Guilt or Why Do I Feel Bad? – Part 2


I wrote in my last post about my wife asking me to fly up to Albany, NY to drive home with my son after his summer job ends next week. I told her I had other plans but felt quite guilty, and continue to feel guilty, for going to the beach for a long-planned visit to a friend’s house with my boyfriend, rather than picking up my son.

I think there are a few things at work here. I already feel a level of guilt that I don’t spend enough time with my son. Since I moved out of my marriage and my home over two years ago, my son and I have seen each other for the occasional dinner or event, but in general, it is sporadic and infrequent. He gets to spend a lot more time with my wife than me since he lives with her. I feel jealous of their time together and the way she gets to be with him daily. My time with him is more formal and centers around some kind of event or dinner together.

And then there is the relationship and history I have with my wife. When I disappoint her in some way, she has had a way of making me feel terribly guilty. How does this guilt work? That is an interesting question.

For example, when we would have a fight, after feeling an uncomfortable level of guilt, it was usually me who apologized. When my wife feels hurt, wronged, or disappointed, she has a way of conveying her disappointment and hurt that draws on my heartstrings and often has me feel guilty. It is not easy to describe this experience, but I will try.

When triggered by some event or conversation, my wife can look deflated, leaning forward in a slumping way, messaging her disappointment with a hurt, upset tone in her voice and sadness in her face. She can have a kind of fragile, naive, hurt look, that in response, you just want to take away her pain and make it all better. It is a very hard situation to deal with emotionally. That picture usually remained until I would, in some way, turn the situation around, in response to my feeling either guilty or just wanting to get rid of her hurt.

This is not to imply that my wife is manipulative. She is not. Rather, it is her sincere emotional or physical response to the situation she is dealing with. This is her way of dealing with disagreement, anger, or pain. But that does not make it an easy thing to deal with.

In 1992, the day I asked my wife to marry me, I took a walk with her father to tell him that I had proposed to his daughter and that she had accepted. After his initial excitement, he said something which I have never forgotten: “Oh, boy. All those times she would come to me crying and I had to comfort her. Now that is your responsibility.” And so in marrying her, I did take on the role of chief comforter, replacing her father.

When I think of approaching my wife to discuss getting divorced, I continue to get cold feet. We have been separated over two years and today we live very separate lives. I think about our divorce almost daily. I want to have her go with me for an introductory session with divorce meditators, who, from their web site, looks like they would be great. But I am afraid of her reaction, which I expect will be crying, hurt, pained, and sad. When she reacts this way it weakens my resolve and triggers a response in me where I just want to embrace her, take away her pain, and make it all better.

What is interesting to me is how at work I can take on conflict more easily. But with my wife, and her propensity to cry and have that deep hurt and pained look, it is much harder.

I know that I need to move forward with a divorce. Even though things are easy and calm between us right now, not being divorced is a shadow over my life. It prevents me from moving forward with my new life more fully. For example, if I wanted to live with my boyfriend, I would not feel comfortable doing so until my wife and I are at least moving towards divorce.

So to tie this all together. I am going to the beach with my boyfriend. I am not flying up to Albany to drive with my son home from camp. At 19 years of age, he is perfectly capable of driving home by himself. I feel bad that I can not be with him for this ride but I will look for other ways for us to spend time together. Lastly, I need to deal with my wife and move the process forward. Time to get the divorce moving and on with my life.

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