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.