Soon We’ll Be Friends Again I Hope

So this is the hardest part. It’s been less than a week since my wife told me I’d be returning home to my best friend’s couch, and we’re about 9 days away from our 11th wedding anniversary. Truth is, my wife is actually my best friend, but it’s not even her couch that I get to sleep on (you should have seen us carrying that couch out of a tiny townhouse we bought it from off of Craigslist).  She’s the person I wrote text messages to on all of my breaks here in Afghanistan. I would sneak away from my co-workers after dinner to call her and see how her day was going. Ultimately, she was usually just getting into the van to cart the kids off somewhere or at the fire station, but still, we communicated a lot.

Now, I’m trying to give her space. I don’t want to write her all the time and act like there’s nothing going on. I also don’t want her to interpret anything I write to her as some attempt to get her to fall back in love with me. I also don’t want to write some long, detailed email about how I’m not going to try and do that. This blog solely exists because I want to talk about how I feel, but not to her. And if I wrote half this much to any of my guy friends, they probably wouldn’t be my guy friends anymore. To her, I want to show her that I can be happy.. and that will take time.  Words will never do justice.

But for right now, it’s almost like walking on egg shells. The other day I started regular, not about us, chit chat and got back very terse, delayed responses. It was very abnormal and while I tried not to read into it too much, I was remarkably different than our talks had ever been in 11 years. I was a little hurt by it, especially after just a day prior we chatted like we were best friends and decided that no matter what we’d preserve our friendship.

Is this just the tough in-between part? I actually decided not to write her anymore until she made contact with me. Luckily I didn’t have to wait that long before she did, but it’s still not the same. I want to tell her it’s cool, I’m not trying to manipulate anything, but I also don’t want every other conversation to turn into an emotional, here’s what I’m thinking and feeling email. I got to Skype with the kids the other day which usually starts and ends with her and I catching up… but no, she fired it up and left the screen… then when it was over, she said bye and hung up. I’d be totally ok knowing this was her own protective measures, but the analyst in me tells me that now five days post telling me what she wants to do, she is backing out on this let’s stay friends proposition.

I really hope not, because I’m willing to try and work it out with her over the next year. But if she doesn’t want to try, it’s a lost cause.

There Had to be Happy Times Right?

Happy moments in a marriage

© Photographer Chris Johnson | Agency:

One of things that really got me about my wife’s emails the first day was that she claimed she had been unhappy for years. In those years, we traveled together, bought a new house, renovated the house (through a contractor so this was not the cause of our unhappiness!), shared about 300 bottles of wine, sat in the sauna together, took baths together, met at Starbucks randomly during the work day,  traded off kids while she trained to become a firefighter, or I had to travel for work, traded over 10,000 text messages together, and if she didn’t call me at work at least twice during the day, I would think something was wrong! There had to be happy times in there. To me, there were tons. I can’t let myself think her comment about being unhappy for two years means that we didn’t have great times together.

But here’s my lesson learned. A great relationship isn’t about having happy moments, it’s about how each person makes the other feel every day. So I could surprise my wife with flowers, chocolate, and lots of kisses one day, but if the next day I decline to sit with her out in the sun in favor of Facebook… well you get the point. I heard a pastor when I was in college compare relationships to a bank where every happy, sweet, loving thing we do is a deposit and every selfish, unloving thing we do is a withdrawal. I think my withdrawals just broke the bank.

How can I fix this? Well first off, I can’t focus on my wife. If I took this bank analogy too literal, I would just be trying to pamper her with deposits, and become a sad, little puppy dog seeking love. No, I can’t do that, but I can look at the things that took me away from showing her I loved her with my small actions. For instance, I can understand that a woman’s offer to be with her is one I shouldn’t refuse unless I really have no choice. And once I’m there, never complain or tell her what I’ve given up to be there! And all those little complaints she drops about me–more withdrawals–I need to recognize as bad purchases. See, my wife has never asked me to change who I am, just some of the little shit I do that pisses her off. And in retrospect, they are things that upset me about myself anyways.

So yes, there were happy times. There were times I’m sure we both thought life was grand. The week before leaving for Afghanistan we really bonded. We were on our annual trip to the river and we watched as the rest of our family fought. But not us, we had adventures, looked into each others eyes lovingly, and weeped as we had to part, knowing it would be four months until we could be together again. Yes, I brought this up. Her exact quote, “Oh yeah, I forgot about that. That actually was really great, but now all I can think about is all of the bad.”

Why Do We Stick It Out In Unfulfilling Jobs?

My job on paper sounds awesome. I’m an intelligence officer, not the clandestine kind, but an analyst. I research and write papers of intelligence value to our nation’s military and civilian decisionmakers. I work with a lot of very smart people, and our products are theoretically used to help the President, Congress, and Department of Defense make policy and actionable decisions. My day could have me at the Pentagon briefing a general, and some of us even do rotations briefing the President or Secretary of Defense. Sounds completely awesome right?

I wish it were so. For about 30 months now, I’ve been absolutely miserable. I will go into details later about why working for the government is soul crushing, but for now, I just want to discuss some of the reasons why I think men stay in unfulfilling jobs. For those that don’t know, my wife asked me for a separation this week from what I thought was a happy marriage. I was wrong and one of the things I’ve come to realize is that I’m truly unhappy in life. How could that not translate into my marriage? The #1 thing bringing me down lately has been how unfulfilling my job has been.

We stay for security

Having a job, especially in today’s job market, is a blessing. Whenever I complain about work, people will often say, “at least you have a job.” But my job is SOUL-CHRUSHING. It’s not worth it right? But I have a family to feed, three houses in my name (thank you military PCS moves), and life responsibilities that unemployment or welfare just aren’t going to cover. But I’m smart, right? I have a college degree. I can do things that the world needs. I build web pages… decent ones too. I can write. I’m a trained and proven leader — I should just open my own business! Then immediately my brain is flooded with all of the what-ifs and how will I make it past the first year without money.

We stay because it’s the evil we know

Leaving our miserable job that we’re good at is way more riskier than what could happen to us. If we leave government for private sector, we may find ourselves just as unfulfilled but without the tenure and government protections that guarantee we can work for the next 20 years with a steady paycheck. The risk of leaving a secure job to an unsecure one–we may hate just as much–is a risk.

We stay because we don’t want to fail

This is especially true if we’ve told people how much happier we’d be if we quit. What if we leave our safe and secure government job, that so many in America envy, and then fall flat on our face? I mean, failed business ventures, unemployment, being fired… these are all risks of those that leave. To some that risk is worth it, but the chances for failure are great.

We stay because people expect us to

In other cases, family and friends may convince us that it would be stupid and ridiculous for one to leave a safe and secure, high paying government job. I’ve had all of the above fears repeated to me by concerned family and friends when I even mention quitting. Quitting now makes me believe my whole family will be disappointed in my decision and would worry about my future. But my true friends at work, they secretly want to quit just as badly as I do!

So should I quit my job?

I’m not actually asking you to answer this for me. You don’t know my whole situation. I make great money and the work we do on the grand scheme of things is important to our nation. I really starting having thoughts of quitting (for real, not just talk) after hearing a TED Talk by Scott Dinsmore of Live Your Legend. He advocates that we should follow our passion and stresses that by surrounding yourself with people that share your passion, you greatly increase your chances for success. He was brave, he left the job he didn’t love to pursue his dreams.

I can’t answer this question. On the one hand I know there are things I would absolutely love to do (start my own web design business full time, teach high school history and coach high school football, become a full time writer of both fiction and non-fiction books), but as of now, I have no group of people with similar passions to support any of those ideas.

On the other hand, I have a lot to be grateful for in my current job. Maybe I should adopt the philosophy that my career is just the way I earn money to live the life I’m passionate about. My career does that right now. I make enough money and have enough vacation days to really do the things I love and provide outstanding opportunities and activities for my children. When the children are older, there’s also nothing to stop me from coaching high school football. With the separation, I’ll have plenty of time to write or build web pages for clients. Maybe I can view my career as a the enabler for living the life I want. I mean… I get 20 days of paid vacation a year as well as over 20 sick days, all on 40 hours a week of work (minus deployments) and a six figure salary. Who wouldn’t kill for that?

So what I’ve decided to do is change my outlook on career. To show gratitude for the good things I have, while pursuing my passions as a hobby. I’m going to stop dwelling on what’s wrong with my Agency and how we could be doing better… it’s their Agency after all, not mine. If the day comes my passions become more profitable than my ‘career,’ then I’ll look at another life change. But ultimately, I have kids I want to provide for in every way and a wife, for now, that I still want to see successful in her current training and start of a career. My job can provide all of that and still give me a few weeks to spend traveling the world and writing.

I Already Had Warning, I Just Didn’t See It

So after my wife dropped the news on me that she wanted a separation, my first instinct was to wonder why she gave me no warning. She went right for separation, no ultimatums or offers for reconciliation. I had so many questions… is this final? Is there still hope for us? Does she still love me? Can we work this out?

See… I don’t want a divorce. I want to live a long, fulfilling life with the woman I love and the children I love. But, the truth is, I had been ignoring the warning signs of this all along.

Love and Affection

Maybe I’m a bit prude, but talking about sex has never been something I’ve been great at… even with my guy friends. The mere thought of phone sex or naughty flirting makes my face blush and I become instantly uncomfortable. Why? Plenty of reasons I guess… I never had sex in high school. I dated a girl in college that was a strong Christian and she made me out to be a sinner if I wanted to do anything but kiss. All excuses. Truth is, I know exactly what I want out of sex… what I want to try, what I want to do (both to my wife and to other women– guess I am a sinner!). Nothing criminal or crazy, but just my own fantasies. But I’ve never been good at communicating that. After we had children, my wife and I had a dry spell, she called me out on it, and ever since that day I’ve been insecure in the bedroom, finding it easier to roll over and fall asleep than initiate sex with my wife. Keep in mind, I love this woman more than anything, but what I haven’t told you is that I still find her as stunning as the day I met her. I’d have sex with her three times a day if time (and children) permitted. I missed all the warning signs of my wife telling me she didn’t think I loved her anymore or didn’t think she was beautiful because of my mental anxiety in the bedroom. I should have done what it took to get that fixed years ago (whatever that may be — counseling, role playing, study of kama sutra, or just down right, open communication with my wife). But I let it fester until it became something I never wanted to speak about. I became ashamed and my wife didn’t feel loved.

Every argument, complaint, or joke about me was a sign.

Every argument we had was very similar. She hated how defensive I would get. She didn’t like how I put friends and work before her and the children (she often told me I gave 110% to my friends and had nothing left for my family). She made fun of the things I consistently did wrong around the house to my friends in a joking manner. She told me I should be more content when I’d complain about work and wanting something better. These were all signs!

My wife and I communicate differently. She drops little hints that I usually miss and then once a year just explodes on me and all of my shortcomings. I cry, beg for her to give me time to change, and then I do a little here and there, but eventually get back to where I was before. But things seemed ok so I think we’re good to go. I often tell her… please just tell me when you’re not happy with something. Remind me, urge me to change that moment. But she always feared I’d become defensive and start an argument.

The end result of missing the signs?

Now, I’ve ignored all those signs. I never addressed our obvious communication or sex issues and it’s lead to this… she’s unhappy and wants a separation. We’re passed me telling her I can change. Me telling her how I’m going to better isn’t going to make her fall in love with me again. Should we have gone to counseling? Yes… years ago!!! But we didn’t. It’s on the table now and I’m jumping at that opportunity. But the reality is, at this point it’s less about us, and more about me and her being happy again.

So what will I do?

I’ll always keep my children’s best interest at the forefront, but it’s time to concentrate on me and why I’m unhappy in life. That’s right, I need to both identify and work on fixing my shortcomings, but also go out there and find happiness and contentment outside of just knowing I love my wife and kids. It may mean quitting the job I hate to pursue my passion. It may mean taking the trips and going to the shows and meeting all the cool new people I have pushed aside. Either way, there’s no hope of my wife ever loving me again if I don’t demonstrate I’m a changed and happy man that still loves her as well. I can’t focus on her. I won’t beg and plead, I won’t seek praise or acknowledgement of improvement, I won’t try to manipulate her into thinking we need to stay together. No… I’m going to focus on being a happier me. And in the end, the worst case scenario for me is that we get a divorce, but I’m a happier man, which will only improve the quality of life of my children, and my ex-wife.

Immediate Action When Wife Leaves You by Email

So I hope the title doesn’t mislead you, I don’t have the answer, just a piece of advice. My situation is probably unique… separated by thousands of miles and having already been in Afghanistan for nearly four months.  But when you find out that someone you love doesn’t love you anymore, it’s going to hurt and you’re probably going to do the wrong thing. Fact of the matter is, if you actually love your wife and you aren’t expecting this news, you’re probably not going to have any idea how to respond.  I’ll start with how I wish I had responded.

A simple email saying, “This is a lot to take in, and I didn’t quite see this coming. Please give me a day to think about this and let’s talk tomorrow” is what I should have written.

But it’s not what I did. 

I poured out every once of temporary insanity into a series of emails throughout the day reflecting my mood at that moment — confusion, despair, anger, forgiveness, and hope. All in five emails. The only saving grace for me… my wife emailed me the moment she made the decision so she wasn’t quite prepared either. That allowed for a little bit of grace on both of our sides… but the reality is still that she was much more prepared than me. I wish I had taken the time to get closer to common ground and to have thought things through.

Why pouring out your emotions too quickly is bad.

#1 – You’re more than likely going to say something you regret. It may not feel that way when you’re writing it… but by the next day you’ll already probably be asking yourself, “Why did I say that?” I have multiple things I regret saying that day… five emails full of them.  Had I waited 24 hours, most of the extreme highs and lows would have passed.

#2 – If you have kids… remember that their future is at stake. I’m very fortunate. My wife, I think, still likes and respects me… she doesn’t love me the same anymore and wants us both to have a chance to be happy. But what if that’s not the case? Come across as too angry or make threats, that could cost you in a custody battle (I was at least smart enough not to do that). That’s an extreme case, but I’ve witnessed my friends fall victim to this. (after nearly a decade in the Army and now as a government civilian, I know plenty of divorcees)

#3 – Waiting to respond gives you the opportunity to know what you want to do about it and respond appropriately. When I finally recovered from the tragic (to me) news, could breathe properly, and didn’t feel like the world was ending, my wife and I started a civil discussion. In it, we both admitted our faults in the marriage and had a real conversation about the way forward.

I was very fortunate, she forgave me for my crazy emails, and I overlooked anything extreme in her replies.

So how did it turn out? After 24 hours, not so bad. I love the woman to death so ultimately my hope was that we could work on our marriage. She thought we may be too late, but we could still be good friends and great parents together. Divorce takes time, that means time to figure all of this out. She acknowledged that things could change in that time, but not to get my hopes up. I agreed to play by her rules and to focus on our children and friendship. She ended by reminding me that I needed to focus on myself as well — she helped me to see that I myself was also very unhappy.

The Moment Hits You Like a Ton of Bricks

Marriage separated by an emailFour more weeks. Four more weeks in this hell hole called Afghanistan, and I can return to my loving wife and three beautiful children.  I’ve been dreaming of that day for weeks; maybe even months! The deployment is going well, but man I am so sick of my job. Working for the government is just not what I hoped it would be, and every day I can feel the life being sucked from me. I want to quit; I want to quit badly. But I have a family to support, and I can’t go making brash decisions without considering them.

It’s 9am… I slept in nicely. Time to get up for another 12 to 14 hour day.  Four more weeks. I get showered and dressed and grab my iPhone to check email before heading to the office where I’ll be called an intelligence professional, but will be cut off of all forms of modern media and communications with the outside world. An email from my loving wife. No subject line and all I can see is that she has something complicated to tell me.

My mind instantly thinks this is going to be bad.

And there it is. She’s unhappy, she wants a separation. Over ten years I’ve loved this woman more than I loved air. Where is this coming from? We weren’t even fighting. We were talking every single day. Yes, our marriage has issues, but they’re all fixable right? We don’t even argue! My throat drops into my stomach, my brain refuses to accept these words. But is it true? Are we really that unhappy? Had I ever day dreamed of being single again and not being chided to clean the toilet or get off the computer or not spend money on something? Yes.. but separation? Separating our beautiful family and three wonderful, young children from their parents?

Where did we go wrong? And why now?? Why not when I’m home? This is completely unfair of her! Does she expect me to return from a 4 month deployment to Afghanistan and not live with my children? This is all so confusing — I thought our love was strong, that we were content, but knew we were destined for better things. Is this because I’ve spent my last two years as a government employee complaining? Is it because I was so unsatisfied with my job that I brought that attitude home?

No, it’s probably our non-existent, since we had children, sex life. I knew this was an issue. This was something I often wondered how to fix. But shouldn’t we make an effort to fix it? Separation? It’s going straight to the end-state without the steps leading to it.

I can’t breathe, I can’t think, I can’t eat, I can’t be here anymore. I have to get home. I have to know why.