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Do I Want to get a Divorce?

A fundamental question that too many Americans are faced with. The dissolving of a relationship is like an orchestra playing off tune. Hopefully my story will provide some advice in navigating this acoustical nightmare.

When It All Falls Apart

Divorce was not a part of my upbringing. Outside of a couple of friends growing up, my parents and most of my surrounding peers had maintained an intact family, as did their parents and their parents and so on and so on. You just didn’t give up or quit. That was always the message in my family growing up and I was certain on that day that I took my wedding vows that as a believer in counseling and communication there would be nothing we couldn’t work through as a couple.

The world of marriage was to me a fraternity I was proud to be a part of, and the family I was about to grow was the most important thing in my life. Even some of the subtle things that many men would claim little concern for, were to me a valued part of my outward expression of commitment. I had purchased a very nice platinum and diamond engagement ring for my wife, and would frequently joke at how the men get the raw end of the deal on that transaction. Despite my frequent jabs, I did view this purchase as worthy of the commitment I was prepared to undertake, and thus the price tag was quite hefty for a young man with a career in the non-lucrative mental health field. Fortunately for me at this time I had already begun my real estate investment career and used the profits from a recent sale to complete the purchase. In turn, when the time came for me to purchase what would soon be the symbolic item to adorn my hand for what I believed would be the length of my life, I took equal stock in that purchase. I wanted a ring that would adequately represent my value of the commitment of marriage and thus settled on a scrolled white gold ring, embedded with 3 diamonds and later adorned with the birthstones of my two children. It was a perfect representation of the family structure that I cherished, and despite constant ridicule from my friends to the somewhat ostentatious nature of it, I loved it and all that it symbolized.

Early in marriage, the two of us shared the many joyous adventures that young couples are supposed to share. My family, which has always been very close, embraced our marriage as I knew they would and it was wonderful to watch the family pictures on the walls in my childhood home grow in size and number as a new family was formed. There are so many stories of families that don’t embrace one another. The horrific image of the evil mother-in-law battling to the death with her newly appointed daughter-in-law who could never provide for her son the way she could. Fortunately for me, this was not the case and aside from a few isolated arguments here and there, we were as close as any merged family could have been.

On my end, this merger was quite easy; my wife's mother had passed tragically when my wife was young and her father (ironically and sadly) was never involved. Therefore, the extent of my interaction with her family was with her brother who lived about 5 hours away and we saw a few times a year, and her sister who we saw on a more regular basis. During holidays, we would frequently have all of us together and as my mother loves a big holiday. This new dynamic was embraced and welcomed. For all intents and purposes, our family had morphed together like two songs remixed into one. An intense rock classic, whose harmonic beat, when paired with the vocals of a poppy young female, makes you wonder how the two ever existed without one another. My side of the family provided the harsh undertone of AC/DC with the easily distinguished guitar riff of the classic song “Back in Black”. With my family’s Italian heritage, we are loud, opinionated and love a good argument. Family dinners are often a volley of conversations, jockeying with one another for position; each one fighting to subdue the ambient noise of surrounding voices the way that Brian Johnson’s voice elevates itself to compete with the blaring chords from guitarist Angus Young. My ex-wife’s family was softer in nature and thus seemed uncomfortable at first with this dynamic, but just like those harmonic remixes, managed to integrate their voices into our maniacal volley and with Angus’ riffs bouncing off the walls, Alicia Keys fluidly harmonized among the noise. The end result was a dinner table filled with faces and sounds that appeared as if they had broken bread together for centuries. A conversation emanated that had the ease of a deep breath, effortlessly flowing in and out, and respiring life into the surroundings. I loved it; and even now, as we have integrated a new family, it is pure energy for me to be in these settings. And with the amazing mash-up playing in the background, just when it would seem impossible for the song to be any better, in comes the high-pitched train whistle and low kick drum, and despite all conventional wisdom that these sounds would never mix, magically, they do. My two young children had miraculously blended into our orchestra in a seamless manner, leaving a top billboard hit that would spend ages on the charts. At that moment, in all its harmonic glory, I could have never seen how the voice of Alicia Keys would slowly decay, leaving behind an off pitch and toneless vibrato that no longer synchronized in our orchestra. Turning points are so much more identifiable in hindsight, and so discreetly masked in the moment.

The deterioration of the voice occurred in the same manner that an aged singer can no longer carry the elegant notes for the same duration, or in the same octave. To the untrained listener, the song is still the same classic it was upon original release, and in most cases with human interactions, many of us are untrained listeners. This is not a jab at society, and in truth I fully include myself in that criticism. The reality is that to truly hear the music, and to wholly understand an individual, you must immerse yourself in their every behavior; attend yourself to their words with a radar like sensitivity, and allow the combined information to come together and form what is true and honest about them. The issue that we all face is that our interactions with almost everyone in our lives does not allow for that; thus we are revealed to only their desired self. The image that person chooses to present to the world, and in that perception, we are almost all studio recordings of “Stairway to Heaven”. We hit every note, keep perfect time, and work harmonically with our fellow band members. Flawless. Seamless. Ideal. Complete. That is what we show to almost everyone we meet.

To truly listen to another human being, you must, through countless repetition sit in on all the jam sessions. Watch as instruments fail, voices crack, and time and measure are constantly off. It is only through endless experiences like this that we truly get to know someone. And as a result, a common look of confusion and bewilderment emanated from our close friends and family when we explained to them that a marriage had failed. It is not their fault for this reaction; most of them had been listening to the studio recording of the relationship for years.

In the end, the song did not remain the same; and after years of counseling and countless hours of wondering what I could do next to fix this horrible relationship I was in, it happened. I decided that I could no longer live this way; but what I had not decided was that I was ready to abandon the ability to wake up to my children on a daily basis. And there, in that state of purgatory, floating between the two things that paradoxically brought me the greatest joy and the most intense anguish lay a decision. One that more than likely you as the reader has faced, and struggle with possibly still. Now, with this decision far behind me, there are two stories that I can tell; what I did do, and what I would have done. I often wish we could live life twice, as so often these two things are rarely congruous.

What I did was inadvisable, as most things that are easy tend to be. I chose to wake up to my kids every morning because I felt justified in that action. Why should I have to give that up? After all, I had dumped all my efforts into years of counseling with little reciprocity from my partner. And simultaneously, I chose to find love. Why should I have to give that up either? I believed in my heart that my partner did not know what true love meant and I wanted that as part of my life, so I found it.

I lived this life for a very short period of time, and during that time my emotional state was in such constant unrest that I was never truly enjoying either life I was living. In the end, my love for another woman became evident and I gave away all the control I had once had in the decision for my future. My desire to take the easy way out led to a much harder road going forward, provided my ex-wife with the ability to pin the marriage failure on my infidelity, and sparked anger from close friends and family. Epic fail!

If I had a do-over, here is how it would look. And here is my suggested list of steps for all of you who are sitting in the same purgatory that plagued my life for over a year.

  1. You must exhaust every aspect of counseling with your partner. Whether it be psychological, spiritual, holistic, or any other form that the two of you can agree upon. Set aside your preconceived notion that it's all bullshit. It’s not! The only way for two people to fix a broken situation is through communicating what is at the heart of your frustration. And that takes time. I recommend committing yourself to at least one year of counseling every other week to make any progress.

  2. Commit to being faithful during this process, you cannot commit to the tough task of relationship repair if the alternative is the ease of a “side-piece”. In the end every one of those girls on the side will come with their own set of issues you will need to work through.

  3. If your therapist doesn't suggest it, tell them you want actual “homework”. When relationships go sour you need to reprogram activities in. Plus this will be a clear indicator if one person isn't doing their part.

  4. Accept the fact that you are definitely partially to blame for the issues. Without that there is no chance.

  5. Should all efforts fail, do not commit adultery! It will make the process of separation so much more difficult and create issues far outside of the realm of your relationship.

  6. Leave before you cheat. If after the year of counseling (or more if you were making progress), things are going bad then discuss separation. (Going back I would have left my wife and then began to see other people).

It's easy to give advice that we ourselves did not take, however, I can tell you from experience that I took a much harder road. If you find your band is out off tune, I hope you take heed of the above steps and make every effort to work hard at making beautiful music again!

For more like this, purchase my book Paint By Numbers, The Art of Fatherhood

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