My wife of thirty-four years and I are on the verge of divorce. In hindsight, it was always pretty inevitable since we always wanted completely different things from life, and what we wanted depended on our partner being someone completely different than who they are, especially in term of the fundamentals of marriage itself.
It took a very special kind of blindness to last this long, a willingness to overlook a fundamental flaw by pretending that it wasn’t there, but a flaw so deep that once exposed it can never be overlooked again, covered over, repaired or forgiven.
This huge rift between us goes right back to our earliest days, the days when I was married to someone else and she became the mother of my son, born as a result of a brief but torrid relationship which had resulted in his birth, less than 10 months after we first met.
Nobody would have have thought that such a start propitious. Having a child out of wedlock wasn’t something that either of us had imagined when we engaged in the obviously dangerous tryst. But for me it turned out to be less of a moral challenge than it is to her, to this day. She has never forgiven us for committing seriously immoral conduct, or herself, for that matter, for having slept with a married man.
It makes no difference to her that I was upfront from the beginning. There was no hidden marriage, or implied statements to the effect that I was single, or almost single. When she and I met, I had no intention of splitting up with my first wife, nor she with me.
We had an open marriage by mutual choice, arrived at by long discourse and mutual interest in exploring beyond the boundaries of marriage. My former wife was well aware that I had a number of outside female companions, several of whom we even shared. The fact is that we did split up within five years, but our open marriage was not the primary source of our going our separate ways. There were other, far more serious fault lines between us, not the least of which is that we both carried within us the net effects of physical, sexual and psychological abuse as children, most of which we skillfully concealed from each other, but which were the real cause of our breakup.
Our lovers had nothing to do with it. Well, maybe they did, and maybe my current wife had something to do with it. Having a baby with another woman put unbelievable pressure on my first marriage, even though I had concealed the existence of the child from my ex. Maybe this supposedly idyllic and idealistic “open” marriage had more than a little wrong with it. If everything was so open and above board I would not have hidden such an important thing as having fathered a child with another woman from my ex wife.
We’d actually discussed what we would do if this happened, although we’d both committed to using protection. We’d mutually agreed that we’d handle it together, and make room in our lives for any such child, and the mother as well. We’d extend our marriage to include them, for the sake of the child as much as for our own sake, as well.
The truth is that we had both failed to disclose important things from each other along the way, and the baby was simply the last and most significant of those lies between us.
So when my wife and I moved in together, after my ex-wife and I split up, there was a lot of things we should have discussed before getting pregnant with our second child together. By the time it came around to deciding to get married it was already too late to work out how we were to deal with our mutual expectations of marriage, and what it means exactly to get married.
Instead we got married with a simple agreement that since it was unlikely that I would ever be sexually monogamous we would leave the “faithful” out of the marriage vows, but leave in the marriage vows, promises to stay the course, be loyal to each other’s best interests, to look out for the other person’s growth and do anything we could do to be the best partner possible, but not including fidelity.
She believes that I took advantage of her naivete, or alternatively, she really didn’t understand what it mean to live with an unrepentant polygamous man, within vows that didn’t even suggest sexual fidelity or exclusivity.
She says that she didn’t really believe me when I said that I was always likely to have friends and lovers outside of marriage, but that I wouldn’t let those relationships interfere with my relationship with her, or with my responsibilities to my kids.
In hindsight, I should never have moved in with her after the end of my first marriage, and most certainly shouldn’t have fathered two more children with her.
If she exercised willful blindness about my nature, and my apparent incapacity to live within a conventional marriage, then I also was willfully blind. I never really understood her feelings on the subject, which she never articulated in so many words, but has demonstrated without a doubt at times over the last thirty four years.
She didn’t ask, mostly, and I didn’t say. On the few occasions when she did ask about outside activities or relationships, I repeated what we had agreed to at the beginning of our marriage. We had agreed that we wouldn’t talk about it, I’d keep it away from my home, and I wouldn’t ever be intimate with a friend or close acquaintance of hers. She said that she didn’t really want to know, and I took her at her word.
I knew that our agreement was tenuous, at best, because over the years I came to understand that the only way she could deal with it was to pretend that it did’t exist, as if I really didn’t have any outside relationships, nor would I want to have any. She told herself that my refusal to promise to be faithful, or to discuss any variation on the original stance, was a cover-up, but not for my being unfaithful, but as a face saving device so that I wouldn’t have to acknowledge that I was a changed man.
She knew that my self-image always contained my sense of being independent and free to engage with anyone as a free human being. She knew that I believed that I could be faithful my promises to her, without having to accept a value system in which I simply don’t believe.
There were moments over the years when this fault line caused difficulties in our relationship, when she was sure that I was involved with someone. But since we had no dialogue about it that actually illuminated anything, she stuffed her feelings down and held back from expressing her sense of shame and outrage at my values and my inherent sensuality.
One result was the effective end of our intimate sexual relationship more than a decade ago. Although it was never raised by either of us, my unwillingness to commit to sexual fidelity seemingly made it impossible for her to fully participate in sexual congress. She submitted to sex rather than made love, a fact that made it less and less attractive to me over the years, and also made it less and less possible, due to my declining sexual performance generally.
Finally, a year or so ago, it all came out into the light. Somewhere along the way I had been exposed to a STD, discovered in a routine battery of blood work, which required me to inform any sexual partners so that they could be tested to protect themselves.
The first person I told was my wife, who went immediately into a slow burn which quickly turned into an inferno.
She said that she wanted a divorce. And sooner rather than later. Some days I think that she’s changed her mind because we get along so well, and do so many activities together. And generally we do get along really well, and cooperate in our lives together. But when I start to think that things maybe will heal over, it explodes out all over again.
From her perspective the only reason we’re not separated right now is that my health and economic situation is so bad that I wouldn’t be able to function on my own. Up until now it has been true, and without something changing it might be true for years.
My income is from CPP and OAP, for a total of $1380 a month, which when combined with her income, allows us to live a reasonable life. On my own it would be pretty much impossible, and the situation wouldn’t be much better on her own either.
But things aren’t actually getting better between us, and whatever store of goodwill and affection sustained us for so many years, despite the underlying fault line, is getting pretty thin.
I remember saying a long time ago to a friend that “when one person in a relationship has contempt for the other, the marriage is over, completely over, and no amount of effort can bring back the respect and trust once it is gone.” This has never been so true, and when I hear the scorn and disrespect in my wife’s voice, I’m scorned right to the core.
I know. I should have known better. Even then, I should have done better. Although, for the life of me, I have no idea how I could have done better, except by changing myself and my values fundamentally to suit her. Or alternative, persuaded her to adopt my views on life.
However, it is now far too late, and in her heart she really can’t forgive me for “sleeping around” on her for all those years. Even if I were to change and be willing to promise to change now, it would not make any difference to her.
She is convinced that I have betrayed her and that I continue to betray her, not for my acts of betrayal, but because I am unrepentant and refuse to apologize for being exactly who I have always said I am, and done exactly as I always said I would.
It is irrelevant to her feelings today that she knew exactly who I was, and what I believed from the first night we met. I am who I am, and to her, that’s disgusting.
Not much of a foundation for mutual respect.