Relationships Are a Lot of Work. But Ending One Isn’t the Easy Way Out.
I just got off a call with someone who is perhaps the most uniquely qualified person in the world to understand what I have endured for nearly 18 months, a nightmare that he, himself has endured for almost two years. “Thank you for what you’re doing,” Tony said to me. “Your voice, your story is our story. People need to hear. Men need to understand.”
Since I started this blog and especially since I took my message to an international audience, reaching an initial 5 million ABC 20/20 viewers across this country and countless others across the globe, I have been pleasantly surprised by the outpouring of support. But more than the support, I am encouraged by people who have seen my story, heard my message and feel like I have somehow shared their own unique story. Anthony. Tammy. Charlie. Shelly. Rose and the dozens of others with whom I have exchanged stories and comments, and the hundreds of others who haven’t necessarily reached out but feel as if my story is connected to your own, this blog post is for you.
I screwed up. Selfishly I hurt the woman who, despite our many differences, arguments and dissonance, I loved deeply for more than 28 years. And despite the many who refuse to believe the sincerity of my grief, I have suffered and paid dearly for my decisions and I understand and accept that I will continue to pay for the rest of my life, like few will ever know.
Our marriage had seen its share of ups and downs, and right or wrong, we stuck together through the best and the worst of it. How? Why? I now ask myself those questions as much, if not more than others ask me. We loved each other, but as the years passed, we were no longer in love. I am outgoing, yet she felt she had no need for friends. She didn’t want children. When she lost her job, she wanted so much to be a homemaker. She had wrapped her entire life around mine, and although it wasn’t what I wanted, I didn’t stand up to her to change it. And by refusing to deal with it, I enabled it. In so many ways, we were the very definition of a codependent relationship. But I didn’t even know what that meant back then. I just knew I felt smothered, mothered and in need of change. In need of independence. A new start.
The all-consuming guilt I feel for having betrayed my wife, for devastating her and making her feel as if her life was over has been overwhelming. And that is an understatement.
While it isn’t an appropriate defense to justify my decisions and my actions, I honestly didn’t fathom the depths of the pain I would cause my wife’s heart when I made the fateful decision to leave her, to start life over with someone else.
Divorce, it seems, has become an epidemic, a sociological game of probability, if not certainty. Fodder for entertainment news headlines, we have become conditioned to the regularity, the normalcy of celebrity breakups and heartache, the bigger the better, the more normal. Jen. Brad. Gwyneth. Will and Jada. As an audience, we have grown accustomed, if not morbidly entertained by the inevitable death of these fairytale Hollywood facsimiles of marriage many aspire and cling to.
“You’ll get through this,” I told my wife in an attempt to console her after announcing I was going to file a petition for divorce. “A lot of people get divorced and go on to live happy lives. It just takes time.” But what the hell did I know? I had seen celebrities, my friends and friends of friends get divorced for years. And they lived through it. But they don’t always tell you about the heartache, the tears and sleepless nights they lived through. For some, it’s more pain than they can possibly bear.
In the fall of 2017, two months prior to meeting the woman I fell so hopelessly in love with, if you had asked me if I was happily married, I would have told you, “yes.” But was I? How could I have been? How is it that a month after kissing my wife goodbye at the front door of our home in South Carolina before I drove 600 miles to Delaware to start a new career, did I fall in love with someone else? Was I that unhappy? Was it so unbearable to live another day, another year, another decade married to someone who I had promised to remain faithful to until one of us, or both of us, took our last breath?
Understandably, some want to zero in on my infidelity as the reason my wife took the life of my girlfriend and then herself. End of story. And many, I among them, feel sympathy for Jennair. But they’re missing an important point. While hurt and betrayed, my wife was willing to forgive me for my weakness, my decision to have a physical and emotional relationship outside our marriage. She wanted more than anything to repair the damage and start again.
But after weeks and then months of recognizing just how unhappy we both had been for years and of a rapidly-escalating mistrust between us, including her planting multiple recording devices in my car, my office and sewing them into my clothes, of hacking into my computer and phone, of following me wherever I went and putting GPS devices on my car, I made the difficult decision to end our marriage, to end years of mind games, control and dysfunction and rediscover myself again. And I hoped the same for her, believing that she would find her footing and reemerge stronger, and that we could someday be friends.
My wife didn’t kill Meredith and then herself because I was unfaithful. She did so because she couldn’t imagine her life alone. She had wrapped her life, her whole being and her reason for living around mine. And just as men who stalk their wives after being told they want a divorce often kill them, my wife couldn’t bear the thought of me being happy without her. She didn’t kill me because she wanted me to suffer, so she killed someone I loved—just as some men kill their children, then themselves, to make their surviving spouse suffer.
As I sat there, listening to Tony’s story over the phone, I shook my head in horror and disbelief at the similarities to my own. After 27 years of marriage, he too found himself, not in a sexual affair, but deeply in love with another woman. And like my wife, his decided life wasn’t worth living. With her two children in the house, she retrieved a gun from the safe, locked the bathroom door and took her own life.
“I still can’t forgive myself,” Tony told me. “If I had known, I would have stayed married. We weren’t in love, but destroying her life, my kids’ life because I wasn’t happy, just wasn’t worth it.”
He may as well have been speaking my own thoughts aloud—the thoughts that have haunted me since the day Jennair killed herself and my girlfriend. I would have stayed, had I known. My happiness, my relationship with another woman wasn’t worth the cost.
I’m not saying that someone needs to stay in a broken relationship, but I’ve learned that there is a right and a wrong way to end it.
I’ve said it in front of millions and I will say it again and again until I die. “We all have a responsibility to take care of the ones we love, but especially for the ones we hurt, to make sure that they’re okay.”
And that is why this blog post is for those readers who have reached out to me, or read my blog posts, and thought that they can relate to my story because they have considered infidelity or have already crossed that line. Here is what I want to tell you. If you’re currently having an affair or if you’re ever tempted to start a romantic relationship with someone while still married or committed to someone else, STOP. Don’t do it. Think about it. Is it really worth it? Are you truly escaping your unhappiness or are you just taking it with you to another relationship? Are they the problem, or are you? Or are you both? More importantly, are you willing to destroy someone else’s life, your own and countless others to find out?
Let my experience spare you from a tragedy of your own. While it is unlikely that you will find yourself with a story just like mine, there are countless other stories that have ended tragically because the relationship was brought to an end the wrong way. Do it the right way. With honesty. With respect. And with faithfulness to your past, to your wedding vows, and to the heart of the spouse you once cherished. Stay married while you are still married.