I am living Happily Ever After.
And getting divorced.
People keep insisting to me that “divorce is hard.” So far, (we’ve been separated but living together since Jan, and living separately since the beginning of May), in my experience divorce is a hell of a lot easier than being unhappily married.
He depletes me. He was never on my team. His goal for my life is the opposite of my goal for my life. He is the opposite of my cheerleader, the opposite of my biggest fan. Oh, the time and energy I wasted trying to be “good enough” so that he would just leave me alone and allow me to do what I was put here on this planet to do — write & mother. And just be me, authentically. The battle (our marriage) has been exhausting, demoralizing and humiliating.
Some people have 50 years of marriage; we lived the same year of marriage 10 times. And it was a shitty year. The first year was eventful, the last 1o were consumed with the exact same two power plays: stop drinking, get a job.
MY PURPOSE: MOTHERING & WRITING.
He wants me to quit writing, he wants me to quit my profession, he wants me to stop staying at home with my children, stop working from home. It’s all he’s wanted since we first had a baby and I didn’t go back to work.
Sure, we agreed that “if we could afford it” then I would stay home with the kids until they were five and went off to Kindergarden, while I freelanced on the side. “If we could afford it,” is a loaded phrase that we should have explored further. To him, we still can not afford it, though we are solidly in the middle class and make more money than the majority of the world. We’re no Trumps, but you know, we drive two cars, have DirectTV and carry iPhones, own two pieces of real estate, our fridge isn’t empty, and we have never once been so poor that we could not afford beer (medical care, yes, but not beer). It’s completely manageable. His income increases, but he never lays off me to GET A JOB! Oh lord how I have loathed the words, get a job! How painful those three words have been to me. How invalidating and harsh, disrespectful and insensitive.
On the opposite spectrum, I was raised Mormon, and Mormons make serious sacrifices so moms can stay home with their kids. Sacrifices I was more than willing to make, like cutting back on dinners out, buying used furniture and clothes, even giving used gifts to our kids for Christmas and birthdays, staying on a budget, foregoing medical care to save on co-pays. Not only did I have a lot of cultural and familial pressure to be home with my young children — I genuinely wanted to. I thought it was best for them, but more than that, I wanted the experience of it. I knew it would only happen once and I knew it would be like a blink in the scope of my whole life and I wanted to be present for my mothering experience. Mothering my children has been a great experience, tarnished only by having an asshole screaming at me about my worthlessness as a human, and as a wife, for insisting on the luxury of working from home and not making enough money, not “trying hard enough.” (As I collapse into bed exhausted from doing all the childcare, all the home maintenance and trying to make as much money as I can with my freelance business. Not trying hard enough. Talk about feeling unappreciated.)
For years I had Post-It notes on my dream board, my bathroom mirror, and my vanity mirror, that said in big black Sharpie letters: MAKE MONEY. What wasn’t written there, but what was in bold on my heart was or he won’t love you.
A few years into our battle I understood that it wasn’t about the money. We kept having more and it never eased the painful struggle between us. I really did start to make money as a freelancer, mainly because we no longer lived in a shit-hole town (where we stayed for his career) with absolutely zero opportunity for me. My youngest kid went back to school this year so I was able to focus more on my business. Still it was not okay with him that I work from home as a freelancer. I showed him the math, what we would spend on childcare if I got a fulltime job, versus what I am making as a freelance writer. No pleasing him. Get a job! For a couple of months last year, if you added what it would cost for before and after school care, as well as care for school breaks like spring, Christmas and summer, then I actually brought home MORE than him. But, he didn’t want to do the math by adding childcare savings to my income. What I know is true is that he could make $200,000 and it would not be “enough.” It’s a thinking problem, not a money problem. Me getting a job isn’t going to fix his thinking problem. I never have figured out what his decade-long obsession to make me go back to work is really about, but I suppose it doesn’t matter now.
Here’s a 21st Century feminist issue — what’s the difference between a husband forcing his wife not to work, and a husband forcing his wife to work and dictate her profession? None that I can see. I know I’m not the only wife who has fought this battle on the homefront. I have lots of friends who would die to stay home with their kids, but they don’t, and it’s always because their husband wants the cash money they bring in.
YOU’RE A FAILURE!
Many, many times I have tried to clean out my ears, to unhear things he has said to me (mostly so I could pretend that I didn’t marry such a dick):
I’ve tried everything to make you do what I want you to do, but you’re going to do what you want to do, so what’s the point [of this marriage]?
By “tried everything” he means withholding love, affection, attention, and approval. By “tried everything,” he means refusing to celebrate my wins like finishing a manuscript or publishing a book or getting a blogging job. By “tried everything” he means refusing to discuss my work, because that might encourage me to keep at it. By “tried everything” he means withholding all funds that might actually give me a shot at success through professional development or marketing. By “tried everything” he means a whole whopping lot of actual sabotage.
The man did not speak or look at me for two entire months after Zack was born because I did not hop up immediately after birth and get a job! Instead I started The Girl Revolution (which saved my life by giving me a sense of purpose, kept me writing, gave me social media experience that kept my skills up-to-date and makes me more marketable), over which, he moved out of the house for a few months, because he did. not. want. me. to. be. a. writer.
He punished me by witholding and the silent treatment. When I expressed to him how painful his silent violence was to me, he knew he had found my most painful button, and persisted to employ it over every. tiny. little. thing. Not once did he just have a fucking adult conversation when he was upset. Every time, silent dark oily angry sullen punishing silence. For days. For weeks. For months. For 12 years of what he sees as my deadbeat unemployment, failed attempts at business and lazy motherhood.
I think you can be successful at a lot of things. But, you’re never going to be successful as a writer!
Wow. This from a man, who in the first year of our marriage, got very angry because I said that he was not on track to be President of the United States. You’re supposed to support me no matter what, he said.
Is his response to every ambition, every goal, every opinion, every dream, every hope I’ve had, every optimistic viewpoint, every single twinge of faith, and every spiritual stirring in my soul I have expressed in his presence, has been met with a dismissive “That’s ridiculous” and a disgusted roll of his eyes.
After a while I realized he wanted me to fail. Hurry, before it’s too late. Fail faster, so you can give up sooner! Only then can I love you.
You think you’re so special!
It was especially painful that he never pushed me, or encouraged me, to get a great, ambitious job. He was thrilled when I was reduced to working at Sears Portrait Studio, or taking shit from an East Texas socialite bitch as a photographer’s assistant. He was over-the-moon when I worked at a newspaper that kept me away from home, away from my toddler, several nights a week until 11 pm – a job that made me literally suicidal and paid total shit. He didn’t give a shit that it made me miserable, only that it brought home a steady paycheck.
My girlfriend says I got the worst out of his evangelical background. He lost the provider mentality (isn’t that also supposed to be in his DNA?), but he kept the ‘You should do what I say,’ part. Some things are deeply ingrained I guess.
Here’s the thing . . . I don’t need everyone to love me, the whole world doesn’t have to believe in me, the entire planet does not have to agree that I can be a successful working writer. There’s a woman down the street who believes I’m an evil monster who screams at children for kicks, and this she tells the whole neighborhood. Whatever. What you think of me is none of my business.
But, the person who spends my life with me has to be on my team. The person who I share a house with, who I have sex with, who I share psychic space with, who I tell my stuff to, who I spend the holidays with, who I pass the hours and moments of this earthly experience with, who logs birthdays with me, watches me age gracefully and ideally grows spiritually with me — HE has to want me to win. HE can’t be in agreement with the bitch down the street about my sucktasticness. HE has to encourage me when I feel like giving up. HE has to be able to genuinely celebrate my wins, even if they aren’t magnificently newsworthy (and I did make the New York Fucking Times, and even this he would not acknowledge for fear of encouraging me). My man has to push me toward my ambitions, not yank me away from them.
He has to respect my role as a mother. He has to respect my right to mother my children the way I want to mother them. He has to appreciate the hours and minutes and seconds, the intense amounts of emotional energy, that I spend on them, to give them better lives and make them better humans. He has to believe that mothering is a more valid and worthy calling, for a the minuscule time period that amounts to five minutes of our whole fucking lives, than a stupid job that isn’t even economically beneficial.
My mate, my significant other, my lover must believe that I am a successful working writer, because there is not even a tiny little piece of me that does not believe this. I am writing a New York Times and Amazon best seller. He calls this ”a delusion in my alternate reality.” Except my “delusion” is going to bare fruit, because I get up every day and dedicate myself to it and I. Keep. Moving. Toward. It. No. Matter. What. Reality is what you make it, and my alternate reality is better than his mediocre settling-for-less-than-my-full-potential plan for me.
MARRIAGE AS NEGOTIATION
I made mistakes. The biggest of which was starting our marriage with a negotiation right in the marriage proposal. “I want to marry you, IF you . . . ” At that time it was about controlling my religious beliefs, and this battle continued throughout the marriage. Start as you mean to go on. The rest of our marriage continued to be a negotiation. Never about him. Always about me. Always about how I spend my day, what kind of mothering experience I get to have, where I should work, what my profession should be, what my religion should be. The entire 12 fucking years with him, I spent resisting him to hold onto my autonomy. While my autonomy is a worthy effort, it was exhausting and depleted precious energy I could have spent actually achieving my goals.
My idea of marriage was that he choose where he wanted to go and I stand beside him cheering him on, encouraging him, dreaming bigger dreams for him than he could, and giving him nudges and pushes when he stalled out. And I expected him to do the same for me. This worked out great for him, I turned a college-educated waiter into a middle manager on his way up in a Fortune 500 company and his job makes him happy and fulfilled. Every time he was ready for a new challenge and became unhappy with his work situation, I pushed him to believe he could get something better. And he did. I encouraged him.
His idea of marriage was that WE (he) decide what I am going to do with my life and if I don’t agree to hand over my autonomy then he punishes me with the silent treatment and hideously ugly dark angry energy for a decade until I give up or get out. He discouraged me.
No matter how hard I tried I could not find the love in this.
Oh, marriages are more complex than this of course. I wanted to change him in a million ways too. For instance, I didn’t want a husband who was drunk every single fucking day. Or one who thought he was magical and wouldn’t get caught, or hurt anyone (including me and my kids), drinking and driving (and he hasn’t yet). Silly, I know. Yes, yes, I’ve been told that I cannot control his behavior, by every fucking therapist (there have been at least 6 or 7 marriage counselors, all of which were not the least bit helpful) we’ve seen, and that I should just live my own life and “make myself happy.” We can’t expect husbands to make their wives happy now, what would the world look like then? No one can control my own happiness. It’s my job, right? Why don’t I just work on me, the only person I can control, then he’ll have to adjust to my changes (yeah, he’ll resent them and act out). To do otherwise is “codependence.” I mean, hell if Elie Wiesel can find happiness in Auschwitz then what the fuck is my problem? I’m only married to a totally checked-out, completely functioning alcoholic. Quit your whining, Tracee.
There were other things too . . . I hated that when he came home he hid behind his computer, watching sports, eating chicken wings and drinking beer. He didn’t have two words to say to us every night. I hated that he wouldn’t have family dinner with us, this too was ridiculous. I also wanted him to take evening walks with me, accompany me and the kids to the park and go to dollar movies with us. I went to bed alone every single night for 12 years. Just daily monotonous stuff that fills up a family life and creates bonds. We didn’t operate as a family, thus now that he is gone, there is no hole to fill, the hole where you might stick a husband and a dad in an idealistic “family life,” has been empty for so long that the kids and I had already filled it up with our own love (and sadness).
We don’t have to do everything together! he would bark as if me having the audacity to ask him to watch one single sitcom with me on the couch (without his computer) was a magnificent undertaking that he simply should not have to accommodate. He rejected the majority my social invitations, preferring me to consent to his, always on his time table.
We don’t do anything together, I would think. We don’t sleep together, we don’t eat together (he stopped eating the family meal years ago, preferring late evening buffets of chicken wings and beer, and generally “fell asleep” on the couch after staying up late to drink), we don’t do the same things, and when you take me on a date all you do is get drunk and talk about chicken (chicken marketer).
He did not even stay the night when we bought our first house. We had worked so hard for it and I had spent a thousand hours fantasizing about celebrating in our new house, and he went drinking with his buddies instead. I begged him to stay. But, he walked out without remorse, leaving me in a boxed up, totally unpacked house with our small children. He said he didn’t understand why this might be a shitty thing to do, or why it would hurt my feelings. He acted as if I was a demanding bitch for even suggesting that he stay with us. “I didn’t do anything wrong, I have nothing to apologize for,” he told the therapist. Back then, my soul was still willing to be crushed by such a refusal to participate in our own marriage, our own family. Not too long after that I put started assembling bricks around my own heart so that he wouldn’t have the power to hurt me anymore.
APATHY or ASPERGERS or MALE?
There is nothing in the world more repugnant to him than my feelings. Well, anyone’s feelings really. Oh the eye rolling, scoffing and ridiculousing that went on if I said something like, “When you roll your eyes at me, and scoff and call me ‘ridiculous’ every time I open my mouth, you really make me feel invalidated and it hurts my feelings.” You could visibly see him want to blow his brains out.
When our daughter expresses feeling like her dad doesn’t love her because he isn’t affectionate with her, just barks orders at her without mitigating it with actual affection and love, he writes it off as ridiculous. She’s too terrified of punishment to tell him how she feels. Feelings are punishable in his world. I’m ridiculous for insisting that this is a huge red flag and if he doesn’t wake up and invest in his relationship with her, there will be real consequences in her own relationships. “I’ve heard that song before,” he dismisses.
When I insisted he must see his mother when he is in Texas because it’s Mother’s Day, he acts like this is a big nuisance, and if she gets her feelings hurt by his insensitivity, “that’s her issue.” It’s a big favor to both of us if he makes time for lunch with her, in the middle of his very busy business trip. After all, everyone is responsible for their own feelings (which I do believe is true, but there are consequences to not caring how you contribute to other people’s feelings as well – like divorce and your daughter feeling unloved). There was serious foreshadowing of his Apathy bordering on Aspergers when, after 9/11 I lay on the bed sobbing and he asked, “Why are you crying?,” completely baffled. Oh, I don’t know, I just saw 5,000 people die in an act of terrorism that is about to change the whole fucking world. ‘Why AREN’T you crying?’ might be the better question. But I was already 8 months pregnant by then. Not in a position to do anything about red flags.
Better or Worse
In good times and in bad, go the marriage vows; for better or worse. At our 10th anniversary I wondered when we might finally see a “good time” or a “better.” I asked my self a serious question, “Do I really want to do this for another 10 years? Or 50?” The honest answer is “NO, I don’t.”
When my daughter started advising me to get a divorce, because I’m married to a man who has no feelings, that’s when every little ounce of my divorce conflict (and I was conflicted about it “for the children” for many years) was resolved.
Aside from that first year in New York City, which was full of fun and adventure, well, we’d had a pretty rough go at it: witnessing 9/11, having a traumatic birth experience, followed by post-partum depression, followed by the economic collapse of the magazine I was supposed to freelance for, followed by moving to the Butthole of the Universe (otherwise known as East Texas), followed by bankruptcy, followed by my Xanex addiction and recovery, followed by Dave Ramsey’s plan to suck joy out of all things, followed by my husband’s disasterous rebellion against Dave Ramsey, followed by endless unbudgeted cases of beer . . . isn’t that enough? Maybe no one recovers from a hurricane of shit raining down on a marriage two seconds after the honeymoon. Surely not us, who had known each other for like a whole year before there was an epic shift on a global scale, with the aftershocks making tears, waves, and tectonic gaps in our economic and emotional lives.
WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN?
As near as I can tell my kids are benefitting from the divorce in a lot of ways. This man was sitting behind a television and a computer every single night, refusing to participate in our family life. Sure, he’d gather us together for a day-trip or a long weekend every now and then, but family lives are made up of the minutia of everydaylife. Dinner, television, walks, bike rides, dollar movies, trips to the grocery store, bedtime reading and rituals, hanging out at the library.
Suddenly, he’s in front of a judge, insisting that he loves his kids and that they should spend as much time as possible with him. Now, out-of-nowhere, he’s interested in what they do on a Tuesday night and he must spend it with them. Suddenly his involvement is vital, crucial to our children. Or so he and the State of Colorado believe. I mean, goodness there was an entire hour in the parenting class on the value of fathers (not even an entire minute was wasted on the value of mothers). So, he got a bunch of parenting-time. And guess what? He’s showing up. He’s taking them places. He’s hanging out with them. He’s at least 50 times more involved in their lives now than when he was living in this house. That’s valuable, but it’s probably not as valuable as he and the State of Colorado thinks it is.
I’m trying to look at this as a well-earned break, instead of the unfairness of my kids having to leave their home, their friends (this is a way big deal), their structure and routine to spend half the week with dad one-on-one. It’s excessive. I have to split my time with the neighborhood friends; he gets uninterrupted Fun Dad time. That doesn’t feel fair to me or the kids. My daughter in particular feels cheated by this turn of events.
But, also for the first time in 10.5 years I have time to myself. I get a break. I get to think about what kinds of things I would like to do (house swapping within 12 months!). All the sudden I have a real co-parent. And he’s being a good dad. That’s the only obligation he has to me now. Be a good dad. He could really benefit from being more emotionally connected and affectionate with our daughter though; I can attest that physical presence (and barking orders) without emotional intimacy and affection is painful and unrewarding and will carry consequences of its own in their relationship and in her future relationships.
For me, marriage to this person, has not been a fun or a powerful experience. I’ve hated being married to him most of the time. It’s been emotionally damaging, energy draining, self-esteem sucking and disempowering
Telling you about it is embarrassing, how could I allow someone to treat me like this for so long? How could I tolerate such unloving behavior and disrespect? Well, like most people, I tried really, really hard to make my marriage work. I attempted to change things between us a million times (ie. the many therapists). We did the stupid Love Dare. I always wanted to believe there were better times around the corner, the drinking would stop, he’d suddenly figure out how to manage our completely manageable income (or let me do it), the next raise would satisfy his obsession with having more money, he’d learn to communicate, he’d develop the “faith of a mustard seed,” he’d see my success and be proud of me. . . I just kept trying that’s all.
I also kept working on me. Making myself happy, pursuing what I wanted to do, achieving my own goals, working on dissolving my own ego, doing personal development work, finding intimacy in other relationships, developing my relationship with God, learning how to become emotionally self-sufficient and be responsible for my own happiness. God knows, he wasn’t going to be the source of that. And it worked. I changed. He didn’t. This only drove a bigger wedge between us.
Divorce is the most powerful choice I can make for myself, for my daughter and for my son. Doing it without a bunch of resentments seems easy; most of the time I’m not walking around in a state of anger. Still, writing this, I can feel tears well up behind my eyes when remembering particularly hurtful events, lumps in my throat form to tell me that maybe I’m not quite over his lack of faith in me, his certainty of my failure, his invalidation of me as a mother, his refusal to get into the game of our marriage, his refusal to play fair. Yet.
But, I will be. See, all that pain is about the marriage, not the divorce. Right now, I’m moving forward in the directions that I choose to go, without wasting all my precious energy pushing against him.
So many millions of times in our marriage when I was hurt and angry I would say to myself, “I want a divorce!” It’s now manifesting. You get what you ask for 100% of the time. The soul wants what the soul wants. No matter how many tricks I tried to stop wanting it, I wanted a divorce.
This post is all about the external, surface “story” of our marriage. The true story is that I chose this. I entered into a spiritual agreement with him, likely before even coming to Earth, and we played it out. I wanted these children (we make really, really good children together). I wanted to learn emotional self-sufficiency and this was the quickest, most efficient way for God to help me learn it. I wanted to learn to be happy within myself. And I have. For the very first time in my life, I don’t need a man to make me feel good or worthy. Sure, a lot of this is probably my change in hormones and the fact that I’ve already accomplished the evolutionary goal of reproduction. But, honestly, I feel absolutely no compulsion to go out and replace my husband. I feel zero desire to partner up. Another lesson I have learned is that who I am and what I do with my life is not negotiable. I am me, love it or leave it. I’m authentically myself, I can’t help it, and I don’t want to change it. I strive for it. I live my life by my emotions. Anyone who gets with me has to dig it. I feel perfectly content to hang out by myself, doing what I want, curious about my own feelings, curious about my own future, curious about where this bright new path is going to lead me. Open to what I know is going to be a very, very powerful incarnation of Tracee Sioux. It’s exciting really. It’s such a relief. And this marriage – and all the pain and disappointment and struggle involved – is what got me here.
“Either leave the situation, change the situation or accept it. All else is madness. ~ Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now
I’m leaving this madness. I learned what I was meant to learn in this marriage. Now, I’m moving on to a new, more powerful experience of being me.