PRIVATE LIVES / The anatomy of modern marriage: An absence of communication: Uneven Balance

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Mike is a 56-year-old chartered accountant who now lives in Sussex. He was divorced in 1989, but he and his wife, Julia, had separated in 1980. They have two grown-up sons.

We had known each other well for some years, then lived together for a few months. We married when our first child was on the way. I wasn't madly in love, but I decided to formalise the relationship because I didn't want the child to be born out of wedlock.

I think Julia would say that things went downhill from the child's birth, because I wasn't sensitive to what was going on for her. At that time I was going up very fast in my career and enjoying every minute of it. She wasn't interested in that at all. I couldn't come home and talk about it. She was very creative and artistic, and very much into the children and networking with all the other women with children. I wasn't an aloof father - I've been very close to the children all along. But after a long hard day I would come home and find the place full of toys, and it would upset me, because basically I wanted to come home to recuperate.

All this sounds very trivial, but I think that most divorces come out of an accumulation of trivialities. I can't put a finger on something like adultery. I was absolutely faithful, because I didn't really want that sort of distraction: though there were temptations. Anyway, in my opinion, adultery is always a manifestation of something else.

What I liked about her immensely was her kindness. She was very considerate,

very giving; and also she had great integrity and honesty. Everybody liked her. But I was trying to change her. You try and mould her to what you want. I wanted her to be interested in my work and problems. I think in most things in the relationship I was the dominant figure - and domineering as well. With hindsight, that was my biggest mistake. She was so kind and gentle, but it was a very unequal relationship. I think she felt intimidated. She told me later that every time I came home she got butterflies in her stomach: because I'm a moody person and I also have my feelings upfront. And she would always say I was making great demands on her sexually. But I believe now she's very active sexually, so I think this was because she was not entirely happy with me. She didn't stand up to me, but she clammed up sexually.

I suppose from her point of view I was a taker and she was a giver. It would have been better if she had stood up for herself. I would probably have been a nicer person. After a while in any relationship you take each other for granted. I was blind. There was a screen. I couldn't see it.

After we separated, I became totally promiscuous. And, in a funny way, we got quite close to each other. I started being in love with her. From the very beginning, we had a very sound agreement about the children. And I saw her values, and that she was so much better than all those other women. I thought 'What have I done?' I'd given up somebody that I didn't appreciate enough.

It's strange - I find a woman is the driving force in these things. She will make up her mind and carry it through. I would just have carried on with our marriage, accepted it: but she brought it to a head. We went to a lot of counselling. I don't know if we ever listened to what they were saying - if I ever listened. I only wanted to give my side of things. And she really wanted the separation. Forcefully. I still wanted to see whether we could patch it up. But she did not even want to try.

With hindsight, I should have been more considerate to her wishes and feelings, rather than being a bulldozer. After we separated, I could see that we didn't dislike each other; but she needed space, and I had not allowed her space to do what she wanted to do. She couldn't read until two in the morning if she felt like it, because I couldn't sleep with the light on. She said this to me later. Because of my personality or demands or tantrums, I didn't allow her to breathe and assert her own personality. To that extent I suppose she was like a doormat. She should not have allowed herself to get into that position. And I had no incentive to try harder, other than that I felt enormous pain about the children. It's self-centred pain in a way, because I could not face seeing my children every day. And I have never got over that, even now. When they are here and then go away, I feel desperate about when I will see them again. I'm sure I get on their nerves.

She's a very different person now - much stronger and more powerful. She has grown in stature. I had ruined her confidence, because I had put her down so much. I think she is the dominant one in her new marriage. She decides what car he is going to buy. Her husband is much younger: successful, but very laid- back. I think he is more effeminate - I am much more male and macho.

I do regret the divorce. It shouldn't have happened. It's a very severe thing, divorce. This has rankled all along. I felt it was the biggest blot on my copybook. For a long time I couldn't face up to telling anyone. Some friends asked us to be godparents to their child when we were in the process of separating. When Julia finally told them, the other woman cried for a long time, because she'd thought everything was going well for us. My mother was so upset - she thought it was all me. I still hate saying I'm divorced. It's a sense of failure, being a second-class citizen. I suppose, even now, I think that marriage is for life.

I'd love to remarry, though I haven't yet. If you ask would I like to be married to Julia again, the answer is definitely no. I would like to be friends with her, but she has this bitterness towards me. She quite often has a go at me, and it upsets the life out of me. To me, she's become mercenary, a bloodsucker. She goads me, on and on. She probably looks at me as quite a shit, which I don't believe I am. And that hurts me.

Why should I be the only person she wants to take her aggression out on? I haven't got any aggression towards her. I think that men have short memories about all the unpleasantness. With women, the ugliness there has been in a relationship stays in their mind.