It's Been a Year

A year ago I told my wife that trying to get our relationship back to normal by taking small steps just wasn't working. We had to dive in fully committed and act like we were a happily married couple, instead of trying the "if you do this, then that will make me happier and maybe I'll do that" approach that had failed so often in the past. She agreed to try it, and we had a pleasant evening together. The next few days were nice, but soon we were back to business as usual. Several weeks later, with no progress made, she said she just couldn't do it, and I said I'd run out of ideas. After almost twenty years of trying to make things work, I simply couldn't think of anything else we could do to get back what we had before we got married. I'd spent the first years of our marriage being oblivious to what was wrong, and the rest surviving on the hope that we could fix things. Without the hope, I couldn't go on.

A lot of things have happened over the past year year. We agreed to separate when the kids left home (e.g. college). Remarkably, we got along much better for a while. The stress was gone and we could just be friends, but it didn't last. I realized that the anti-depressants I was taking were screwing with my ability to get any work done and dropped them, but that made me revisit all my previous decisions. Breaking up had been too easy when I was on meds, the decisions no longer seem real, and I had to be sure. I tried to rebuild the relationship, but again only made things worse. Then in the middle of this, the kids left home unexpectedly (boarding school). Finances, always tight, got substantially tighter. Through it all my wife did what she's always done; ignored my foibles, tried to be a good roommate and parent, and build a secure home for ourselves and the kids. But I just couldn't deal with the situation. With or without the kids at home, I was falling apart.

I'm an emotional person, for all that I don't display it very much. I can't focus on work when my personal life is a mess, and I discovered that I couldn't live with someone I (still) loved when she just wanted to be a housemate. I went through some pretty heavy depression. I even fled to the other end of the country for a week to stay with a Twitter friend whom I'd never met in person—just so I could get away and get hold of myself. She was a true angel. She gave me a couch to crash on, a café to hang out in, time to think, and it all helped… some.

I made it through the winter holidays, just barely. I kept wanting to do something to restart the relationship, but all I got was silence. Miraculously my mother didn't even say anything negative when she discovered I'd gone through a bottle of brandy during our stay at my parents' house; she knew what was going on and she gave me space. Vacation ended, the kids went back to school, and I had to make a decision. I wasn't functioning when I lived at home. Could I function if I moved out? And how could I afford to find out? There was no logical reason that I couldn't pull things together at home. My wife was happy to stay out of my way, it ought to work just the same. Going somewhere else would just cause complications and be more expensive. But I had completely lost my self-confidence, and I needed to prove to myself that I could stand alone. When a friend offered me a free room for a month, so I could find out if this was really going to make a difference, the choice was clear.

Except that it was the hardest decision I have ever made. I could never have done it I hadn't had that week with my friend, and even so I almost didn't do it at all. But the harder it became, the more I realized I had to do it. Because it shouldn't be that hard. Moving a couple towns over to stay with a friend for a month is not a big deal. But it felt like a big deal. I've started several companies, both on my own and with others. I've flown around the world giving lectures to strangers. But I'd become so dependent, and so lost, that I didn't even think I could handle something simple like living outside of my own house. More and more it became clear that choosing a path was simple—all I had to do was look at my choices and pick the one that scared me the most.

I am not going to spend a huge amount of time on this subject. There is far more history than I want to go over here. I've skipped half a dozen ups and downs just in the past year, never mind the details of the past twenty. I could talk about ersonal histories, cultural issues, visits to therapists and a thousand other things. I could detail how we lost touch with all our friends, stopped having people over and stopped going out. I could talk about the stress of a house fire, and what that did to our relationship. I could even dig through my outbox and bring out a dozen years of long conversations with friends who patiently listened and made suggestions. I've examined those things, covered those topics, a hundred times. I put this all out here only because it's part of who I am right now, and if you want to know who I am (for whatever reason), then you need to understand that. Obviously, writing this down is my own form of catharsis, but my goal is to move forward with my life. If I talk about my issues here in the future, they'll largely be the ones I'm facing moving forwards. I've done more than enough self-examination and spent far too much time kicking myself for things done wrong; continuing that self-flagellation is not going to be productive.  So I'll just finish with a few comments.

  • I'd do it all over again, knowing where it would end, just so I could have the amazing children I have. I am so proud of them. The hardest thing facing me in the next few weeks is telling them what's happened and worrying about how it's going to screw up their lives.
  • I am immensely proud of the other things my wife and I accomplished over the years. The same yin-yang characteristics that caused us so much pain also enabled us to greatly exceed anything we could have done alone. She's an amazing person, and I admire and am supremely jealous of her skills. She has made me a much better person in many, many ways, but in the end we were caught up in a self-destructive spiral from which we both need time to heal. I haven't gone into her pain here, or all the things I did to make life miserable for her. Trust me, they exist, and I will always regret them. You can be there for someone; be faithful, be honest, try your best, and yet still fail them.
  • I still love her. That's who I am. I still feel love for all the people I've shared my life with, and I shared my life with her for more than twenty years. But I can't heal myself if I continue to think about how to get together again. My focus must be on becoming a whole person, and I can't do that and long for the past at the same time. I left issues unresolved when I married her, because I didn't (I thought) have to resolve them any more. Now I need to address the things I postponed.
  • I want just one thing for my relationship with my wife. I want to build a relationship where we respect and trust each other, so that we can continue to be the parents and friends our children need, even as we move forward with our own separate lives. That goal exists not just because I want it, but because we must do it for our children. It pains me horribly that the only way to accomplish this is for us to separate before our children are on our own. I always swore that would never, ever happen to us. I was absolutely certain that nothing could happen that would make we want to separate before the kids were grown. I was wrong.

Welcome to me.