Posted by: itneverrainsinseattle | December 20, 2009

How I Started to Get Better

Keep in mind that I loved Penny. I think I still do, although the nature of that love has changed. But I did truly love her, and I desired her, and she instead gave me a platonic love and didn’t desire me. Having been so thoroughly crushed when we broke up, and so intent upon becoming  a man who was Worthy, I continued for nine years to refuse to consider being anything less than a man who honors his commitments.

I was stuck in that place that I’m sure some of my readers will recognize: the situation was so harmful to me, I could not stay; the alternative seemed so harmful to me, I could not leave.

I tried many things to make the situation better. I’ll likely catalog some of them here in a future post. I did what was asked of me. And I died a little with each rejection. For a while, after our first son was born, I was content to focus my energies on making a better life for our child, and Penny and I got along even better in most (non-romantic) aspects of our lives… but the chasm between Penny and me continued to deepen.

By the time our second child was conceived, we were down to having sex only about once a year. Because we were working so well together as parents, I never considered abandoning our shared dream of having more children. (Read: on those extremely rare occasions when we did have sex, it was without contraception.) I think child #2 was conceived only the second time we’d had sex after child #1 was born.

At this point, we needed a bigger house, so once again, my mental energies were focused more on factors other than the quality of our marriage. I was working, we were having a house built to our specifications, we were preparing for the arrival of a new child, and all this while continuing to raise our toddler.

Two children, for those who haven’t experienced it, means more than twice the opportunities to have your sleep interrupted. I was already prone to insomnia, and Penny was already prone to sleeping through anything. If one child wasn’t going through a rough sleeping phase, the other one was. Or, I was, independently of them. I don’t think I’ve had two nights in a row of uninterrupted, eight-hours of sleep in over four and a half years.

That only added to my unhappiness. Penny and I only had sex twice since our second child was conceived, and sure enough, the second time… well, let’s just say I appear to be a pretty accurate shot. (And, for those of you keeping score, that was the last time we ever had sex. Child #3 was born in May of 2008. Feel free to do the math.)

[Some of my readers will naturally assume that Penny could well have taken another lover and that one or more of the children aren’t mine. While she might have, I’m rather sensitive to the signs, given what happened during our break-up period, and no such signs have ever been present since then. And as for the boys, well… yes, I found out they’re all my blood type (and not hers), their physical build is uncannily like my own, and, well… if you saw photos, you would have no doubts. Penny has lamented the fact that they take more after me than they take after her. For everybody’s sake, I’m glad they take after me because it removes all doubt. They have my blond hair, not her brown, they have my eyes, not hers, etc. For these and other reasons, I’m satisfied that the kids are mine.]

Penny asked me to take over a number of child-rearing duties for our first two while she was pregnant with number three. I did everything she asked. And yet, as I found out later, she felt I was abandoning her during this pregnancy. The walls were definitely going up on both sides. By the time Child #3 was born, all of those “I died a little” episodes felt like they culminated in… the old me finally up and died. I’d lost myself. There was not going to be any joy ever again in this marriage.

Our ninth anniversary (child #3 was three months old at this point), I made the usual preparations and bought the traditional gifts. Penny did nothing. One month later, I told her that I was going to see a couples counsellor, and she could join me if she was so inclined.

This post was going to be about How I Started Getting Better, and I’ve spent seven hundred words telling you how they got worse. Here’s where things turned:

At about the same time as we started seeing a counselor, I also started talking more frequently with a good friend of mine who was both a sympathetic ear and an occasional (much needed) kick in the pants. He didn’t advocate divorce. He didn’t advocate staying together. He advocated me taking better care of myself.

And at the same time as all that, I started exercising again. There was (is) a martial arts studio where I had taken kickboxing classes many years ago, and I resumed those classes. Twice a week. It felt good to start moving my body again, and I eventually got to the point where I was keeping up with the rest of the class.

Now, kickboxing classes are really little more than aerobic exercises that include punching and kicking a bag. But, as I said, this was at a martial arts studio, and I began to consider resuming my taekwondo training.

I had trained in karate as a high schooler, then taekwondo in [City] after University. Then I moved to Seattle and found a new taekwondo studio that was a different style, and so began from the bottom again and earned my way back up to the rank I’d attained before. Then I moved back to [City]. Resumed training there for another couple belts. Then moved back to Seattle. Earned my way back up to the highest rank I’d gotten before. And then I… dropped it.

I felt guilty whenever I took time out to do “me stuff,” for fear that Penny would think me selfish. Little did I realize just how justified that fear was, and that she would see me as selfish, anyway. The point is: I stopped, and guilt was part of the reason why. Another part was that I just wasn’t comfortable at that particular studio. Later, I briefly tried kickboxing at yet another studio… and years later, ended up moving my business to a corporate park right across the street from that very same studio. And then resumed kickboxing.

Then, in December of 2008, I once more put on a white belt and began training in yet a third style of taekwon do.

Of course, my body responded. My libido started returning (um, for those who don’t know… if you gain weight and don’t exercise, that can curb your libido. When you are constantly sexually frustrated at home, that actually doesn’t seem like such a bad thing.) My weight slowly started to drop. My belt went from the outermost notch to the innermost notch; in fact, it’ll be time for me to buy a new belt pretty soon. (Go me.)

But this school, unlike my previous school, also has “mental requirements” for each rank. At the beginning of each class, there’s a few seconds of meditation to clear your mind of your daily worries so that you can focus on the class. I would take that time to review my mental requirements.

These mental requirements are good things to ponder. Sure, some of them are mundane (“listens when the instructor is talking”), while others were exactly the kinds of things I need to work on (“meets challenges head on”). One of the mental requirements is “Respect for yourself, your family, the school, and all its students.” Does this sound familiar to you, dear reader?

These mental calisthenics helped to get my mind in better shape while the class workouts helped my body. Add to those factors one more: a new set of friends. A new support structure that didn’t know me way back when; who accepted me as I am now, with no prior history to add any baggage. A group of like-minded souls who care for each other… and for me. That helps, dear reader, more than any words of mine can express.

In the year that has followed, Penny and I went through another counselor; I started seeing yet another one after that; my (our) business hit a brick wall and our finances took a sharp turn for the worse; and I’ve continued to talk not only with the previously mentioned good friend, but also started leaning on a couple of other good friends, as well. It’s all made a difference. It’s all been a part of my proverbial road to recovery.

But I think starting to exercise last fall, followed by taking up formal martial arts training last December has been crucial to me getting out of the inertia that had a death-grip on my life.

I’m by no means out of the proverbial woods, as this blog makes abundantly clear. But I’m definitely in a better head space than I was at this time last year. Starting to take care of myself physically was, I believe, the first step toward getting to that better head space.



  1. That’s so good that you have already begun to recover (and gain strength) physically as well as mentally. It’s amazing how connected they are.
    I just wanted to ask, was Penny like this (ito withholding sex) before you had kids? When you first dated before the breakup? As I read your posts on this, it makes me wonder again why some women seem to stop wanting to have sex. A few years ago my dad shared with me that my mom is pretty much the same. I had to change the subject before my brain exploded (knowing anything about your parents’ sex life is just so wrong) but I’ve often wondered why she has chosen this (I don’t think she has been like this through their marriage). I can’t ask her. But I know for a fact that she really, truly loves my dad. She just doesn’t seem to want to sleep with him. I don’t get it. (Just hope it isn’t hereditary!)

  2. The first step to recovery is to take care of yourself. I had a hard time doing that, too. I’m a nurturer and I look out for everyone, put everyone else’s need before my own. I’ve had to change that mindset and work on me time to get to a better place. Glad to see that you’re making some positive steps.

    As always…thinking of you! (And rooting for you!)

  3. Hormones. I bet it’s hormones. I’m on the pill, have been since 1997 (for pain management, the harlot-ness began recently!) and even the monthly cycle of emotions takes a mental and physical toll. And those hormones are controlled – by me! If only Penny would take control of her issues.

    Listen, I may have said this before but I don’t think that *you* can fix Penny. I’m glad you’re fixing yourself though. Maybe that will give her the kick in the pants she needs to change things in her headspace too.

  4. Itnever, this is really good! I am new to your post but the recipe for success, whatever your decision, is yours. Being physically fit is a telltale of your inner peace and harmony. If you love yourself, you love others, and by extension, Shouldn’t they love you back?

    Two years after my separation / divorce I had a bout of acid reflux (firs and only time). The specialist said[after standard medical questions] What’s going on in your life? Divorce “years ago” I said. How long? Two years I said. He smiled and sat me down for a pep talk the divorce, long commute, long works hours, and irregular and unhealthy eating habits paired up with you system being in shock was the problem. Take it easy he said. I did and got back in shape and remain so since then.

    Sex is not everything but the intimacy and bonding that provides can be an elixir powerful enough to overcome tensions in a marriage if that is broken then you are at a serious disadvantage.

    I hate to ask the question or force to repeat yourself but how about Penny? Is she still the attractive woman you married physically,mentally, spiritually?

    I recall you mentioned in an earlier post she is a bit of a “worrier” this is insecurity, but you may also have contributed to this with your “old” behavior. Seeing her man Giving up land and authority as you did for a while cannot be heartening for a woman.

    She rather you confront her and have a good argument as to how and how child rearing duties would be split than just you just accepting what she says. I know it is easy to do to avoid arguments, but it is the quickest way to divorce court.

    Yes you gave her what she needed, but not what she wanted. I said it before, be the rock. being the rock is not being a martir and suffer on behalf of another.

    Being the rock means remaining impervious to the ups an downs she, as your wife, will bring to you. it is counter intuitive, but knowing she can push hard and you will resist is heartening, as it means you can be her reality check.

    By the same token being pushed would have been the “kick in the pants” she needed to wake up to the realization that you have expectations, and that she will be accountable to you.

    I am not talking about fighting itneverrains. You two sound like the nicest affable couple I could meet. I am sure there are no screaming matches, arguments, or 911 calls…yet the marriage is not well.

    You embark now on the only rational and logic thing to do. Refocus on being happy by changing your ways and bring new life to your home. Penny can change but she has to do it of her own volition. Old habits die hard.

    Please read this story, it was published in the New York Times a while back. Maybe you could follow her approach:

    You are on the right path.

  5. Exercise (oxygen to the brain) actually rewires your brain, so it is no wonder you’ve started thinking clearly and wanting more for yourself. Good for you.
    The lesson here, is that if YOU don’t take good care of yourself, no one else will, and everything in life is better with good health!

  6. This was a really interesting post. I liked reading about your recovery. I’ve thought about my blog, and this past year, as a recovery process. I think its really great to focus on yourself at a time like this. I’m glad you are reclaiming your life. I feel like I reclaimed mine, albeit slowly, this year. You should be proud!

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