Musings on a Failed First Marriage

September 7, 2011 by DrDave  
Published in Marriage

As a young man and idealist, I had hope for a true love and an eternal marriage, unlike that of my parents and many other people who ended up divorced. This essay discusses some of the reasons that my first marriage failed, from my personal perspective, and, I’m guessing, may help others as they face the responsibilities of their own marriages.

This treatise contains some of my reflections upon my first marriage (1973 – 1994) and its failure. It is not a comprehensive work on all the psychological reasons why it failed – my shortcomings, her shortcomings, family problems, etc. Some 15 years ago I did write such a cathartic essay on why my marriage failed, and the reasons (I thought) that led to our eventual divorce. Nor is this current work a “tell all” to expose alleged scurrilous behaviors on either side.  It is merely to ponder past events, put them in perspective, and have a more objective point of view now that many years have passed.

I was married to my first wife for over 20 years, and before that, we had dated for four years. Thus, one would assume that we thought thoroughly about our future union for a long period of time before making the marital commitment. However, I must say that I pursued her; she did not pursue me. I proposed marriage a few weeks after we met – no joke – and then again about once a year until she finally agreed and we got married. It’s not that she didn’t care for me, I am sure that she did, but perhaps she had low self esteem and thought “one in the hand is better than two in the bush.” Or maybe she was “waiting for somebody better.” Who knows?

For the sake of argument, I’ll call her my wife. That’s because at that time, she was, well, my wife.

Our initial relationship was warm, friendly, and stormy. However, I felt that we had worked out most of our major contentions before marrying, and when we finally married, it felt like it was the next, right step. She was cute, smart, and had no “vices.” Quite a few of the high school girls that I had known were interested in shopping and rock concerts, and maybe tobacco, alcohol, and other things. my wife was interested in politics, religion, philosophy, and other non-trivial topics. I have always been attracted to intelligent women, as opposed to bimbos who may just be really physically good looking. External beauty is nice, but it isn’t enough to build a long term relationship on. I couldn’t imagine living with an ignorant woman, or an alcoholic, or a “gold digger.” Well, she didn’t seem like a woman interested only in money.

When we separated at the end of our marriage, I never looked back. I didn’t seek the divorce, but never once have I missed her since she announced we were going to get a divorce. I did mull around a while trying to sort things out for the major reason, or reasons, that caused our divorce, and I even wrote about them, as I had mentioned. While I do still feel comfortable about those major reasons, an event such as a marriage or a divorce is typically far more complex.

As examples, let’s ponder the cause of the Civil War (War between the States; the War of Northern Aggression; etc.) One could say that the War was caused by the Slave issue or about state’s rights or about the economy. But that war was brewing for 40 or more years, and it came about due to a series of complex issues. And while one of those issues may have been the concept of Southern Pride and the Culture of the South, after the war had ended, both of those issues still remained, as viable as ever.

Another example is World War II. One could say that Adolf Hitler wanted to take over the world. While he may have liked that, I don’t think for one minute he believed that his nation would be able to conquer all the world’s nations, as Rome had done in its time. And it wasn’t a war caused only by Hitler’s dislike of Jews, although they were part of the overall picture.

So, in essence, the dissolution of my first marriage was something that was brewing for a long time, and no one event was the reason for the divorce. We tried for a long time to make it work, but it was not meant to be.

My first wife and I have five biological children together; now they are all grown and four of them are parents themselves. Were I to look back and say, “It would have been better to have married someone else, or maybe not marry at all,” then I’d have to believe that it would be better not to have the children – and grand children – that I have now.

The thought of not having any of the 5 children that I do have with her was unconscionable for the longest time, but in as much as now two of those five do not maintain a close relationship with me – their choice; and two others are addicted to drugs and alcohol, and it is I, not them, who choose not to be close to them in their state. That leaves me with only one of those biological kids out of the five worthy of the type of child that I desired to have. So, maybe, in retrospect, it would have been better to marry another woman and have children with a different woman, after all. Or maybe have none.

Of course, the number of combinations of my billions of spermatozoa with my first wife’s hundreds of eggs could have yielded an almost infinite number of different DNA combinations, resulting in infinite variations of offspring not just the 5 that we did have. Were we to do it all over again, there is no guarantee that if we did have 5 children, that they would be these 5, or that they would be 3 boys and 2 girls as we had. Thus, musing any more on that topic seems to be a frustrating waste of time.

My first wife’s ancestry is Jewish, from eastern Europe. And while she converted to my Christian faith after we married, she still carries the cultural bias as a Jewish European American, just as I carry my own bias from my German American Christian upbringings. From the Jewish friends that I have had, and the professional psychologists that I have used (who were Jewish), I have come to realize that “guilt” is a part of the Jewish culture, meaning, parents tend to drive their children’s behavior by using “guilt” as one of the tools of discipline.

Guilt has a place in human reasoning, but I never found it a favorite tool of mine for disciplining children. However, in retrospect, I realize that my first wife used the guilt tactic to motivate our children to do things. After our separation, I noticed it even more, as it had been brought to my attention. Even to this day, I see how guilt is used by her to gather our kids to family events that she wants to have. I have also seen her use the “my child is dead to me” ruse when certain kids did things that she didn’t want them to do. I had been aware of that part of the Jewish culture from reading and from movies and television.

When I had met my yet-to-be first wife, I found her to be rather shy. And, in fact, she is still rather shy, at least, she’s an introvert and not bombastic. But within the family fabric, she is, and always has been, very outspoken. I hadn’t realized, until too late, that she is a micro manager, and wants to manage everyone’s affairs so as to create a controlled environment that was eco-friendly to her. I have a hard enough time managing my own life; I’m not about to try to control others’. But she has made it her business to know everyone else’s business. And, amazingly, she always knows why people do things, since she can tell you. Even if you don’t ask her. She can tell you. Well, that is what I was led to believe.

As a micro manager, she is also type of person that has only one plan: Plan A. She has no Plan B. She analyzes, decides, and that’s it. No back up. No alternatives. There is one and only one plan: her way or the highway as they say.

We had our differences. But I vowed never to divorce, so I did all I could to conform to the kind of man that she wanted me to be (or, the man that I thought she wanted me to be). Not entirely possible, of course, but I also worked hard in our church to be a good man, and I served in many church callings which, I thought, would validate that I was a good guy – at least to her. Sadly, I never felt that she respected me – for anything, not just church – related.

Even so, she is a highly intelligent, very well-educated woman. As such, she never let me forget it. No matter what I thought about something, it was her opinion that mattered. When we disagreed, she was always right, in her mind. Compromise was not an option. While it is true that in some cases, compromise means “everyone loses,” at other times it may be fruitful.

My first wife graduated 2nd in her high school class, with her twin sister, as 1st in her class. I believe that her graduating class had more students than my graduating class, but that’s not too relevant. I graduated 15th in my class of about 650 kids, with a slightly lower GPA than my wife had at her school. Thus, in her mind, she was smarter than me. In college, she majored in sociology and psychology and had a very high GPA. I majored in math, physics, chemistry, and astronomy, and had a high, but not very high, GPA. So, in her mind, she continued to believe that she was smarter than me. I had taken only one course in psychology while she had taken many more psychology classes as part of her B.A. in Sociology. As such, she must have concluded that she was a much better parent than I because she had more classes in psychology. At least, that is what she told me. Face to face. She also thought that classes in the physical sciences were not worthwhile, so, what I was working toward was a worthless degree. Ethically worthless, not necessarily financially worthless. But we will address that later.

Obviously, from the outset, my first wife and I had developed a competitive – and later, an adversarial – relationship. I spent much of my marriage trying to prove to her that I was the man that she wanted me to be; and she spent much of the marriage pursuing her own interests, and reminding me that I was not even half as good as her own father. Anyone with wisdom in life would have seen that this was a train wreck waiting to happen. To be fair, on my part, I had believed, or hoped, that my wife would be the type of woman that my maternal grandmother, “Nana,” was. But my wife couldn’t be “Nana” any more than I could be my wife’s
Dad. Too bad that we both didn’t realize that we had unrealistic expectations of each other during most of our marriage; maybe all of our marriage.

Now, not to be emphasized, but also not to be downplayed, was the impact that my wife’s family had on our marriage, and the impact that my family had on our marriage.  First of all, everyone on my side of the family seemed to be supportive, or glad, or happy about having this woman as my wife. The worst criticism was a neutral stand by a few, and very few, people.

Secondly, my wife’s family was against me from the start. Well, maybe not from the very start. But two weeks after the very start anyway. My wife came from a Jewish family. A culturally Jewish family, but Jewish nonetheless.

Among Jews, there is a subset which are known as “orthodox,” or very strict Jews. They stand out from non-orthodox both culturally as well as sartorially. Many religious groups are identified by their outfits, facial hair, and so forth (e.g., Amish), and the Orthodox Jews fit that description, too. Another subset of Jews is a group called “Conservative” Jews, in which they are very firm about their beliefs, but they blend in with their local communities, both in clothing and other cultural ways. Unless you asked, you may not be able to tell a Conservative Jew from a clean-cut Lutheran, or a successful agnostic, or the like. Finally, there are the “Reformed Jews,” who are generally quite liberal in their beliefs and cultural style, but still may attend church services (Synagogue). Beyond that, all other Jews can be considered “Cultural Jews,” in as much as they rarely, if ever, attend Synagogue, or give prayers in the home, or just about anything else. The only way you may get a clue if they are Jewish is to know their last name. But, in many cases, Jews have “Anglicized” their names, so one can’t tell anyway.

Well, my wife’s family was among the last set – cultural Jews. Their family name was a “typical” sounding Jewish name in America. Even so, my wife’s dad’s oldest brother Anglicized his last name.

I mention the Jewish nature of my wife’s family because they never let me forget that they were Jews, and they never missed a chance to promote Jews, Israel, and stuff like that, while at the same time, decrying the behavior of Nazi’s, Muslims, and so forth. And I wasn’t spared ethnic jokes, either. Yes, there are blond jokes, jokes about black people, about Native Americans, about Polish folk, and about Jews. I didn’t share any of those ethnic jokes with members of my wife’s family, or with their friends. In fact, I’d guess that quite a few of my wife’s relatives and friends assumed that I, too, was Jewish (like cousins and people like that) since her mom and dad didn’t want to broadcast that I was a “Gentile,” which to them is a non-Jew.

Another word for a non-Jew is a “goy” and the plural is “goyim,” which now is a derogatory term for a non-Jew. It comes from Hebrew for “non-Jewish people,” and it was not originally derogatory. A non-Jewish woman is called a “shiksa” from the Hebrew word “siqsa” which is the feminine form of “detestable.”  While “shiksa” is still a derogatory term, it is not as bad as the original meaning in Hebrew.

“So, did you know that a new Chinese restaurant opened up in town, and it’s owned by a non-Jew? It’s called “Sum Dum Goy.” That was a joke I often heard… not over heard, but heard when told withing a small circle of Jews.

I went to bar mitzvahs, bat mitzvahs, bris ceremonies (where a Rabbi, called a “mohel” circumcises a Jewish boy of 8 days old), Jewish weddings, and, of course, attended many a synagogue over the years. I enjoyed the cultural experience of learning something new. My maternal grandfather never liked Jews, because in his business, most of the people who ran out on debts owed him were Jews. Even so, he never said a negative word about my wife or Jews after I began to date my wife, and he was very gracious and kind to her after they met.

But, my wife’s mom, dad, siblings, uncles, aunts, cousins, and others never skipped an opportunity to wail against the barbarians who were anti-Semitic: Germans, German Americans, Catholics, Arabs, etc. etc. In some cases, of course, I cannot blame them, with the Holocaust and all. But I didn’t create the Holocaust.

Our sons were circumcised (one by a Rabbi). My children were given Biblical names from the Old Testament. I was a good husband to my wife, took good care of her, provided her with nice homes, fine cars, lavish travel, expensive clothes, good food, etc etc., so her family had no reason, in my mind, to complain about me. But they did. And even after 21 years after we got married, my wife’s father and her brother excoriated me violently and verbally in front of my own children, ostensibly because they claimed I was making them all late for a dinner appointment. What a crock.

So, it’s not just my wife. It’s not just Judaism. But it’s my wife and the complex interactions of her culture and her family, that made the negative impact on our marriage. In fact, when I decided to marry my wife, I went to her father to “ask for his daughter’s hand” in marriage. He refused, and also made me understand that we would never get his blessing on our marriage. Not a really good way to start a marriage.

The pain of my own father’s leaving after my parents separated was terrible. I remember crying myself to sleep night after night, wanting “my daddy back” for the longest time. I don’t know if I ever got over it, but I finally “let go” and forgave him, when I was in my 30’s – a few years after his passing. I have no idea what he went through, so I can’t judge him. However, I knew enough to vow that I would never, and I mean, never get divorced. Of course, I didn’t have the power to make my wife honor that vow, since she didn’t make it. And she was the one who wanted to divorce, and under the law where we were living, I had no way to stop it.

The divorce itself was terribly destructive to me. I am not saying that I didn’t deserve it. I take my portion of the blame. I don’t think my wife ever accepted any responsibility for our separation. She merely woke up one morning, calmly but firmly announced the divorce; and 6 weeks after our divorce was final, she was engaged to a widower who lived more than 2,000 miles away in another state. In the end, the final divorce settlement gave her our home, which she sold and used the funds to buy a lovely 5-Bedroom home in a sub of her new husband’s home town, where she lives now, with her 2nd husband, my ex-best friend.

Yes, it may sound that I am bitter about some of this, and I was at one point. Now it’s just fodder for sarcasm – one of my talents.

So, I could not keep my vow of staying married, and that hurt me very much. In addition, having been a faithful member of my church for so many years, I was firm in believing that “Families are Forever,” and it didn’t seem as if a divorce was part of this goal.

Oddly enough my ex-best friend was married in the same church to his first wife, and they have 7 children together. His first wife filed for divorce from him for “physical and mental abuse over a ten-year period,” according to the court records of his divorce, shortly after their youngest child was born. My ex-best friend and his second wife were also married in this same church, and they had 3 children before his second wife died at age 44. Now comes my first wife, now, my ex-wife – and my ex-best friend married her, too, in the church.

My first wife disliked me so much, I am guessing, that immediately after the divorce she changed her last name back to her maiden name for a few months before re-marrying and taking my ex-best friend’s last name. There were some serious un-resolved issues within her, don’t you think?

Back to me. I found out that over the years, in my efforts to be the man that my first wife wanted me to be, I became very stressed and anxious. I was, essentially, acting the part of her type of man. Or, at least, trying to act the part. And while it’s hard enough being oneself, try being someone else for years. I almost always deferred to her, because I wanted to be a “good Christian husband,” and prove to her that, even though I was a German American, I didn’t hate Jews. (However, she never spared the chance to infer that I was a Germanic Barbarian, like Conan, but not as buff.)

My career as a scientist paid a good salary, but not high enough a salary to suit my first wife. I believe that were it not for an inheritance that I received from my maternal grandfather, my first wife wouldn’t have married me at all. And, our family “budget” was a joke. We outspent our annual income at least $10,000 per year for over 20 years. In the end, she told our children not to go into my field, as it didn’t earn enough money.

My first wife was “lucky” that she has never had to get a job (outside the home) and go to work, becoming self-reliant. She never worked full time anywhere. Never had a job outside the home while we were married. In spite of her having a Master’s degree from a major university. She was supported by her father until she married (which is okay, I guess),  then supported by me and my my inheritance. After the separation, she got the house, alimony, money and a car from her father again, and money and two cars from her twin sister’s wealthy surgeon-husband.

Ironically, my first wife’s second husband (my ex-best friend) had no money and he still doesn’t. So, she became the 3rd wife of a financially poor man. My ex-best friend did work most of his life, but he never saved a dime, with all the alimony and child support and his career as a public administrator.

Eventually, my wife’s father passed away, and she received a portion of his sizable estate, so, once again, her father is supporting her. My ex-best friend no longer works. First, he is at retirement age, and second, he can’t find a job, or, it’s too hard for him to work. Since my first wife never worked full time, she has no pension from anywhere. And little to no Social Security. My ex-best friend never worked any one place long enough to get a pension. He does have Social Security. So, the two of them have income from money in a savings account; money from part-time substitute teaching in schools that my frist wife does now; and some Social Security. They don’t have any debt. They own their house that I paid for, and they own their cars bought by others. And their IRS tax must be amazingly small. (My first wife gave up her right to any of my pensions as part of the divorce settlement).

What I am saying here is that there is a bit of an ironic twist to all this. My first wife and her 2nd husband, apparently still “bad-mouth” me whenever they can. They make important family plans that involve our common children and grandchildren, and do all that they can to cut me out of the loop so that I won’t show up. Then, when I don’t show up, they congratulate themselves, and make sure our kids know that I didn’t care enough to be there. It sure seems like a waste to me.

Overall, Life happens. If I were to do it all over again, I’d probably do things differently, but that doesn’t mean I’d be any happier than I am now.

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