Today I’d like to introduce you to Andrea who I met through her comments on here. Andrea was separated for two years before her divorce became final in July. By then she’d been married for fourteen years. She has three daughters. Her eldest has a regressive form of Autism which ultimately led to her being placed into care. Her two other daughters were twelve and ten when the divorce became final.
Like my last guest Lisa, Andrea’s journey through divorce has been extremely challenging. She fled her home fearing for her and her children’s safety, temporarily lost custody of her children and has to contend with an ex who has seemingly few parenting skills and little personal integrity. It wasn’t always that way. When they started dating, Andrea thought he was a perfect match. Here’s Andrea:
I met my husband in 1996 and we got married about a year later in 1997. I’d met him through someone that I had known for fifteen years, and she was married to someone who had known him for about ten years. I knew her because we had gone to college together, and he knew him because they used to work out together. My husband is an athlete and he’s 6’4”, he’s a really strong, athletic guy and because he came with references, he sort of had an in.
We hit a rhythm really early on and we seemed to want all of the same things. It was important to me that when I got married, I had children. For me, that was the only reason I was getting married. I didn’t feel a need to be married. I wanted to have a family and I was really traditional in the sense that children have both a mother and a father. He wanted a stay-at-home wife and he’s Catholic. It was really important to him that the children be raised in the Catholic church, and I thought that would be nice for my kids, because that wasn’t something I’d had growing up.
I know it sounds funny, but as a kid, I envied the kids who went to Christmas mass and had their first communion, it seems very glamorous from the outside. With the fancy dresses, and there’s a lot of ceremony to it. I thought my kids might like that. He wanted them to go to Catholic school, which I also liked. We moved around a lot when I was a kid, so I wanted my kids to always go to the same school.
We seemed to be on board, we had the same goals of stay-at-home mom, a traditional, conservative family. He would be the one that worked, I would be the one who raised the children. I like to travel, he liked to travel. He had a big family and I had only met them a few times, but everybody seemed to get along. My family liked him. I was an only child, but my family liked him. He had met the people who were important to me and everybody seemed to like him. He was educated, he’s got two degrees and he had a business that his dad had started that was his. So it seemed to me like it was a really good situation.
We got married about a year later and had our first daughter a year after that, our second daughter a year after that and then when I was pregnant with our third daughter, our oldest daughter was diagnosed with Autism and so most of the attention in the family went to her.
As it turned out, she has a form of regressive Autism, so instead of her getting better, she actually got worse until we had to place her in a care facility in July of 2007. Then my mom died unexpectedly in September of 2007. I knew there were problems in the marriage but my best friend who’s been along on this whole journey with me said,
“When your daughter’s not in the house anymore, it’s not going to be crazy and you guys will find each other again and you’ll fall back into your routine”
All this time I had been going to marriage counseling and my husband wouldn’t go with me. I had been trying to get him to go with me and at the school where my kids went they had a counselor there, so it wasn’t costing us anything to go. It was included in your tuition because a big part of what this church was, was they wanted you to provide the whole Catholic experience for your children, not just the education, but a happy marriage. So I took advantage of it, and I had my girls in there, my younger two, because I wanted them to be able to deal with the fact that their sister was going to be placed in a care facility. So they were in counseling, I was in counseling for myself and I would talk about our marriage, but I could never get my husband to go.
I think in retrospect, he didn’t need a marriage. He didn’t really have any intention of being a real husband. Things were so chaotic at our house I thought the reason he was checking out was the Autism.
The Divorce Coach Says
Two thoughts on this segment of Andrea’s story. First, I think her description of why she married her husband is a great example of making the best decision you could at the time and no, it didn’t work out and yes, it did get very ugly, but she made what she truly thought was the right decision at the time. You can’t undo it and pretend it didn’t happen. You just have to accept it, learn from it and move forward.
Second, getting lost in the chaos of raising children is not uncommon either. It’s easy enough to see how it happens with healthy children and it must be even easier when one of your children has a chronic health condition. Children can trigger any number of separations between spouses, that Judy Osborne talks about. Andrea’s daughter had no ability to self-regulate so she didn’t need much sleep. She could not be left unsupervised and she had no speech or sign language. At the age of thirteen she functioned like a 18-month old. There’s a limit to your own energy and emotional capacity and when you’re dealing with these sorts of demands, I think it’s natural that your child is going to be the priority. How you and your spouse share the caregiving has a profound impact on your marriage.
The parenting demands can mask deep marital problems so you don’t recognize what’s going on. You can also know, as Andrea did that there were marital problems and choose quite consciously not to deal with them for any number of reasons. Either way, sooner or later something will happen and you’ll be forced to confront the issues. For Andrea, it was her daughter going into care that was the trigger, that opened her eyes to what her marriage was really about.
Photo Credit: Hades Bane