I could have done better


Too often people who have divorced blame the break up on some character flaw of their former partner. But the fact is, there are many reasons why people don’t stay together. Character flaws may be one of them, but like my dear departed mother used to say, it takes two to tango, buddy. I've been married and divorced three times. In each case, it was easy to cry in my beer and complain about how this one was too loud and needy, or this one cheated. Oh, I could generalize about my part in the breakups: I didn't communicate enough, or I didn't help enough with the kids, whatever. But when all is said and done, the fact is, I could have done better.

I remember when I rushed my first wife to the hospital because she was cramping horribly. It turns out that she was pregnant with our child. We had no idea. Imagine hearing, on the one hand, that you are pregnant, and then in the very next breath, being told that you lost your child. In the days following our hospital visit, she was incredibly sad. I didn't understand. Maybe it was because I never  had a chance to get used to the idea of my potential fatherhood: it just didn't seem real to me. I didn't experience the depth of pain and loss that she felt.  I was incredibly insensitive. Yes, my first wife was needy, loud and at times, abusive. But the one time I had a chance to be there for her when it counted, I wasn't: I could have done better.

I remember when my third wife came to me one day with some glamour shots that she had done. Money was tight at the time. I remember her saying to me, “We don’t have to get these.” I berated her for spending money we didn't have. Looking back, I realize that she wanted me to appreciate the fact that she had these photos done for me. She wanted me to appreciate her.  Sure, the marriage eventually fell apart. Yes, she eventually strayed. But you know what? My rejection of the photos was a rejection of her: I could have done better.

My first wife wanted me to mourn the loss of our child. My third wife merely wanted to be appreciated. These truths are painfully evident now. Painful, not because I wish things had turned out differently—painful because I was obtuse and unkind. No matter what my ex’s might have done or not done, it doesn't matter. When push came to shove, I simply did not know how to listen. And that’s on me.

So the next time you are crying in your beer about all the crap your ex put you through, take a moment and look at yourself—I mean with some honesty this time. Because if you can’t find at least one or two things you could have done differently, then maybe the character flaw lies not with your ex, but with the guy gripping that  mug.