Submitted by Erica Manfred
It took me more than twenty years to figure out why I never left my husband and I’m still struggling with regret about marrying him in the first place. After he dumped me, I wished many times I’d been widowed instead of left for a younger woman. When your husband dies, there’s nothing to regret. Even if it wasn’t the best marriage, you get to pick and choose your memories. We’ve all seen widows deify the dearly departed husbands they couldn’t stand when they were alive. And why not? The past is over, the only thing that remains is our memories. If Ira had been considerate enough to die on me, I’m sure I would have remembered his charm, sense of humor and kindness to old ladies. I might even have invented a good sex life. I didn’t get that opportunity so unfortunately I’m stuck with an eighteen year sinkhole of regret.
Seven years after my divorce I’d done a lot of the psychological work of deconstructing my marriage. I did the Imago analysis. Ira was very much like my dad, quiet, shy, funny, creative…and angry Unconsciously I must have felt that if I could please Ira maybe I could heal the wound of having an angry father—and an angry mother. On his side, I was supposed to heal his wound of having a mother who ignored him. He had me cast as the good mother– caring, loving and attentive. I put up a good front, but I didn’t pay much attention to him either. He was too much like my own intrusive mother who stuck her nose into everything. I never got used to his anger either, I just wound up tiptoeing around him. Nothing got healed, we just repeated our childhoods. He got angry no matter what I did and I ignored him no matter how hard he tried to get my attention.
I also did the Crazy Timeanalysis. According to my favorite divorce guru, Abigail Trafford, the balance of power is what keeps a marriage alive. She says most marriages start out unequal but if we’re lucky they balance themselves as time goes on. Roles are renegotiated and power switches back and forth. Sometimes you are submissive, your husband dominant, and other times vice versa. Ira and I were stuck in what she calls a “Deadlock Marriage” where the power balance between husband and wife mimics the psychological dynamics between parent and child. I was the parent and he was the rebellious child. We were interlocking neurotic legos.. Without equality in a relationship it’s only a matter of time before a couple reaches a crisis.
We limped along with this imbalance, distracted by our busy lives in New York City, and Tina, the 13 year old foster daughter we took in when we moved to upstate New York. When Tina left, I felt bereft and longed for a child of my own. Despite my advanced age, 55, I managed to talk Ira into adopting baby Freda, which upset the already shaky balance of our marriage. Caring for a baby was too much for me and I pushed a lot of the parenting onto him, which infuriated him. I was supposed to be the mommy, his mommy and Freda’s mommy. All of a sudden we moved from occasional skirmishes to all out war. His “best friend” at work saw her opportunity and pounced. Our breakup was ugly and prolonged, involving much begging and pleading on my part and much lying and sneaking around on his. I was stunned to find myself in a soap opera when I ‘d always considered myself a Hallmark Hall of Fame kind of girl. The post breakup was even uglier, involving my inability to parent Freda and her subsequent breakdown..
Somehow knowing the all the “whys” of the failure of my marriage wasn’t enough to banish my regret about marrying the guy in the first place. It helped with understanding the end of the marriage, but I still couldn’t accept those last eighteen years. I was plagued by the “if onlies.” If only I hadn’t married Ira I might have married……who? It’s not like there were a long list of candidates waiting to ask for my hand. I had no idea who I might have married, but whoever it was he had to have been a better choice. As it was I felt I had lost the chance to find the elusive “soulmate” that I had longed for. Not too many soulmates come along for a woman in her sixties.
I was also haunted by the two children who inadvertently got hurt by our divorce, Tina who vowed never to marry because she was so hurt by his cheating on me, but especially Freda who suffered the most. Emotionally fragile to begin with she needed to be held together not torn apart.
Erica Manfred is the author of He’s History You’re Not, Surviving Divorce After 40. She has written for Cosmopolitan, New York Times Magazine, Ms., Parenting, Women’s Day, and Bottom Line/Personal. She currently runs a women’s divorce support group in her hometown of Woodstock, New York.