Dear Annie: I am a 70-year-old man with two adult sons. My wife and I divorced eight years ago after 30 years together. It was simply a case of two people having grown apart over the years and seeking different things in life. She had insisted that we move to the East Coast to be nearer to her family. I had no desire to either move cross-country to an uncertain future or live near her troubled family.
I always felt that because we have children, our relationship should be civil, if not amicable. But for some inexplicable reason, she has disparaged and defamed me to anyone who will listen, especially our kids. She cut off all contact with me and poisoned my younger son's mind with all manner of lies and distortions, such that he cut off all contact with me, too.
Curiously, my own mother did the exact same thing many years ago when she and my father divorced.
Annie, I have always believed that if you love your children, you should encourage them to have a good relationship with the other parent. So I am mystified by this kind of behavior. Can you explain it to me? — Puzzled in Los Angeles
Dear Puzzled: You're right that in a divorce, the best thing for the children is for both parents to stay civil. But there are two sides to every story, and I would question whether your divorce really was simply a case of two people growing apart. Your wife may feel differently. Thirty years is a long time to have everything unravel so uncivilly. She may have been really hurt by you. Reflect on that.
Then talk to her. Perhaps you could bring up how your own mother did the same thing and explain how that negatively impacted you.
If she is flat-out irrational and uninterested in compromise, talk to your sons, but keep it simple and respectful. There's no need to defend yourself on every specific charge she is leveling against you. Just let them know that their mom may be saying some negative things about you because she is hurting. Relate to them about what you went through with your own mother. Don't be vengeful, but don't let her push you out of your sons' lives, either.
Dear Annie: In response to your advice to the "Deserted Dad," who is worried about his marriage once the kids leave the nest, I would go a bit further with advice to act fast and make changes today. I was with my wife for 30 years, and I would describe our marriage basically the same way Deserted Dad did. Our kids were our life. More specifically, my life revolved around our kids. I see now why that was a bad idea.
Deserted Dad should waste no time in developing other interests to explore with his spouse. He should insist on it immediately. As a man, I had taken no time to have friendships outside my four walls. My life was just work and family, which is unhealthy. I made excuses as to why we didn't need to do new things together, but so did my wife. We were complacent, and it ended badly. There are groups out there, and the website Meetup is a good place to start. Deserted Dad and his wife can go there for ideas and get involved with other people who share their interests.
At 48 years old, I now find myself searching for activities to do alone, feeling guilty every time I go out to try something new, knowing that there is no reason we couldn't have been doing these things together. It is a very serious turning point that Deserted Dad is facing — and one that thousands of others are probably facing, as well. Act now, before it's too late. — Regretful Ex-Husband
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Photo credit: Ryan Dickey