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Knowing It's Over We were sitting on a porch swing, slowly swaying back and forth, facing our beautifully shaped, one-hundred-year-old oak tree, glancing over the top of the blooming rose bushes at our children playing on the lawn that we had planted together. It was the usual scenario. I was crying, telling him that I needed changes in the relationship, that I was unhappy and felt unimportant to him. Ron, my husband, said that I didn't understand him, that he was grieving the loss of his career and needed time to himself.
Our anniversary was two days later. I couldn't stay in the house, so I wrote a long letter that said nothing new and flew to Los Angeles to help my best friend deliver her first child. Her labor was long, so I sat day after day watching the way her husband looked at her, touched her face, and responded to her calls. Their words were soft, comforting, and intimate. I would leave the room when I couldn't stand it anymore and sob, physically shaking as I tried to calm myself in the locked bathroom stall. I couldn't remember ever feeling such tenderness. I sat wallowing, allowing painful scenes to flash through my mind, silly things...being eight months pregnant and asking for help carrying groceries but getting the response "It's good exercise, you can do it!"... the times he would ask me to walk backward toward our bed so that he could pretend I wasn't pregnant...his question for the doctor just seconds after my second daughter was born: "When can she get pregnant again?" I felt I had nothing.
I wanted a divorce, but I was an unemployed, stay-at-home mom with four children under eight years old. I wasn't ready for a fight; my baby was only two. Instead, I returned home from my friend's birth experience with renewed fervor for making the marriage work. My new plan: rent out our house and take the whole family to New Zealand for a year. Ron was born in New Zealand. We'd planned on spending a year there at some point so the kids could get to know their relatives and experience life outside the United States. I was sure that a change of location could save the marriage. We would be together in a new place with time on our hands to reconnect and heal.
Finding a renter for our house was easy, and receiving information from private schools in Christchurch was fun. The job of planning the adventure replaced my pain. At the time I was seeing a therapist who had the insight to point out a pattern she saw in my life. Instead of admitting to the world, to myself, and to my husband how bad the marriage felt, and doing something about it, I would take on a new and exciting project that kept my attention and creative energy focused forward. She told me that my pregnancies had been such projects. I knew she was right, but I wasn't ready to deal with the reality behind my feelings, so it was onward to New Zealand.
Each child packed one huge duffel bag full of a few bedroom treasures, clothing, a pillow, a blanket, and books. I packed all of our household goods into boxes and put them up in the attic, leaving the furniture in place for the renters. Through all the preparations I painted a picture for friends, family, and the kids of an incredible adventure: our family going away together to explore a new country. Then I worked to make this story a reality. Nobody knew that the whole production was really my lastditch effort to save my marriage.
I would hear a version of this denial over and over again as I talked to women who had become single mothers. Even when they knew absolutely in their hearts that the love was gone, or that there was no way to rebuild the relationship, somehow, just as I had done, they kept hoping and hanging on, afraid to face or utter the truth. Suzanne, a thirty-four-year-old marketing executive with two children ages eight and twelve, says she hung on for five years even though she knew that her husband was having affairs. "It wasn't because I loved him and couldn't stand living without him. I had been the one who earned the income in our family since we were married the year after I graduated from college. My husband wanted to be an actor, so he would be in productions and other dramatic projects and work odd jobs on the side. One day I opened a letter addressed to him from a town where I knew he had been filming recently. The letter was from a woman who was professing her love and devotion. She begged him to come back to her. She talked about their intense lovemaking and how she knew he couldn't love his wife if he could love her so completely. I went to the bathroom and threw up.
"I confronted him that night, and he apologized profusely and promised not to respond to the woman and never to hurt me again. He was going to be faithful, and he used his 'actor's ability' to convince me that the affair meant nothing, that he had been away from me for three weeks, and that we hadn't been making love much, so he made this big mistake.
"Some of his argument did make sense. I did work late hours (but that was only because he wasn't making any money at all). I did have the freedom to make all my own decisions, while he had to discuss his plans with me, because most of his plans included spending money that we didn't have. He was the one who was home with our boys in the afternoon until I returned from work, and he did make dinner most nights. So I decided that he had a few good points -- we did need to make sex a more important part of the relationship.
"I set the goal to make love at least once a week, and the relationship got better. But I have to admit I didn't let myself go in our lovemaking, I was sort of just there, going through the motions, while all the time I resented that he chose to share this intimacy with someone else 'so completely.' I also knew this wasn't his first affair, but I didn't bring it up because I was afraid to know the truth. Each night I would ask myself if his infidelity was a good enough reason to break up the family...."
<%=fontsmall%>THE COURAGE TO BE A SINGLE MOTHER: BECOMING WHOLE AGAIN AFTER DIVORCE. Copyright ©2000 by Sheila Ellison.<%=xfontsmall%>