Why I wrote the Bad Wife’s Guide

I have a piece at the New Statesman on why I chose to write this blog and what it means to me. Please read!

 

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The Bad Wife Speaks

My wonderful friend Annajoy David was kind enough to hold a party to launch my blog. I gave a short speech and read one of the posts to the assembled crowd.

The lovely Charlotte Henry has filmed it and you can view it on her site.

 

 

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Learning how to be me

2013 was one hell of a year.

At the end of it, I had life changing surgery. I now look, feel and act completely different than I did just a few short months ago. It is a joy to me to discover  week by week new things I can challenge my body to do. New avenues open that I thought forever closed to me. It is an exciting and dynamic change. It is also a process. I don’t succeed every day. I don’t always act in my own best interests. But I am more aware of my body than I have ever been. More prepared to listen to and understand – rather than ignore and loath – the signals it is sending me.

But obviously, even before the surgery, my life had already changed quite a lot. I lost a husband and a life I thought I would settle down in to old age with. I had become complacent about my happiness and that of those I loved. A mistake  I suffered for. That is not a mistake I will make again.

I am trying to learn to be less hard on myself. But equally to be more open with myself about my flaws. I am trying to work out which flaws I can change and which I will have to learn to accept. Yes I am a good person. Yes I can do great things. But I am also the parts of myself I am less able to willing to celebrate. knowing that, makes me a better person and a person better able to make a success of my future.

My husband left me for another woman. He failed our relationship, he failed me and he failed the love I gave him. But I was not always a great wife. In fact, I was often a bad wife. I can only grow by knowing that. By recognising that I failed too. If I move on without learning from that I will have got nothing from this time.

I need to be clear about what I want. And the truth is that I don’t yet know.I know I love living in my new flat on my own, but that I do occasionally get lonely. Is it often enough to want to give up the parts of living alone that I love? I don’t know. Not that I am yet anywhere close to having to make such decisions. Does that matter?

I don’t want to be a half-formed me when I go into my next relationship. I think a lot of what went wrong between my husband and I was my gratitude for getting something led to a need to accept and never question everything that went alongside that. But equally, I think I need to learn to go with the flow better. I need a strong sense of self – yes. But I also need to be much better at understanding which are the compromises to make that enhance that, and which are the compromises that will strangle my sense of me all over again.

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Dignity is a prison

 

All the words that go with my situation seem to be from the 1950s. Divorcee, adulterer, mistress. Some of the words I have been using are less so.

But adultery is an odd word isn’t it? Because the last thing he’s been is an adult. He’s been a spoiled brat.

He always was a sulky, sullen teen. Now he’s found someone else to let him attempt to stick dick in, I’m sure he’s as proud as a 12 year old who has discovered masturbation.

Even his choice of “sexy” underwear for her was like a young boy whose only knowledge of sexuality was furtively reading the back pages of his Mum’s catalogues. I feel like I taught him nothing. I take some share of the blame for his lack of sexual development.

There’s a myth that gets propagated about wronged women. That we are noble and must – therefore – be dignified. I have lost track of how many times I’ve been told to “rise above it” or “be the better person” for my own good. But I am the better person. I can be bitter, hateful, spite-filled me without ever sinking to the depths either of them are wallowing in.

But it feels like dignity is a trap I must conform to. That I somehow owe it to “behave myself”. To not let the side down. To behave like anything other than perfect is to let myself down and therefore to let all those who have become emotionally invested in my recovery down. They are proud of my dignity. They think my dignity is a show of strength. I feel it is a show of my weakness.

I am trapped because I still want certain things from him. My home, my furniture, my money, my compensation and my freedom. I don’t misbehave, not because I don’t want to, but because I can’t afford to.

I cannot afford ever again to simply believe his promises to me. I lost too much doing that last time. Even those in writing. On the day he left me he still wrote “I love you” in his texts and emails. He lies as easily in writing as from his lips. Not until a court says it’s real can I afford to be real. To be me, to be as I truly feel.

I feel imprisoned by my own good behaviour. I feel imprisoned by the expectations on me. I am doing so well.

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The guide to divorce

This post is a bit different from the others. I am going to talk through the mechanics and machinations of my divorce. This will of course be different for everyone so I am not suggesting it as a template.

The first and most vital thing I needed after my husband left me was control. I was obsessed with it. The thought of my husband filing for divorce first terrified me. Under the law, there has to be a “cause” to divorce someone. I was damned if he was going to do me for “unreasonable behaviour” (the catch-all that he would have had to use) when he was the one putting his dick in a slag.

In the end, my excellent (if sometimes laconic) lawyer filed the papers first and I sued my husband for divorce on the grounds of adultery.

I had been determined to name my husband’s mistress in the case, but was persuaded not to first by my lawyer and then by my best friend – who happens to be a family law solicitor. Apparently, the courts don’t like it when third parties are dragged in to the case (they don’t care the way you or I do about the emotional side of divorce, they just want to get the business done with as few complications as possible). If the case had got complicated, it would have turned the courts against me that I had dragged her in unnecessarily. Equally, who is to say that she was the only one he cheated with just because she’s the one stuck with him now. I won’t take  the word of a proven liar on that.

While I hadn’t know my husband was a liar and a cheat, I did know his strengths – and weaknesses  – very well. I knew that he would be feeling guilty at the beginning of the break up, but that I would not have too long before this turned into self-justificatory self pity and anger. There was a short window and it was vital I exploit it.

And that is where you have to break your training. We are taught as women not to go after what we can, not to fight for ourselves, for our rights. Not to be mercenary. To be a good little girl and acquiesce. But your training will fail you. You can be as good a girl as you like, but you need a roof over your head.

The way I see it, there was no reason in the world I should suffer materially, simply because he had made a conscious decision to make me suffer emotionally. So I worked out what I would need to buy the kind of new flat I wanted and what I would need if I didn’t find myself employed pretty soon (my husband left me five days after I was made redundant. Luckily I did manage to secure an excellent new job within a few months). I put an offer that was reasonable, but tilted heavily in my favour to my husband very shortly after divorce proceedings began, expecting a counter offer, but one from which I could negotiate upwards. I was not willing to start – and be bargained down from – a position of parity or even subservience.

No counter offer came. In the end he acceded to my opening bid. I had acted early enough – before his vanity and sense of self-righteousness (never too far from the surface) had eclipsed his guilt. I now have a beautiful flat ten minutes drive from my sister for which I have already paid a large slice of the value (keeping my mortgage costs down). I got what I needed and the least I deserved.

One of the mistakes my husband made was to hire his lawyer by the action rather than paying a flat fee as I did. This meant that I could talk to my lawyer – at length – every time there was an issue. That they would always be there to advise and see me through the process. I strongly advise anyone going through a divorce to do the same. Ours never got that messy legally, but if it had – and there were things I was willing to fight for (I would take an axe to my bed before that bitch slept in it) – I had the piece of mind of knowing my counsel was secure.

One thing I was certain of was that I wanted everything in writing. We weren’t communicating much after he left – though my husband would occasionally send me whiny, grovelling emails offering such comforts as tech support for my blog (not this one funnily enough!). After my initial anger, I tried to keep my correspondence cold and businesslike. Small things – petty things – felt like tiny victories. I never, ever said Hello, Goodbye, Please or Thank You (harder than you think – these are all totally habitual words and to not use them is quite unnatural).

But I did get him to commit that everything remaining in the flat was mine to do with as I wished. I kept the stuff I liked. The bed looks great in my new flat – as does the large TV. The wardrobe and chest of drawers look better here than they ever did in the old place, as my husband had ineptly measured the bedroom there, so we were crowded in by them in a way I am not now I use the spare room as a dressing room/office.

One of the most cathartic things I did while planning to move out of the marital home was to have a “life laundry”. 26 boxes of stuff – some mine, some previously his – went to the British Heart Foundation. I started my new life in my new flat uncluttered.

Divorces happen because marriages break down and these are hard emotional times. But divorce – especially when (thankfully) there are no children involved – is about the dispersement of property. It is not about your revenge, but it can be about your justice. I got the deal I felt morally entitled to, by understanding the process and how it would affect my husband. By understanding my husband and how it would affect him. I make no bones about that.

Oh and finally, change your will  – immediately. A huge thanks to my lovely downstairs neighbours in my old place who on day two of my separation were kind enough to witness my new will with no questions asked. I simply would not have “rested in peace” knowing that bastard got my stuff instead of my incredibly sibs!

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The things I tell myself

At some point, I will have better sex than I ever had with my husband. And much better kisses.

I will never have to put up with him whinging about his job again.

I can get in and out of bed without having to clamber over him.

I don’t have to tiptoe around his mood swings any more.

I can talk to other people at parties without feeling I am neglecting him.

He’s not just shy, he’s fucking rude. He uses shyness as an excuse for it.

Rembmer how weird he was about his birthday? Like a petulant child. I never have to put up with that again.

It will be a relief not to have to pretend that I think he’s as clever as me any more.

Oh my God remember the tie tantrum.

He’s very vain. But in a really draining way.

The sweating. Good God the sweating. In winter even.

He’s so weak. The whole “I can’t even breath I’m so upset.” Crap he puts on, just so he doesn’t have to be honest.

They help. These things I tell myself.

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The ties that bind

 

We had been to a 40th birthday party. The theme was 40s dress and we both looked pretty ace. He was wearing a pinstriped suit and a black tie.I had feathers in my hair.

When we got home, we went up to the living room for a drink. We were sat on the sofa, and I started feeling quite amorous. He looked good, I looked good. We were young and I loved him so very, very much.

I have seen far too many rom coms. Too many Hollywood romances.I decided to do something a bit clichéd. A bit corny. I grabbed his tie and tried to pull him towards me for a kiss. The problem  is that I am not Jennifer Aniston. When I try something this cheesy, instead of my partner knowing immediately what to do and following my lead as violins swell in the background, instead he looks at me startled, pulls back and the tab on the back of his tie snaps off in my hand.

And all hell breaks loose.

He starts raving. Literally ranting and screaming about my stupidity. I try to explain, but it’s like we suddenly speak completely different languages. I simply can’t comprehend what is happening. Over a tie? And from such a place of love. He continues screaming. I scream back. I’m angry that he doesn’t seem to understand what happened, why this should be an endearing episode we laugh over later (clearly I am still in Rom Com land, when my husband has graduated to full on psychological thriller) not a cause for an increasingly pointless and vicious argument.

Ten minutes before I had wanted to make love to him. Now he has his face in mine so close, that as he screams at me that his spittle is landing on my lips and cheeks. I am frightened. I push past him and make a dash for the bathroom. I lock myself in for an hour until he’s gone to bed. Only then do I climb into the bed myself believing it’s safe.

A few days later, still feeling guilty about damaging his tie, I was in Manchester Picadilly Station and bought him two new silk ties.

When I came to pack his things I came across those ties. I thought about that night and how ugly that scene was. How cowed by it I had been to go out and buy him replacement ties. I didn’t pack them. She can buy him a new tie when he screams at her. It will only be a matter of time.

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Unlucky for some

My number in the queue at the clap clinic is 13. After being made redundant by the TUC, I started to wonder if I am – in fact – trapped in a Truman Show life scripted by some pretty heavy handed satirists. Now I’m sure of it.

I’m crying in the clap clinic and now the fucking Lighthouse Family are on the radio. This is it then: rock bottom. I am far from “lifted”.

The clinic is a really grim bright orange. With it’s computer registration screens and cheery receptionists, it looks oddly like a bank. But not one I want to make a withdrawal from. I never want to be here again. I didn’t want to be here in the first place.

This is my punishment for his adultery.

A month or so before he left, my husband had a really awful rash all around his genitals and thighs. When I asked after the break up, he swore this was nothing to do with his sleeping with other women. But he also swore he’d never cheat on me. It means nothing. It is that image that I see every time I blink. Those throbbing hives are the image that hovers in my mind as I sit and wait for my turn with the doctor.

You may think you know embarrassment. But trust me, anything you have experienced up till now is nothing. You haven’t known true humiliation until you’ve squatted over a health clinic toilet swirling  a swab around your fanny to find out if your husband and his slag (slags? Who knows?) have given you Gonorrhoea or worse.

The doctor is cheery and sympathetic. She’s clearly seen it all before, but equally is aware that it’s all very new to me. She is gentle and talks me quietly through the process. I will get a text with my results in a few days. At the end of the session, she offers me condoms. Unlike my husband, I simply cannot imagine sleeping with anyone else just yet. That day will come (and when it does, so will I) but it is a long way off yet.

The words “It’s not a death sentence these days” clank uselessly around my head. They mean nothing to me. They continue to mean nothing to me until that text comes.

When it comes I am clean. He has got away with this one. This time. I burst into tears of relief. It occurs to me that this is the first time I have cried positively. Because I am not positive.

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The special knickers

On the night my husband left, I went into his emails. Most he had protected, but one I did find was purchasing some rather grim red underwear from Anne Summers and a bondage kit from Amazon. This was what I wrote a few days later. 

If your “special” knickers, the ones he bought you at the beginning of you relationship, cost £6 beware your second anniversary present.

I mean my God woman, you don’t start with Anne Summers. Have some fucking nous and at least demand Agent Provocateur, even if you’ll  never have the class to understand the joys of Rigby & Peller.

You like to scuba dive. He had a panic attack on our honeymoon just snorkelling. When the office crush vibe wears off, you will realise what an utterly boring, monotonous, unadventurous lump you have saddled yourself with. Have fun with the many, many times you struggle to convince yourself it’s all worth it. Especially when you realise the depressive mood swings aren’t a post-divorce phase, but his lifestyle choice. One he takes a self-centred, masochistic pride in.

Even someone few other men will have bothered to touch will work out what a dreadful lay he is eventually. I know he does grateful very well, and for a while, that gratitude will give you hope that he too wants a better sex life. Him leaving me for you may have done that too. But honey, we too started with a bondage kit. Though I at least had the gumption to be more imaginative than Amazon.  SoHo is there for a reason.

But of course – as you keep telling yourself as you lie there unsatisfied – your love is about so much more than just sex. Given the cheapness of your knickers I’m not sure this is true, but do fool yourself, it’s funny.

But even if this is true, I’m afraid you have no idea what you’re letting yourself in for. Because at the moment, you aren’t yet aware that love will not defeat  his many inadequacies nor make up for your own. Love doesn’t conquer all, love and hard work do.

But he doesn’t believe in working at a relationship. He had no interest in trying to fix ours despite my begging him to get help to make both him and us happier. His others – as I’m sure he’s told you by now – were all pretty dysfunctional. He gives up. It’s what he does and you’ll probably notice it pretty soon in certain key areas.

Does that frighten you yet? It will, and probably before you’ve had the kids you’re so clearly desperate for.

 

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You’re so vain, you probably think this blog is about you

He was funny and thoughtful. Those were the first things I noticed about him. We met online through a discussion forum. He was a big part of that community. I felt quite flattered that he took an interest in me. I was terribly jealous when he seemed to take an interest in other women on the forum.

We started talking on the phone and emailing regularly. He sent me DVDs of shows I hadn’t seen for years. He was kind and very devoted. I told him I loved him before I met him.

He was incredibly shy. His internet persona was more forward and cheeky than he was in real life. His shyness made it really hard for him to talk to people and he would often retreat into his online life. When we were out with friends, he would often disappear onto his phone, lost in his own world while the real one went on around him. I would nearly always have to make conversation for both of us. As phones got better, he got worse.

He was incredibly hard on himself. He never felt good enough. He always felt like a fraud in his job. Even when he was given a huge raise in recognition of the work he did he was convinced he was not good enough. Nothing I could say would convince him otherwise. Because I didn’t understand the technicalities of his IT job, he was convinced I could never understand that he was so dreadful at it. He would never allow me to console him when he was upset about his job. My trying to do so just annoyed him.

He was oddly vain. He’s an averagely good looking man who constantly puts himself down. Yet he could not leave the house unless his hair was perfect. He was mildly obsessed with having the right aftershave, yet I had to introduce him to the concept of not using disposable razors. He was – like all human beings – a mass of contradictions.

He couldn’t bear it when he wasn’t taken seriously. One of the first big fights we had was when I jokingly swore at him during a game of Trivial Pursuits with some of his friends. He went ballistic with me, screaming and shouting. It was a foretaste of things to come.

He was oddly self-centred. In the way that he seemed to have convinced himself that our breakup would go a certain way, it was like he had not really considered what the reality of my feelings would be. Even after that awful night, he was still contacting me to offer help with my blog. As if that was what I was missing.

He could not cope with small things going wrong. He turned everything into a crisis. We were not a good couple in a crisis. My instinct is always to take action. His is to see and be in the disaster. My positive Pollyanna attitude drove him mad. His lack of perspective made me crazy. He once compared my being bullied into leaving a job to the apparent breakdown of a second hand dishwasher we had been given for free. I found that nearly impossible to fathom.

My husband was a funny, sweet, taciturn, difficult man. I loved him very much. I hated him very much him. I still miss him. I miss him less every day. I never want to see him again.

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