We mutually agreed that we should get a divorce, but a week or so later her health took a turn for the worse. Now her cardiologist says that she may have to have another heart surgery or even a transplant. As much as I’m concerned for her, I have been through thick and thin with her through prior surgeries and sometimes long bouts of her not being at 100 percent, and I know I can no longer stay. I will pick up the slack where I need to for my daughter, and my wife has a great support system with immediate family, but I don't want to come off as a jerk.
Am I wrong to leave her under the circumstances?
Often when people come to therapy, I’m listening not just to their story, but to their flexibility with their story. Is this version of the story the only version—the so-called accurate one? Or might the person’s way of telling the story be protective, a way of not having to look at something shameful or anxiety-provoking, of not having to look at oneself clearly? Being flexible with one’s story is where growth begins, where the possibility of a better way to live one’s life is revealed. I can’t tell you whether you’re wrong to leave your wife, but I can help you understand your decision better by examining the story you’re telling yourself.
Here’s another way to tell your story. You have a long history of struggling in relationships. You were in a troubled relationship with the woman who years later became your wife, leading to a series of breakups. Between these breakups, you married someone else, and after just one year, got divorced. Given that you could write me a separate letter about that one-year marriage, it sounds as if it was a volatile one that ended quite badly. Then you were engaged to someone else, but that relationship, too, imploded. Finally, you reencountered your ex-girlfriend, and despite your earlier problems together—problems significant enough to lead to multiple breakups in the past—you began dating again and then married, fully aware, as you say now, that the relationship had a “plethora of issues.” Still, you had a child with this woman, and after 14 years of dealing with the original problems that existed before the marriage, along with the serious health crisis precipitated by her pregnancy with your child, you’ve had enough and must leave. Of course, she has a support system, so it will be okay.
Now, if you were hearing this story as an outsider, would you shake your head and say, “Oh, this poor, long-suffering man! Look at all the hardship he’s been through—all these women have wreaked havoc on his well-being, and I hope he can save himself and go find true love once and for all”? Or might you say, “Oh, this man sounds so confused. He’s clearly suffering, but he also seems to struggle with maintaining a stable, intimate relationship. I’m worried for his future well-being—no matter what he decides to do”?