From Chapter 1: The Unexpected Journey: When a Marriage Changes-and Why

Rude Awakenings: First Signs of Trouble

Many members of the Midlife Wives Club recall with excruciating accuracy the precise moment they knew their lives would never be the same. Grace had a premonition. Her husband, Roger, had returned to England from a trip overseas. After sleeping late, he said he wanted to take a walk to get some fresh air and buy a paper.

Grace was anxious to hear about his trip and watched the clock. He seemed to be taking much longer than expected. She began to pace the house, which was tidy and clean. She had stayed up into the early hours making everything perfect for him, because before the trip, he complained about the children’s messes and how he yearned for “clean spaces.” “The fact that I was trying so hard to please him while he was planning to leave me chokes me to this day.”

Then, she saw his briefcase by the front door, where the children’s backpacks usually littered the hallway. She picked it up to keep the area neat, but for some reason, she popped open the clasp and noticed a packet of condoms. “My heart was thudding, but I felt incredibly calm,” Grace said, “even though I knew from that moment my life would never be the same again.”

But it hadn’t been a bolt out of the blue. Grace had known for a long time Roger was unhappy with his life. He had become depressed the previous year and was taking antidepressants. He was losing his hair, which bothered him. Plus he lost his parents within a short duration of each other and felt guilty that he hadn’t spent more time with them in recent years. He felt pressure at work and at home, and he looked forward to the business trip because he said it might help give him some “needed space.”

As Grace walked slowly down the street to meet him, she noticed a guarded look in his eyes. She spoke in the calmest voice she could muster. “Do you have anything to tell me?” He said no and she repeated the question. Roger appeared flustered and shook his head. “Are you having an affair?” Grace asked.

Again Roger denied it, but Grace asked once more. This time he admitted it. “I felt as if I had been punched in the stomach,” she said, “yet I couldn’t stop asking the questions that would hurt me more: how long it had been going on, how old she was-twenty years younger than me!-and if he was still seeing her. Roger told me the affair started six months earlier and reminded me of the day he called in a panic when he learned there had been a takeover bid for his company and they were talking about who might be redundant. I remember thinking that was such a harsh word for someone who had given ten years to his job, and how my heart had gone out to him. He said he had to work late, which I understood, but instead he went out with her. I kept up the interrogation until he confessed that he loved her. From that moment, my marriage of 18 years was over.”

Another woman, Annie*, could barely bring herself to recall the moment she faced the truth. It was especially painful for her because as a reporter in Nashville, she was used to uncovering other people’s dirty secrets, but chose to ignore her husband Larry’s unexplained absences. One day, on a whim, she opened the accounting files. “He paid the bills and dealt with the taxes-chores I hated-so he hadn’t hidden the receipts for jewelry and lingerie. But there they were: the proof my marriage was a lie. Up until then, I had a starry-eyed naiveté about love that made my heart turn over every time I saw Larry walk in the door. To think I felt that way even though he had been with another woman!”

Like Annie, Lee* avoided all the signs. “I had been out of town for my father-in-law’s funeral and stayed a few extra days to help my mother-in-law. The children went home to Wisconsin with my husband. A neighbor agreed to take care of the children after school until their father got home from work. They were at her house when I got back in town, so I went over to pick them up.” Lee wanted to hurry home to unpack, but the neighbor asked her to come into the kitchen for a cup of coffee.

” ‘There’s something I have to tell you about,’ she said, then told me how she had seen James with another woman at a local park. I was about to say it could have been someone from work and she shouldn’t jump to conclusions when she said they were kissing. I looked straight at her and said, ‘Not my James, he wouldn’t do that, there is no way he would ever do anything like that!’ I asked if she could feed the kids supper, then went home and confronted James when he walked in the door.” James began to cry and begged Lee to believe he had needed to talk to someone who’d experienced the loss of a father. Lee asked him about the kiss, and he swore the neighbor had been exaggerating a friendly peck on the cheek. Still Lee suspected there was more to it.

All these women were blindsided by revelations that their marriages were far rockier than they had imagined. Why? Was it something they had done? Had their spouses been tempted by another woman? Had their husbands changed over time, and they had failed to notice the signs?

–from How To Survive Your Husband’s Midlife Crisis by Gay Courter and Pat Gaudette, copyright © 2003 by Gay Courter and Pat Gaudette. All rights reserved, reprinted with permission from the publisher.