Distance Made His Heart Grow Colder

I recall hearing in premarital counseling there would be times when we’d have to abstain from sex. Late term pregnancies, illness, perhaps an injury. All of those occurred within the first few years of our marriage. We weathered them well and I barely gave it a thought.

Then came the change in employment. My husband lost his job and couldn’t find another one in our area. After six months he found a good paying position four hours away. I stayed behind with our small son and waited for the house to sell. It took seven months, a lot longer than either of us expected. The economy had turned for the worst.

During that time, he’d come home occasionally on a weekend or I’d travel with our three year-old son to where he shared an apartment with a coworker. I noticed he no longer wore his wedding ring. He told me it was hazardous to wear it around the equipment he used on the job. He’d been called on the carpet for wearing it a few times, so permanently removed it.

Once I moved down there, he introduced me to another co-worker who happened to be shopping at the grocery store the same time. He turned to my husband and slapped him on the back. “Man, I assumed you were divorced. You are always talking about your son, but never your wife.”

Naïve as I was, I shook off the eerie coldness that hit my gut. Settling in, finding a house, and me a job took its toll. My work became demanding, as did our growing child. Plus I still had my “wifely” duties of cleaning, cooking, and laundry once I came home. If I could’ve described my life in one word it would have been “exhausting.” To be honest, by the time I finally laid my head on the pillow around midnight. I was too tired for romance.

He occasionally took care of the cars and the lawn, but couldn’t help me out with the day-to-day chores because he worked long hours into the evenings and often on weekends. Besides, he often reminded me how we needed his income more than mine since he made twice as much.

The few times we were intimate it was mechanical and void of emotion on his part. Then it stopped all together.

That is the way our life existed for ten more years. Until he had to find another job, this time six hours away. Then the cycle of separation began again, except he told me we didn’t have the money for him to travel home. When I joined him four months later, I detected something different in his attitude, but he just said he was under stress.

Five years later, the cycle began again. This time the new job was out of state. Our son had flown the nest and I was alone. I asked to come with him but he refused. I needed to once again stay behind and tie up loose ends. When I did arrive, I noticed a vivid change in him. He began to sleep in the guest room more and more. He became distant and when he was home, he was in the study on the computer. In the middle of the night, I’d waken to see the glow of the monitor coming from under the closed door. The few times we were intimate it was mechanical and void of emotion on his part. Then it stopped all together.

He would shake me off if I tried to hug him or hold his hand. Eventually, we had no physical contact whatsoever. He told me he had fibromyalgia and it hurt too much for me to touch him. When I asked him if I could go with him to the doctor, he shrugged. “I’m not seeing him. He couldn’t help me.”

A few months later he got another cell phone and told me it was for work. One day, when I found pornographic pictures on our computer, he told me they were our adult son’s and he’d talk with him the next time he visited.

For most of our married life he had an allowance because if he had money he’d spend it. I paid all the bills. I noticed large amounts for lunch on his debit card and he told me they were for coworkers who were short on cash but always paid him back within a few days. However, the reimbursements were never deposited. By now, I knew he was deep into pornography. I’d hear the soft, sexy music coming from our TV in the wee hours of the morning. I figured out that the lunch places on his debit card were not restaurants but “gentlemen’s clubs.” I discovered the trashed emails from call girls and sex sites.

In a way, his death was a release. I no longer had to live a sham.

However, I didn’t confront him anymore. I grew tired of the lies. We lived together another six years, yet separate like roommates instead of husband and wife. He had his side of the house, I had mine. I watched as he spiraled deeper into depression and refused to seek help. I found solace in my faith, my friends, and my work, adamant I’d not swirl down with him into the darkness that now enveloped our home.

He no longer hid his addiction. In fact, he rubbed it in my face and put me down more than he ever had before. I was no longer attractive. I couldn’t cook as well as so and so. If only I kept the house clean like Bob’s wife. Each time he stabbed my heart, I decided I wouldn’t let it go as deep as the last time. After a while, they just became surface wounds.

Our physical separation continued for six more years until he died from a heart attack in the shower getting ready for work. My marriage had expired long before then. In a way, his death was a release. I no longer had to live a sham. And the emotional abuse finally stopped.

Several times over the last few years of his life my family asked why I didn’t file for a divorce. They had figured things out long before I did but hadn’t wanted to say anything. He occasionally yelled at me to get one. I’d tell him he knew where the courthouse was, so why didn’t he file? He’d stomp off and not speak to me for several days.

Why did I stay in a sexless, loveless marriage? Several reasons. My faith frowned on divorce, though I knew people in my church that had remarried in civil ceremonies and led very happy lives. I was raised with the conviction that my word was my bond. I’d made a vow for better or worse, in sickness and health, for richer or poorer. I figured I had to live with the consequences of my actions. It was my fault I’d chosen the wrong man. Up until the morning he died, I hoped and prayed he’d change.

In a bizarre way, his distancing made facing his death a lot easier. He inadvertently prepared me for widowhood.

Honestly, I was also afraid I couldn’t make it economically on my own. I was dependent on his income. The man made good money, though he often spent most of it. And being somewhat of a perfectionist, the idea that I had failed in being a wife was not a fact I wanted to face.

They say a frog won’t hop out of a pot of boiling water if you raise the temperature a little at a time. It adjusts. I guess sometimes humans are the same way. If circumstances hadn’t toppled the pot, would I have swum in the steaming waters until it killed me? I don’t think so. I would have survived because I’d developed a well-built resistance, like a super-duty wetsuit.

Though not a trek I’d want for anyone else, I can now see the benefits that came out of the experience. I can truthfully say it made me stronger as a human being. I learned to stand up for myself, to not let the opinions of others affect me as much, and to value my self-worth. I also grew deeper in my faith and developed strong, binding relationships with other women, which my husband would never allow me to have when we were more of a couple. He’d always been jealous of how I spent my time and wanted my undivided attention until he decided to pull away. After that, I think he was glad I was out of the house more doing volunteer work, going to movies, attending Bible studies, or meeting friends for dinner. It allowed him to freely indulge in his addiction.

Devoid of him to lean on, I became more independent. In a bizarre way, his distancing made facing his death a lot easier. He inadvertently prepared me for widowhood.

Your circumstance may be similar, and yet different. Perhaps you are hoping, as I did, that things will change. Perhaps you have long given up hope they ever will. Each of us has to make our own decisions and feel good about them. But you don’t have to walk it out or process your decisions alone. We have confidential and free mentors who will listen and support you on your journey. If you fill out the form below, you’ll hear from one soon.

Photo Credit: Jiří Wagner