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David’s Story - Part Five: “I pretty well left the house as it was.”

David and his wife came to an amicable decision to separate.

I had talked to my wife about separating, but there wasn’t a clear plan about that. What precipitated it however was that a friend’s daughter and her husband needed someone to look after their house for four months and I was asked if I’d like to stay there. So that became the catalyst for me to make the decision to leave. Leading up to that time I was packing, and trying to determine what to take with me. I decided to take very little. In our property settlement it was worked out how we were going to divide our assets. I decided I wouldn’t take anything from the home other than just my clothing and a few key bits of furniture. I didn’t want my wife or kids to feel I’d taken stuff away from them, that I’d emptied the house out. So I pretty well left the house as it was.

I remember the day I left so well. I had a friend who brought down his utility and we packed my boxes. My wife felt that she didn’t want to be there, so she went out with my two kids. That was very difficult for her, very painful. I remember loading up the vehicle, driving out the driveway, and my wife’s mum who lived diagonally opposite where we lived, she waved. It was a pretty surreal moment. We drove off along the M5, into the M5 tunnel and out the other side, it was like going into the tomb and coming back out: this was a new life, the start of something new, and I didn’t know what that was going to be like.

It was good to be able move into the new place. It had everything I needed, and that gave me the opportunity to just settle, to recover a little bit, and begin looking for a place that I might buy. My son was lovely, he came with me most weekends that I was out looking at units, trying to work out where I might live. Eventually I settled on the place where I’m living now, moved in there in December 2007, and have been living there since then. Initially it was really strange living there on my own, it was quite surreal, and in some ways it was good. But I felt the burden of leaving the family behind, and that was also causing such pain and stress for my wife. She experienced huge emotional swings of deep grief, sadness and distress.

I remember her saying that she didn’t think it would come to separation, and that somehow her love and care would be enough to sustain the relationship. So I felt incredibly guilty about that, I felt bad, I felt I’d let her down. She felt very exposed and vulnerable, because it became obvious and very public at this point that not only was it known that her husband was gay, but also there was separation and her marriage had failed. It was not of her choosing, and with her Christian upbringing and training around all of those issues, they were two really huge negatives that carried their own sense of shame and pain.

I felt cruel inflicting this pain on someone who ultimately didn’t deserve it. I guess I was brought up to be very responsible and I felt incredibly responsible for her wellbeing and for what she was experiencing.

I knew underneath my wife’s reactions was her fear, being scared, being alone, abandoned, it was a really horrible thing to do to her. For her in her mid to late forties, to be faced with being on her own. I was also dealing with that reality myself: “Would I be in another relationship or be on my own?” But we continued to process that.

I remember some years later we sat in Bankstown Park one Sunday after we’d had lunch, and I suggested to her it would be good for us to check in where we were up to, how we were travelling. That was a lovely conversation, and I talked to her about what it was like for me, the guilt, and the responsibility that I felt around separating. I remember her making the comment to me: “Do you still blame yourself for that?” I got a sense that she had worked really hard at understanding my experience, and we’ve continued to stay in contact, and provide support to each other. I was touched by her understanding, something I really needed from her.

Last January it would have been our 25th wedding anniversary and I didn’t want that to go unacknowledged. So I took her out for dinner at Darling Harbour, on Australia Day, and that was just a really lovely night of connecting. She wrote a beautiful email to me after that, where she also talked about how she grieved for how difficult that it has been for me, and really communicated this lovely sense of understanding something of the difficulty of my journey. So I felt that she really had worked hard at trying to be affirming and supportive and caring of me in that process.

I think we did that intentionally because we both worked in the helping professions.  We realize it’s important for our children that their parents are good friends, still care about each other, care about them, and there’s no overt conflict. At the same time they knew it wasn’t easy for either of us, and they were exposed to our grief and sadness. I remember saying to my son six months or so after we separated, I asked, “How’s it been for you, how are you going?” And his comment to me was, “It’s OK, it’s better than I thought.” I asked, “What do you think made the difference?” And he replied, “Because you and Mum are still good friends.”