Getting used to the new normal

I recently caught up with a friend I hadn't seen in eight years. We caught up on things great and small over the course of a few hours. She had been reading my blogs, so she knew what had been going on in my life this year. After filling in some of the blanks, she said that I seemed to be doing OK these days. Maybe I am.

Though I still have my moments, I am overwhelmed less often. Sharp pains have given away to dull aches. With the house sale and packing everything away in storage, there are less tangible things to bring feelings to the forefront. I am able to share more of my story with friends without fear of breaking down. Though I find some solace in doing this writing, talking things through with people I care about has been a blessing.

I am making my way across the chart and through the five stages of grief and loss. I am doing them a little out of order, pushing anger to the later stages of my journey. What I am feeling right now doesn't feel quite like bitterness or anger. The best I can describe my current state is a feeling of being a little ripped off.

I feel like being married means you take the relationship commitment more seriously, and that you must make every effort before throwing up your hands in futility. I don't feel like we made that effort, but I also understand our perceptions of what went on are quite different. I still struggle with understanding how we got here, and why we couldn't turn the ship around, but I am beginning to accept that I may never get any clarity from J. I will of course continue to stumble my way toward finding meaning, new and old, in what has transpired.

J and I speak less and less often. Our conversations have been centered around the details of the house sale and the paperwork of separation and divorce. As those things have been checked off, the things that force contact are fading away. After talking to each other on the day the house sold, we didn't have any contact for more than three weeks.

We are still friendly when we do speak, but of course it has been somewhat stilted and awkward. We stick to discussing what we have to, and a little about work and our dog. We don't just call each other up to catch up on things, which is understandable. There is only so much I want to hear about her new life, but the silence still takes getting used to.

The few women I have dated in the past have all been people I worked with. There was no physical separation after a breakup as we had to see each other the next day (and the next...). J now lives two states away. I initially wanted her to stay in town, but the distance between us is making it easier to move forward. But again, it seems wrong on some level to now be out of touch after 7-8 years of marriage, especially when we are still friendly.

Once the final details are worked out, I don't know how much contact there will be, if any. I imagine we both need time off each other's grid to figure things out and build new lives for ourselves. When some time has passed, there may be calls, e-mails or visits, but not right now. For now this is the new normal, right or wrong.

Hiding from the holidays

I am kind of skipping Christmas this year. My heart just isn't in it this time.

Several people have said the first round of holidays after separation/divorce are the worst. To be honest, I think last year was worse. Last year we had just started counseling, and I was just realizing how bad things were. J was out of town spending Christmas week with her Mom. It was more than just time with Mom though, it was time away from me to think.

Spending Christmas without J was tough. I had all of my family with me, but there was a cloud in the room as well. I was the only one who knew what was going on, stuck making excuses why J wasn't there. It was a plausible story, but it wasn't the whole story. Though there was plenty of love and joy in the room, I was left with a knot in my stomach and my mind elsewhere.

When J and I met a few days after Christmas to exchange gifts, it felt forced and there was little joy. The one gift I gave her that had any sentimental value fell flat. We went through the motions but couldn't pretend that it was anything like Christmas' of the past.

This year, Christmas feels a little like a non-event. I've dug out my favorite Christmas CDs, but I can't seem to put them in the player. I haven't watched any Christmas movies either. My heart isn't in it, and it would feel like I was going through the motions again. It is less of a feeling of pain this year, and more a feeling of emptiness.

I will be spending the day with my wonderful immediate and extended family, and I am sure it will be a lovely day. But next year will be different, better. I will find the Christmas spirit again. I will find new joy in the season.

I am not looking for anyone to step in and try to make this Christmas special. I would rather let this Christmas go by a little unnoticed. I think I just need a pass this year.

Miracle Drug

I want a trip inside your head
Spend the day there...
To hear the things you havent said
And see what you might see

I wanna hear you when you call
Do you feel anything at all?
I wanna see your thoughts take shape
And walk right out

Freedom has a scent
like the top of a new born baby's head

The songs are in your eyes
I see them when you smile
I’ve seen enough I'm not giving up
On a miracle drug

Of science and the human heart
There is no limit
There is no failure here sweetheart
Just when you quit...

~ by U2

Marriage counseling wrap up

So, after four months of marriage counseling, what did I walk away with? Was it worth it? Was it a waste of time?

As far as the saving or improving the marriage goes, it clearly failed. When we started counseling, the goal was to improve our communication and relationship. On some level, our communication improved, if not our relationship.

As I detailed in my last post, our counselor was a poor one and I should have insisted we start over with someone else. She seemed more interested in moving me along the five stages of acceptance than in working to save the marriage. We could have picked a better guide, but there were clear benefits to seeing someone. We shared a fair amount of what had been on our minds - our wishes, our frustrations, our misunderstandings.

As I have also mentioned, we both went into counseling believing I shouldered much of the blame for our arriving on this doorstep. What we found is that we had both done things that made things more difficult in our relationship. My habit is to always look to my own actions before placing blame on others, and I don't forgive myself very easily. While I found no absolution in counseling, I did find some perspective on my role. I am walking away with plenty of guilt feelings, but nothing near what I would have if we hadn't had these discussions.

Something my personal counselor mentioned - it isn't uncommon for partners to switch roles during counseling. J asked for counseling and I was initially resistant. Once the ball was rolling, however, I opened up and she pulled back. I was all for digging into the issues and trying to find solutions. J seemed less and less interested as the weeks passed.

J later confided that when she asked for counseling last November, if I had said no she was going to leave. Apparently she had already been mourning the death of our marriage for some time, and I'm guessing it had taken time to screw up the courage to confront me. When I said yes to counseling, her face showed disappointment. She said it was shock, in that she never expected I would say yes. But I think that she had built herself up for this moment of truth, and by saying yes it threw her.

In the end, our counseling seemed to be one long exit interview. The type where your employer goes through your good and bad points, but dances around the real issue of why you are being let go.

But it wasn't a waste of time. Though we did not save the marriage, I'm better for having gone through counseling. Our marriage counselor was pretty poor, and I wish we had someone else guiding us through the process. But in the end, as far as saving the marriage, it probably didn't matter who we went to. We started counseling too late. It is my belief that J's mind was all but made by the time we began discussing our issues. Of course like lots of other thing written here, this is mostly speculation.

But I am not embittered against counseling. I think it can be extremely helpful and would recommend it to anyone interested. Of course that recommendation comes with the caution to chose your guide carefully, and to be willing to start over with someone else if necessary.

Marriage counseling report card - part two

So, the negative side of marriage counseling with Linda These are some of the things she said and did that made things more difficult, rather than improving the situation.

Pretty early on, Linda said that the purpose of our counseling wasn't to save the marriage. This perplexed and confused me. Why on earth were we meeting each week, turning over rocks, airing our dirty laundry if saving the marriage wasn't our end goal.

Linda told me she didn't think I was sincere in making changes. This was also pretty early on, before we had spent a whole lot of time together. She seemed to think I was just making empty promises to do whatever J asked. I challenged this, but she stuck to the opinion that I was basically full of shit. This only improved somewhat as the weeks went by.

Linda told me I was angry. Didn't ask, but rather told me. When I said I wasn't, she challenged me, provoked me. I was depressed, despondent, hurt, sad - but I was months and months away from approaching angry. One thing that will make me angry is for someone to tell me how I feel. We went back and forth and she wouldn't it go. I finally said if I was truly angry, and living in denial, that this was a topic to be taken up with my personal counselor.

We were talking about our different views of the separation. J felt she needed the space to work on her own things, and I was supportive. That being said, I planned on things working out in the end and that she would be coming home. I think Linda asked why I hoped/expected that she would be coming home. I talked about my feelings, got a bit emotional, and wrapped up by saying she is "my wife". Linda jumped all over "wife" saying that J and I might have different ideas of what "wife" meant. She implied that I expected J to be home doing my laundry and cooking me turkey-pot-pie. Frustrated that she thought I was a stereotype husband from the 50's, I explained (as best as I could) that what “my wife” means to me is that she is the woman I love, the woman I plan to share the rest of my life with, and the woman I would do anything to make happy – even if it was to my own personal detriment right now. She backpedaled, but it was clear what she thought of me.

There was no question I was upset about how things were going in counseling and our marriage. Linda told me she thought that I was despondent because I thought I could never find happiness again, rather than being upset about my marriage to J ending. We went back and forth a bit, not getting very far. I finally said "if I have to make a stupid comparison, I will. If my dog died, I can imagine having another dog sometime in the future and being happy, but it doesn't mean I wouldn't be absolutely crushed if she died." There were a lot of times I had to explain what I meant by making stupid-simple comparisons.

At one point Linda made J say that she didn't love me. J resisted, saying that wasn't true. I think the point Linda was trying to make was that J didn't have romantic feelings. As this was going on, tears began to well in my eyes. Linda's focus snapped to me and she said "why are you crying?" before the first tear fell. Not "how does that make you feel" or "what is going through your mind", but "why are you crying." Then she said I was overreacting. Early on in counseling, she said emotions aren't right or wrong, they just "are" and we need to learn how to manage and express them. Now she is telling me my emotions are wrong after she did her best to stir them up.

Then in our last session, she said that maybe J and I should be satisfied with a marriage where we don't talk all that much. All through this process, and even before we started, better communication was emphasized. We weren't really talking, and counseling was supposed to help solve this. After twelve weeks of digging up the past and present, we were doing much better. Then in our last session, Linda said "Just be happy with what made you miserable before."

There were other issues, but this is plenty to give an impression of what kind of counselor she was. Basically she thought I was insincere, unable to recognize (or admit) anger, a Neanderthal husband, incapable of future happiness, and after encouraging us to express emotion she criticized me when I did. I pushed back on several of these topics, but I didn't want our sessions turning into argument matches between me and the counselor, rather than working on our marriage.

Of course if I had to do it all over again, I would have changed counselors. We did talk about it part of the way through, but at the time I felt like keeping J in counseling was tenuous. I stuck it out for the general benefit it was providing, and tried to defend/explain myself while keeping the confrontation to a minimum.

Next, my final grade on the value of counseling, and what it meant to our marriage.

Marriage counseling report card - part one

If you can't say something nice...we'll start with the good:

"Linda" suggested/required each of us to go to an individual counselor in addition to seeing her as a couple. We had personal issues that we needed to address if we were going to have any success working on our marital problems. Linda referred me to John, and I couldn't have been happier with this choice. He was very helpful in working through my own issues, as well as a sounding board for my marital problems.

Linda asked tough questions. Her questions made us discuss subjects we had avoided talking about. Subjects that were sometimes embarrassing, loaded with shame, and more than a little tension. Our conflict avoidance was so prevalent, there was plenty to discuss. Once the subjects were broached, we did pretty well in opening up. Like so many other things, the stress and worry of anticipation is much worse than the actual thing you're avoiding.

I think just having a third person in the room was helpful, whether or not she was pushing us. When we were in session, J and I sat side by side on a couch facing Linda. I think it was easier to open up when we weren't facing each other. When discussing embarrassing or hurtful things, we weren't looking in each other's eyes. We didn't see each other's reaction, the crestfallen looks, any walls going up, etc. John actually recommended that we use this side-by-side technique by talking while out for a walk together. I made this suggestion a couple of times, but it didn't pan out.

When J initially mentioned moving out, Linda encouraged her to stay. Linda and I both felt that it was premature, and would only make working on our communication more difficult. Though J moved out a week or two later, I appreciated that Linda had encouraged us to work through things by staying under the same roof.

We met just about every week, 14 sessions in all, and we covered quite a bit of ground. Digging in to all the unsaid problems was a difficult journey, but I am better for it. It could have gone much, much better though. Most of things I appreciated about our counseling were pretty general and not specific to what Linda brought to the table. Next, the not so good.

Hard to break old habits

I've been talking with J on the phone a little bit recently because of the approaching home sale. I seem to miss her each time, so there have been several voicemails. I no longer say "Hey, its me" at the beginning of the message. I don't get to have that familiarity anymore. If there isn't now, there may another "me" someday soon.

The conversations have been somewhat awkward as well. The topics stay mostly to the business at hand with only minor personal updates. J called me this morning with a question on the escrow documents she was faxing off. I was still in bed - the alarm had gone off but I wasn't up yet, so I was understandably groggy. As she was signing off of the call, she stumbled over some words. I think she was about to say "love you" but caught herself. I could be wrong (I was half asleep), but that is how it seemed.

Inviting a stranger to the table

I was initially hesitant toward counseling. It was going to be odd sensation to be discussing our failings with someone in the corner taking notes. I am not comfortable talking about myself in general, and I wasn't looking forward to shining a spotlight on the things I felt shame about.

People go to counselors for many reasons. At its core, you have a neutral third party in the room. Couples that argue often may need a third person to act like a referee. Many other couples need an interpreter so they can learn to speak each other's language. Still others may need a counselor to help them focus in on one particular issue and act like a mediator.

We weren't really talking, much less arguing. What we needed was someone to ask questions about difficult subjects to get the conversation started. We don't often broach these subjects with friends and family, so we needed someone neutral to dive in and ask the embarrassing questions. Once we were talking, ideally she would guide us toward a solution.

Of course most counselors are going to resist outright telling you what to do. It isn't that easy, and it probably shouldn't be. Their answers often have some sort of "well what do you think" element to it. We needed to develop some skills to better understand and communicate with each other. Along with the push start, we were looking for some education as well.

Once you decide to take the plunge, where do you turn? Getting the right person can be critical. One of the only people I told early on about my marital problems was my boss. I had to change the way I worked and my pay structure as a part of moving forward. He confided that he and his wife went to a counselor a few years back, and after one session they were about ready to get a divorce. We were looking for someone to stir the pot a little, not throw a match on a powder keg.

We ended up with "Linda". Not the best choice, not the worst. We'll cover our time with her next.


J and I had been married for just over 7 years last November when she brought up counseling for the second time. She had brought it up once before in our second year, but I had been resistant then, and she didn't push it. About two weeks before she suggested counseling the second time, we had had some discussions that made it clear that something serious was wrong. So when she suggested counseling this second time, I agreed it was time to seek outside help.

Trouble had been brewing in the background for some time. Both of us tend to avoid conflict so we didn't confront some (any) of the lingering problems we were having. This is a recipe for disappointment and resentment. For my part, I wasn't holding back feelings of "when you do X it makes me mad/sad". It was more a feeling of numbness and incompleteness had crept into our relationship. I can admit now that I was depressed. I felt shame, pulled away, and walled off parts of myself. I was suffering, but I didn't realize how heavily it weighed on J and our marriage.

We started counseling in the middle of December. Not knowing who would be best to step in to help, we went to a counselor based on a recommendation. I will call her Linda. Linda suggested we start with four initial sessions and then see where we wanted to go from there. We met once as a couple, then we each had a separate session with Linda, then had one more joint session.

We drove separately to our first joint appointment. Not the best start, but it was a morning appointment and J would be continuing on to work afterwards. We were in the midst of last year's cold snap, and the roads were a bit treacherous. I was following, and the route J had chosen had me concerned as there was a hill that was likely icy. I tried calling her, but she did not answer. I flashed my lights and put on my turn signal to take a right at the next light. She ended up pulling over, and when I rolled down my passenger window to explain my concern, the window shattered. Apparently the top had frozen to the seal and once the motor tugged it down, the window became thousands of tiny safety glass pebbles. I tried to ignore the symbolic omen.

Our first session was largely meet and greet and giving the Clif notes version of why we were there. J had her solo session first a week later. I don't remember much of the details of my solo session with Linda. I'm sure she asked about my viewpoint on our marriage, what our problems were, what my complaints might be. I remember shouldering much of the blame for what had become of our relationship. I'm sure she asked me for specific complaints about J, but I doubt I had much to say. It wasn't her I was dissatisfied with - it was what our relationship and marriage had become. I expressed determination to do whatever it took to save our marriage. I still had a great deal of hope for us.

The one thing I do remember clearly is that towards the end of the session Linda said it was much worse than I knew. Tears welled up and I said something like "sweet" half under my breath. She asked if I was being sarcastic. I don't know if she was being intentionally dense, but when I told her yes it was sarcasm, she didn't follow up with any sort of point she was trying to make. Things she said and did would continue to baffle me in the future. We were off to a rocky start all around.

Can people really change?

That was one of the implied questions when we started going to a marriage counselor. Since many things hadn't been discussed before, we ended up spending lots of time on what needed to be changed. But once things were out in the open, could we affect any meaningful change, or would we just need to learn to accept the shortcomings we both have?

The self-help industry thrives on the promise of the New Year's resolution, that it is never too late to start over. We can change our bad habits, lose that weight, be more organized, spend more time with friends, call Mom on a regular basis, etc. But for some reason that belief is not so generously granted to others. People throw up their hands in frustration to their spouses, family, bosses, companies and government. A leopard can't change his spots, a scorpion can't help who he is, you will never live up to expectations, etc.

Even if we (falsely) agree that people can't change, bad habits are also viewed differently depending on who has the shortcoming. If it is someone else, it is a defect in character. If it is yourself, it is "I can't help it, it is just the way I am" or maybe you can classify your flaws as a disease.

As I mentioned, we both went into counseling thinking I was the one who needed to make the most changes. I believed throughout that I could make changes to improve, both for myself and for our marriage. Though I volunteered (and made) several changes, I didn't blindly promise to change anything and everything. It wouldn't have been sincere or realistic, and I don't think that is what she was looking for anyway.

I have just started reading a book called The Silver Linings Playbook. Pat's wife Nikki has left him and he is spending their "apart time" trying to do things that will make her happy when she "inevitably" returns. He works out 10 hours a day because he thinks she will like him more if he is buff. He begins reading all her favorite books so that he can "drop knowledge on her" by quoting lines, thus impressing her and making him more desirable. He is the only one who believes she will be coming back, and all those around him consider him crazy and desperate.

I too was desperate to save our relationship and our marriage, but I knew superficial changes and empty promises wasn't what we needed. I wasn't trying to create a mythical, perfect person, tailor made for her to love. I was looking to become a better, more honest version of me. But at the end of the day, I would still be me - and she did fall in love with me once. Whether you believe in nature, nurture or a combination of both, we have become who we are over a long period of time. Real change is difficult, but I believe absolutely attainable.

But it is difficult. There will be many false starts and incomplete projects. When I decided to start writing a blog, I went looking for an appropriate (and available) title. It turns out there are lots of blogs dedicated to documenting change that didn't get very far. There were many with phrases like 'divorce', 'a new me', 'year of change' and 'starting over' in the title that only had one post. I won't shine the spotlight on someone who didn't follow through by providing links, but it shows that people with the best of intentions do stumble along their path to progress. But stumbling is not failure. I'd like to think they are making progress even if they aren't writing about it online.

Whether she went into counseling believing I could change or not, J said she was impressed with all I had done to improve. It wasn't enough though. I don't think it was "too little too late", it was just "too late". The challenge going forward is to affect change and improve myself without the tangible reward of saving my marriage. Unfortunately, many of the things I needed to improve on are how I communicate and interact with my partner. I wasn't able to work on this during counseling, and now it's kind of theoretical work at this point. By the time I get to the practice phase of my education, I hope I remember everything I've learned this year, and that I've made lasting changes.

Labeling myself

As I have mentioned, we didn't tell many people of our struggles early on. We decided to work on things without involving most of our friends and family. When J moved in with a friend, it lead to several white lies to cover the fact we weren't living together. When she later moved into her own apartment, we decided to stop making up stories and let people know there was trouble in our marriage.

We wanted to tell people in person if possible. When we called the first few couples to let them know we wanted to talk to them about something, they guessed we were pregnant. No, the other thing. The conversations were of course difficult, but our friends and family were supportive. They asked some questions, but didn't demand too many details. They hoped we would work things out, but reaffirmed they would be in our corner no matter what.

Before anyone knew, it was a lonely existence, talking about everything except the most important thing going on in my life. At times it was torturous - we went to a party with friends an hour after I found out J was moving into an apartment. But at the same time, before we told anyone what was going on, I could spend time with friends discussing less weighty subjects.

Once we began sharing our story, it became the elephant in the room. Sometimes it was talked about, most often it wasn't, but it was always there. It was certainly more honest, but tougher in a different way than keeping the secret from everyone. Conversations were sometimes awkward as we danced around the subject. It now felt like I was wearing the label "friend getting a divorce" like a scarlet letter. My friends didn't treat me this way, it is just how I felt.

As things progressed, the baggage I carried into every room became a little lighter. Conversations were a little less stilted, and I shared more of what was going on. I still struggle with speaking candidly, though. I know my friends and family struggle for the right words to say, and I don't know that there are any. It seems the most difficult thing for me is when people say "I'm sorry". It is like a child who falls down and only cries if someone offers sympathy.

The label is still there, but at least it doesn't feel like it's tattooed across my forehead. But it will always be on my resume.

Friends and family

My friend Matt recently had a post called Love and Marriage. The following is a portion of it:

CS Lewis has a great book entitled The Four Loves. I will paraphrase one of his concepts: My friend Evan brings a certain element of my personality out that no one else does. When Evan and I are with a group of friends, they not only experience the me that they bring out, they experience the me that Evan brings out in me. Other people get a fuller me because of Evan. Should Evan disappear, our friends not only lose Evan, they lose the part of me that only Evan can bring out. That is one of the reasons the idea of heaven is so wonderful – everyone experiencing a fuller me-ness and you-ness by virtue of those gathered there.

All our intimate friends have that effect on us and I would go so far as to say there is a unique dimension of this that occurs between married couples. When a couple close to us splits, we lose that beautiful portion of our lives that only those two people as a married couple could bring out. In my opinion, when a couple close to us splits – it is no more a private decision and action than the wedding ceremony itself was. Divorce effects hosts of people and the pain is magnified by the love and sense of loss of the couple, their children (if any), their friends and family.
He was inspired by an excerpt of Michael Chabon's book Manhood for Amateurs he heard on NPR. The featured chapter is called "The Hand on my Shoulder", and deals with his relationship with his father in law specifically, and how divorce effects friends and family. One of the later paragraphs:
My ex-wife and I — I won't go into the details — had good times and bad times, fought and were silent, tried and gave up and tried some more before finally throwing in the towel, focused, with the special self-absorption of the miserable, on our minute drama and its reverberations in our own chests. All the while, the people who loved us were not sitting there whispering behind their hands like spectators at a chess match. They were putting our photographs in
frames on their walls. They were uniting our names over and over on the outsides of envelopes that bore anniversary wishes and recipes clipped from newspapers. They were putting our birthdays in their address books, knitting us socks, studying the fluctuating fortunes of our own favorite hitters every morning in the box scores. They were working us into the fabric of their lives. When at last we broke all those promises that we thought we had made only to each other, in an act of faithlessness whose mutuality appeared somehow to make it all right, we tore that fabric, not irrecoverably but deeply. We had no idea how quickly two families can work to weave themselves together. When I saw him sometime later at his mother's funeral in Portland, my father-in-law told me that the day my divorce from his daughter came through was the saddest one in his life. Maybe that was when I started to understand what had happened.
I don't know all the ramifications of our divorce, or how far the ripples will be felt. More to the point, I don't know how our divorce will effect those that we love. I don't imagine myself as a modern day George Bailey, but it is odd to think of the holes and broken connections left behind now that we are no longer a 'we'.

The loss of the extended family you inherit from your spouse is probably the quickest to go. J hasn't seen my side of the family since February, and I know that is a loss for both sides. I visited my mother-in-law in July, but I don't know when I will see her again. How we feel about each other hasn't really changed, but of course everything has changed.

It is a little different with our friends - no one is taking sides, and most of them have seen each of us over the months (mostly separately). Things are definitely different when I get together with them now, though. My life has changed significantly, and like Matt mentioned in his post, who I am when I'm with my friends is now different. I've made some changes myself over the course of this year, but there may be parts that only J brought out. I really don't know.

I feel like I should apologize somehow, because I let more than myself down. But in reality, there is nothing I can do for those around me. We failed, and there is nothing I can do by myself to make it right. All I can do is pick up the pieces and make the best life possible going forward. To be the most honest version of myself, and to be the best friend and family member I can be.

I can't fill in the hole we left behind, but maybe I can build a bridge. To cross over the void rather than tip-toeing around it. A bridge and a viewpoint, with one of those historical plaques that tells us how it was created.

From black to gray, shame to regret

All the love gone bad, turned my world to black
Tattooed all I see, all that I am, all I will be...

~ From "Black" by Pearl Jam

J and I had our one appointment with the lawyer two weeks ago. The meeting was to deal with the financial side of the divorce. It was of course an awful reason to be meeting, putting ten years together on a spreadsheet and discussing where the figures should land. I suppose with that as a lead in, the meeting went as well as could be hoped. We are not confrontational people to begin with, and we have done our best not to antagonize each other during this difficult time.

As usual, I was early for the appointment. I stopped at a coffee shop less than a mile away to grab a cup of joe and to go over some paperwork. When I left the shop, the song "Black" by Pearl Jam was just starting on the radio. Whether you believe in fate, synchronicity, or cruel twists in a random world, it was an odd coincidence to have it play as I drove to meeting. I can think of few songs that more wrenchingly describe the end of a relationship.

The song previously made me think of the girl I dated before I met J. When I met this girl, I had not dated anyone for several years. In that time by myself, I had come to know who I was, what I believed, and was the most confident, strongest version of me. All I needed was someone to share it with. I picked the wrong person.

We were together over a span of four or five years. In that time, she broke up with me three times I think (I've lost count). We worked together, so there was no real separation, just the torture of seeing an ex several days a week. We got back together after each breakup, but I and the relationship were weaker each time.

I put aside that confident man I was when we met, and lived my life in a way I thought would make her happy and sustain the relationship. I lost who I was by living for her. The relationship took me from my strongest point and dragged me down to become a shell of my former self. But I didn't blame her as much as I blamed myself for letting it happen. For returning again and again for more anguish. I was doing it for what I though was love, but I became someone I didn't respect in the process.

I have carried that shame with me, never really dealing with it. I've never returned to that strong, secure person I was in my 20's. When J and I met, I was somewhat damaged goods. After letting my heart get walked on repeatedly, I kept my guard up, never really letting myself feel vulnerable. I had no reason to mistrust J, and it wasn't her I was defending myself against. I just couldn't find a way to open up, to trust again. I withdrew from life and only exposed a portion of who I really was.

I built up a wall with bricks made of past failures, and that wall needed to be torn down for J and I to have a chance. I don't think it doomed us to failure, but it definitely made our path more difficult. When we first started seeing a counselor and getting things out in the open, I assumed the failure of our marriage rested squarely on my shoulders. Even J admits to feeling that way somewhat. Of course it turns out it isn't that simple, but I am still walking away with mountains of regret.

The end of my relationship and marriage to J cannot be compared to my last relationship. The women and my feelings are incomparable. This time the loss is larger by several magnitudes, as is the shame I feel at this failure. I have been to much darker places than I had before, but this time I am turning to others to help light the way out. I am also trying to move from shame to the less tortuous regret.

The walls have come crashing down and I am sifting through the rubble to try and build something new. The bricks remain what they are, but I am hoping to put them to better use this time.

The book shelf

I have added a list of books to the sidebar - ones I've read recently, and ones I need to read again. If you have any suggestions to add to the shelf, please let me know.

The power of song

2 AM and I'm still awake, writing a song.
If I get it all down on paper, it's no longer inside of me,
Threatening the life it belongs to.
And I feel like I'm naked in front of the crowd
Cause these words are my diary, screaming out loud
And I know that you'll use them, however you want to .
~ "Just Breathe" by Anna Nalick

I am the type of person who finds himself in lyrics of songs, pieces of poetry, and characters in books. Songs seem to be the most powerful one of the bunch, with the addition of music to stir the senses and emotions.

Not surprisingly, the most popular subject of songs is love. Celebration of new love, reflection on lost love, and the sometimes overwhelming emotion that comes with it all. There are songs that describe pain that I appreciated in the past, but reach on a whole different level now that I am going through this.

There is a song called "Last Kiss" that was redone by Pearl Jam a few years ago. It describes a traffic accident while a young couple are headed out for a date. The girl dies and the song is heartbreaking. J would always turn the dial whenever it came on. She couldn't take the sadness of it. I liked the song because it described such a powerful, tragic moment. So real and concrete. Of course if I had gone through something similar, I don't know what the song would mean to me then.

Why do artists share these powerful, emotional moments in their lives? Part of the process is getting it out of your head to help you deal with it. But why take the extra step and make it all public? Why open yourself up like that? There's money at some point, but that isn't why they began to write. There has to be an additional catharsis by sharing with the world.

By listening to stories about what others have been through, I think we find understanding or perspective on our own trials. Stories reach us on a level that instructional material can't. There is also some comfort when you understand you are not alone, your experiences and feelings not so unique. Why else would sad songs and tear-jerker movies continue to do well? There is some sort of appeal that we may not be able to describe, but understand nonetheless.

Though some stories can reach us whenever we come upon them, they are all the more powerful when we are going through something similar. Recently, I have been overwhelmed when certain songs come on the radio. I had to stop listening to one station for a couple of weeks because their song rotation was particularly tough to listen to. I've also avoided certain CDs, sticking with more light-hearted fare, but I am still surprised by songs that I glossed over when times were better. I was near the end of a 15 mile run a few months back, and the song "Walk On" by U2 came on. The song had not meant that much to me in the past, but it hit me like a two-ton heavy thing that day.

There is no question I need to "get it all down on paper, so it's no longer inside of me, threatening the life it belongs to". I've kept journals in the past, and wrote in one sporadically earlier this year. It was helpful as I sorted through my emotions, but I stopped at some point and haven't gone back.

For some reason, writing this blog seems the right thing for me now. I live inside my head far too much as it is, so I have tried to talk things through with friends and family. But it can be difficult for people to know what to say, and I can make it all the more difficult when I can't manage my emotions. This blog is somehow an easier, but a more risky way to bare my soul. A few friends have cautioned me on what I write here. What goes online stays online.

The line of what I will discuss is still written in sand as I find my way through. I will of course hold back certain details, but will describe some concrete moments as I go along. My intention is not to describe these moments to tug at the heartstrings, but to find larger understanding by looking at moments in time.

I'm no artist. The six lines of the song above do a better job of describing things than my nine paragraph post. But hopefully amid all the rambling, you will find something to connect us like a good piece of music can.

Quote of the day

The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life; and the procedure, the process is its own reward. ~Amelia Earhart, 1897-1937

A moment in the sun

It didn't end with a whimper or a bang, but with a garage sale.

J joined my on Saturday to work the sale. It was definitely the busier of the two days, but there were down times where we could chat. I had set up our deck table and chairs in the driveway, and that became our de facto work desk/lounge area.

When folks weren't picking over the material waste of our last eight years, we talked about some of the trivial and important things going on in our lives. Though there was the specter of divorce behind each conversation (at least for me), an outside observer may not have noticed him sitting at the table. The sun warmed our faces and conversation, and I tried to stay in the moment as much as possible.

It had been a long time since we've been able to just sit and catch up on things. We haven't had much of anything approaching normal lately, and though we talked about things like car titles and selling the house, the afternoon was somehow pleasant.

As the sale drew to a close, I realized this was probably the last time I would see her in person under vaguely normal circumstances for some time. We have an appointment with her lawyer today to go over a settlement proposal, and she will be moving out of state this coming weekend. There will be conversations, faxes and e-mails as we deal with the details of bringing the marriage to a close, but no afternoons spent just being in the moment.

She gave me her new address and contact information. She doesn't want to cut off communication, but is leaving it to me to decide if staying in touch would make things easier or more difficult for me. We parted with a hug and some more of my tears. No profound words, just the end of an ordinary day being the end of something greater.

I have this vision of something like Scenes From an Italian Restaurant where we meet somewhere down the road. A time when she could be more forthcoming, a time where I wouldn't be so raw, a time to reflect, a time to share. Another moment in the sun.

A brief recap of 2009

J and I had been unhappy for a while. I don't know if unhappy is the right word. It was more like a numbness had taken hold of our hearts and our relationship. We just drifted through our days, missing any spark of passion for life and our marriage.

J had suggested we see a counselor in our second year of marriage. I resisted. Being the 'pull yourself up by your bootstraps' sort of person, I wanted to be able to work it out on our own. I also felt that we should be able to be open and honest with each other without someone else in the room taking notes. Not the first, and nowhere near the last mistake I would make.

J brought up counseling again last November. She had said a few things two weeks earlier that told me something was seriously wrong, so this time I said I would go to counseling with her. We started sometime in December, meeting once a week for a month. We met once together, then each individually, then once again as a couple. After the four sessions, we signed up for 12 more weeks meeting as a couple.

We started to get things out in the open, digging into both the trivial and emotionally charged subjects. As I have mentioned elsewhere, as difficult as some of the subjects were, it felt great to be finally get things out in the open. I felt closer to J than I had in a very long time. Though counseling felt productive, I had issues with the counselor, and I think at times she made it more difficult. I will be touching on my thoughts on therapy, and her specifically in the future.

As part of marriage counseling, we had to agree to see individual counselors to work on our own issues. I have always known that we had to be happy with ourselves individually in order to have a successful relationship. Of course knowing this isn't enough, I needed to be making progress on finding my own peace. It turns out I needed the outside help to begin to find my way.

As part of J working on her own issues, she felt she needed to have some physical separation in order to make progress. She moved in with a friend sometime in January. We continued to go to counseling, bringing more things to light that had been hidden away in the dark corners of our hearts. When staying with a friend was no longer an option, and she wasn't ready to come home, she moved into an apartment in early April.

As we approached the 12 week mark of our counseling, we were still covering new ground, but we didn't seem to be taking the next step of resolving any of the issues. In the 12th session, our counselor made a comment that turned us both off to her. We decided to take some time off and maybe find someone else. We never went back.

J and I met once in a while to talk, but less and less frequently as time went by. Week by week, the hope of reconciliation seemed to drift farther away. In July, she said she wasn't coming home. Now we are working on all the details involved in ending our marriage.

We didn't tell much of anyone when we first started to go to counseling to work on our relationship. Our thoughts were that we didn't even know what was going on, so why involve other people at that point. As things progressed, we had to keep making up stories to cover up the fact that we weren't living together. When J moved into her apartment, we decided to start telling friends when we could see them in person.

Unfortunately, our out of town friends didn't find out about our struggles until we were already on our way to divorce. They have encouraged us to do everything possible to try to save the marriage. Having been out of the loop, they haven't been with us to see the path we have walked so far, and have only had the result sprung on them. I'd like to think there is always hope, and understand their encouragement to work things out, but it has become clear that it isn't an option at this point.

It is sometimes harder for the person watching, than it is for the person suffering. No words or actions seem adequate, and you are left feeling helpless. I don't think anything I write here will explain why we weren't able to make it work. I can only describe the path we walked (as I understand it).

Who I am and why I'm here

After seven or so years of marriage, my wife and I have been separated for most of 2009, and are now headed for divorce.

We were married in September of 2001, two days before the world changed. I feel some of that same confusion in trying to understand how my world has changed once again. I have experienced shock, disbelief, numbness, anger, fear, shame, and a whole range of emotions I am only beginning to understand.

I have had the support and counsel of friends, family and professionals, but I am still trying to find my footing. I have found that you achieve a greater understanding of something when you try to explain it to someone else. I have found some meaning in discussions with other people, but my emotions are still raw and I can't always gather my thoughts and express what I am feeling.

In the past I have found meaning in writing. I am hoping to find comfort, guidance, understanding, and ultimately peace once again. I intend to be more open and honest with the people in my life, but I think my journey needs to begin on paper. I will likely be bouncing forward and back in time, at turns describing what I am currently going through, and flashing back in time to try to understand how I got here.

In speaking with friends, I have found that everyone is struggling with issues in their relationships and marriage. We don't always talk about this part of our life, and I hope that in sharing my journey, others will find that they are not alone in their struggle. You might find a spark of understanding in following my progress, and may also provide insight to help me along my path. I will not find illumination on my own, and do not want to distance myself from life any longer.

Thank you for joining me on my journey.