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When my wife announced that she was leaving, I felt like I had been punched in the gut. Sure, I knew things had not been great between us, but I never thought she would leave! I had a thousand questions, but they all boiled down to “why?”  Why would she do this? Why can’t we work it through? Why didn’t she tell me she was so unhappy? Why won’t she even talk to me about it now? Why is she so angry?

Years have passed and I still have some questions about why this happened to my marriage. She left and she never came back. She is living with someone else, in fact. While it would be easy to blame that for the failure of my marriage, I have learned that I needed to look deeper for answers. So what have I learned? I have learned that, whatever sinful choices she may have made, I contributed to the erosion of our relationship through a series of failures.

Failure to hear

Since she walked out, I have realized that she tried to tell me, many times and in many ways, that she was unhappy. I simply was not listening and did not take her seriously. I was preoccupied with the immediate – job pressures, church responsibilities, activities and whatever seemed urgent in the moment. I did not take time to really “hear” her. I cannot remember a time when I invited her to share how she felt and just listened. Now, I think that would have made a huge difference.

Failure to see

I can see now that I missed all sorts of signs that things were not good. I noticed that she seemed to be spending more time with other people than with me. I had faint twinges of envy when I became aware that she seemed to enjoy friendships I was not part of, but I was naïve enough to think that this would change when I had more time. I saw that she put less effort into the little special things she used to do for me, but it didn’t seem to matter that much. I saw that our schedules pulled us apart more than together, but it just didn’t register that it was a problem. What I did not see was that she was lonely.   

Failure to touch

To be fair, I did notice that our sex life was not what it used to be. Between competing schedules, busy-ness, lack of communication, and increasing conflict, we would often go for weeks without connecting in bed. She did tell me after she left that she missed being touched, hugged and kissed more than she missed the sex. We had so much fun when we were dating and first married, sitting next to each other, holding hands, snuggling on the couch, always hugging hello and good-bye. All of that that drifted away while we were married. As we stopped touching, we grew further and further apart.

Failure to taste

One of the great pleasures of tasting food is enjoying the differences between sweet, savoury, sour and so on.  As long as the milk doesn’t taste bad, we assume everything is fine. I assumed that all was well because I was really not paying attention to how things tasted. I have heard people talk about being left with a bad taste in their mouth. Nothing has ever given me a more bitter taste than realizing my marriage had crumbled and I could do nothing to salvage it. Had I paid more attention to making it sweet or savoury, instead of bland and dull, I could have made it better. I confess that I quit doing sweet things for my wife the way I used to when we courted. I could have spiced things up with fun surprises, stimulating conversations or shared passions, but I did not.  This reminds me of when Jesus says to the church in Revelation “So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of My mouth!” (Revelation 3:16) I guess my wife got to that point, too. 

Failure to “wake up and smell the roses”

One last thing I realized after she packed her bags was how I had failed to notice and appreciate all the things she did for me. I knew she did a lot of things to make our home and lives run smoothly, but once she was gone and I was left to do everything myself, I really began to recognize all that she had contributed. How rarely had I said “thank you” that there was always food in the house, that she kept our social calendar straight, that she remembered birthdays for my family, that she baked my favourite pie, that she shared duties like laundry and cooking, making beds and washing windows with me? Though we tried to have an equal division of labour, I was noticing that there was a lot left undone when she was gone. I should have been much more grateful and have told her so more often!

The bottom line is that I learned that I had failed to make much of an effort to see and meet my wife’s needs. In spite of her efforts to help me see this, I missed it. She tried – she really did. Now she did have some issues of her own, but I believe that if I had been paying more attention to her and to our relationship, rather than all the things that seemed more important at the time, neither of us would have had to experience the pain that our failed marriage caused us. It was not God’s plan for us to divorce; I could blame it on adultery and that would be easy. The harder road for me has been to take stock of what I missed, own my failures, receive forgiveness from God – if not my wife – and prepare to move forward in His grace

What I learned when my wife left

“I cannot remember a time when I invited her to share how she felt and just listened.”

When my wife announced that she was leaving, I felt like I had been punched in the gut. Sure, I knew things had not been great between us, but I never thought she would leave! I had a thousand questions, but they all boiled down to “why?”  Why would she do this? Why can’t we work it through? Why didn’t she tell me she was so unhappy? Why won’t she even talk to me about it now? Why is she so angry?

Years have passed and I still have some questions about why this happened to my marriage. She left and she never came back. She is living with someone else, in fact. While it would be easy to blame that for the failure of my marriage, I have learned that I needed to look deeper for answers. So what have I learned? I have learned that, whatever sinful choices she may have made, I contributed to the erosion of our relationship through a series of failures.

Failure to hear

Since she walked out, I have realized that she tried to tell me, many times and in many ways, that she was unhappy. I simply was not listening and did not take her seriously. I was preoccupied with the immediate – job pressures, church responsibilities, activities and whatever seemed urgent in the moment. I did not take time to really “hear” her. I cannot remember a time when I invited her to share how she felt and just listened. Now, I think that would have made a huge difference.

Failure to see

I can see now that I missed all sorts of signs that things were not good. I noticed that she seemed to be spending more time with other people than with me. I had faint twinges of envy when I became aware that she seemed to enjoy friendships I was not part of, but I was naïve enough to think that this would change when I had more time. I saw that she put less effort into the little special things she used to do for me, but it didn’t seem to matter that much. I saw that our schedules pulled us apart more than together, but it just didn’t register that it was a problem. What I did not see was that she was lonely.   

Failure to touch

To be fair, I did notice that our sex life was not what it used to be. Between competing schedules, busy-ness, lack of communication, and increasing conflict, we would often go for weeks without connecting in bed. She did tell me after she left that she missed being touched, hugged and kissed more than she missed the sex. We had so much fun when we were dating and first married, sitting next to each other, holding hands, snuggling on the couch, always hugging hello and good-bye. All of that that drifted away while we were married. As we stopped touching, we grew further and further apart.

Failure to taste

One of the great pleasures of tasting food is enjoying the differences between sweet, savoury, sour and so on.  As long as the milk doesn’t taste bad, we assume everything is fine. I assumed that all was well because I was really not paying attention to how things tasted. I have heard people talk about being left with a bad taste in their mouth. Nothing has ever given me a more bitter taste than realizing my marriage had crumbled and I could do nothing to salvage it. Had I paid more attention to making it sweet or savoury, instead of bland and dull, I could have made it better. I confess that I quit doing sweet things for my wife the way I used to when we courted. I could have spiced things up with fun surprises, stimulating conversations or shared passions, but I did not.  This reminds me of when Jesus says to the church in Revelation “So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of My mouth!” (Revelation 3:16) I guess my wife got to that point, too. 

Failure to “wake up and smell the roses”

One last thing I realized after she packed her bags was how I had failed to notice and appreciate all the things she did for me. I knew she did a lot of things to make our home and lives run smoothly, but once she was gone and I was left to do everything myself, I really began to recognize all that she had contributed. How rarely had I said “thank you” that there was always food in the house, that she kept our social calendar straight, that she remembered birthdays for my family, that she baked my favourite pie, that she shared duties like laundry and cooking, making beds and washing windows with me? Though we tried to have an equal division of labour, I was noticing that there was a lot left undone when she was gone. I should have been much more grateful and have told her so more often!

The bottom line is that I learned that I had failed to make much of an effort to see and meet my wife’s needs. In spite of her efforts to help me see this, I missed it. She tried – she really did. Now she did have some issues of her own, but I believe that if I had been paying more attention to her and to our relationship, rather than all the things that seemed more important at the time, neither of us would have had to experience the pain that our failed marriage caused us. It was not God’s plan for us to divorce; I could blame it on adultery and that would be easy. The harder road for me has been to take stock of what I missed, own my failures, receive forgiveness from God – if not my wife – and prepare to move forward in His grace

© 2009 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.

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