By Esther Mann, LCSW
My wife and I have finally called it quits on our marriage. Though the divorce is not yet final, we are getting close, and at this point there is no going back. We had no right getting married in the first place, but 28 years and three children later, we could both take it no more.
I would be lying if I said that either one of us is innocent. We’ve both contributed our share of problems to the marriage. We were never meant to be together, and I think we both spent much of our time trying to figure out how to “get back” at each other. The best way to put it is that we brought out the very worst in one another.
So it’s time to move on. I’ve never been the social butterfly of the couple. My wife “Bracha” has many friends and a large family, and seems to be friendly with the world. Recently, she has started a campaign to get together with just about everyone she has ever met, badmouth me, and, it seems, gather the troops against me. I see what she’s doing very clearly. And it’s working. Recently she has started being invited out constantly for Shabbos meals and seems to have enormous support. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for myself.
I’m noticing that neighborhood people are avoiding me when they see me. I can’t even imagine what she is telling everyone about me. Though I wasn’t a wonderful husband, I don’t believe I’m a bad man and I never did anything illegal, immoral, or worthy of people looking at me as though I have leprosy.
My one really close buddy, Josh, thinks I should do the same thing. Start setting up meetings with people that were once friendly with both of us and make up incriminating stories about Bracha, so that I too have some loyal people in my quarter. But that’s just not me. Besides the fact that I’m not the most social person in the world, and it’s hard for me to “do lunch” and schmooze about my situation, I would never stoop so low as to make up stories about Bracha in order to make them hate her. I’m just not that sort of person.
Besides, we have three children whom I care very much about. I can’t understand why she would want people talking about her children’s father or mother. That seems to me to be extremely insensitive toward them. I think they should come first. They are suffering enough because of this divorce; I certainly don’t want to add any further grief to their lives. Apparently, Bracha feels otherwise.
What really broke the camel’s back for me was that I just found out that Bracha had the chutzpah to call my aunt, with whom she always got along and liked. To quote my aunt, she called and said something like, “I’m sure you’re curious about why Dov and I are getting divorced. I’d love to come over and tell you what I’ve been putting up with all these years. You will not believe your ears.” Thank G‑d my aunt is a smart and kind woman, and she told Bracha that she had no intentions of listening to her bad-mouth me and that there is nothing she could say that would make her believe that I am anything but a terrific individual. Thank G‑d for my wonderful aunt, a loyal person. But I went ballistic when I learned that now Bracha is going after my relatives, that it wasn’t enough that she already spoke to all of her relatives and friends. She is clearly on a mission and there is no stopping her.
After the divorce, I hope to remain in the neighborhood, though I think part of Bracha’s plan is to make things so uncomfortable for me here that I decide to move. But I like it here. I’m comfortable and I don’t think I did anything that should make me feel like I need to run away. But what will it be like for me to remain here if I’m viewed as this really bad guy?
And practically speaking, I’m still a young guy and someday I’m sure I’ll want to remarry. Who will look at me if my reputation precedes me and it’s a terrible one? Not that I even know what it is, but I know it’s bad!
So now what do I do? Is my friend Josh right in encouraging me to do something that is so hard for me, really almost impossible, in order to win back friends and even some of Bracha’s family? I am definitely feeling a cold shoulder from people whom I used to think were friends of mine, and it’s making life for me very uncomfortable.
Do I have any decent options right now?
I’m so glad you wrote in to me about your saga, because there is such an important lesson that everyone needs to learn from it. And that is that no one should believe the rumors or even specific stories that a disgruntled person has to say about their ex. Frankly, because a divorce is so complex and layered, no one, other than the two people involved, can ever really know the entire true story. People naturally want to know exactly who is to blame. What they don’t realize is that there are situations in which not all the blame can be put on only one person.
Yes, it can happen when you are dealing with someone who is emotionally unstable, an addict, or some other extreme situation. But sometimes, as you described, it boils down to two people who were never meant to be together. Two people who bring out the worst in each other. Two people who fell out of love or maybe were never really in love in the first place. Two people who realize that they are absolutely miserable together and would be calmer, happier, and most definitely able to live within a more peaceful space apart from one another.
This is important for every reader to understand. Don’t look for the villain and the victim in every divorce situation. The contributions may not be 50–50, but more likely than not, the failure of the marriage to thrive does not have fall on one person’s shoulders. So don’t bother asking questions, don’t look for reasons, don’t be an audience to a person’s need to vent and bad-mouth their ex-spouse. Because you may just be a victim yourself, listening to and believing propaganda that serves one person’s purposes but sadly diminishes the other person involved.
I agree with you that sinking to Bracha’s level and going around spreading awful stories about her is not the way to go. It’s sad that people have made it so easy for Bracha to do her thing. Maybe it’s because divorce is so scary and people wonder how it is possible that the couple they just had lunch with several weeks ago is now splitting. It can make some people nervous and uncomfortable. For some, who have a certain amount of discord within their own marriage, it can create fear about the state of their own union, and they are looking to hear some extreme story so that they can then go home and believe that their issues are no big deal in comparison.
What can you do at this point? First of all, I have to believe that the decent people among your family and friends who know you well will stick by you and support you through this difficult time. Let’s give them some credit and hope that they will not be so easily swayed. If someone whom you feel really close to starts behaving badly, come right out and ask them why they are behaving so strangely around you. Ask them to tell you what it is that they’ve heard about you. Certainly everyone deserves a fair trial, so to speak, and the opportunity to defend themselves.
But generally speaking, walk around with your head held high. Behave as if you have nothing to be ashamed of, because it sounds to me as though you don’t have anything to be ashamed of. Don’t avoid people, places, or things. Those people who are silly enough to believe the rumors that they’ve heard will start questioning the stories when they see you are behaving like yourself—an innocent man who has nothing to hide.
There will always be those people who thrive on gossip and tragic stories. Perhaps their own lives are so empty that this is the fuel that enables them to keep going. But I believe that there are many more decent people out there, who are not so ready to jump onto every bandwagon of incrimination. And these are the people who will pass on judgment and remain neutral toward the specifics of your divorce, which is frankly none of their business anyway.
At the end of the day, I think it is Bracha who will leave a lasting ugly impression on all the people she ran to with her lies. So hang tight, live with integrity, and you will get through this stage, hopefully with a bright future waiting just around the corner.
Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Lawrence. Esther works with individuals and couples. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 516-314-2295.