Mrs. DSO: "Irreconcilable Differences"

From the desk of Mrs. DSO:

Irreconcilable Differences.

This is the buzzword of the divorce world.

I didn’t really understand the phrase until I got my own divorce. But how is it that after fifteen years of making choices together every day – all of a sudden we are irreconcilable?

Let me rewind the movie real quick to give you the story. We met in high school. We were the unwanted two nerds at different high schools, a mutual friend of ours thought we would find bliss in our shared nerddom. Maybe not bliss. But it was something we found. Long story short we dated through med school, residency, got married, went on the coolest vacations all over the world, survived two years of long distance marriage and agreed to do a research/clinical year abroad together. I had to go first because his paperwork lagged behind so I left one cold snowy December day. He helped me move across the Atlantic and when he left, just like there should be, there were tears, letters of love, lots of phone calls… and then it got oddly silent for two months. For my birthday, he traveled to me and we went on a little California trip during which he finally admitted that he had fallen for his intern, but “nothing happened”. I kind of laughed it off. “Oh well, that’s bound to happen when you don’t see your wife for, like, two plus years on a daily basis. Big deal. It’s human”, was my response. I was hurt, scared, sad, but also over it. We had been in this for 15 years. We were bigger than this.

Yeah, no. A month later after a LOT of silence I get the phone call: “Yeah I don’t believe in us anymore.”

He wanted a divorce. You all know how this feels and have experienced the spectrum of emotions one can go through. No need to dwell on it. 

What I did dwell on was the HOW and the WHY. We were that couple in med school that my friends thought of as the ideal, the two people that ran across the meadows of our campus to fall into each other’s arms. How did we of all people fail each other?
And then my ex and I started emailing. They were emails in the first two weeks of separation: raw, hurtful, angry, impulsive, stupid. But there was a lot of truth in it.
These were the things we said (in more or less of these words):

Him: “Yeah, I never wanted to move to America, that was just you.”

Me: “See I always felt you didn’t want to go or you didn’t care but it made me angry that you wouldn’t just come out with that.”

Him: “Yeah but I was worried that would be a deal-breaker.”

Me: “Yeah, it would have been, but wouldn’t that have saved us some time?”

He KNEW from day one we wanted different things but that’s what we do. It feels so good at the time, so we delay the inevitable…but that’s the thing: if it’s inevitable, stop wasting each other’s time!

Him: “I got sick of asking for sex because I felt like a beggar.”

Me: “Um, so I walked in on you masturbating every time I visited you when we started dating. That’s not sexy. Besides, your mom was washing your hair and clipping your toenails in front of me when we were 19. That’s just really not attractive.”

Him: “That was when we were 19! People change!”

Me: *still so turned off even in 2020*

Why did I marry a man that I was not sexually attracted to you might ask? Well, one big thing is that many girls were raised with this shame around sex. We weren’t raised as sexual beings, sex wasn’t lady-like, there’s so much more to a marriage than sex….blablabla. So I didn’t think it was a dealbreaker. I figured I’d get the hang of it eventually. 

Him: “You’re such an angry person. Did you expect me to talk back with you being so angry?”

Me: “Yes I got angry because I never got the sense that you cared about anything regarding us. I kept pushing for some kind of response to hear what you really wanted for once.”

Him: “If that’s what you wanted, then we would have broken up a lot earlier because we would have had fights all the time.”

Me: “My point exactly.” 

The translation of this conversation is one of boundaries. I wanted to date a man with a personality, not a guy so beaten by feminism in his society that he thought it was inappropriate to express his opinions on what he wanted in this relationship and how he did not want a woman with a career. Never getting any boundaries and just dealing with a shape-shifter that went along with whatever I decided is not healthy for either. I got the sense he just didn’t care enough to put up boundaries and he got the sense I kept asking for more and more. Yeah, I was pushing my boundaries further to see just how far I could go until I would finally see some personality come out. 

You see there are three things here: red flags, sex and communication. 

The red flags here were obviously the whole thing about his mom clipping his toenails at 19 years of age and him having a pretty torn relationship with his cheater dad. Bottom line: there are some major red flags that will shape a person for the rest of their lives. Read up on red flags. If you see them: run!

Sex. Yeah, this one is easy. Sex should be amazing in the beginning. This is how us girls get you to stick around for more, after all.  If there is already no chemistry from day 1…not good. It’ll just get worse as we get used to your dirty socks on the floor and your pee sprinkles on our toilet seats. Sex is as important as everything else in the marriage. If anything it’s a reflection on how healthy a marriage is.

Communication. This is the hard one. Men and women communicate differently. I know you’re like “no shit”.

Women are typically engaging in rapport talk: We like conversations that build intimacy, help understand each other, and we often don’t communicate directly (requiring a lot of reading between the lines).

Men are more likely to have report talk: those conversations that are focused on fixing problems, accomplishing a task, no reading between the lines needed.

Women will say “I’m so tired, I don’t even know how to get it all done!” (We are seeking mostly just compassion, validation, maybe a hug, a glass of wine from our guys)
Men will reply: “Just take a day off, let me do some of it.” (He is trying to solve the problem).

Many women in their rapport mindset will read between the lines and interpret this as: Oh he thinks I can’t do it by myself. And then we get pissed. The men just wanted to help and think she’s kind of a bitch for snapping at him who was just trying to help her.

Fail.

So what does that have to do with my marriage? 

A lot. Because we were that couple that communicated A LOT. But the failure in communication is the illusion that it has happened (freely stolen from George Bernard Shaw).

We rarely ACTUALLY asked each other questions like:

“How can I show you better how much I love you?”
“How can I show you that I care about this or that?”
“What are your fears, plans, concerns for us for the next X years?”

When we did ask each other these questions there were some uneasy moments, a dawning that we might have very different plans for our future together. But we never talked it through. Neither of us really ever had the balls to say it out loud. 

For my second marriage I consider this my biggest lesson. Maybe neither of you are talkers and then you might be fine, maybe you’re doers. But I know a lot of us do need to talk things out. So have those conversations early and keep having them, because you will change over the decades. You think: ‘What the hell else is there to talk about? We are married, this is our future.’ Yeah, but remember the rapport talkers among us women need to continuously communicate to establish intimacy, not to exchange information. For that kind of talk you have to make an effort. I know it’s hard between battling daily life with kids and job and not everyone knows how to communicate. Often you don’t realize you need to communicate until it’s already much too late and there’s just a big wall of resentment on both sides.

And then you have irreconcilable differences.

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