How to rebuild a life? Long....
February 23, 2008 8:48 PM   Subscribe

Reconstructing myself - where to begin? Last night my wife of 22 years announced that she and I were finished as a married couple. Now, at the age of 53, I find myself alone. Presently, I am seeking the anonymity of a bunch of strangers because it doesn't seem hurt as much this way. A cross sectioning if you will. Besides, MetaFites are generally a younger bunch, and they may have a more optimistic perspective on this.

We have boys aged 16 and 20, and I love them like I love my next breath. Therefore, I am committed to being around for them- within walking distance for the youngest. The oldest is 2 hours away at college, the youngest is still in high school.

The most immediate question that I have to ask is; how could I have been so blind to the fact that my wife was unhappy? I don't drink much, womanize or carry on in or hang out with the boys. I have never called her when I was drunk, and always tried to be considerate of her feelings. Last night she was beyond rational, and I can't figure out where her incredible anger towards me is coming from. (menopause?). BTW she has refused counselling either one on one or together, although she did go to one therapy session.

In spite of all that, I now need to rebuild some parts of my life as I allowed myself to become intertwined in hers. I lost my father 12 years ago, my only brother 4 years ago, and I act as primary caregiver for my aging (83) and blind mother, so i have no family other than my kids. I live in a rural community so there are few services available. Her family in in the immediate area and are for the most part, supportive of me - but of course, they are HER family. I expect we will maintain civil relations.

I have tried to take stock of where I am in this life, and here it is in a nutshell.

The good:
- My midlife crisis resulted in my decision to get healthier, not buy a sports car and chase 22 year old hotties.
- I am a good person most days, not allowing emotions to overrule good judgement.
- I am in excellent physical condition and health.
- i have a reasonable income and post secondary education
- I have some monies saved up.
- my staff says that I am a good manager and that they would follow me almost anywhere.
- I have been an excellent dad, and have never failed to tell my boys every night that I love them. (Course, with a 16 yr old, I gotta be discreet about stuff like that)
- Most people in the community know me, and some even like me.

The not so good
- Despite my good health and good body, my inherited looks are umm, unique. And, as I age, I notice that they are getting more unique. Bald, big ears (a DEADLY combo!) and skinny, er, wiry. Think Albert Einstein, bald, but not as clever, unfortunately.
- I have no family to spend time with other than my boys - who of course, are very close to my wife's extended family and their kids.
- I have no interest in dating - obviously. Maybe that will change.
- I am limited in my social and conversational skills, believing that I better show my character through actions rather than conversation. This has been commented on by others in the community.
-Being in a small community, I am not sure how I would react if I saw my ex-wife on a date.
-My job can be stressful, and I can sometimes carry that home. I am getting better at compartmentalizing that however.

So, how to I rebuild my life? Its painful to write this, but you know, I just don't want to die alone or spend Christmas by myself. The "die alone" thing gets more acute the closer I get to my brother's age when he died.

How do other people rebuild parts of their lives after getting a bombshell dropped on them? I want to look up with the missing two front teeth and say "life, is that all you got?".

Any information or opinions are appreciated. I know this sure ain't the biggest tragedy out there, but right now it is to me. Responses from ladies that can provide insight especially wrt the menopause thing would be great.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (55 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Your wife of 23 years just decided to leave you; this is going to take an immense amount of adjustment. It's almost like a death and you will need to go through a grieving process. Until you get through the initial grieving process, try not to make things harder by thinking too much about your future. And don't beat yourself about this either (e.g. questions about what you could have done to make things better). Instead, be kind to yourself for the time being. Try to do things that you enjoy that will take your mind off this. It sounds like you enjoy spending time with your sons, so spend a lot of time with them. You'll need to take things one day at a time for a long time (possibly a year or so). Just focus on getting yourself through each day as best you can. Once the grieving process is over, you can start thinking about finding a new mate, but don't worry about that now. Also, lots of wonderful people get divorced. Sometimes things don't work out even after 23 years. People just grow apart. It sounds like your marriage was a sucess in that you were loving parents to two children. Try and take some comfort from that.
posted by bananafish at 9:01 PM on February 23, 2008

how could I have been so blind to the fact that my wife was unhappy?

Mate, you have all my sympathy, and you would not believe how often I've heard a recently dumped male say this.
posted by flabdablet at 9:01 PM on February 23, 2008 [2 favorites]

You said you don't have other family to hang out with - what about people from work or the community? I think maybe you need to spend some time with some friends right now and take some time to just be yourself.
posted by UMDirector at 9:02 PM on February 23, 2008

Oh, I am so sorry.

This just happened. Really. I know you are here to throw a line to yourself and start learning about how people make this transition and understand. But you might not understand it all at once. You have a lot of questions, and they are real questions, but you don't really need the answers right now. Just one day at a time, for the time being.

Before long, I am sure that there will be people popping into this thread who have been through exactly what you're experience and will have some really concrete, useful advice. I don't have that stuff to say. I do really want to offer a perspective that a lot of the weight you feel is the odd newness of a totally unfamiliar situation. Your answers will come not all at once, but one by one, as you feel your way through this really sad event and move forward with your life. There is no danger of your kids not loving you; it sounds like you are a loving and demonstrative and understanding dad. They will always be your sons and you will always be their dad. As you look to the future, have that comfort that you will not "die alone." Make sure you make relating to your sons a priority in the near future, even though they might be really angry and confused about all this. Keep a strong relationship with them. One day they may have partners of their own and maybe grandchildren. They, and those other future people, will still be your family.

how could I have been so blind to the fact that my wife was unhappy?

That, I don't know. It is something to ask about yourself and certainly something you'll want to know before thinking about future relationships. But I'm sorry to see that your wife refused counseling, which would have been a very helpful thing in helping you understand her and in giving your relationship a chance. If you were supportive of the counseling idea and she was not, then it sounds to me like you offered what you needed to. Turning down counseling is, to me, an indication that the person refusing wants to take the decision completely upon themselves, for good or ill, and isn't interested in any form of reconsidering. It might be something she regrets later, and might not. But the upshot is, almost all relationship problems can be solved if both parties are willing to try to solve them. When one party is unwilling, there is not much that can be done, no matter how wonderful the other person is.

You mention worrying about your looks as you get older. I think you can probably let that go. There may be people who divorce a 20-year partner solely because of their looks, but I don't think that's really very common. When you mention that you think your social skills are limited, that might be a bit more important.

One thing I would recommend is finding yourself a counselor right away. It will help so much - they can help you get this into perspective, devise solutions, and really come to some understanding of what happened so that you can be at peace with things and move forward with your life in a way that lets you continue to love and respect yourself. You'll really be thankful to have someone like this to vent to and ask questions of - a totally neutral party who knows a lot about why people do the stuff they do and can help you understand. Look around AskMeFi and find some threads about how to find a therapist you click with.

Good luck, and I'm sorry about the pain you're feeling tonight. You will be all right.
posted by Miko at 9:05 PM on February 23, 2008

You will be fine, but it will hurt first. Growth comes from pain. Sucks.

First, make sure this relationship is truly done. If after some counseling you know it it, then move on, make a clean break with it.

Call on your friends, your family, your community groups for support. Help others to help yourself. Get control of your life. It will seem like you are out of control. Find the things you can control and control them - eat right, keep your place neat, do a great job at work, help out at a charity etc. Don't worry about the dating and other stuff for a little while. Concentrate on your person first, get it in order, physically, mentally and spiritually. You are strong and you will prosper without this other person in your life, although at first you will miss her. Then you will go through the stages of grief. Let it flow. It's cathartic. You will be fine, and likely a better stronger person after this is over.
posted by caddis at 9:10 PM on February 23, 2008

Read No More Mr. Nice Guy. Don't blame this on menopause.
posted by headnsouth at 9:11 PM on February 23, 2008

I'm way too young and inexperienced to speak remotely intelligently to your condition, but two points I think I can make confidently:

So, how to I rebuild my life? Its painful to write this, but you know, I just don't want to die alone or spend Christmas by myself. The "die alone" thing gets more acute the closer I get to my brother's age when he died.

If you have a good relationship with your boys, you won't die alone. I know it's not the same thing as dying with your wife holding your hands, but it's not dying alone, either. It is, as you know far better than I, a significant thing to be a father. If they're close to you, your boys will be there for you, and they will honor you when you're gone. They are your legacy, your lasting mark. Be as proud of them as you can.

Also, this:

I want to look up with the missing two front teeth and say "life, is that all you got?".

...bodes well for you. You have the right attitude. No need to get pugnacious, necessarily, but you're not about to give up, and you goddamn well shouldn't. Fuck romance for now, just deal with what's in front of you, get through your divorce and focus on what you love. Build yourself a good home, do what you need to do (I'd recommend counseling) to get used to living alone again. Be leery of alcohol. Try to embrace the sheer level of possibility in your future, and be excited about the fact that you don't know what comes next.

When you're happy being your own man and confident in that life, you'll find that you're miles more attractive to women than if you're eager to find someone to fill the void. Desperation is a smell that your own nose can't detect, but everyone else's can. Embrace and celebrate your own life, and good things will come. Perhaps some of them will have naughty bits.
posted by middleclasstool at 9:15 PM on February 23, 2008

And my condolences to your situation, OP.
posted by Corduroy at 9:18 PM on February 23, 2008

In terms of women, I see no problems. There's a lot more of them than you at your age. Expect to be a hot commodity.

In terms of the rest of it, there are undiscovered parts of you that you are going to learn a lot about. Some parts you may not like. I supect, however, that the vast majority of what we discover about ourselves during trying times is good for us in the end.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:26 PM on February 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

No excuse not to tell you sooner and try to work on whatever's making her unhappy. Did she really not give you the courtesy of saying what her reasons were? Or are you leaving that part out?

In any case, my advice is to NOT start looking for another partner right away. Just do things, out of the house. Keep your schedule busy with this, that and the other thing. Anything. Go to church and do the church stuff during the week, even if you're not particulary religous. Become a Mason. Make as many friends as possible, and do things with them. In my experience,* people who are reasonably happy on their own are much more attractive both to friends and potential partners.

On the other hand, you know her; we don't. Is it a midlife "does he really love me" test? To see if you'll fight for her?

*I have to say, it's probably a mistake to ask younger people their advice. I hesitate to give my own, being younger. That's why I suggest the Masonic lodge. The best advice I've ever gotten has been from 70, 80, 90-year old guys who have seen some stuff in life. Everyone else is just pulling stuff out of their ass (with the best intentions, of course). That's why I deleted the rest of what I was going to say. I haven't been through that, so I'd just be imagining hypothetical situations. Keep that in mind when taking advice.
posted by ctmf at 9:29 PM on February 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

I would just say to take care of your children right now.

I can't comment on how to deal with a broken marriage (no experience whatsoever) but I do know firsthand that unhappy parents can have a very negative impact on the children. Since you love spending time with your sons so much this will be mutually beneficial for you all.
posted by PinkButterfly at 9:29 PM on February 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

sorry for your troubles. having lost a partner to death in middle age, i discovered you just have to learn to live life alone and be comfortable with that. it's very, very difficult and takes many years. in the end you will be stronger and you will find peace. be patient and be kind to yourself. seek professional help if necessary. change can be hard, especially if it's not of our doing.
posted by brandz at 9:31 PM on February 23, 2008 [2 favorites]

On the plus side, it sounds like you have a pretty durable sense of humor, and more importantly you can laugh at yourself. I'd like to nth the recommendation for getting a counselor/psychiatrist IMMEDIATELY, if not sooner. Humor can help ease the grieving along, but the support and insight from a good therapist would help too.
Sorry this is happening to you. If you believe that your marriage is truly over, stop focusing on what her motivations might be, and really focus on taking care of yourself.
posted by Sara Anne at 9:32 PM on February 23, 2008

You mentioned alcohol more than once and loving your sons more than once. You did not mention loving your wife. I'm guessing it's not menopause.
posted by sageleaf at 9:33 PM on February 23, 2008 [12 favorites]

I was 22 when my folks split after 25 years, so I guess I can speak a little bit to what you can do as far as your boys go (I'm my parents' boy). It sounds like it was a lot like your situation, where my mom just said she'd had enough.

First, be honest with them, but if they're anything like me they won't want anything too graphic at first. I found that in talking about the divorce with my folks I felt a lot better when they would just let me ask questions and try to help me understand things.

Don't try to convince them of your side. It doesn't sound like you're the type to do this, but I think you'll eventually get angry as you grieve over this (so will they!) and the last thing I wanted to hear from my parents was them talking shit about one another.

This will be a world-altering event for your sons, even the oldest one who's on his own. For me, it was like the most stable part of my life being ripped out from the base. I felt a lot like I would topple over. Be conscious of this when you deal with them. I think this is where honesty helps. There are a lot of things I still wonder about my parents' marriage, and that has hurt me in my subsequent relationships. Let them know how much you love(d) your wife, and especially let them know how much you love them and how none of this makes that love less legitimate. I never felt like my parents needed to tell me "I'll always love you," but I did suddenly find myself "coming from a broken home" and wondered what we as a family had been doing for all those years. I eventually figured out a lot and know that I'm not the product of a broken home or anything like that, but you need to try to help your sons understand that.

I could go on and on. I'm so sorry this is happening. Rest assured that both of my parents are good people, I still love both of them, and, three years down the road, they've both gone on to be, in many ways, happier than I ever saw them when I was growing up.

I'd love to offer more perspective any time. Send me an email.
posted by PhatLobley at 9:35 PM on February 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

- I am a good person most days, not allowing emotions to overrule good judgement.

Your analysis is very rational, self-reflective and coolheaded. Good, generally. You sound like a nice guy.

In this case you may want to be a bit more pissed off and irrational for a bit. Worry about rebuilding in a week or so.
posted by TrashyRambo at 9:46 PM on February 23, 2008

I second everything caddis said. And I second the fact that rebuilding is down the road -- you're probably still in the verifying and letting-it-sink-in stage now.

The most immediate question that I have to ask is; how could I have been so blind to the fact that my wife was unhappy?

There will be a lot of time for figuring this out. You will probably ask it of yourself, over and over. And then one day, you'll have a decent idea. (Or ask us again in about six months.)

I don't know how to rebuild your life, but from what you said and the character that comes through, I have faith you will. You sound like a really nice person with a solid understanding of himself and a good head on his shoulders. (And probably a few things to learn, like we all do.) I would worry about figuring out what happened for yourself, and rebuilding your life. I would not worry about your looks! I think many women would find what you described sexy (you know, not like a 17-year-old surfer, but these women are not 16-year-old beach babes themselves). Take care of yourself and look as good as you can with what you've got, but when I think about beautiful middle-aged people, it seems it comes from their character. In a small community, your reputation is probably the most important. You've heard this quote from the Velveteen Rabbit, right?
"[Becoming Real] doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."
Just concentrate on keeping an even keel for a while. Be prepared to feel weird for a while. When I broke up with a long-term boyfriend, I thought I was okay, and in my head, I was at peace with what happened, but I still got lost in the grocery store and couldn't sleep through the night -- changes like this affect your whole body. For me, during that time, nothing helped me so much as the book When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron. It's about how to deal when nothing you use to make sense of the world is around anymore, and a few ways to think about things so you're being kind to yourself.

I agree with you that your biggest challenge now, after the dust settles, may truly be social skills. You'll need to develop skills for reaching out and making new friendships. Perhaps seek things that already have a structure in place, like a church or a regular volunteer program, and maybe a gym. I'd start with your desire to show caring through action, and build upon that with new conversational skills. Those really can be learned -- just make it a goal and address it like you would any other goal in your life, pick up a few books, practice, ask a mentor how they'd learn it (or Ask Metafilter), take a class or two. Best of luck, and I'm sorry for what you're going through.
posted by salvia at 9:57 PM on February 23, 2008 [6 favorites]

Do you have anyone you can talk to in person about this? Especially someone like a pastor or counselor? It might be good to set up an appointment or two, just as an outlet over the next couple of months -- not because you seem like you're desperately out of control or anything like that, but because it would be good to have a more sustained conversation than you can have here, and you never know when that need will hit you.

I think what konolia said is almost right but the truth is more general than she thinks: sometimes all a person has to do to be irritating is just be a person. In any longterm relationship (even between friends) there are personal tics that build up over time into serious sore points. Who knows. Unless you're able to get her to tell you, over the coming weeks/months, it may remain mysterious. She may not even fully understand it herself.

I'm sorry this is happening. My best advice from times when I have had the big knock-downs is: be with friends and let them help; do at least one thing every day that gets your mind off yourself for a while; eat enough, sleep enough but not too much, and give yourself a reason to get dressed and get out of the house every day.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:58 PM on February 23, 2008

I'm going to suggest you do only three things for the next little while:

Breathe in. Breathe out. Repeat.

All of this has been heaped upon you all of a sudden and you're thinking way into the future about things like dating and building the rest of your life. It's good to be proactive and forward looking, but take some time to be in the now, to be with your kids, to do simple, short term things.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:02 PM on February 23, 2008

Nthing the day by day process.

Re surprise/bombshell: Sometimes people aren't able to communicate that they're at the brink and about to leave. Either because they're not strong enough or because the dynamic of the relationship discourages it or because [insert 100 more reasons]. I left someone bombshell-style once. Even years later, I can't quite explain it. I feel sad and regretful about it and simultaneously, looking back, it was as though I could not do anything differently (even though it was all so bad).

Are you living separately? I think that would be good to do sooner rather than later.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 10:07 PM on February 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

You have to go one day at a time, sometimes one moment at a time, keep slicing it up until the pain dulls. And seek professional help if you need. It can be comforting and will help you to heal. :-( My sincerest sympathies.
posted by tcv at 10:39 PM on February 23, 2008

I suggest that you find one or two activities that take you out of the house and put you around other people - volunteer work, bridge, cribbage or poker, a golf foursome, a book group. This gives you a chance to build a social life without having to actually make friends.

Seconding the value of counseling - it will give you a chance to work out your thoughts with someone who can give you perspective.
posted by metahawk at 11:06 PM on February 23, 2008

If it's possible to save your marriage, I recommend pursuing that as much as is feasible. Divorce seems to hit men really really hard, especially at your age.

Can you share with us what her reasons for leaving or past complaints or major arguments were? Maybe we can help you with ideas to solve these issues and win her back.
posted by Jacqueline at 11:15 PM on February 23, 2008

So, rebuilding your life - I start with lists. List to do, and lists of what I want, and lists of things I should try even if I don't think I'll like them. Not so much the lists of self-help books anymore, probably because I read a zillion and now they all look the same, and seem quite shallow and foreign.

A new place, what furniture you will need, how to disentangle your finances, what does your lawyer say, what possible long term goals can you set now to give you something to work toward? What community groups can you join (scrabble club, learn to dance, historical society) that you wouldn't have done when all your social needs were being met by your family. I'm an introvert, and when unpartnered, find that I can tolerate more socialness than I would normally like.

Give yourself permission to be unglued, despite everyone's high opinion of you. You don't have to hold it all together, all the time, and it's probably not so healthy either. Make mistakes, do things slower, take time off when you need it.

Lastly, I don't know your wife, none of us can say why she's so angry but nothing makes me so angry as being unheard, despite trying for years to change things. Also, sometimes it's not so much about what your partner is doing wrong, as what they are neglecting to do right. Perhaps she felt unimportant in your life, or undesired, or unappreciated. If she felt unheard, or her feelings dismissed (menopause?) in the past, I doubt that she will feel like telling you now or ever.
posted by b33j at 11:35 PM on February 23, 2008

Stop thinking, to to the gym, or buy a punch bag and punch the living crap out of it. Why? You and levelheaded must be deeply angry and hurt? Dont make any descisions untill the anger/hurt that I know you must be feeling is gone because that bitch and screw you up. Get a bit rabid, then start sorting things out.
My sympathies of course.
posted by Neonshock at 2:23 AM on February 24, 2008

Let's consider some negatives, then some positives. For perspective, I am a 55 year old man who got divorced five years ago following an 18 year marriage.

Like sageleaf above, I got a foreboding from the alcohol thing. In one sentence you said you don't drink much, but then in the next you said you don't call her when you're drunk. People who don't drink much don't get drunk. They usually limit to a cocktail or two. How frequently is getting drunk occurring, and what do you mean you don't call her? Does that mean you're staying away from home when you do get drunk? This could be more of an answer to your blindness over her unhappiness than you think.

In your list of good points, you mentioned you have monies saved up. That's a good thing, for now, because it won't last long. Divorce is very expensive. If you live in a community property state, you can expect that your wife will receive 1/2 of everything that is communal in your marriage, including bank accounts, investments, and savings. The attorneys will get the rest.

Enough with the negative. That's just fodder for bitterness. I wholeheartedly agree with those who have recommended counseling. You may never get the complete answer from your wife about why this is happening, but as long as you are straight with a counselor, you will probably come to some logical conclusions. From that you can move forward with the next phase of your life.

And that life won't be one of loneliness and regrets. Your boys will most assuredly be there for you, just as you have been there for them. From your description of yourself, it is obvious that you're a good man. Your boys know that, respect that, and will help you (as well as their mother) pull through this. You still have a lot of living to do.
posted by netbros at 2:52 AM on February 24, 2008

how could I have been so blind to the fact that my wife was unhappy?

I was a divorce lawyer for a number of years and saw many, many middle-aged male clients who were devastated when their wives of 20+ years told them the marriage was over. In the majority of cases they - like you - had believed themselves to be good husbands. They'd always worked a steady job, didn't go out with the boys every night, had no other women, there were no big fights at home, and life, for the husband at any rate, was just peachy.

But the story from the wives was usually one of feeling undervalued, unloved and neglected over a number of years and an unwillingness on the part of the husband to talk about it. Usually there was no major incident which sparked this, but, like the drip of water wearing away the stone, it was an accumulation of years of ... sameness. No compliments, no surprises, no joy. Sometimes the catalyst might be the wife finding a part-time job once the children were older and meeting a new crowd of people. I'm not talking about her having an affair, but just making new friends, seeing that there was more to life than this.

In every single case, the wife had tried to talk to the husband about it, and her concerns were waved away. After all, things were fine as far as he was concerned. There was someone to take care of him while he fulfilled his role as breadwinner and man of the house. So what if he came home every night and watched sport on TV, or went into the shed to tinker with his model cars? So what if he never complimented her any more, or kissed her unexpectedly and told him he loved her? The fact that he was there should be enough, no?

No. It was not enough. And it always came as a huge shock to the husband to learn this.

I'm sorry this has happened to you. But you will get through it. Rebuilding a life isn't easy especially if you've been in the comfort zone of a long marriage. But if you're willing and able to look at your part in the breakdown of your marriage and address the parts that might not be so pleasant, you'll be able to move on from this.

Oh, and never, ever, ever talk to your children about anything that comes up in the divorce between you and your wife, no matter what she might say to them. If you have competent and experienced divorce lawyers acting for both of you, you'll both be advised that it's a good thing if you (learn to) say only positive things about the other parent to the children, and keep any fighting behind the scenes.

Good luck.
posted by essexjan at 3:29 AM on February 24, 2008 [116 favorites]

The most immediate question that I have to ask is; how could I have been so blind to the fact that my wife was unhappy?

I might echo b33j a bit in asking if perhaps you might not have been listening that well? Not all men, and possibly not you, but definitely some men don't do a good job of processing what they hear, even when it's explicit. They might hear hints like "I'm unhappy," "I'm desperately unhappy," "I'm miserable," "I think our relationship is over," ... and think mostly about what they need to do to get through this conversation for the next hour.

My first husband seemed rather shocked when I left, yet he no reason to be. I had said all of the above for three years before walking out, as well as the extremely critical "if you do that again, I'm leaving." Yet, somehow, he just didn't really hear it, I guess. Maybe he thought they were all code words for "I'm a little bit angry now, but I'll never you leave you no matter what you do."

But you're not him, and maybe your wife really said nothing for years and years about being unhappy, and then just suddenly snapped for no apparent reason. But if you look back and decide that maybe she has been telling you, but you haven't been listening, then you've learned something that might help in a future relationship. Or even this one, if it turns out that both of you want to try to fix things. One possible, tiny indication that she may be willing to do that is the irrational(?) anger that you mentioned. Everyone is different, of course, but to me, that kind of anger would suggest a couple of likely motivations (not presented here in order of most likelihood!): a) she's become involved with someone else, and her guilt is driving her to try to make you out (to herself) as the unambiguous bad guy, or b) she still loves you and feels sick and sad and mostly just fucking furious that it has come to this. In contrast, I didn't raise my voice at all when I had the goodbye conversation. I felt sad(dish), no longer really angry, just kind of empty, resolute, tired, sorry for him. And there wasn't even the tiniest spark of a chance that I wasn't going to carry through... so why should I be furious? In my mind it was a done thing, and well past that kind of emotional tempest. I was only steeling myself at that point, to deal with his reactions, and determined to go gently.

So, if you love her, there may be something in that anger that says she still loves you, too, and there may be a new life with her to pursue if all goes well and certain bridges can be rebuilt. But if you find, as you assimilate the shock, that what you are mourning is not the loss of the woman you love, but the life that was comfortable, let her go.

I really hope it works out for the best for both of you, and if there's any way to update us, let us know what you learn, and how it goes for you. *wishes for happy ending*
posted by taz at 3:51 AM on February 24, 2008 [11 favorites]

First, let me offer my condolences. I wish that my life experience permitted me to comment on your condition, but alas, my youth has not allowed me to yet experience a relationship of that sort of commitment. Maybe some day.

Second, I would like to affirm headnsouth's suggestion to read No More Mr. Nice Guy. It's a worthy read for all men who are, have been, or ever will be in any sort of relationship. Additionally, if you ever plan on reentering the singles' market, I suggest reading How to Love Your Wife. Please do not be offended by the title; I don't know anything about your relationship and do not mean to imply anything by the suggestion. It's simply a terrific book written by a former professor of mine that gives terrific perspective to men on relationships.

Last, I would like to note how wonderful this community is. In dire times like this the response is always truly does give me hope in mankind again. Thank you, everyone.
posted by charmston at 4:14 AM on February 24, 2008

You sound like a nice person. I'm really sorry this happened to you. You never know how you will feel about this in a year. I have no specific advice on this but I think you seem like the type who will make a new start. You sound like you almost have your head together already about it...I can't see you not making a new start...even if things seems exceptionally dark at the moment. Maybe your wife kind of sucks? Nice to hear someone who really loves their children. I think you will be fine in the long run.
posted by sully75 at 4:15 AM on February 24, 2008

I've seen over and over again that where women are the most eager to get married, men are the ones who want to stay married. And I don't think that's as contradictory as it sounds. Women have been indoctrinated all their lives that getting married is the Happily Ever After that all little girls deserve. Men have been trained to think of marriage as a ball and chain. And both extremes are wrong.

So a couple gets married and he thinks 'Hey, this isn't so bad' and she thinks 'Is this all there is?' He grows comfortable in his new life, and she keeps hanging on waiting for something to change. 'Once we have kids... once the kids are out of diapers... once the kids are in school... once the kids have left home... then he'll pay attention to me and make me feel loved.'

essexjan is right. Basically, women leave men because they don't feel loved anymore. And men are shocked because they didn't realize she felt that way. And without presuming to say what happened in your marriage, in most cases the wife bears some blame for not letting him know she was unhappy, and the husband bears some blame for taking her happiness for granted.

I hope this helps a little. Good luck to you.
posted by happyturtle at 4:26 AM on February 24, 2008 [9 favorites]

To echo everyone else, different people require different things from their partners to feel loved. Another good book on that topic is The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate. (The five languages are "Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch".) Maybe you were expressing your love for your wife in a different "love language" than she needed to "hear" to feel loved, and maybe you can get her back by changing how you express your love to her.
posted by Jacqueline at 6:44 AM on February 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

You're probably not going to understand why she left you for a while. Your situation is very acute right now and your brain can't think dispassionately about it. Give it time, in six months or maybe as much as a year, you'll look back and say, "oh yea, I see it now". Go to a therapist to talk things out and try to live a simple life for a while. Don't do anything drastic until you have a little perspective on where you are and where you want to go. A day after my ex told me that it was over, I was as confused as you are now, a year later, I was amazed that we'd stayed together as long as we had. So don't obsess about "why" right now, it will come to you.
posted by octothorpe at 7:00 AM on February 24, 2008

If/when you're ready to date again, I'd suggest relocating to a larger city to increase your dating pool size.
posted by sixcolors at 7:06 AM on February 24, 2008

Screw the anonymity part. I am the OP. Regardless of how this thing turns out, I anticipate that this will be my last post on meta because of what I perceive will be changes to my life. i will check back though on this thread over the next several weeks however.

First, I want to thank all who responded. This is a hurtful, trying time in my life, and I dislike opening up my heart to people - so why is it easier with strangers?

A couple of persons have said "be with friends". Only problem is that I don't really have any friends - that aren't married and that don't know my wife. this is a tough one, as I really work too much - but I do get compensated for it.

Several persons have commented that there is the alcohol thing in the OP. Nope. I brought it up because at the time of the writing, it seemed like it is be a potential game breaker in so many marriages. My wife can't drink, and I have abided by this except for a once a year golf trip with buddies - sometimes they would call their wives to brag about the day after drinks. I never did that because my wife can't drink alcohol and who enjoys talking to a drunk golfer on the phone?

BTW, the menopause thing was brought up not as blame, but as maybe one more thing that I was unaware of how deep it could run or if this whole thing could be hormonal. I am not looking for a scapegoat, but she has had significant hormonal and mood issues in the past, and I don't know if this is a contributory factor. This is my first menopause y'know?

I never showed my wife often enough that I loved her. That much I now know. Based on the Nice Guy theme, (thanks Headnsouth!) which appears to be bang on BTW, I also know that I spent too much time giving to others and with not enough left over for my wife. When I was promoted to this new role, after about a year I went into a serious depression - no energy, no life, no interest. This came to light in an email she had sent me Friday evening after we had our shoutfest. She also commented that a couple of personal financial and bonus decisions that I had made in the past were ones that she disagreed with - again the Nice Guy theme comes out. in both cases these were pointed out as what are indications of our differences.

Yesterday was potentially the worst day of my life. A big hole where my heart used to be, a large sore spot in my stomach, no appetite and an inability to focus. We spoke on the phone, and both of us were crying while we were talking trying to reach some sort of something..... when she mentioned that as a child, she would often get into trouble because she would never talk to her parents about anything. This told me that maybe while I was guilty of not listening, maybe in the inner noise that makes up a day, I never heard her simply because she never spoke. She told me she would go for walks with the dogs and cry. But never a word to me. Or maybe there was - God - who knows anymore? if my wife had ever said to me "or I am leaving", I think I would have heard. I don't believe it was necessarily because I wasn't listening.

I thank you especially Taz and Essexjen, for your post has given me hope and a bit of direction. MAYBE there is still something there but I need to figure out if it is the life or the person.

Regardless of how it all turns out, I thank you all for your input. Guys, don't get into this situation - especially if you have kids. Take the extra 5 minutes to show your wife that you love her without any ulterior motives (like sex). It will go a long ways towards making your sunny days brighter, and the rainy, grey ones seem like a nice break - and you will do it together.

Thanks again MetaFites.
posted by fox_terrier_guy at 7:08 AM on February 24, 2008 [18 favorites]

Wow...that comment made me cry, fox_terrier_guy.

MAYBE there is still something there but I need to figure out if it is the life or the person.

I wouldn't want to overstate the case, because much damage has been done, but you may want to try asking for counseling once again. She was crying and she was opening up to you about her longstanding sadness; you are coming to realizations about your relationships and friendships. There may be some willingness to change on both parts. One day at a time, once again...if you are moving out, I've known people who moved out and took some time to be by themselves and think before embarking on the road of counseling and repair. A period of separation and counseling - definitely for you, ideally for you both - may help things become clearer before you take the legal action of divorce.

Even if that's not the road you choose, you will still be fine, and maybe find a way into being a more openhearted person with a stronger sense about what really matters in your own life and in relationships.

Best to you.
posted by Miko at 7:19 AM on February 24, 2008


Deeply sorry.. excellent advice already in this thread. I'm neither wise enough nor experienced enough to tell you what you should do with your life, but.. I think my mother is.

She always tells me one of the most important things in finding happiness is to have it come from within yourself.

Life goes on, find your happiness and find out who and what brings out happiness within you. At this point, I think spending a ton of time with your kids and enriching your relationship with them will be one of those things.

Best of luck to you.
posted by crunch buttsteak at 8:31 AM on February 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

There is extremely little I can do to help you. I'm sorry. However, please do not discount the people in your life who know or are related to your wife. Unless the only reason you ever hung around them was because of their relationship to her, they are your friends, too. And, after decades of marriage, her relatives can be your relatives too.

Nothing says you have to give up people who matter to you, and nothing says that they will have to give up you. Unless you and your wife force them to "pick sides," they can continue to be both your friends and your wife's friends. They can, and will, continue to care about you even if they also care about your wife.
posted by Ms. Saint at 8:32 AM on February 24, 2008

Wow, fox_terrier_guy, good luck to you, and you're brave to shake off the anonymity. I would like to point out something, in what I hope is a helpful and hopeful manner. Both of your posts are filled with a lot of I's and me's and my's. And I understand that when one is in deep pain, one's first thoughts are for oneself. (Believe me, I very much understand this, to my own detriment.) But something I learned in my own marriage counseling, fwiw, is it is imperative to put yourself in the other party's shoes or you will never be able to progress beyond guessing at the other's reasons and intentions.

Just as an exercise, can you rewrite your posts from your wife's point of view*? It may give you some insight. If nothing else, it may bring up some empathy for her. And I suspect that any empathy you show her will be met with, possibly, some empathy on her part for you. Maybe mutual empathy for each other will lead somewhere, or maybe it won't, but at least you will have proven that you can, in fact, think outside of yourself.

*If you are like me or my husband, you may be tempted to write this off as a bunch of new-age psychobabble role-playing hooey. Please reconsider if that is your first reaction. It helped us.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 8:50 AM on February 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

I am so very sorry. I left my husband after 20 years of marriage, but of course our situation was very different than yours. He was more than just a heavy drinker (which had only begun about 7 years before). I couldn't even have a conversation with him and I had warned him so much that I was going to leave, that I began to sound like a broken record. Naturally this is nothing like your situation, but I know how it feels to be attached to someone for so many years and to suddenly have it over.

I have nothing more to add, as this thread has a ton of good advice. I just wanted to say how very sorry I am. That you had no idea something was wrong, that you have been taken by surprise, is heart wrenching.

The one thing I do have to say is not to "compartmentalize" yourself. Be yourself and don't hide anything. Don't try to retreat into a shell (that's all compartmentalizing is) as it's unhealthy. If your job stresses you, then talk about it or find an outlet for that stress.

As for you being you, you might be surprised. My current boyfriend is the exact opposite of my ex. He's not as socially adept, he's also bald... and wiry as you said. He doesn't express himself very well sometimes, but the one thing I admire most about him is that he is himself. He has an amazing sense of humor and is so very thoughtful in his actions.

I am so sorry for your pain and loss, but just know that you do have friends (and likely family) that will be there for you.

Good luck to you. Please let us know sometime down the road how things have turned out.

If you ever want to chat, just IM me. :)
posted by magnoliasouth at 8:55 AM on February 24, 2008

I'm also sorry to hear about this trouble in your life. May it pass quickly.

In addition to Nthing all the good advice given above, I'd make just a few more suggestions.

First, plan on getting acquainted with the closest urban area to you and spending more time there than you may have in the past. I'm not saying pick up and move -- though you may decide to do that eventually. Just see it as a source of groups you might join, classes to take, whatever interests you. If your current location is rural and pretty limited, the city will increase your pool of options (in every respect) and make a new world and life more available to you.

Second -- and this is pretty tactical and only for when you're ready -- after my mother was suddenly left after 24 years of marriage, she began going to meetings and events sponsored by Parents Without Partners. (Don't be put off by the 1996-era website.) She found lots of new friends and dateable men her age through this group, and it was great to see her going out and, in some ways, acting like a teenager again. If nothing else, you're sure to meet men and women who are facing the same challenges you are and are doing well despite them. (And BTW, she did end up meeting someone -- in our little Iowa town -- and getting happily married again.)

Finally, hold your head high. As many have said above, you sound like a terrific guy who will weather this storm and come out the other side better for it -- it just sucks that there has to be this terrible period before that happens. And because your comment about looks touched me, I want to give you encouragement about that as well. Continue taking good care of yourself and stay in shape as well as you can. Don't be afraid to buy some new clothes and enjoy looking your best. Someone who obviously cares about themselves is someone other people find it easier to care about as well. Whoever said that you'll be a hot commodity in the dating pool is right -- single women in their fifties outnumber the single men -- and I think you'll find looks matter less than who you are as a person.

As a bit of encouragement, I'm including this link to a recent article in the the Sunday New York Times Magazine about finding love at the stage of life you're in. I hope it will help you feel better about where you are now and the future. Good luck. I hope you find happiness.
posted by Work to Live at 8:58 AM on February 24, 2008

This told me that maybe while I was guilty of not listening, maybe in the inner noise that makes up a day, I never heard her simply because she never spoke.

She's speaking now.
posted by headnsouth at 9:09 AM on February 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

Man, I feel for you. I've been there—first marriage fell apart, completely unexpected by me—and I can tell you you're in for a year or so of hell. Good news: after that it will get better. Feel free to e-mail me if you want an ear; I'm a few years older than you and seven years into a good second marriage.

To address a few points:

- I have no interest in dating - obviously. Maybe that will change.

Yeah, it will, but it's good that you're not interested now. It will take a while before you're fit to try (probably a year or more), and the first few tries probably won't go so well. Think of it as like job applications (only in this limited sense!): you don't expect to get each job, but each one makes you readier for the next try. The good news is that, as others have said, you will be a valuable commodity; women in your age bracket (and I trust you won't do the classic midlife-crisis thing of dating twentysomethings) are more interested in character, trustworthiness, a good heart, and capacity for love than a full head of hair.

- I am limited in my social and conversational skills, believing that I better show my character through actions rather than conversation. This has been commented on by others in the community.

You should work on that. Do you have any female friends you could have pretend-dating conversations with so they could critique your conversational style? Think of it as learning a foreign language. Trust me, if you can learn to ask questions, listen attentively, and respond in interesting ways (Conversation 101), you'll go far.

-Being in a small community, I am not sure how I would react if I saw my ex-wife on a date.

Yeah, that's a tough one. You'll just have to steel yourself to the possibility—imagine all sorts of scenarios and try to drill yourself in minimal response (ignore or smile-and-wave, depending on distance and situation). Remember: the nicer you behave (however much you're raging inside), the more taken aback she'll be. She may even think she made a mistake about you. (And when you do get back into dating and find the right woman for you, you'll actually look forward to your ex maybe seeing you, happily paired, around town.)
posted by languagehat at 9:09 AM on February 24, 2008

It sounds like your wife is still trying to explain the problems to you and to reach out to you. Maybe this marraige can be saved, I hope so, you sound like a caring man and people can always change things about themselves if needs be.
Best of luck.
posted by fshgrl at 10:39 AM on February 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

Strongly recommend an attempt at reconciliation, maybe after a bit of a cooling off. The fact that you guys have been together so long makes her decision--in either direction--come with so many mixed emotions that you might have a chance if you are sincere and follow through. Good luck.
posted by sageleaf at 10:42 AM on February 24, 2008

I've been in a not entirely dissimilar situation.

Main thing for the time being: keep the best relationship you can with your wife; a good relationship with her will help you towards a good relationship with the children. I know they are already big, but even so, her goodwill will make everything so much easier, and happier for all concerned.

She may come back, at some point: it's not unusual for someone to make a break, for whatever reason, and at some point reevaluate and realise it's a mistake. Don't hope for it, but be aware it may happen.

Otherwise, as far as other women are concerned, just make friends. What's the rush?

Christmas alone can be painful. Find friend and go somewhere exotic for a few days.

Dying alone: it makes me smile when people mention that. In a marriage that lasts, one of the two partners is still going to die "alone", because they die second: why shouldn't it be you?
posted by londongeezer at 11:09 AM on February 24, 2008

You sound like a good man, fox_terrier_guy, and I hope things work out for you. Maybe there's a middle road here? You and your wife separate - but not necessarily divorce - and keep in touch amiably after things cool down?

If you'll allow me to project, I think I've felt a bit like your wife, assuming taz and essexjan have described your situation accurately. My husband is also a good man but tended to take me for granted a bit, and I felt somewhat overlooked and ignored for many years. I told him this explicitly, but for whatever reason nothing changed. Then, without much drama, he took a job in another state and moved out, with the idea that I would follow if his new job was stable, if there were jobs for me in his area, if the housing market looked good, etc. Now that he's gone, things are actually a lot better. I'm happier, he sounds happier, we actually have things to talk about in our occasional phone calls, I look forward to his monthly weekend visits, we don't just sit around in grumpy silence, and we still have all the legal and financial benefits of being married without the irritation of having a grouchy roommate.

Maybe after you've had a chance to adjust to your new situation, you might find you can be better friends with your wife without actually living in the same house with her. A few years ago I never would have thought it was possible, but now I can tell you truthfully that it happens. I don't know about your wife, but you sound fairly self-contained and self-sufficient, perhaps a bit of a loner (those tell-tale social skills, y'know), and you might find that a "married-but-single" life suits you. Feel free to contact me if you wish, and good luck!
posted by Quietgal at 11:32 AM on February 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't chase her, I'd let her determine the amount of space and conversation there is, but if she admits she has trouble talking, and you admit you don't really understand why she was so unhappy, you might be able to reconcile (now or later) if you presented yourself as willing to listen and then encouraged her to talk. Couples counseling does sound like a good idea, if she got to a point where she'd consider it.
posted by salvia at 12:14 PM on February 24, 2008

Couple of things that helped me when I went through this (at a rather younger age):
- don't make any sudden moves, one way or another. It takes months to lick your wounds and regain mental stability. This is not a good time to make commitments or irreversible decisions.
- I found I had a tendency to obsessively, repetitively chew over various thoughts. To counteract this, I tried to deliberately talk back to myself, contradicting or challenging any assertions that bubbled into my mind. This helped break the cycle of brooding.
- a hard night out or two to drown your sorrows is only human, but in general, don't try ti cope with drink, especially not every day. You can't get much thinking done in a stupor, and even if you're not getting drunk regularly, it is definitely a depressant at a time when you really don't need depressing any more. Dry out for a couple of weeks and you'll see what I mean.
- in many ways, going over "why" isn't very productive. I came up with a whole lot of "whys" over time, but that didn't fix anything one way or another. Thinking about making positive changes for the future, keeping engaged with daily life: that helps.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:13 PM on February 24, 2008

I've been thinking about you all day.

Do everything you can to keep lines of communication open - if you have to use the "I want to check in and see how [son] is doing" then feel free to do so, but I agree with the others upthread who said "she's speaking now". Let her speak freely and listen to her.

Get into therapy and let her know that you are going to do this. If nothing else, it will help you deal with the change. Best case is that she agrees to go to therapy with you and you sort things out.

Let your sons be honest with you, but try not to be too overly honest with them. They don't really need you to share your every emotional spasm with them. What they need from you is assurance that you're still their father and you still love them and that (yes, even at this age) the issues between you and your wife have nothing at all to do with anything either of them said or did or is.
posted by anastasiav at 6:49 PM on February 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

Going to second the hat — give yourself a year, just go through it day by day. You'll be a stronger and more self-aware person at the end of it, even if the healing process is not complete.

Another failed first marriage person here. But the second one has been amazing!
posted by Wolof at 10:11 PM on February 24, 2008

Thank you all for responding.

An update.

My wife and I are finally beginning to speak again. yesterday, both emotionally exhausted (me rather more so) we went for a long walk with our dogs (two points for those who can figure out what they are) and shared some points. It got heated at times, but as someone uppost said; "through pain comes strength".

I have committed to therapy also, but only to understand why I am the way I am and how I got here. I always thought that as a participant in my life, i understood how and why I do things. I understand now how what I took for granted and how it lead to our widening gap. Yeah, I was a "good man" as others have said, but I thought bringing the paycheque home and commitment to my kids was proof of love. God, was I ever wrong. The other thing is that she wants to go back to therapy again also.

My wife needs space right now, and i am OK with that. She says that if we are going to get together again, we need to be friends first. I don't know how to be her friend, because I don't have a lot of friends. And so it goes.

My sons are aware of this split, and they know that we both still love them and are committed to them and that the other parent is not to blame.

Well, its monday. What a lousy weekend.

The only closing I can come up with is that your life must be like a bank account; put a little love aside for your partner each day. Over time you get a heck of a balance accumulated. Damn it. if only I had known as much about love as I do money.
posted by fox_terrier_guy at 5:09 AM on February 25, 2008 [4 favorites]

It sounds like there is a good chance for reconciliation here. I am rooting for you two!
posted by Jacqueline at 5:43 AM on February 25, 2008

fox_terrier_guy, you're coping a hell of a lot better than I did in your shoes, and it sounds like the prospects for reconciliation are better than I had thought. The wake-up call seems to have worked, and if you can convince your wife of that, things may get better. Best of luck from this corner.
posted by languagehat at 7:08 AM on February 25, 2008

Hallelujah for the talking! That is hopeful! And hope is tremendous, considering the original post was hopeless. Come back and check in often, and we will stand beside you as you walk through this. Therapy is wonderful-- really try to be open even when things seem off base. Take notes so you remember things and re-read later. I'm overjoyed to hear of the hope.
posted by orangemiles at 7:17 AM on February 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

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