I cried. I cried while she was there with me. I cried after she left. And I am crying as I write this. I am crying in spite of the fact that I still believe that I made the right decision.
For good or ill, I changed my life last night. After a tense session with a marriage counselor, I told my wife that I was not happy with our marriage. I told her that I no longer felt any passion for her. She knew before I finished that I wanted out.
We've been married for nearly three years and together for over 13. We've survived tough times and finally attained success professionally and financially. She's been my most ardent supporter, my lover and my best friend. But over the last few years, she's changed.
At some point she began to use the same hard-line attitude and contemptuous tone with me that she reserved for underlings who irritated her. This hurt. My wife's sweet disposition and generous heart made me fall in love with her in the first place.
I talked to her about this change in her personality on several occasions. Each time, she promised to stop letting her work affect our relationship. Each time, the behavior returned. I was no longer married to the person I fell in love with. I began to fall out of love with my wife.
And that is what led me to the most difficult discussion of my life. She cried in a way I will never forget. Every sob and every sound she made evinced the pain and sorrow I had inflicted upon her. She touched my face, stroked my hair and kissed my neck. Each caress lingering as if she were desperately trying to hold on to our life, our memories -- to us. She told she loved me more than anything and always would. And then she kissed me goodbye.
I looked in the mirror this morning and was none too enamored of the person I saw. How could I cause her such pain and still be good? How could the right decision hurt so much? These are the questions I am struggling with. Regardless of the answers, I had better find a way to like myself again. I am alone now and am all I have.
Fear and second chances
I'm giving my marriage a second try, and I'm scared beyond fear.
Actually, the number of times I've attempted to salvage my marriage has grown so numerous, I've literally lost count. That's been the pattern since my wife and I married little more than seven years ago. Survive and move on. Survive and move on.
Nothing about our marriage has been "normal," right up to her cheating on me last week. The details are ugly and unnecessary: Day-care provider's husband. Basement. Party. Day-care provider finds them together. Calls me screaming, yelling, crying, heartbroken, devastated, defeated. Things I've felt many times before.
Was I surprised at what happened? Not really. Our marriage has been spiraling downward for so long, I expected something devastating just around the corner, waiting to explode. Did the expectation make the pain any less? Hell, no. I never knew I could hurt like this. I didn't know it was possible to feel pain so intensely. And I never knew pain could last so long.
Throw kids into the picture and the scene becomes too ugly to look at. Throw family into the picture and your sides are drawn. Throw love into the picture and the most difficult decisions you could ever imagine become omnipresent. Give over your trust again or run and protect yourself? I pity any man or woman who ever has to make that decision.
So why try again? My wife is an alcoholic. It rules her life. It changes her personality. It distorts her decision-making abilities.
Why try again? My wife was mentally and physically abused and abandoned as a child. It has ruled her life. It has changed her personality. It has distorted her decision-making abilities.
Why try again? My wife has reached the bottom. There is nowhere lower to go. There is no comfort now in the booze. She stands to lose everything and she knows it. Children. Job. Me.
Why try again? I've seen her sweet side. I've seen nurture. I've seen her potential. I've seen her free of her past, even if just for very short periods of time. And I love those moments. There's a bond between us that I can't explain. It's beyond us. It's a gift from somewhere. I can't take that lightly.
She's left me completely empty. Tapped out and dry. Devoid of self-confidence or self-respect. She's left me unbearably lonely and without solace. And yet, that "something" pushes me on, fueling me to take the next step.
I'm giving my marriage another try, and I'm so scared it physically hurts, because I don't know if all the AA and counseling and therapy and hope and faith and trust and compassion in the world can undo what's been done. And I don't know if all the promises and sincerity and prayers in the universe can erase the horrific images inside my head. But I know that if I can survive, the many years to come can be opportunities for us to show our children that love is the strongest entity you can ever hope to grab hold of and let take you for a ride. I've felt it. I know it exists. I can't imagine anyone but her can give it to me. I hope I'm right.
Things to talk about
I was her third husband. She said that husband No. 1 was nearly as old as her father. Married at 19, divorced at 20, she graduated college and went to one of the best graduate schools in her field. She met husband No. 2, a little ahead of her in the program, married and finished her exams in time to go with him to his tenure-track position. Professor husband was "too anxious" and after an attempt at counseling, she decided at 28 that she couldn't live with him anymore because of his anxieties.
She had a transitional relationship and then met me, and before too long, we were talking about children and settling down. In all that time, she said that she had never had an affair. She believed in fidelity, talked bad about her father for cheating repeatedly on her mother. We got married on the seashore in Northern California and the people who were there tell me that they talked about how fun it was for years after.
A year after we married, she revealed that she had had affairs when she was married previously. This was big to me. I remember telling my friends about her and hearing a questioning tone in their voices after I told them she had been married twice before. But I was always reassured by the fact that she had never messed around. I would never have gone out with her if I had known.
After talking about it, and getting her tearful assurances of commitment and fidelity, I forgave her lies and forgot about them -- literally. After I found out that she was cheating on me, it took several sessions with a therapist before I remembered she ever told me anything.
When I found out about her affair, I tried to tough it out, tried to ignore it. But after two sleepless nights I told her that I knew.
"I guess we have some things to talk about," she said coolly.
If you had asked me two years ago, I would have said we were best friends. We had purchased and restored two houses, we were on the cusp of selling the second and being in the position we had always talked about and planned for: not having to work full-time so we could spend more time with our children, now 7 and 4.
But this "best friend" of mine responded with the most bewildering assortment of denials: "I was having an affair so I could stay married." "Children thrive when their parents thrive." "It's my heart and my body, and I can give them to whoever I like." "I'm polyamorous."
After a couple of months of reading relationship books and trying to deal with the situation, it came down to this: She said that she couldn't feel intimate with me because I was angry. I thought about it and said I was angry -- because she was screwing other men.
I asked her to enter couples counseling, and to stop seeing other men. She wouldn't. I told her I wanted a divorce. A month after separating, I approached her to get back together. "I could never go back," she said. She had hooked up with the guy with whom she is now living (she dumped the guy she was having the affair with).
They say that hate is not the opposite of love, indifference is. I'm there. Aside from the fact that she's the mother of my two wonderful children, I don't want to know anything else about her life. What she thinks, what she says, what she does is none of my business or concern. This is the person I used to call at least once each day to tell her I loved her. When I left her, to go to the store, work, anything, I always told her I loved her. If anything happened to me while I was gone, I wanted the last words she heard me say to be "I love you." I wanted to be a good husband. And I was.
My parents were married for 50 years before my father died. I went to visit him at the hospital after he had one of his last strokes. My father cried when he realized that he couldn't go get my mother a birthday card. My father's face, one side grimacing with sadness, the other slack from the stroke, tears on his cheek that he couldn't feel, is something I will always remember. I slipped out and got a card, guided his stricken hand while he signed it.
That is the love that I tried to bring to my marriage. That is the love that I would have written about two years ago.
I'm an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In other words, I'm a Mormon. I met Patty when I was 21, six months after my missionary service -- a two-year stint during which dating or being alone with the opposite sex was forbidden. I was a virgin. I had never smoked or drank alcohol in my life.
Patty and I were college students working part-time at a Sears call center. I'll never forget the first time I saw her over the half-wall that separated us. Gorgeous black hair draped about her supermodel face. Then I noticed her otherwise lean body had a pronounced, but relatively small, bulge at the abdomen.
The lilting violin music in my head screeched to a halt. "Whoa!" I thought. "Move along -- this woman is obviously spoken for in more ways than one."
Christmas was a few days away, and I didn't see Patty again for about two weeks. When I did, the bulge was gone. During a chat in the break room, she told me she'd delivered a baby boy at full term and had given him up for adoption. Her holidays had been heart-wrenching.
Patty and the baby's father were no longer together. She lamented that her chances of meeting a decent guy now were nonexistent, thanks to the stigma of her ordeal.
To be honest, her situation -- and her lack of commitment to her LDS faith -- didn't exactly square with my expectations either. But as Patty left that day, I motioned to her to come back. I asked her to dinner. Her face lit up like I'd never seen. My intent was simply to be a friend.
After picking her up, we talked a lot, ate at a great little Mexican restaurant, talked more, and drove through suburbia, admiring the colorful glow of Christmas lights against the snow.
The next day I couldn't get Patty off my mind. My feelings were beginning to change. It was rare to meet a woman who was drop-dead gorgeous, levelheaded, kind and humble -- yet also vivacious and zany.
From then on we saw each other almost daily -- whether it was to study, hike in the mountains, or just lie on the grass and point out images in the clouds.
But another shock came two months later. Elections weren't far off. I asked Patty whom she planned to vote for.
"I can't vote," she said.
She had to be joking. Was she an ex-convict? An illegal alien?
"I'm not 18 yet."
Holy shnikeys! How could this be happening? She was a college student, wasn't she? It turned out that Patty's 17th birthday was a month away. Her college classes were for dual credit at both high school and college.
My blood coagulated and my head buzzed. Why hadn't I asked how old she was a long time ago? It was absurd that, after three months, I didn't know such a simple fact.
All I knew was that I didn't want to lose Patty. She was the best friend I'd ever had. I realized she was exactly what I wanted in a wife.
Sure, her age troubled me. But her pregnancy had forced her to deal with decisions and issues of such magnitude that she was light years ahead of her peers. Patty's poise, strength and faith during her lonely ordeal rivaled what I've seen from people twice her age.
A year and a half later, Patty and I were blissfully married in a sacred ceremony in an LDS temple. Today we adore each other more than ever. At 31, I've been happily married for eight years and have three damn cute boys.
Yeah, life rarely turns out as you expect -- and I am so glad.
-- Shawn Hammond
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We want to make you a part of this series. What is the state of your union? Did you find the one and never look back, or has finding lasting love been a marathon of trial and error? Did you have a fairy-tale wedding only to watch things crumble once the reception was over, or have you glided along in marital bliss since Day One? We want to hear your stories of joy, romance, heartbreak and pain. After all, partnership, as we all know, is a complex concoction of all of those things. (Please remember: Any writing submitted becomes the property of Salon if we publish it. We reserve the right to edit submissions, and cannot reply to every writer. Interested contributors should send their stories to firstname.lastname@example.org.)