In the years that I was with my ex-husband, I lived two completely different lives. In one life, I was part of a respected couple, a stay-at-home mother, former newspaper journalist, and a good friend to many people. I chaired volunteer committees after committees. I was a hostess to many parties. I gave others advice on many subjects, including marital advice. And I was there for my girlfriends when they wanted to complain about their husbands latest acts of selfishness.
I would commiserate and find humor and basically play right along about how men are from another planet and we women had to just find a way to tolerate them. In other situations, I would speak about the importance of working on your marriage and finding solutions to differences.
And my ex-husband lived a double life as well. In public, he was the typical husband and father. Seemingly trying his best to handle the responsibilities of home-life and a demanding job. He played the laid-back hubby just trying to make his demanding wife happy. In that public life, was the only time that he would hold my hand or show me affection. He was willing to run to the store during a party, or put on a Santa costume at Christmas.
But behind the scenes, we had a much different picture. From the start of our relationship, my ex was always very comfortable lying and withholding information about himself, his actions and his life. I have always struggled with this so the lying took its toll on me.
When the last people left the party and all that was left were empty cups and bags of trash, our marriage became real and it wasn’t pretty. My ex stopped all affection and talking to me the minute the door closed behind the last guest. He withdrew from our life pretty quick.
But the real story to our double life, was the dance we did in private. I would have some sort of expectation or request of him, and he would have another idea. And that was the start of it. For example, my ex loved playing fantasy baseball. He spent hundreds of dollars on it and other forms of gambling before I met him, so it was not a big surprise to me. I knew it going in. When we got together and began to make spending decisions together, the idea of our limited budget going to such an expensive, time consuming and frivolous “hobby” seemed a bit odd to me. I asked him if he could limit his spending and time and cut back on the many leagues he was playing. He said he understood and that he would. Sounded like a compromise to me that we could both live with.
However, I didn’t count on my ex’s double live. He told me one thing and did another. He kept playing, but just didn’t tell me about it. One day I found out and was terribly hurt. We had a long conversation in which I tried to express that I was really feeling hurt that this man who was suppose to have my back wasn’t really caring about the hours he took away from his family with 80-100 hours a week on work to begin with. On top of that, he wanted to spend what little time he had left on himself. He didn’t “agree” and felt that I was being controlling.
Throughout the years together, I tried to express this to him in some long conversations that I had hoped would “sink in” and he would understand how hurt this made me. Instead, he understood that I would be mad if he played, so he decided its was best not to tell me he had continue to gamble our money and play the game. Some of his friends were even in on it. This was a pattern that he lives with today. (I have watched him spin the truth to his new wife and withhold information because he doesn’t want to make her mad.)
The dance went back and forth for years. When I would catch him, a blow up would begin and most times I would end up being hit, pushed, left, spit on, lied to some more and generally blamed for being a controlling wife. He was the victim and I was the one who didn’t understand him. And honestly, this debate should have been handled with compromise and mutual understanding, but our debates too often ended with my ex going to his coping skills of abuse: violence, abandonment and lies.
The last time we argued over this particular issue, was a turning point for me. My ex had told me that a friend I didn’t know was coming into town and he would be spending the evening with him. I was fine with that. But there was something strange about it and I couldn’t put my figure on it. That day, we got into an argument and my ex stormed out of the house. After a while, I tried to call him and he wouldn’t answer his phone. That went on for hours until finally he picked up the phone about 2 a.m..
I asked him where he was and he hedged… finally he said he had been driving around after he met his friend. That didn’t make sense and I suddenly started to think, “Maybe he is having an affair” and I asked him. “If that is what you want to think, go ahead and think that,” he said and then he hung up the phone. He came home a little while later and we didn’t see each other until morning. I was pretty upset and he told me he wasn’t having an affair. He was just driving around because of our earlier fight. But I honestly didn’t know what was going on.
Until a few weeks later when, during a heated discussion, he confessed what he had been doing that night. I was incredibly hurt when I found out and not because he was with another woman. He was with his friends playing fantasy baseball. Sure I was glad that he wasn’t having an affair, but I couldn’t believe that he was completely comfortable letting me believe that he was having an affair just so he could play a game, a hobby, for fun and not have to deal with me on it. I still have trouble understanding how his conscious works. And after that, I really began to realize that he would never have my back. His desires, wants, needs would always come first and at any expense to me and the kids. This was not a giving man.
It also highlighted to me the state of our dysfunction. Why was I still doing the dance with this guy who clearly didn’t care about me enough to think about how letting me believe he was having an affair would kill me. I realized how little I meant to him. How absolutely fake our public life was and how hopeless I felt that it would ever change. I so wanted to be with a man who cared about me that I had been willing for so long to take the crumbs of our fake public life and settle for the garbage of our real life. It was shameful.
The truth was that the issues that my ex and I fought over were really not too far off from what many married couples argue about and eventually compromise over, but in my marriage, my partner would do anything, even hit and lie, to protect what he coveted… his own desires. And that made me so ashamed in so many ways. Though I treasured honesty and loyalty, I was lying to everyone I knew about my marriage. I would actively paint my ex as a much better husband and parent than he was. I was hiding at nearly all costs the truth about what was going on behind closed doors. If I did commiserate with the girls about men, I took safe topics that wouldn’t lead to the truth of my marriage, which was that I was married to a man who cared so little about me that he would hit me, spit in my face, choke me, attack me, corner me against a wall, grab me, throw me against a wall, stomp on my feet, slap my face, pack a suitcase and leave me and the kids for days sometimes weeks at a time, ignore my phone calls, let me believe he was having an affair, spend very little time with me, show me little affection in private, call me names, swear at me, yell at me, give me only backhanded compliments, withhold information, play mind games with me and generally throw me under the bus to anyone at any time that it made sense in his world of control. He was the kind of man who told me over and over that the reason why he did all these things was because of me and how I treated him.
I didn’t want to face that I was staying with a man like this. I didn’t want to face that this is who I picked to be my children’s father. I didn’t want to face that this was who I promised to spend the rest of my life with and love unconditionally. I didn’t want to tell everyone that I was this stupid and see the looks on everyone’s faces. I didn’t want to tell my children that their father had these kinds of problems. And somehow, my ex-husband knew this about me and played on this completely.
I didn’t call the police. I didn’t tell my family or friends. I didn’t even tell some of the therapist we saw to fix our marriage. But the day I finally confessed to the couple’s counselor just what was going on, was a beginning and was the start of getting out and saving my life.