Val had come down with a fever and had gone straight home after her last appointment for the day. She asked if I could stop by her office to pick up her laptop. I had just begun to shut down the open programs when a new email in her inbox from an exboyfriend entitled "re: Last weekend" caught my eye. My curiosity won out, and as the message unfolded before my eyes, the world as I thought I had known it suddenly flew apart.
* * * * * * * *
She had apologized over and over and swore that it had been a reckless act that was never meant to hurt me. I knew in my heart that she was sincere in her regret and anguish. She moved out that weekend and over the course of several emotional and difficult months of separation we agreed to attend counseling together while still living apart. After a number of months we both reached an honest understanding of how things had come to that point.
The truth is that our marriage had been in the process of unraveling long before things came to light that day in October. In addition to the love that we genuinely felt for each other, we both shared an equally powerful shortcoming: a desire to avoid conflict. I knew it had been a huge change in lifestyle for her to move into my house and try to adapt to living with a young child. On top of that, almost immediately after the wedding she had been promoted to a challenging new position with enormous added responsibility.
I would look for every opportunity I could to do things to ease her stress and make our home a place of comfort to return to at the end of the day. I know that she appreciated all that I did and she was just as determined to make sure that Brendan and I felt just as cared for.
But over time, one thing after another began to pile up. I have attention deficit disorder, and late bills, forgotten appointments, and never-reached items on the to-do list are just a few of the things that can come with that condition.Too late, we saw the importance of confronting those situations head-on as they occurred, but back then we were each privately worried that raising them with the other person would only amplify the stress around the house.
I know that none of those things are a justification for what happened, but I realize that they were the major factors that led up to Valerie taking an irrational action. Its possible to forgive something without making an excuse for it. And with the act of forgiveness, it is our self that we are truly setting free in the first place.
* * * * * * * *
Valerie and I met in October 2001, were engaged in February 2002, married in December 2002, separated permanently in October 2004, and officially divorced in March 2006. She's since moved to a new job in another state several hours away and now we keep in touch only through sporadic emails. It's not the outcome either one of us ever pictured up on the altar as we exchanged our vows, but we've both come to realize that it was for the best.
I certainly never imagined that I would be widowed and divorced before I even turned 40. But I try to take away at least one positive thing from each event as it occurs, and now I see how vital it is to be willing to address conflict head on with open communication. Romantic gestures, both big and small, are important throughout a successful relationship. But in the end, even a Valentine serenade can turn into a terrible cacophany if just the smallest dissonance is allowed to remain ignored.
I have no idea what the future may hold in terms of other relationships, or what form may be best suited for me. I'm still pretty much a work in progress. But I'm getting there. For now, I'm just going to focus on trying to make the right choices for myself in each situation, so that I can continue to grow into a better person.
Come what may.