Essay, Personal

When your wife divorces you

I read a monthly e-mail newsletter called The Masculinist, written for Christian men living in the modern world. Its author, Aaron Renn, has some very well-reasoned positions on men in the church and in living the Christian life. He does a great job of explaining and building upon his positions in his newsletter. If you’re interested, you can sign up here.

In his most recent newsletter, he offers advice for men whose wives decide to divorce them. He points out that women file for 70% of all US divorces, and it is therefore wise as married men to think about how it will affect us should it happen to us. He then offers solid advice and perspective. Read it here.

His advice really resonated with me. My first wife divorced me. I won’t tell the story as I’m sure my ex wouldn’t like me telling stories on her, as I don’t appreciate her telling stories on me. But she was the one who decided the marriage was over, and filed.

At that time I got two pieces of excellent advice that line up well with Renn’s perspective. The first one came from an unlikely source: my attorney. He told me to find five trusted men who would take my call and who would pray with me. Many of us men don’t have five male friends, especially ones not married to our wives’ friends. If I couldn’t find five men, find as many as I could. My attorney warned me that they would probably not be able to offer me any real counsel or help, and I should let them know I understand that. Their purpose was simply to listen when I needed to talk, and to pray with me and for me.

My young sons on the suspension bridge at Turkey Run State Park. It was 2005, after the separation but before the divorce was final.

Second, do not date for three years. My mother gave me this advice. You are a mess, she said, and need time to recover and figure out who you are again. If you date now, you will choose a woman like the one who just rejected you, or a woman equally a mess for her own reasons. Either way, it won’t lead to a healthy relationship. That will be bad for you. But more importantly, you do not need to be that distracted from your sons, who are also hurting and need you.

I took both pieces of advice. The trusted male friends (and family members) I lined up really did take my call at any time, and really did pray for me and with me. True to my lawyer’s counsel, they seldom had any meaningful advice or material help to offer. But they did listen, and offered comforting words. Because of them I was never alone through any of what came. It was a long, dragged-out mess — after filing, my ex flatly refused to negotiate, our judge refused to order mediation, and we went to trial in a badly backlogged court. It was more than a year before we stood before the judge.

The second piece of advice was wicked hard at first. I was so starved for attention and affection! But not dating helped me keep my head in the right game: raising my two sons, with the time the court granted me to have with them. Three years became seven, with my sons in high school, before I dated at all. At ten years, I met the woman who would become my wife. Even then, we delayed until my youngest son was out of high school. We agreed that it made no sense to upend his life as he knew it with me, with a new house and stepsiblings, when he was so close to the finish line.

The stability I provided for my sons in my home became foundational for them — the oldest has acknowledged this openly without my prompting — as their mom went on to marry two more times, moving our sons with them each time.

The other thing that I did on my own was double down on my faith. I was furious with God for the failure of my marriage. I’d prayed daily, on my knees and in tears, that he intervene and save us. I felt that God had not kept his promises to me, the ones I felt he had made all through his Word. I could have easily walked away at that point.

But there was something in me that insisted on holding God to his promises, and I let him know it in no uncertain terms. I spent a lot of time searching the Scriptures like a lawyer poring over legal texts trying to find where God had made those promises. Instead, through this study I learned how my understanding of God’s nature was thin and inaccurate. I came to understand him far better — and built a feeling of closeness with him that I didn’t know was possible.

Even though the divorce has been final for 14 years, recalling it still brings up residual pain. That’s the other piece of advice I wish I had been given: this is a very serious loss, and you will find a new normal, a new peace, and hopefully a new happiness. You will eventually no longer think about your loss every day. But it will remain a sad, difficult memory for the rest of your life.

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A hike through Eagle Creek Park

Hiking through Eagle Creek Park with my wife
Pentax K10D, 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 SMC Pentax-DA AL
2018

When you are single for as long as Margaret and I were, you get used to living your own life. She was a full-time single mom, her time given to taking care of her four children and working to support everyone. I was a single dad who saw his kids two nights a week and every other weekend and filled the rest of his life with career, a non-profit, and church.

When we met, our lives were already full. Overfull, really. It was going to be a joy and a challenge to weave our lives together. We were going to have to approach it thoughtfully and deliberately.

Unfortunately, we didn’t do that. Serious challenges came at us so fast and so frequently that we went into survival mode. We’d both survived difficult times before, as single people. That’s how we knew to do it.

By this summer we found ourselves living our lives in parallel because it was most efficient to do it that way. We didn’t see for a long time that it was hurting us.

Thankfully, we saw it before it hurt us too much. We’ve made some strong changes that have us jointly planning our time, saying no to too much time apart, and making much more time to do simple things together. Like walk through Eagle Creek Park.

Photography

single frame: Hiking through Eagle Creek Park with my wife

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Wedding day

WeddingDay
©2016 Andrea Bowman.

Margaret had one request of me for our wedding day: that I wear clothes that had no memories attached.

I seldom wear a suit. The one I own, which I bought at Goodwill of all places, has seen duty just at interviews, weddings, and funerals over the 15 years or so I’ve worn it. That’s a lot of memories! A new suit would be in order, and this time I decided to do it up right. I went to a tailor Downtown, selected a suit they made on the premises, and had it fitted to me. It is the single most expensive article of clothing I’ve ever bought.

And then I selected that orange tie to go with it. Margaret loves orange.

Margaret, on the other hand, bought her dress on clearance. I think she said she paid $10 for it. Oh my, how I admire a frugal woman! And she looked lovely on the day we were married.

We invited just close family: parents, children and their spouses, siblings and their spouses. And then my oldest son, who lives in a distant city, texted late with bad news: his car had broken down and he and his wife wouldn’t make it. It was the only disappointment in an otherwise wonderful day.

The ceremony was brief. A preceding slideshow of family photographs, set to music, ran longer than the ceremony itself, I think. We exchanged vows, rings, and I-dos, let the photographer photograph us, and then headed to Margaret’s for a party. She’d spent much of the week preparing all the food. I’d made a long playlist on Spotify of upbeat tunes from the 1940s through the 1980s. It kept the party rolling.

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iPhone 6s

Margaret and I thought we’d slip out at about 8 pm, and then it turns out that was when the party naturally broke up anyway. We drove Downtown and checked in to the tall, blue JW Marriott hotel and then took a long walk downtown. The evening was warm; the setting sun lit the sky in oranges. We ended up on the old National Road bridge over the White River, now for pedestrians only and part of White River State Park. We had a late dinner at the hotel.

We attended my church together the next morning. Margaret works at one church, and I’m an elder in another, so we will be a two-church family. And then we went back Downtown for lunch, and for a walk along Massachusetts Avenue for window shopping and ice cream.

Then we parted ways. It was the moment where our temporary two-home arrangement became real for us, physically and emotionally, and it was hard. Merging lives at our age, with teen and young-adult children in various stages of stepping out of the nest into their own futures, creates some challenges and this is how we’re choosing to handle them for now. We’ve made over-and-above effort since our wedding to spend as much time together as we can.

So far, so good. We know we’ll end up under the same roof, and that we’ll be fine in meantime. Because we both chose well.

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My bride

It was a great day, the day of our wedding! And a great evening and entire next day alone together. There’s much more to say, but I’m writing this late Sunday night and am exhausted from the big weekend. So let this photo I took of us Downtown on Saturday evening suffice for now.

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Is being mindful of the present moment overrated?

As I drove to work the other day, I dreamed of my future.

I should have been paying closer attention to the road. When I got to work I realized I couldn’t remember anything about the drive. Oops!

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Canon FT QL, 50mm f/1.8 Canon FL, Fujicolor 200, 2013

I have always been a guy who ruminates about the past and frets over the future. It sometimes takes over my mind, robbing me of joy and peace. So I’ve learned some techniques around focusing on my breathing and letting thoughts and feelings pass through my mind without dwelling on them. It’s basic mindfulness. Maybe you do this, too; it’s become pretty popular in the last 20 years or so.

My favorite time to practice mindfulness is when I have a camera in my hands. I do break the rule about not judging thoughts and feelings, as I need that judgment to compose a pleasing photo. But everything else about photography is quiet and meditative for me.

This practice really helps me keep calm and not make mountains out of molehills. The benefits of mindfulness are clear for all. It can reduce anxiety and depression. It can help manage anger. It can even help people recover from addiction.

But a backlash appears to have started against mindfulness. Some now claim practicing mindfulness reduces our ability to properly judge reality, can create false memories and blunt our ability to latch onto positive thoughts, and for people with trauma histories it can even bring back painful memories and spur panic attacks.

I don’t think I’ve experienced any of this harm. I’ve certainly not panicked while practicing!

But aren’t there some useful things to do with this present moment that might not involve being present in this moment? Such as dreaming about the future? Planning for good things to come? Looking forward to what might be? I’ve surely been doing a lot of that as I anticipate my future with my new wife. We are, after all, getting married tomorrow!

Dreaming is a fine thing to do in this present moment. Just not while you’re driving.

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A ring and a date

OurSaveTheDate

We’re getting married two months from today!

We’re keeping it simple. We’re inviting just immediate family: our parents, our brothers and sisters, our children, and all of their spouses. That’s still a lot of people — Margaret is seventh of eight children, and between us we have seven children! We’re having a small, short, simple ceremony at a venue near Margaret’s house. And then we’re all going to Margaret’s house for food and music and family for the rest of the day.

Our Irish honeymoon is booked for late summer, so we’ll be returning to normal life on the Monday after our wedding. We haven’t figured out just yet how and when we’ll combine households, so we’ll pretty fluidly live between hers and mine for a while. It’s a nontraditional choice, to be sure, but after considerable discussion we see it’s best for our new combined family for now.

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