I am exhausted and starting with small steps, the biggest I can manage.
Amazingly, I am still looking for perspective. I hope that mine will be one of those rare success stories in this place.
It’s been a ride. 100 days now and never a dull moment. So, the salient points:
We have been married 12 years. We have 4 beautiful girls, ages 10 to 2. We are good parents and good people. The day-to-day has always been challenging, but I always took comfort in the assumption that no matter how many pots and pans we threw at each other (figuratively) we could always stop, hug, and recognize that we had each other and that togetherness would protect us from everything else. There has been a lot of stress. We both work full time, 60 plus hours a week. This winter I agreed to coach in a competitive skiing program my older daughters had just graduated to, which was an additional 15/hour a week commitment regular weeks and all vacation days. It also involves a commitment to make the 3 hour trip to the mountain and back at the beginning and end of every weekend and vacation (this is a paid position for an intensive program, a job, not in the category as little league or soccer, which I also coach, but on a volunteer basis –my fellow coaches are 20-somethings who recently quit competition and are working to pay for and finish college, fun but a bit odd the first coaches meetings suiting up while they are talking about the bar last night or upcoming exams and the stress in the back of my mind is some deal I am working on and when I am going to wrap negotiations or turn documents, or the construction project at the house). More time with the girls, but less with my wife, who usually prefers to be somewhere other than the mountain. On top of this, she was asked to travel to a series of work-related conferences over a 3.5 week period from the end of February until the next to last week of March. So, for that period, me at with 4 kids 10 to 2, full-time as a corporate lawyer, and part-time as a ski coach. I was feeling abandoned and like I was falling apart. Near breakdown, if that had not already occurred. During this period, we discussed the stress in our lives and marriage. In one very honest and good conversation and feeling doubt I made the tactical error of asking would she marry me again today. No. I asked and took the answer with the attitude that I understood and understood that my job now was to change the way she would answer if asked again, which of course will not happen. It was honest in the moment (possibly said somewhat for effect) and I knew we had work to do. Minutes after that conversation, she mentioned an old college boyfriend she had been in touch with on Facebook and that he too travels a lot and they had been hoping to connect but hadn’t. He was going to be in a city 2.5 hours away and she wanted to know if it would be OK for her to drive down to meet him for lunch one day. I said sure. Pretty certain this guy is not a threat, though he is single. But something bothered me and in time I recognized that it was that our marriage is suffering from the lack of attention and support we give each other and immediately after a conversation in which we acknowledge we are in a fragile and unhappy state, she announces she wants to take 8 hours of our nonexistent free-time for each other and spend it driving to meet this guy who supposedly is just an old friend and doesn’t mean anything in particular. It bothered me. One night at the end of March, March 29 to be specific, when she had left the house for a PTO event, I noticed her laptop had been left on. I know from a prior incident that she from time to time monitors my computer, so I thought maybe I should look. I wasn’t immediately sure what I discovered, but it was so off the charts uncharacteristic and beyond anything I had ever imagined.
Re: the travelling old boyfriend, fellow business traveler, nothing remarkable. Some Facebook correspondence consistent with what she had told me, but some gratuitous disclosure of some of our struggles. No big deal. But another contact I did not recognize. With this one countless pages of flirty banter, meaning of life, and relationship talk. All in the period from March 1, the day she returned from her first trip, to March 12, the day there was an incident where she’d left the computer on the bed as I came up to go to sleep and I noticed this guy’s picture, but didn’t think a lot of it. She came out of the bathroom quickly and looking a little stressed or irritated. But nothing more.
The correspondence starts at 1:30 am the last night of the trip with some brief first Facebook contact and it’s evident now there was contact in another forum happening at the same time. Then picks up the next day when she is back home and goes all day starting with allusions to the previous night of fun and games at a casino night social event and my wife talking about the evening and admitting that she hasn’t had so much fun as an adult in a long time, loves the kids, but rarely gets out or has fun with me. From there it goes to the questionable subject matter of their conversations that night, including his love life (and some inappropriate details) as a newly divorced 50 year old guy living again as a bachelor in search of love. This stuff continues around the clock until she leaves for her next trip 4 days later. She is following his life closely enough to know and comment on the bars and golf courses he is at before he tells her. Things between us remain tense. The first night away, she asks if where he, he asks “why?” and she says because she wanted to call and didn’t know if that would be OK. He says “Call.”. That is the start of daily, hours long conversations, IMs, and texts in addition to Facebook, subject matter includes the problems in our marriage, his love life and divorce, relationship coaching, cross fit, the Red Sox, what’s for lunch and so on, some of it happening while I am sleeping next to her. It’s too much for me to process and I begin shutting down the computer, no effort to hide my tracks. The last screen, and the zinger, is his photo, which she has downloaded.
She arrives home, discovers that I have been on her computer, wants to talk and I say “Not now”, leave, and spend the night at a bar with a friend who is kind enough to drive me home. I fall into bed, I’m pretty upset and ask what the hell she was doing, she says he is just a nice guy and they are just having conversations. The next day I am a wreck and in disbelief. I can’t function and follow her around the house like a puppy dog trying to get her to stop and talk, to figure out whether we’re going to stay married and so on. That’s the pattern for the next several weeks. I go out with my two best friends and get drunk and laugh at the situation or get together with them for lunch or coffee Monday morning quarterback my latest flailings. I try to make the case to my wife that this relationship is not good for the marriage, she gets angry and evasive. When I want to talk she gets very angry, to the point quaking and then screaming that I am smothering and making her turn away further and declaring that if she had somewhere to go she would leave. I alternate between saying “Go!” and saying “What are you talking about, this is us?!” Needless to say, I wasn’t playing it well. Pretty early on, at lunch with two best friends, they both say, “Dude, we’ve talked about, we talked about it with our wives, we’ve talked about with each other. You’ve got to cut this off [complete with figure drawn across neck gesture].” I say, no guys, that would work for you. You are take charge. That is not me. And at this point she is in the place of flatly telling me I am being ridiculous. I’ll need time and better footing. The next morning something changes that.
I’m stewing in this stuff. Obsessed with her apparent obsession. I couldn’t sleep. Went for a trail run in the dark at 4 am. Came home no less agitated. Picked up her phone, which was on the night stand next to her. Text from this random guy: “He needs to find the dignity and smarts to figure this out for himself and stop projecting hate/blame/ [can’t remember what else] onto me.” She is half awake and looks at me to say what are you doing? With the bite of disgust and ire. I’m incensed by what I have read. “This guy just insulted your husband in at least 4 ways that come to mind immediately. He has insulted my intelligence, my character, my dignity, my judgment, my perception. I do not have a single friend who would insult you. I would not have a friend who would insult you. I would immediately lose respect for anyone who would insult you to me and they would no longer be my friend. You cannot have a friend like this and be married to me.” Didn’t go well from there. I’m sure many of you know what came next.