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Men's eyes often open when marriage is over

What happens when a husband - or a wife, as the case may be - is surprised by his wife's desire to end their marriage? What does he go through? To tell this story, let's talk about Bill and Betty - fictitious names. The bombshell. Bill's wife, Be...

What happens when a husband - or a wife, as the case may be - is surprised by his wife's desire to end their marriage? What does he go through?

To tell this story, let's talk about Bill and Betty - fictitious names.

The bombshell.

Bill's wife, Betty, had just dropped a bombshell. She wanted a divorce, and she meant it. Bill's first reaction was shock. Numbness. Total disbelief.

Bill tried to gain control of the fear sweeping his body. He denied the truth of what was being said. "Our marriage can't be that bad." He pleaded. "I'll change. I'll do anything. I'll go for counseling. Is there a way to stop this?"

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His usual maneuvers.

Bill was surprised by the finality of Betty's answer. He was no longer in control of what was happening to him. He cajoled. He joked. He threatened. He groped for any answer that would turn the situation around. He had tried all this in the past, but this time nothing worked. He was running into a brick wall.

He also felt angry. "Fine, you leave." He unloaded some of his anger he had been restraining for the past few months. He threatened Betty with a nasty custody fight. His anger and threats made things worse.

Bill then became sickeningly sweet. He promised her all the things he knew she wanted to hear, but this time she wasn't buying it. He was in deep trouble, and he knew it. It hadn't occurred to him that Betty would actually go through with it. He was disarmed. He was overwhelmed with anxiety.

Where could he run? Who could he fight? At that moment, he felt like his whole life was being destroyed.

Flooded with emotions.

Bill was flooded with emotions he didn't know he had. He alternated between love and hate. He felt afraid, rejected, abandoned, lonely and confused. He wanted to turn to the only friend he had. Betty was refusing to be his friend.

There were a thousand questions. Practical questions. Finances? Who will leave? What about facing family and friends?

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What about the kids? Bill sensed that Betty had the upper hand when it came to custody. He couldn't stand the thought of not being around the kids. As faulty as his parenting had been, he had a deep love for them. It wasn't fair.

On a deeper level, Bill was dealing with feelings of failure - failure as a parent, husband, failure as a human being. His pride was a factor. How would this look? It was a reflection on him.

Bill was losing his dream, all the things he had worked for. The house. The kids. The car. The woman he loved.

Bill was staring at a bleak financial future. It was like going back to the beginning. He was really listening to Betty now. He came to the startling realization he didn't know her. "If I had known who she was, we would have made it."

Even more painfully, Bill realized he didn't even know himself. He felt overwhelmed by guilt. "I don't like myself or the things I've done." No more blaming Betty. He did it to himself, and it was a horrible feeling.

Bill felt betrayed by an inadequate definition of masculinity that led him to be inexpressive, selfish, stubborn, domineering, possessive, angry and critical. Now that he was in touch with his feelings, he wanted to be different.

Bill wanted to nurture his wife, express feelings, be more spontaneous, cooperative, sensitive and even playful. He realized how much he wanted to be a father to his children and show them the love he felt.

Another chance.

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Above all, he wanted a chance to show his wife he could be different. His heart ached for the opportunity. He wanted to change.

Betty wouldn't believe him. Bill's track record of broken promises was too long. She had heard all of these things many times before and none of it meant anything to her. She couldn't trust him. To her, Bill's promises were nothing more than desperate words designed to keep in the marriage. She had heard this before.

This is a sad story. Except for the ending.

Bill sought support from friends and relatives. He talked. He even went to counseling for himself. He developed the emotional staying power to get himself through this topsy-turvy time.

Bill joined a support group for people going through divorce. He mourned his loss and finally accepted it. He learned to be a father again. That part he could still do.

After going through a crazy time, this man met someone else and finally put into practice all the things he learned. He made a great husband - for someone else. It was a shame it took a divorce to wake him up to himself and show him what marriage could be.

Typical reactions.

Not all endings are this good. Many men don't grow like this man. They drown themselves in a bottle. They blame. They isolate themselves. They don't mourn. They put their feelings on ice and keep them there. Their intentions to change were so many words.

They lunge into other relationships. They hunt for another "mama" to take care of them. They carry a lot of anger and bitterness. Relationships are about their needs. They don't know how to love.

Some men are worth divorcing. Some men are not.

Val Farmer is a clinical psychologist specializing in family business consultation and mediation with farm families. He lives in Wildwood, Mo., and can be contacted through his Web site, www.valfarmer.com .

Related Topics: AGRICULTURE
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