The holidays, and the weeks immediately afterward, seem to be the time for marital dissolution. Something about all that feel-good Christmas music, free-flowing libation, and talk of family and relationships, must put dissatisfied spouses in the mood to head for the door.
For instance, Athol Kay reported in late January that five fellows running his Male Action Plan had their wives leave them–for other men. And in my immediate social circle, three friends had their wives bail on them in January as well, to include this guy. Well, it turns out that this last couple, whom I’ve known a long time, were having quite a bit of trouble behind their smiling public facades.
Apparently, after several near-sexless years of emotional turmoil and lots of arguing and fighting, he caught her in an affair with a physician from the office, an affair that thus far she has refused to stop. Consequently, they are well on their way to Splitsville, he a 42 yo father, emotionally devastated and financially stressed, she an attractive-for-her-years 39 yo mother who is likely happy to be rid of a fellow she doesn’t love anymore. In a pattern that many readers will readily recognize, conveniently, she’s still keeping his three middle school-aged boys, a nice 5 bedroom Colonial in the country, and a fat monthly chalimony check that, frankly, an entire family could live on in most areas of the country. All secured with an emergency ex parte TRO strategically obtained to forcibly separate a legally unimpeachable man from his children and his property–all on the mere word of a vested-interest adulteress.* This while his standard of living has taken a sharp turn for the worse in a tiny rental house in a far less tony, much more vibrant neighborhood. To my friends’ woes, I’ll add my own unhappy experience, for it was ten years ago in early February that my former wife, the woman I loved and implicitly trusted, my confidante and effectively my only close friend, absconded with my kids across the continent in a pre-emptive nuclear divorce strike.
I learned about the divorce via a phone call from her father. She didn’t have the sac or the decency to tell me herself. And for the next year, she busied herself regaling mutual friends, her family, the Archdiocese of Washington, and her attorney with fancifully horrific tales of psychological abuse, physical abuse, child abuse, and, or course, rape, at the hands of big, bad, old me.
Yet that is not the point of this post–to pen yet another testimony regarding those flightly flesh-controlled people who choose to wreak intergenerational pain and suffering, who lie and perjure and kidnap, because they are unhaaapy. Rather, my objective is to provide the opportunities for readers to acquire the second best sort of wisdom there is: Wisdom and judgement one doesn’t have to acquire for him- or herself the hard way, through direct experience. In aviation, there’s a saying, usually in response to a completely avoidable fatal mishap: “It may be that the purpose of your life is only to serve as a warning to others”. A bit harsh, yes, but it alludes to the opportunity to pick through the wreckage of mine and other divorced dudes’ previous marriages for hints and clues of what not to do. For although marriage rates are declining, and divorce is now apparently on the upswing again, most men will formally marry or common-law marry-by-default at least once. And it is with those fellows (and gals) in mind, that this post is written.
So, if you will permit me, reader, I will now share with you some of the common threads that contributed to the failures of two marriages, one having lasted 7 years, the other 14. Free lessons learned below, for those so inclined:
First one up is one that I’ve already touched on here at EW…that of being unequally yoked to one’s spouse. Both myself and my friend were nominal Protestants, Baptists actually, wedded to nominal Catholics. No problem, right? Both Christians, right? Well no, not really, for both faith traditions contain enough conflicting tenets–Luther didn’t nail his 99 theses to the Wittenburg Church door for nothing, after all–to make them starkly incompatible for even moderately fervent believers. Both my friend and I unwisely thought, in our youthful exuberance, that love (as we knew it then) was enough, unaware of how seemingly minor questions of where we would church would become significant, thorny issues down the line, particularly as the arrival of children made seemingly trivial issues as dissimilar religions between two consenting adults suddenly intractable.
Second…and this lesson is for teh menz (sorry gals), the woman you are seeking as a wife must, must, be accountable to something more authoritative than her rationalization hamster. And yes, I’m talking God here…for if she’s not accountable to God, and her hamster-gonads (e.g., “follows her heart”) and/or the State is the utmost authority in her life, run, not walk the other direction. And even then, being accountable to God is not as foolproof as it sounds, for the hamster is wily, marriage has been largely reframed in Christianity to make the woman the de facto head of the marriage, and my anecdotal experience has been that even clergy will recommend a divorce if a woman claims abuse or rape.** A fervent love for God–expressed through adherence to His Commandments–needs to come first in her life. Not there? Don’t consider marrying her. A good (but not foolproof) proxy for accountability to a higher Being is religious attendance…which the data suggests results in much lower divorce rates. Again, not foolproof–remember the hamster is a very flexible, adaptive, and creative foe–but the odds are much, much better.
Next, both of us married someone for whom we weren’t all that passionate. Both of us married a close female friend for whom we had affection, and thought at the time that was simply how it was done…the natural progression of things. How wrong we were. Having the experience of intentionally seeking and courting Mrs. Wapiti, and being passionately in love with her, gives me a much different perspective now, a perspective I didn’t have at the tender young age of 22. I met and married Mrs. Wapiti as a 33-yo divorcee with two young boys, and what a difference a decade’s worth of hard experience, a reignited faith, and a Biblically informed (yet quite short) spouse shopping list makes. While I have no doubt that “sliding” into marriage, letting the momentum of friendship carry one to the altar and beyond, can succeed for some, for myself and my broken friend, we took a then-unknown risk that came back to haunt us. Lesson learned: be intentional when searching for a wife.
The fourth lesson learned is related to the third one above, and that neither my friend nor I really cherished our wives. Sure we loved them, and were committed to them, but we didn’t really value them as the priceless mates set apart for us by God.*** In effect, we took our spouses for granted, assuming that our masculine expressions of love for them would translate correctly through the female perception filters of our wives and be received/perceived as “love”. It was only after I was divorced, and after reading books like “The Five Love Languages” or “His Needs, Her Needs“, that I began to see things differently. The light came on for me after reading those books in ways that didn’t before…and the latter book (really a red-pill stealth bomber in many ways) is the one Mrs. Wapiti and I loan out to couples when we discover they are courting.
Fifth, both of us ignored warnings from disinterested third parties. Both of us had family and / or friends warn us off about the woman we were fixing to marry. For me, a woman who was effectively my adopted mother during my college years attempted to warn me about the coed I had brought with me to visit one day. Call it women’s intuition, call it what you will, after five minutes with her, she concluded that the 21 yo young woman I had brought into her home was bad news, was all about herself, and was all about scoring the trophy husband. She (adopted mom) tried to tell me but I wasn’t hearing it (see young, ‘in love’, frankly stupid, in Paragraph 1 above). Similarly, my friends’ wife’s own family (ouch) tried to warn him as well, with words like “watch out”, “she’ll be a handful, etc”. Moreover, my friend’s now ex wife had been previously married, had chucked her starter husband to the curb a year or so prior to their meeting, and had a reputation for being driven, goal-oriented, and emotionally turbulent and difficult. All red flags that, viewed through the goggles of experience and wisdom, should have been sufficient “don’t go here” warning signs. Lesson learned: gain the counsel of others, particularly your elders, even going as far as screening your mates through your parents or parent substitutes for their assay, and, unlike financial investments, past performance really does predict future returns when it comes to people. As for me, S1 and S2 notwithstanding, oh, how I wish I had listened to that prescient warning that day in 1994…and I bet my friend is regretting the ignored warnings too.
Sixth, we both married talented and intelligent women who over-valued career and work…and who later resented both the career impact of children and a less-than-egalitarian division of childcare responsibilities subsequent to children. Unbeknownst to our youthful selves, feminism sets a trap for unwary women and men, one which (generalizing greatly here) sets the average woman’s innate desire for home and family and children in opposition to the secular values of career and materialism…and then tells them they can and should have it all. Frustration and unhaaapiness usually follow in short order, testing the mores and values of women with the promise of more of that elusive happiness, underwritten of course by a soon-to-be-ex-husband about to be person-trafficked for financial gain. Lesson learned: Michael Noer was right: don’t marry career women, who generally tend to be less happy in marriage than their more traditional counterparts.
Continuing this hit parade of lessons learned, neither my friend nor I at the time followed the Biblical model of marriage, which for my secular readers roughly boils down to Athol Kay’s captain-first officer model, with God as the captain’s (and first officer’s one-degree-removed) Fleet Admiral. Instead, we both permitted our wives to wear far bigger pants than they should have, but then again, “permitted” may be too freighted a word. For I didn’t really have the choice to “permit” or “refuse”; that is, after I made the poor choice of selecting my wife in the first place. For my lack of discernment and refusal to seek the wisdom of others, divine or otherwise, cast that die for me the moment I married. The permission in Marriage 2.0 was hers to give, not the other way around. For my former wife, a nominal Catholic whose mother wore the pants in the family and high-achieving young woman high on the feminist “have it all” lie, had neither the experience nor tolerance for traditional gender roles. Egalitarianism, maybe, “50/50″, as she defined it, maybe. But Biblical roles of male headship and female followership, no way Jose. Mind you, this wasn’t a problem early on in my first marriage, when my former spouse and I were dinks making good money and saw each other for a couple hours after work and before nightschool to share a meal. Gender roles weren’t an issue; we were roommates with benefits (see Lesson #4, above). However, as time went on, S1 was born, and I felt the Call to return to the Church, I found out how receptive my former spouse would be to a more Biblical reordering of gender roles in the home. She literally recoiled at the thought. No, she was happy with her “equality plus” situation, and I was stuck in Marriage 2.0, where, as we all know, husbands follow the wife, or else. And if he fails to please or gets too uppity, he’ll be stripped of his assets and children and sold into fractional servitude (see “trafficked”, #6, above) if it pleases her to do so. And for both of us, it greatly pleased our former wives to do so.
Eighth, we both, secure in the commitment we thought we had with our wives, made the mistake of assuming our wives’ commitment, love, and loyalty to us matched our own to them. So safe we felt that we missed the warning signs: contempt, emotional distance…and one big one we both missed was a tail-off in sex. We both endured the dearth in our sex lives, and didn’t see the lack of sex–when it used to be more or less plentiful–as the canary in the coal mine that it was. I recall going for months without sex, and frequently, when it was supplied, it was grudgingly so, a wifely duty. For our parts, while my friend and I were both miserable and unhappy, “divorce” never ever crossed our minds, for we had made a commitment. For life. I know better now, of course, that the word “commitment” means different things to men and women, and the sex that has difficulty with staying committed isn’t the male one. The lesson here is that assumptions kill, projecting your thoughts and feelings and values onto your wife is a mistake (she is, after all, human), and unwarranted comfort goeth before a fall.
After the sex asymptotically approached zero, and both partners in both marriages acted to fill the void left behind by the lack of physical bonding, something else happened in both my and my friend’s marriages: all four parents compensated for their marital dissatisfaction by over-investing in their children. It goes back to that old saying that the best thing parents can do for their children is to love each other…and sadly, I didn’t learn that lesson until it was too late. Instead, my boys became my world, and my then wife took a back seat on my priority list. This struck me as right and proper at the time, for I had been displaced by the child(ren) since before they were born, and resented greatly how my then wife had long since demoted me from husband and mate to helper / enabler, or, in Marriage 2.0 terms, from First Officer to yeoman. Instead of confronting the issue head on and make my needs and dissatisfaction known, I took the gamma route and passive-aggressively “got back” at her by attributively cutting off my emotional support. Result: a self-reinforcing death spiral of dissatisfaction, resentment, and unhaaaapiness. I would have done better to respond actively to my former wife’s common (and hormonally driven) mistake of over-focusing on the children and leaving hubby in the cold, addressed the issue head-on, and restored the proper balance of my marriage. What was she going to do, divorce me? Heck, that happened anyway, so I didn’t have much to lose.
The tenth and last lesson-learned was the impact of in-laws. While the in-law effect happened to me and not my friend, I write about it here as a warning to others that the support (or enemy action) of parents-in-law can reinforce your marriage or torpedo it. The latter is what my former wife’s parents, specifically MIL, did. My ex wife’s parents opposed the marriage (uh oh) and alienated themselves from their daughter in the process. However, when she became unhaaaaappy (uh oh again), she emotionally ran back to mom and dad…who then took a hammer and chisel to our union, one chip at a time, day over day, week over week, for months on end. It would be difficult for anyone to resist that kind of pressure, and my ex wife chose to listen to her parent’s (mostly her mother’s) poisonous words over recalling her vows to me. In the end, MIL and the woman I loved–and thought loved–me hatched a plot to abscond with my children across the country, with me none the wiser until the boom had already fallen.
In sum, my friend and I made several mistakes in the run-up to our marriages and in the years after we were married, mistakes that eventually proved fatal to our marriages. From being unequally yoked, to following the wrong marriage model, to marrying a woman with the wrong values, to not cherishing our wives, to over-investing in kiddos, to not cleaving from one’s parents and cleaving to each other, the aggregated weight of mistakes my friend and I made helped set us up for divorce several years later. Thus for those fellows inclined toward marriage–and I posit that only religious men marry in today’s legal and social climate, yet most of us will take the plunge at some point in our lives–I pray that you will heed the experience of others.
* The TRO was revoked a week and a half later at the follow-up hearing, for lack of evidence. Quelle suprise, no?
** Where in the Bible are abuse and rape listed as permissible justifications for divorce, again? I must’ve missed them.
*** Can’t speak for my friend on this one, but choosing my first mate was all me…just out of college, naive despite (heh, or even because of) my education and special-snowflake achievements, and no one could tell me anything, really. I didn’t bother with seeking His guidance, a mistake that I didn’t make the second time around.
About the author: EW is a well-trained monkey operating heavier-than-air machinery. His interests outside of being an opinionated rabble-rouser are hunting, working out, motorcycling, spending time with his family, and flying. He is a father to three, a husband to one, and is a sometime contributor here at Spearhead. More of his intolerable drivel is available at the blog The Elusive Wapiti.