The Big Why
In the wake of discovering my ex-husband's second life, I was often confronted with considering why he made the decisions he did. Was it Addiction? Compulsive behavior? History of trauma? Narcissism? Arrogance combined with really poor, hurtful decision-making? At worst, I often considered the prospect that he didn't love me or our son and used us a front with family and friends in order to live a life he wanted more than us. The emotional toll was heavy with many lines of thinking about the cause of his decisions. Being able to name WHY he chose what he did was really important to me because it seemed like it should shape what happened next.
In my line of work of investigating medical errors, if you can't clearly define and name the problem, you can't fix it. I lived by that at work, and it was absolutely logical to me to apply it here. I desperately wanted a concrete, black-and-white answer of why he behaved the way he did. Why did he make those choices? For over one year, I naively thought that if I could just figure that big "why" out, it would lead me to the right answer about what to do next.
So I went to work to figure it out, oftentimes feeling alone as I did so. I literally drafted an analysis of all the information I knew at the time, complete with a timeline(!). You should have seen the look on the therapist's face when I showed up with this 15-page typed document. Talk about trying to grasp at any degree of control in a spiraling situation. My problem: I had no action plan. I didn't know what to do with all those facts on-hand, because there was no clear why; there was still no probable root cause that I could uncover. Right or wrong, I created two WHY options in my head.
- Option #1: mental health problem. My thought process: "If this is addiction, or some mental health ailment, I can get behind him and we can work on this. After all, I vowed that I would stand by him for better or for worse, right? I mean, if he technically couldn't control himself, or this stems from some sort of trauma, who am I to judge the behavior? I surely would have sympathy and support for a medical condition or diagnosis--I'd have to be supportive of him if this was the case. A lot of couples struggle with alcohol or drug addiction, and shouldn't our love be able to overcome this type of ailment?" (Gulp).
- Option #2: world's biggest asshole. This thought process: "If this is him being an arrogant jerk, that he could "have his cake and eat it too" and living his double-life was feeding his ego, desire for power, or engaging in so-called forbidden behaviors for the thrill of it, then I'm out. Totally out."
I intentionally left little room for grey and started on my own path to try and figure out what option I was dealing with. I first tried to read as much as I could muster about sex addiction and compulsive behavior. I would research/read/listen in an effort to understand and I would actually get physically sick. Stop. Start again. Get physically sick. Stop. Repeat. Can you imagine being betrayed in the relationship that was supposed to be the most loving, safest relationship in your life and then pour over all the ways it was blown to pieces? It was awful. But I tried as best I could to learn about motivations. We wrote letters, kept a 2-way journal, attended support groups, and went to therapy. I sought to understand all that I could about the circumstances, what led up to them, and more about his history than I previously knew.
I operated in a world of crazymaking for a long time, but I wasn't getting anywhere. I was mostly sick and anxious, and no closer to discovering anything but a lot of pain. The fact is, only he held the keys to why he did what he did. I certainly couldn't define the problem when he didn't even know what it was.
I stopped trying to name it, to learn, to guess. It felt like giving in, but it also was a relief. I surrendered to the fact that I couldn't get inside his head, and I didn't want to anymore. The more time I spent trying to understand him, the less time I had to spend on my own healing. I re-framed my options not from his vantage point and put them in my own sights.
I created an Option #3. Option #3, Who Cares Why? There was never going to be a Why in this world that was big enough to rationalize what happened. Even in the case of trauma or mental health issues, the longevity and gravity of the choices left the future dim at best for us. Regardless of any cause, my new vision didn't have us together, but there was relief and empowerment in that (alongside mourning and grief of course). I may never know the "Big Why" (or maybe it's a million little whys) that led to those decisions throughout our relationship and marriage. He stated he was on no timeline to figure them out, but I determined I needed it sooner than it was coming (if ever would), and so my alarm went off. It wasn't a happy ending in the sense of reconciliation of our complete family, but I'm absolutely convinced it's my healthy ending.