At first it was easy for me to point every single finger and toe at my husband for obliterating our 10-year marriage. He’s the one who cheated and walked out without looking back. And long before that, he repeatedly shut me out, choosing to bury himself in his work to avoid what was happening to us at home.
Blame was my coping mechanism to get through the first difficult months of our separation, and “how dare he (gasp!)” was my mantra. I rallied an entire army of supporters who, like me, were totally, utterly and completely aghast at the nerve — the gall — of this man.
Because obviously being a lying, cheating, family abandon-er trumps anything I did to our marriage in the past decade. Right?
I deflected any and all culpability in the failure of my marriage for months, holding on to the picture I painted of myself as the gentle, selfless and long-suffering wife. It wasn’t until I found a therapist who called me out on my bullsh*t that I was forced to take a long, hard look at my shortcomings.
It wasn’t pretty.
Here’s what I now know actually screwed up my marriage. May it serve as a warning to you. Before it’s too late.
1. I put my children first.
It’s easy to love your own children. It takes very little effort, and they adore you no matter what. Marriage is the polar opposite: it’s work. And whenever my marriage started to feel like work, I would check out and head to Build-A-Bear Workshop or the science museum with the kids in tow. I’d often plan these adventures when I knew my husband couldn’t go (and spoil my good time). I told myself it was OK because he preferred to work anyway and always seemed grouchy on family outings. I chose most nights to cuddle with them in our bed, blaming his late-night bedtimes and snoring for the sleeping arrangement. As a result, we were hardly alone together and never had kid-free date nights. Well, maybe once a year on our anniversary.
2. I didn’t set (or enforce) boundaries with my parents.
They were at our house frequently, sometimes arriving unannounced and walking right in. They’d “help out” around the house doing things we never asked them to, like folding our laundry (incorrectly, of course). We’d vacation with them. They’d correct our children in front of us. My own fears of upsetting my parents kept me from drawing a line in the sand and asking them not to cross it. The few times I did stand up for my family’s autonomy, I didn’t hold my parents to the same standards in future. My husband, quite literally, married my entire family.
3. I emasculated him.
I thought love was about honesty, but we all know that the truth hurts. As we grew more comfortable (read: lazy) in our relationship, I stopped trying to take the sting out it. I talked smack to my girlfriends, my mom, my co-workers. All. The. Time. “Can you believe he didn’t do this?” and “Why in God’s name did he do THAT?”
Instead of building up his ego, I trampled all over it. I belittled him often, saying his job was unimportant and dismissing his friends as “hangers-on.” I berated him for doing things wrong when, in all honesty, he just wasn’t doing them my way. At times I spoke to him like a child. I controlled the family finances and grilled him over every single penny he spent. And in the bedroom — yup, you guessed it — he was doing that all wrong too, and I wasn’t shy about telling him so. As our marriage crumbled, I found myself constantly looking for faults and mistakes so that I could justify my superiority. By the end, I had zero respect for him and I made sure he knew it and felt it every day.
4. I didn’t bother to learn to fight the right way.
I know it sounds odd to suggest there is a right way to fight. But there is. I tended to keep the peace in our house by keeping my mouth shut when things were really bothering me. As you can imagine, all the small things that drove me crazy grew into a giant suppressed ball of anger that would erupt occasionally in a huge, really frightening fit of Hulk-like rage. And by rage, I mean rage in the clinical, mental-health definition kind of way. After the fact, I’d justify my anger by saying that a woman can only take so much. Looking back, I was one scary b*tch during those episodes.
I write this mea culpa not with the hopes of winning my ex back, or even wanting his forgiveness. I write this because I can’t believe how long I kept my head buried in the sand. I hope other women out there will yank theirs out and take a good look around. And while I’m still hurt that my husband chose to solve our problems in another woman’s bed when some conversation and counseling might have helped, I absolutely know that my behavior was part of what pushed him there.