Get Out of the Bitter Barn

The four-year anniversary of my divorce comes up in April 2016. After six years of separation and three-plus years of divorce, my ex, Eric, remains bitter and difficult to communicate with. Sometimes we get along, share inside jokes, or talk about work, since we have an incredible ten-year-old boy to raise. But when one person from the breakup lives in the bitter barn, co-parenting sucks, to say the least.

I keep thinking that as time passes, Eric’s bitterness will fade. If anything, he’s angrier now than he was in the first couple years after our split. I can’t control his feelings, but I have to deal with them on a daily basis. He refuses to discuss our relationship, which I think would help us move past the pain, and if I text him about anything besides parenting, he ignores me.

When Eric and I were a couple, we were two solders fighting the same war. We had hundreds of inside jokes, traveled to New York City, North Carolina, Las Vegas. We’d cultivated a beautiful friendship and were deeply committed to each other. He supported me through grad school, and I supported him through his undergrad. We were on our ninth year of marriage and still like honeymooners.

After we had our baby, however, we fought. I had postpartum depression that lasted two years after our son was born. Now I see that my depression, which confused Eric, helped lead us toward an ending. But my childhood was rife with physical, sexual and emotional abuse, which has kept me in therapy for more than 20 years. I barely understood my triggers, so how could Eric? When he found me at home, sobbing in my bedroom, drinking too much wine, and scribbling in my journal like a fiend, he never asked what was wrong. But I wouldn’t have told him anyway. I was terrified that if I admitted I was attracted to a guy at work, Eric would have dumped me on the spot.

Before I had the affair, I sensed the doom that was headed our way. Eric was busy with graduate school; and I was so depressed that I reveled in the attention of this unhappily married man from work. Before the affair I sought advice from my psychiatrist who said, “Just let the crush takes its course. You have a solid marriage.”

The affair started and after three weeks, the guy dumped me like yesterday’s trash. And that’s exactly what I felt like. I chased him around at first, unable to accept that I had been used and abused by a man who wasn’t half the man Eric was. I hid the truth for six months. And because I have no good poker face, I felt like Hester Prynne, with an A on my forehead.

I confessed to Eric largely because no marriage counselor would see us if I didn’t. And I didn’t want to get divorced. Not at first. After I confessed, Eric went blind with rage and despair. We lived in the same house, with lots of screaming and drinking. Eric phoned the seducer’s wife and told her about the affair. The seducer got a “Get Out of Marriage Free” card.

Both Eric and I come from homes where infidelity and bitter divorces led to poor relationships and strained co-parenting. Neither of us has adequate coping skills. We went to marriage counseling, but Eric kept calling me names, and I ran back to the affair guy for emotional support.

I had confessed in March, and by October, Eric moved out. He filed for divorce on the grounds of infidelity. He took half my retirement, gave me the house, left me with thousands of dollars of debt, and I paid $280 a month in child support for the first two years. As my lawyer said, “Eric wanted a ‘pound of flesh.'”

Looking back, there were signs that Eric might react the way he did. He once ignored his mother for eight months until I begged him to make up with her. Some members of his family haven’t spoken to each in other in more than a decade.

I have forgiven Eric for his drunken rages, the name calling, even the pound of flesh he took. But he refuses to forgive me. While before we had been two soldiers fighting together, now I’m waving my white flag and he’s shooting cannons in my direction.

They say time heals all wounds. But a person has to be willing to let the wounds be healed. Eric says I’ve trapped him in “relationship purgatory,” but doesn’t see that I’m right there with him.

The affair is the single biggest regret of my adult life. If only Eric realized he doesn’t need to keep punishing me. I’ve spent these years falling on my own sword.

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