getting healthier, and he had said he was ready to start a new semester a week later, even if he did not feel very healthy. It was not to be. His body failed him. I had failed him, too.
I had held him responsible for my unhappiness and for not doing more to relieve my stress over my work, my commute, our son's schooling, and our crazy decision to have a home built for us after a cross-country move. I had appointed myself the one who decided what needed doing and how much of it was my fair share.
I had decided we could only do recreational and social things together, so I was bound by and resentful of his limited energy. I had limited my opportunities for hugs and kisses and sex to what was possible when he was not ill, instead of exploring what might work better for the two of us. I was still holding my you-owe-me token from when I worked full-time to put him through five years of grad school.
I had not ever been physically threatened or emotionally battered. I was unhappy about my marriage only because my expectations had not been met and I could not control the situation. And I have met so many of you in exactly the same situation. Maybe you are halfway out the door now. Maybe you are eying someone tempting who might meet some of your needs on the side. Maybe you are still in the nagging or whining phase. Wherever you are, I need to tell you this:
- Marriage is seldom fair, because there is no one, true list of tasks to divvy up. If you think you are doing too much, do less. If you are unhappy doing less, do not blame this on your mate. And definitely do not expect that divorcing will fix this.
- Marriage will never live up to your expectations, unless you bring to it just one expectation, that you will be loved, and drop all the rest. You will be shocked how much love you can receive if love is all you ask of your spouse. Expect Love.
- No matter how long you are married, you will never learn to read your spouse's mind. You will often feel hurt or anger when no offense was intended. Learn to Assume Love and take a second look. It will make you a happier person.
- When you disagree, do not sulk. Do not cave. Do not debate. Do not demand or pull out five-year-old IOUs. Find Third Alternatives. Life is amazing when you are lucky enough to share it with someone who can help you find even better ways of getting what you want from it.
And if you have kids, know that you don't need to choose between whatever harm divorce will do to them and whatever harm your current anger or depression is doing to them. People can and do fall back in love when they let go of their resentments by releasing expectations that have nothing to do with love.