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What My Husband Did That Shook Me to My Core

To say I was shocked would be putting it mildly.

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gif illustration of moving van leaving a house and returning back, wife is sad about husband moving out and then happy when he returns
Cécile Dormeau
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I had just cleared the dishes from the dinner table when my husband of almost 25 years asked me to join him in the den. “I have something to tell you,’’ he said, nervously.

It was a month before our silver wedding anniversary and perhaps, I thought, he had a surprise for me. Maybe a wine-tasting trip to Italy? Or, something more exotic like an African safari, an adventure we had often dreamed of doing when our children were grown and on their own.

I dried my hands, took off my apron and put on a little lipstick to await my surprise.

Hands shaking, he turned to face me and quietly announced, “I’m leaving; I’m leaving our marriage." To say I was shocked would be putting it mildly. From what I knew about mid-life marital affairs it wasn’t uncommon, so I quietly asked, “Have you met someone?”

“No," he answered and confessed that at age 55, due to the success of his recent open heart surgery, he wanted a second chance for a more exciting and vigorous life.

"You can’t just dump that news on me and walk away. I need some explanation," I said, trying to speak calmly, as a shock wave exploded within me. And just like that, he said: “Our three daughters are grown and on their own. It’s time to begin a new life for myself.’’

As I sat in the dark with a chilled glass of vodka to keep myself calm, my thoughts scrolled back to our years together — asking myself what signals I might have missed. Don’t be so hard on yourself, a close friend counseled; explaining how depression was often a common side effect of invasive heart procedures.

It was also true that we were getting bored with each other, and fear of Ed’s deteriorating health affected our intimate lives. Our marriage bed had become a great divide. We had gotten lazy when it came to doing the niceties that we did for each other as young lovers. If days passed not to have barked at each other, it was a good thing.

And because our focus was no longer as partners raising our children, we were both itching for something more, although not sure what that was.

Before I knew it, Ed moved into an apartment in Manhattan, within walking distance of his office. Except for a few close friends, I told no one. I went to work daily as a food writer for a New York newspaper.

It was the early 1990s and a glamorous time in the food world. I dined in elegant restaurants, interviewed celebrity chefs and got to sample their creative new-wave cuisines. I then wondered if it would be okay, or maybe even exciting, to divorce and continue life on my own. I had flirted a bit, even dated some, but never reneged on my marriage vows.

Did he, I wondered? I chose not to know. "Don’t ask, don’t tell" became my new mantra.

But everything changed when two of our daughters announced their engagements and the third told us we would soon be grandparents. I began to visualize their weddings where we would sit at opposite sides of the room or birthday parties for the grandkids that would create more angst than joy.

Could we put the pieces together and move on? Could we be a couple again, rekindling the feelings we had so long ago?

You can’t put the genie back in the bottle, explained my recently divorced friend, Brenda, and another friend asked why I wanted to be with someone who no longer wanted to be with me. I understood what they both meant. Even so, I wasn’t yet ready to let go of the person who was supposed to be my partner for life. Ed and I had put so much into our family togetherness that the thought of breaking it apart felt unbearable.

Through my tears, I sought the guidance of a therapist who dealt with marital issues. If I wanted the marriage to survive, I needed to be willing to learn what to do.

The first thing I learned was that Ed’s life-threatening illness in the prime of his life shifted the balance of our marriage. I didn’t have a clue how to give him what he longed for. Like many women of my generation, I thought cooking and keeping the house and kids in line was what was expected of me, not soothing a spouse’s pain.

After all, I learned how to be a successful wife from watching Father Knows Best, a popular 1950s TV sitcom. Mom served a hot meal at dinner time; Dad sat with a shirt and tie; kids ate with good manners. Everyone looked happy. Who shared emotions back then?

I also learned how to dig deeper during our frequent phone conversations. I started to ask Ed how he spent his day at work — a topic I never really asked him about. It was like being on a first date with a stranger, making the other person feel special.

Little by little he opened up, trusting that I genuinely cared about him, not just as a breadwinner, but as a partner with whom he could share his intimate feelings. It was a learning curve for both of us — he learned to talk; I learned to listen.

One year after he left, he said he had something to tell me. We met for dinner, but this time with better news. "Let's give our marriage another shot, but on one condition: Let's keep talking.''

From that time on, until Ed passed away more than a decade ago, we shared 25 more years. We walked our three daughters down the aisle, welcomed six grandchildren into our family and enjoyed numerous birthday parties and graduation celebrations. And yes in time we fulfilled one of our long ago dreams and drank plenty of vino in Italy.

We got too old for an African safari but enjoyed watching PBS specials about tigers and lions in the comfort of our home. At the age of 85, I sometimes wonder what my life would have been like if our marriage had ended. I look at our photo albums, and I know the answer.

Have any of you separated from your spouse — only to get back together again? Let us know in the comments below. 

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