I have thought and prayed carefully for four years on how or if I would ever share my marital fallout. There have been bits here and there, pennies of thoughts and pounds of discretion as I grapple with what it means to be authentic and navigate legal battles that serve to stifle my voice on matters of import. I am also mindful of how misunderstood hidden abuse is and have wondered about my role in offering a cautionary tale regarding the public and social institution of marriage, versus… the repugnance I feel about being a poster child for Catholic Divorce Tales Gone Wrong. I never asked for this and I never wanted this for my family.
So, what I am sharing now is done with grief, and sooner than I had planned on sharing it, even though there are many details I am holding back for the sake of all involved. What you are about to read is a fraction of what has been endured in the last four years. I am uncertain that this world would even have to capacity to understand all that has happened, were I to tell it. But that’s not at issue here. With this, I have just a small platform to honor my truth by giving it voice. What comes after that is almost none of my business. Some will like it. Some will not. Some will shame me. Some will praise me. I pray to be indifferent to it all. This is for my kids.
Know this: ultimately, I want the father of my children to be healthy and holy and happy; I pray for him regularly and forgive him the damage he has done to me and to our family. Whatever circumstances—psychological, social or spiritual— that have happened in his life to contribute to his treatment of me, I lament for him. I am not better than him and I am a sinner in my own right. He is a soul that I care very much about as he will always be the father of my beautiful, extraordinary children. But I will not be doing him nor my family any favors by hiding reality in shrouded vagaries, so in some hard-to-explain way— I will and pray that this serves as a painful wakeup call to take seriously the path to honesty, self-awareness, and healing. Jesus, let this be a medicinal injection of truth! Additionally, I ache to know that someday my children might read this. But my hope is that I can hold space for their pain and heal with them, even while partially pulling aside the veil that hides the wounds in my heart… which bleed onto them. I wish for them truth, and love and faith in honesty.
The need to write my story now has become imminent because I have been made aware of a new, pressing threat of others writing it for me, which will be explained in the final part of this.
Part One of Three
It was early spring when I had a dream out of nowhere. Six months pregnant with my last child, sleep was a fitful thing already, but I shared this dream tentatively with my husband. “You decided to cheat on me with _________.” He was taken aback as much as I was considering that there was nothing to lend credibility to this dream at all. At the time. A month later, I noticed a connection between him and her. Others noticed it too. He’d light up when she came around and their conversation was so light, fun and easy. I felt jealous. Strange. And really, really stupid.
When they began texting more, I expressed my discomfort. He tried to avoid texting around me to not trigger this discomfort. This led to evasiveness. Awkward conversations. Me feeling even stupider for being bothered by it. We were growing distant. What was my problem? Why was I so insecure?
When I went into labor with our son in May, I texted him and he came home from work. I didn’t want him there since we were emotionally out of tune but felt bad advocating for myself. In less than three hours, from start to finish, our 7th baby was born at home in the most awkward home-birthing position I’d ever been in… on all fours, with my slightly estranged husband pinned underneath me.
The baby was baptized shortly thereafter and the woman came to our house for the baptism reception. He forgot to tell me that he invited her. I tried to act normal and be accommodating as she held my son and was very pleasant. Before the end of the month, I had consulted with my closest friend, out of state—too humiliated to bring it up to my local friends— and she advised me to ask him to stop all of the texting and have a professional-only relationship with her. I wrote up a template message for him to send. He agreed and sent it. The next day, he was extremely upset and nervous for how awkward things were at work. How she’d taken it, seeming so aghast at any hint of impropriety. We talked a lot. It sounded like I was clearly just insecure. She rationalized and normalized their friendship in such a way that I felt really, really stupid for feeling uncomfortable with it. And my husband seemed to feel foolish about asking for boundaries. We had never encountered anything like this before and neither of us knew how to handle it.
This began Operation-Get-Ellie-Comfortable-with-Our-Friendship. It involved an unspeakable amount of alcohol. (To this day, please never offer me Tanqueray Gin or Fireball Whiskey. Triggers.) And I tried. I spent time at her house. I tried to get to know her. I tried to like her. She was really fun and charismatic and a great conversationalist. No wonder he liked her! And I felt so stupid for not wanting her around my husband. We spent the entire summer going back and forth on identifying boundaries and trying to back off of the texting and then easing up on restrictions because I didn’t like for him to be upset at me because of the loss of his friend or awkwardness there. I shoveled more and more piles of stupidity and inadequacy upon myself as he spent more and more time at work with her or running errands for her and less and less time at home. I felt neglected and shamed myself for these feelings. Self-loathing. Every time I brought it up, it was met with exasperation and frustration that I couldn’t seem to accept that they were just friends. What was wrong with me?! She was well aware of my emotional floundering on the friendship. One day I’d tell her that I wanted to support their friendship and the next I’d tell her it was too difficult. She kept feigning surprise that I even questioned their friendship at all. I was growing increasingly “unstable”… a charge he’d later use against me in court. At one point, he was discussing dopamine rushes with getting her texts and feeling love-like feelings for her, but then he quickly backpedaled and it was that she was just like his sister and I simply wasn’t able to understand. By August, he told me we would have to agree to disagree on this and he was willing to endure my discomfort to maintain this friendship. God, hear my cries of despair and find me in Your bleeding heart! The isolation I felt was deep as he and she both thanked me for not opening up to my local friends about my concerns. I felt like I was honoring my husband. Protecting him. Noble. Everything else must have been made up in my head…
During this phase, I believe he at least tried to do the right thing to a certain degree. Maybe he couldn’t help his disordered feelings. At one point, it was proposed in deep frustration that “Fine, I’ll quit my job and we’ll move to Vancouver!” I begged him to please put that out of his mind. The thought of leaving the life we had so carefully crafted was unthinkable. To take our children out of their wonderful church community and move away was just not an option. Maybe this remains my greatest contribution to the fallout. Maybe I should have agreed and insisted on a move away from the other woman… but I couldn’t believe that it would actually lead to an END of my marriage so a move seemed to be a really disproportionate response. Still, I was not perfect here. There are no maps on how to navigate a marriage fallout of this kind. At any rate, the idea never gained any traction and we continued our struggle. I wanted to believe this was something we could handle appropriately.
By the end of August, he’d turned to ice on me. Rejecting bids for attention or physical connection. We tried to go on a getaway but I kept bringing her up and he’d lash out at me that “No one cares about her the way that I do!” A priest advised him to stop seeing her but he equivocated that the priest didn’t understand. In a profound moment of terrifying vulnerability on our getaway, I asked him to please choose me and discontinue contact with her. He said I was in “too biased of a position” to advise him properly on this matter. The words rattled around in my shell-shocked brain: Too biased. Ellie, you are wrong to make requests of your husband. He sought spiritual counsel with another priest… who agreed but never followed through on meeting with him. (Father, Forgive that man…) During September, I tried to be extra attentive to him. Bringing him cookies and iced tea at work, he said I was smothering him. When I tried to give him space and distance, he said I was ignoring him. I was paranoid of making a wrong step and didn’t know what to do.
We went to a marriage counselor for 2.5 sessions that year. Session one was all about my discomfort with the other woman. The therapist advised my husband to have a professional-only relationship with her until we could fix our marriage. He was unhappy about this. We didn’t return until after I had written to the other woman, asking her to please stay away from my husband and my children in anything other than a professional capacity. She agreed, at least in word. He was exhausted from the restrictions I kept wanting to put on him and her. I was paranoid she wouldn’t heed my requests. Why was I so obsessed? What was wrong with me?Ultimately, she never did respect my request. And they continued on. In the final session, he disclosed that he was indeed willing to continue a ‘friendship’ with her regardless of my feelings on it. I asked the therapist if there was a point to continuing sessions if we had different goals for our marriage. She said no. We left. It was my fault that counseling didn’t work.
One day, A local friend came over and confided in me something unrelated that included a reference to this other woman. She noted my extreme discomfort in the conversation. Despite saying nothing, my agitation was evident with shaking hands and squirming in my chair and avoidant eye contact. She probed me gently. And I confessed my discomfort. My friend was stunned. I was horrified that the words had spilled out of my mouth and shamed myself for this ‘betrayal’ to my husband.
I immediately apologized to my him for not keeping it all a secret and begged forgiveness. I asked if I could consult with our priest about it. He refused to bring “his boss” into it. He also didn’t want me speaking to the counselor I had previously seen, as she went to our parish and knew us well. I apologized to the other woman (!) for sharing what I did with this local friend. And she held my hand and stroked it, leaning in and told me firmly that I was being manipulated by that person. I was so confused. Or maybe I had just been poured too many drinks. Either way, I couldn’t breathe… What was wrong with me?!
I asked my husband in October what he wanted. He said he didn’t know. By the beginning of November, I told him I needed to know if he was committed to this marriage or not. He said he needed time to respond, so he stayed gone until the wee hours of the morning… sleeping in his office. I didn’t eat for 2 days. I walked around in a daze, waiting for his response. I couldn’t sleep. I was horrified. Unstable. I kept prodding him for answers. Maybe I’m being too pushy. Maybe he needed more time. I choked my way through November, never knowing what was going to happen. Forcing myself to eat because I had a nursing baby. Trying to focus on the kids’ homeschooling but failing miserably. We enrolled a couple children in school because I was decreasing in effectiveness. All my fault. After he began sleeping in the kids’ room, I told him that can’t be the new normal. He said it was. I lashed out “Well why don’t you just divorce me then!” And he kind of laughed and said there was a process to this. I said again… a month after I asked him the first time and a month of dire limbo and sleepless nights and cold sweats of terror… “Are you committed to me and this marriage?” He looked at me and said “No.” Then he sent a message saying that he was done being “manipulated” by me. Jesus, mercy.
I was stunned. My world was spinning. Shock. Utter shock. Am I alive? Is this real? The next day, after consulting a good friend, I told him that I refused to cohabitate with a man who wouldn’t agree to act like a husband. I asked him to move out. I offered him ideas of where to go. I told him that I loved him and hoped that with space, he would realize that this marriage was worth fighting for and I’d be ready when he was. I still have a copy of this letter. I sent this on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. He was livid. And refused to move out. He set up a room in our basement and I agreed that this would be ok for the time being. I had no way of knowing the hell that would follow upon this arrangement… and I begged God to save my marriage.
The year ended with me being told that my marriage vows had been a mistake and that I didn’t truly understand what love is… among with many other unspeakable things.
January and February were a blur. I couldn’t figure out what was happening or what to do. I would vacillate between feeling like I could just have a white martyrdom via a contempt-filled husband for the rest of my life or wondering if I should take the kids and go live with my parents and hope he’d recommit to the marriage. He rightfully insisted that I was unstable. (Later I would learn that human beings aren’t particularly “stable” in deeply abnormal circumstances. But I had a long way to go on my understanding yet.) My in-laws had stopped talking to me. I asked to have a conversation with them about what was going on but they wouldn’t speak with me. I was blocked from all social media accounts and messages went unanswered. To this day, I still grieve the fact that I lost much more than a husband in this divorce. I lost an entire family.
I begged him to go to Retrovaille with me. A friend sent money for us to do so and I had babysitters lined up. No. I begged him to go back to counseling. No. It was over. I had ruined the marriage with my “instability”, he said. We came up with an informal parenting plan whereby we’d each be in charge of the children on particular days. During his days with the kids, I tried to stay in my room or in the attic. I had moved some furniture and boxes around, plugged in a lamp and claimed it as my own personal space. I painted in large letters on the wall “Courage, dear heart…” and soaked a lot of paper in ink, paint, and tears. Drawings. Paintings. Writings. And writings. And writings. My little garret was a slice of solace in a house where I felt utterly displaced. The atmosphere was extraordinarily toxic when I was in his presence. He made certain to show me how unwelcome I was; communication took on three forms when it wasn’t the silent treatment: sterile logistics about the children, gaslighting about what had happened, or hostile criticisms about my character flaws and how I’d ruined our marriage. It was not easy for me to leave because he would not let me drive any of the two vehicles; I was told I could walk somewhere if I needed to get out of the house… in January… with a nursing baby. Large amounts of money started disappearing from our bank account. He said he was protecting it from me. Searches for “divorce” and “annulment” were found on my computer. My blood ran through my body like ice water. On my days with the kids, he would disappear completely. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how to answer my children’s questions about where he was. I was suffocating. Disappearing. Stumbling through a nightmare that I never believed possible.
Eventually, he asked if I wanted a divorce or legal separation. I said “Neither! I want my marriage back!” He calmly replied “You lost your chance at that.” Oh God, help me fix this! How had I “annihilated” my marriage as he said? Please God. Teach me how to be better! Don’t let this happen to my children! I was losing a lot of weight, being told I was crazy, and utterly incapacitated to leave a situation where my husband was living a bachelor life downstairs and abusing me on multiple fronts upstairs.
In February, after consulting with a priest, I filed for legal separation. I wrote him an email telling him that I absolutely did not want to dissolve our marriage… but that the situation was untenable and hopefully space would help shake up some particles of commitment. His response was mild surprise: “YOU filed?” On Valentines Day, I had a minor, ectopic surgery. He insisted on being at the hospital, even against my will. (Suddenly, I understood the need for HIPAA laws…) It was profoundly unsettling to be in such a vulnerable position in front of him, and needing his help as I was trying to get my clothes back on etc. I hated it. To this day, I don’t know why he wanted to be there. To control the narrative? For the pleasure of seeing me in a weak place? Out of a genuine, conflicted goodwill? I didn’t understand. Unstable. Many parts of my story can not be intellectually conquered. Such is the human mystery I suppose. As I recovered at home, the situation did not improve. I was still not allowed to drive anywhere to escape the toxicity. I was still required to turn in receipts for every dollar spent, be it a gallon of milk or pack of diapers… all while some of my skirts were being tightened up by safety pins since no money was allowed for clothing that would accommodate the weight loss. I was still told how insane, lazy and negligent I was. But I was too weak to walk around town huffing a baby along with me. Friends came to pick me up and take me (and baby) to their house. And I tried to make sense of my world…