Marriage can be heaven, or hell!

If only I was not me.

I should have learned to stay away from women outside of my marriages.  It’s not that I run around on my wife, but rather that while I am not sexually faithful to only one person she and I agreed to live together as husband and wife, with a specific agreement to provide her with some comfort that I would be sensitive to her feelings and not cause her to be confronted with my relationships.  We agreed that I would be discrete, stay away from anyone in our circle of friends, and not inflict disease or another child with a lover on our marriage. I was also to keep the details of my “affairs” to myself. She didn’t want to hear about them. 

It might sound unusual, and maybe it is, but it was a natural outcome of our situation, and how we became a couple in the first place.  She had been one of my lovers during my first marriage, who had become pregnant with our son.  The pregnancy had led to an ongoing relationship as friends and parents, as well as sometime lovers,  which meant that when my previous marriage ended, we were still involved with each other even if mostly as the parents of a small child. 

During my first marriage, my former wife and I had an explicitly open marriage.  It’s not very good training to being a successful husband. 

 
I don’t know for sure, but I think that a lot of marriages become virtually sexless after a long period of time together. Whether that’s true or not it may or may not reflect an underlying problem in the relationship. My marriage has been sexless for more than a decade and was pretty much very low sex from almost the beginning. My marriage is not typical, I’m sure, but the reasons for not having sex with your partner can be highly unique to the two of you.

The only real problem is not the lack of sex, it’s more likely the lack of real communication and trust between you, on this subject, if not on any other number of subjects, including this one.

My partner and I still live together in the same home, but the marriage (as a sexual relationship, that is) is largely over, although we live together.  We have five kids between us and more than 40 years of being involved with each other.
 
My previous marriage was already in trouble when I met and became involved with my wife. In the beginning, things were okay with us, and after my first marriage broke up we moved in together and ended up married after another child was born.
 
We both came into the marriage with unrealistic expectations. After explicitly agreeing to an “open” arrangement with me, she actually thought that I would change completely and become a different person and not have intimate relationships outside of our marriage. I thought that she would be as good as her word, and be willing to be open as long as I didn’t cause her to be embarrassed, or bring home any diseases.
 
We were both living a fantasy, with serious long-term consequences. I went along my merry way, living pretty much as I did during my previous “open” marriage, and she went on living in a belief that I had changed my behavior, despite our agreements to the contrary. Part of the deal we made at the beginning when we got married, was that would keep my external relationships to myself, and not expose her to the embarrassment of having to deal with them on an ongoing basis.

Well, that didn’t work out so well. She ended up feeling completely betrayed sexually and emotionally, which she more or less kept to herself for more than 30 years. She also withdrew emotionally more and more over the years, until it got to the point where sex would have been totally pointless since we no longer even shared emotional intimacy.

She, on the other hand, assumed that I was lying all along. In other words not telling her that I was faithful, when in fact I was not. I assumed that she was well aware of my other friends when she actually hoped that they didn’t exist, but she was always angry that they probably did.

She, however, wouldn’t now feel as though she has been living a lie for all this time, and so angry that it’s impossible for her to get over it.

The weird thing is that I really can’t imagine my life without her in it, and don’t want to.  But it’s far too late in my life to change who and what I am, or what I have always believed.  Same is true for her.  What can we do?

It has occurred to me many times that it would have been a lot better off if I were not me.  Or at least, made a life with someone who shared my desire for multiple partners rather than someone who really feels that I ruined her life.

Calgary Born

My family moved quite a bit before I was born, and up until I was in grade nine. As evidence, I have to tell you that I was born in Calgary, in 1953, the fourth born of six kids.  The first was born in 1947 or 48, in Langley, BC, where my mom was teaching school in her first teaching job.  Unfortunately, he died early, at about one year old, from some infectious disease that pretty much drove my parents away from BC, back to Saskatchewan, where my mom had originated.

When you’re really young, newly married, and really bad stuff happens, I guess going back home to be near family is pretty normal.  Mom and Dad both got work in Saskatchewan, and so my two eldest living siblings were born there – in Swift Current, Saskatchewan, where Judith was born in 1951 and Elaine in 1950.   By the time I was born my parents had moved to Calgary, closer to my father’s family and relatives.

In 1953 Dad was working as a salesman for an Oil Company Supplier, on the road five days a week, more or less.  My very earliest memories are of sitting on my father’s shoulders watching the Calgary Stampede parade, with my sisters sitting on the roadside curb.  What sticks out in my mind today about those memories is that I was pretty excited to see the parade and that my dad got me a cowboy hat.   That’s pretty much it for my memories of Calgary, even though we stuck around long enough for my youngest sister, Katherine, to come along in 1956.  In the year follower her birth, my dad got a job in Powell River, at the Powell River Paper Plant and Mill.  My younger brother Douglas was born in Powell River in 1957.

My mom started teaching again in Powell River, temporarily as a substitute and part-time teacher.  In order for her to get full-time work, she needed to move to a larger school district, Vancouver, BC where she then worked for most of the next 30 years as a secondary school teacher.  She had a temporary position at UBC as an Associate Professor during the late 1960’s while she obtained her Master’s Degree in Arts, in Sociology.  In 1971 she turned full time to the Vancouver School Board, just before I entered UBC myself as an undergraduate student.

So in about 1958, with a new baby in tow, we moved to Richmond, BC.  Mom had her new job as a teacher with the Vancouver School Board, and Dad moved to a new job in sales with a company called Plant Maintenance Equipment, located in Kitsilano in Vancouver, BC as well.

Although I don’t really have too many memories of Powell River, where Douglas was born, I do vaguely remember taking swimming lessons at the beach and earning a Certificate for completing the course.  It was the summer I turned five, and my mom was kept pretty busy chasing after five small children and living in a tiny cottage.  I still remember vividly the old Rambler Stationwagon my dad drove the year we moved and sitting around in the living room waiting for my parents to return from Vancouver, where they had gone looking for a new house.

We were all so excited to move to our new home.  When I first saw it, I was astonished that we would be living in a brand new house with a private yard.  It seemed wonderful, and it even had its own private ditch in front of the house.

Across the street was still in the process of being developed, and there was mostly vacant land between Francis Road and the Vancouver International Airport that we could see out our front winder, even though it was miles away.  The most impressive thing, however, for me, was a giant pile of dirt in the lot directly across the street.  It’s hard to imagine now that we all got so excited moving again, but clearly, we were pretty good at it by then, and we all looked forward to the new rather backward at the past.

As a family we would only move once more, and that was to a home in North Vancouver, where I stayed until leaving to attend UBC, and my parents stayed until my Dad passed away, and Mom moved on to an apartment, leaving the old house to my wife and me, with our raft of kids.

I am who I am, and that sucks for us both.

affection close up elegant flower

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.

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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.

2016-05-15 13.27.40Our 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.

Front Door

There’s no place like home?

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.

01-Ways-to-Help-a-Friend-Dealing-With-Divorce-Nicole-fornabaio-rd.com_-760x506However, 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.

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Rain Coast