Robert (Bro. Pepper-spray of Reasoned Discussion) (montecristo) wrote,
Robert (Bro. Pepper-spray of Reasoned Discussion)

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Talking About the Divorce with Laurel

When we were still in the process of exchanging messages through our respective OKStupid mailboxes Laurel and I were comparing notes about our respective attempts to build families. I was curious as to how she had managed to separate her romantic/intimate life from her procreative and child-raising endeavors. I pointed out that I didn't think I'd have been able to do what she did: come to an arrangement with a trusted friend to bring children into the world and to raise them, but without engaging in a romantic/intimate relationship with that person. To me, bringing life into the world and raising children are high values and powerfully emotionally entangling ones at that. I don't know how she managed to separate the two roles: wife and mother. Being a father was a big part of my being a husband.

On the other side of the fence, Laurel was skeptical of the thinking involved in the divorce from Crystal. She couldn't understand how anyone not in a physically abusive relationship could or would consider breaking up and introducing chaos into their childrens' family life. I don't know how well I got across to her the notion that Crystal did resist this course of action for a long time, at least according to what she had and has told me. I've no reason to doubt that she did honestly try. Also, I don't know how well I conveyed the information that, toward the end, a part(s) of me were very much in favor of ending the maddening cycle of infidelity-armistice-rapprochement by actually helping to shove her out the door into someone else's hands. It's like that old joke: "I kept hearing that you were leaving, so I decided to give you a little momentum." Laurel expressed her curiosity on the topic like this:

She wrote:

When I consider this issue of how common divorce is I realize that I'm actually rather what, old fashioned, even though I have such an unusual set up. The core family unit that I signed up for seems a starting standard that isn't something I would change because my sons didn't get a choice in the deal. It would be wrong for me to leave with them as you describe your wife leaving. If there is flat out physical abuse, ok, but even infidelity doesn't seem worthy of breaking up a family. Not that you said that was an issue. Les has dated, I have dated, both of us had various longer term relationships over the years - it's seemed our boundaries have been so careful and clear that partners have felt comfortable. In the end though, the container we place ourselves in has forced a level of personal development for ourselves that's not common to my experience.

Well, since she did ask, I got curious about whether or not I could encapsulate the disintegration of the relationship and our arrangement in a way that would serve as some sort of overview and rough introduction to a long and convoluted story. Something about Laurel's candor and the fact that I perceived her to be a really honest person, and emotionally open, made me feel a lot less defensive about discussing this topic with her, at least this soon after being introduced to each other. So, I went into the bear cage again and had another go at the beast of history, to see if I could wrestle it into disgorging some useful thinking and insights. I'm reproducing the answer I gave her here, where I can easily get at it again, when I want to ponder my attempts to deal with this topic.

My answer:

Crystal and I were and are in many ways what one would call “old fashioned” as well. We didn’t get married in a church, not least because we are atheists, but the two of us, in our own ways thought our union was sacred and for life. What you say about children not getting a choice in the deal was something of which we were both aware and the knowledge has been a cause of some discomfort, in each of us, considering how things worked out. She and I have talked about it. We both love our daughters and want the best for them. We both realize that breaking up our family caused our daughters to pay costs they did not deserve to bear and more rightfully belonged to the two of us. You’re correct. It was a wrong but it may have been the lesser of two evils in the long run. I don't want to excuse it, but when all responses are inadequate to the challenges, all that is left are consequences. There was no physical abuse, save two incidents, in our relationship, and none at all, involving the children, but there were two instances in our life together where conflict between Crystal and I escalated into something more than words. It wasn't severe and neither of us was physically damaged in either incident but I think neither of us are or would be proud of those two incidents. Each of us bears the larger share of responsibility for one of the incidents, as if that perverse parity matters much. I don't think it does. Even so, neither of those incidents were the cause of the marriage crumbling. I agree with you though: physical abuse on either of our parts would have been more than ample cause for separation. It just wasn’t the determining factor in the failure of our marriage, thankfully. Neither were some of the other big “marital sins” like drugs, alcohol, or gambling abuse, or non-support a factor. Infidelity was a factor. Crystal was often depressed and dissatisfied with our marriage and when she became dissatisfied with our relationship, she would have an affair. It happened multiple times in our years together. In some ways it was like living with an alcoholic. It played a big part in eroding the trust between the two of us. Naturally, I bear and accept some of the responsibility for being unable to productively resolve the issues between us. Right or wrong, she felt she had a reason for cheating. Nevertheless, in and of itself, I wouldn’t say that the infidelity and our consequently damaged trust by itself was enough to end things, but it was a big part of the problems, and in the difficulty in addressing them and resolving them. I'm sure that Crystal has her own list of my failings and shortcomings that contributed to the failure, and I'm sure that she is not entirely without grounds, but faithfully enumerating those grounds would be more an act of rote memory, than of understanding, if I were successful at all in reproducing such a list. I could take a stab at it, but I'll refrain from the attempt on this particular page, lest I digress too much from the topic at hand, which is more historical account than analysis.

I know that this may sound simplistic, and it does to me as well, but basically, Laurel, we had a set of problems that beset the relationship and neither of us had really effective tools for dealing with the relationship, the problems, or each other when things were going wrong. When things were going right they were wonderful, but marriage is not about continuous, automatic wonderfulness. You have to have the strength, wisdom, know-how, and compatibility in order to deal with one another effectively and lovingly in order to get through the hard times and frictions. We really didn’t have enough of those things: strength, wisdom, know-how, and compatibility to keep things flying, certainly not in the face of our respective faulty premises. Pride, stubbornness, lack of understanding, insecurity, defensiveness, poor communication skills, corrosion of trust and good will, all just kept eroding the relationship and causing even the small problems to grow in magnitude to the point where we both understood that things were awful and Crystal finally decided that she needed an exit. Basically, she found someone else and “ran away with him”. That’s not what I would have considered a sound response, but that is just how she works -- her modus operandi, if you will. I was at war with myself. Part of me wished she would go and put a defacto end to the stress, confusion, and anguish I felt in trying to deal with things and find answers, and part of me wanted to salvage what was good in our relationship, build something stronger, and keep our family together. I didn’t have any answers about how to do it. I didn't want to admit failure and I didn't want to lose my wife, but I had not enough courage to fight off the urge to run myself, or to offer her something that might inspire her to reconsider. I did offer her a fall back position, of a sort, near the end. She was not inspired. All of her and the half of me that wanted out overpowered the half of me that wanted to keep looking for a solution. Your guy, Mackler, would have found himself in “a target-rich environment” with the two of us. We had issues, as they say. Neither of us put much hope nor trust in modern psychology. We spoke with one woman who did marriage counseling and after an initial thirty minute phone consultation Crystal and I found ourselves in ironic solidarity and agreement over the idea that neither of us liked this person's approach, her attitude, or her communication style. She was kind of an emotional cold fish, and imperious, and came across as if she were looking down on us for even seeking her counsel. Before we could talk to anyone else about how to fix things, Crystal decided that the only way she would consent to see someone with me was if the objective for doing so was to convince me that the marriage could not be saved and to get me to accept a divorce. Well, I didn’t need to pay a counselor to tell me that it couldn’t work if both of us were no longer committed to saving the marriage and so we gave up on getting any help at all. A few months after that, Crystal moved in with someone with whom she had taken up her last affair. She filed divorce papers soon after that and I didn’t contest it. Things finalized in April of 2004.

She’s married to the man with whom she left now and they have two little boys. The divorce went smoothly enough, outside of a bit of financial wrangling and rancor. I was angry and grieving and self-pitying for about a year after it finalized. I mostly didn't have a lot of interaction with Crystal for about a year after that. As shocking to me as such an eventual development would have appeared to me at the time things fell apart, and in the subsequent two years, Crystal, her second husband, our two girls, their two boys, and I managed to reestablish a certain modus vivendi among ourselves and even socialize with each other. Until about three years ago, our girls lived with their mother and frequently visited me on weekends, when I was not in Sacramento, visiting them. Crystal and I arranged to have joint custody. In September of 2011, Crystal and her spouse ran into financial hardship and they moved back to Michigan to be where his family could help them out. Our girls stayed out here in California, in Sacramento, where they live now.

I've never told anybody the story in such detail before. It was an interesting exercise to hammer it all out here on virtual paper. It was kind of cathartic even, despite the fact that the wounds have long scarred over and the pain has long faded away. I kind of want to say thanks for asking, and for being the kind of person I would actually find myself wanting to tell. If you've got opinions or observations you feel like sharing, I'm interested in hearing them.
Tags: introspection, love, relationship

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