Last month’s newsletter featured an edited excerpt from one of Charlie’s chapters in our new book, That Which Doesn’t Kill Us: How One Couple Became Stronger at the Broken Places. The following excerpt comes from one of Linda’s chapters. Enjoy!
Linda: Looking into Charlie’s eyes after fifteen years together, I said, “Who are you? I don’t know you. When I see the man you’ve become, I don’t like you very much. If I met you now, I wouldn’t even be attracted to you. I certainly wouldn’t marry you. I fell in love with a laid-back, motorcycle-riding, guitar-picking hippie. Who is this guy swaggering around in a three-piece suit?” In desperation, I had sat Charlie down for a heart-to-heart talk during one of his infrequent times at home. I was in deep despair over the direction of our lives. It was a pivotal point for me to realize how much of a stranger he had become, and I told him so in pain and anger and in the hope that I could shake him out of the trance that he seemed to have fallen into.
He was spending almost all of his time building his career while I was home with the children, building resentment. I thought I had carefully chosen a man who would be steadfast and faithful to me, a man who would turn down raises and promotions to be with his family and would be devoted to the children, a man who believed in equality of the sexes and would support me in my career and share power equally. I was stunned to see Charlie acting like a patriarch, declaring that he knew what was best for our family.
For so many years, he had been the man I envisioned. We had made every important decision jointly. Now, it seemed that I had lost many of my rights. I had been demoted to an inferior status. How could a person change so dramatically in such a short period of time? The man I had fallen in love with was gone. His shadow side—aggression, ambition, greed for power, selfishness, insecurity, and fear—had taken over. I was seeing how ruthless, cold, and manipulative he could be.
How had we arrived at this low point? How had we become so estranged from each other? Ironically, it all began with the personal growth seminars. After months of involvement, we were soaring with energy and visions of possibilities. Having gotten in touch with a powerful sense of myself, I felt capable of taking the big risk to go after my own dream, to move to California to live in warm weather among people with similar values.
We had experienced wild infatuation prior to the actual move, and the excitement of a new place carried me for the first months in California. When the excitement subsided, I began to deflate. I was on my own with the children day in and day out, virtually single parenting. Whenever it was especially stressful, I told myself, “It’s temporary; it isn’t going to be forever.” If I’d known how long it would last, I would have plunged into a horrible depression. Sometimes it’s better that we don’t know what’s in store for us.
I asked myself accusingly, “Why the hell is a feminist like me doing all the child rearing?” In the years that followed, I would be called upon to do more extended giving than I ever dreamed I would have to do. As hard as it was, the first year was actually the easiest because I was operating under the illusion that Charlie would only be unavailable to us for the duration of his training. Also, we had some emotional savings in our account. I was able to draw from our previously happy times. I wasn’t exhausted and depleted yet. I was still optimistic, imagining an end in sight, when we would be a close, snug, happy family again.
But undeniably, Charlie was undergoing a transformation. In training to become a facilitator, he was accused of being “too soft” because he was unwilling to confront students in the way his mentor believed necessary to break down resistance. I could see Charlie’s struggle to conform to the demands of the training department was so counter to his personality. I had always known him to be such a sweet, compassionate and tenderhearted man. I knew that part of him was still alive and in him, somewhere, but it was becoming increasingly hard to find.
Work had become “the other woman.” I felt like the cast-aside wife. The exciting new mistress was the one who counted. He seemed to love her so much more than he loved me. He spent most of his time with her and I got the leftovers. Whenever I confronted him with my claim that his job was the most important thing to him, he denied it, saying that marriage and family came ahead of career. He had been an honest man before, but this seemed to me like a complete lie.
I had never dealt with anything like this. Charlie was lost to “Mistress Corporation.” No matter what I did or said, I couldn’t bring him back to the family. Our situation was complicated by the fact that I had come to see the company as a kind of cult. I use the word “cult” quite intentionally because the employees and volunteers were bound together by veneration of the ideals and principles that the company espoused and loyalty to the company leader. There was an ideology accompanied by rituals and ceremonies and a claim of having the sole insight into understanding the problems of our times as well as the methods to cure the malady.
When we fought, Charlie would pull out a trump card that rarely failed to shut me up. “You’re uncommitted,” he would say. It was easy for me to be manipulated in that way, hitting me as it did in my vulnerable area. I would resolve then to try harder to manage things in his absence. I was desperate to find the places where we were still aligned and to amplify those as much as possible in an attempt to bridge the gap widening between us. I felt trapped between my intellect that was telling me “don’t be a victim” and my feelings of loneliness, resentment and despair with no idea of how I could ever resolve this excruciating conflict.