Would I still be married if we hadn’t adopted?

The quick answer is no.

My ex-wife once said to me that she would either have a daughter with or without me. This ultimatum was given about a year before we finally brought our daughter into our home, about two years before my ex started her affair, and about five years before I learned of the affair and separated.

The moral of this story is that if your spouse is giving you an ultimatum then your marriage is in rough shape. Be wary. There are deeper issues that need to be resolved if the marriage is to survive.

I wish I knew then, what I know now. However, at that time I didn’t want to lose my wife, white-rings-decoration-macroand I convinced myself that having a third child, a daughter (my first two are boys), would help me grow. I pictured dancing with my daughter at her wedding, and I wanted to have that experience as part of my life. But I still wonder at times, with guilt, how much of a role my daughter’s adoption ultimately contributed to my wife’s affair and our divorce.

We adopted our daughter from foster care when she was six years old. She had been removed from her birth home at the age of three for neglect, and possibly abuse, but the abuse details were sketchy. She came to us with diagnoses of autism and developmental delays. Those were challenges that we felt we could handle, and I had said that I could not take on a child with reactive attachment disorder. I had grown up as a big brother to a boy who had been adopted and had the diagnosis, and I knew that was a disorder that I would struggle with. Most, if not all foster children, who come from trauma are special needs children, and my daughter’s complex needs became clearer the longer she was with us.

The first year was a year of continual conflict. Almost every day my daughter had a tantrum which lasted anywhere from thirty minutes to two hours. She frequently woke up with night terrors. During her hour long tantrums I would often need to restrain her by bringing her to the ground and wrapping my arms and legs around her to keep her from hurting herself or her brothers or her mother. Although she never carried out her threats of hurting us with a knife, she vocalized that threat on occasion.

Even before the first year was up my ex-wife had begun accusing me of being an angry person. I would learn later that she started her affair with her business partner about 9 months after we brought our daughter into our home. Her accusations intensified and I began seeing a therapist to appease her. I now realize her accusations were one of the ways she justified her affair to herself and her partner. I was the angry, abusive spouse that she needed saving from. And I also see that the affair was one way she dealt with the stress at home.

What I now also realize is that the first year our daughter was with us was a year of growth for me, and a year of great frustration and stress as well. I don’t deny that I would often yell. For example, the night my younger son flooded the upstairs toilet so badly that it was coming through the ceiling and light fixtures into the first floor, was a particularly bad night. My ability to handle frustration was at an all time low. But considering what we were going through as a family, we would have had a better chance of survival if our relationship was healthy.

nature-sunset-person-womanAfter our divorce process had begun, my ex-wife accused me of abusing our daughter by causing a bruise on her arm in that first year. She used this in an attempt to keep me from my kids by filing a restraining order. I told the judge in the restraining order hearing that it was very possible that I had grabbed my daughter’s arm in an attempt to protect the rest of the family from one of my daughter’s tantrums. I told the judge the story of our daughter’s first year. The judge believed me, understood what our family had been going through, and vacated the restraining order.

I no longer have my wife, but I do have my daughter. She has come a long way in the almost 7 years that she has been my daughter, and despite challenges she is still working through, she is light years from the days of the two hour tantrums. I wonder sometimes whether I would still be married if not for the ultimatum. On my more confident days I know that my wife’s feelings towards me were already broken before we made our daughter our daughter.

I love my daughter. She has brought challenge, joy and growth into my life. And if you are reading this, and wondering whether adoption is for you, then know that it is a challenging path. Stress and frustration are part of the process. Do you and your partner have the self-care skills needed to help each other through the challenge ahead? Each of you will react differently to those challenges, and you each need a level of understanding to make it through and help your partner in the dark moments. Without that ability to support your partner…well…your story may end up similar to mine.

 

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