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The Crash of A Marriage on Autopilot

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“I’ll meet you there if you want me to…you know I want to!” Those few words displayed on my wife’s cell phone screen, written by a man from her past, crumbled the very foundation of everything I knew. In that moment I knew her “confessions” during the past week were lies and the future for which I had planned and worked for years was never to become reality.

Just a week before reading those words, my marriage in my view, was wonderful. I’m a military pilot and married my wife after flight school. We moved around the world and had three wonderful children. We just recently moved and I was off on three weeks of training, which was not unusual. However, right at the end of my training I received “the call”. You know the call, when your spouse calls to tell you it’s over. Our marriage, from her view, was all wrong. It was wrong from the beginning and she wanted a divorce.

The hotel room began to spin as I tried to comprehend the enormity of what she just told me. Our marriage was meant to last forever. We were great friends and we never fought. I asked her why and she repeatedly told me it just never seemed right to her. I was a great man, a great father, but she wasn’t in love with me. Surprisingly I remember none of these words hurting much immediately, likely because by this point in the call I was numb. I asked if there was someone else; she laughed and said no.

I returned home to a similar discussion in the kitchen. The only new information was her need to get away for a few days to clear her head, just to be alone in a hotel. I agreed, though something seemed off. I couldn’t shake the feeling she wasn’t telling me everything. She was too upbeat. She never let go of her cellphone. Always texting. Later, when she left her phone in the bedroom and was downstairs, I heard the vibration of an incoming text. When I looked at the screen and read the simple message “I’ll meet you there if you want me to…you know I want to!” my instincts were proven correct. Our marriage didn’t just instantly fall apart. There was someone else. An old love from high school, who was also not happy in his marriage as they reconnected through social media.

How could two people, so close and together for fourteen years have such a different view of the same relationship? At the time, anger consumed me when I confronted her. I could not begin to look at the big picture. She was a cheater, a liar, and I wanted her out of my sight and life as quickly as possible. Looking back now years later, the anger is gone and I see much clearer. The main lesson? Communication.

Marriage is a life-long commitment between two people who both will grow and change throughout their lives, most likely in different directions at different times. It is clear to me now that there is as much danger in not arguing as there is in always arguing. When behavior or situations arise that you don’t like, ignoring them, or not mentioning it to avoid hurting feelings and out of hope they will just go away is just as disastrous, if not more so, than continuously spinning off into high alert and arguments. Arguing all the time does alert your partner to issues that you do not like, but it fails to foster an open, low-stress happy environment for the continuous healthy growth of your relationship. Ignoring issues and not bringing them forward also doesn’t create the open environment either. The issues never go away and instead build into resentment. Over time, an explosive environment is formed. My marriage was a perfect example of this problem.

Relationships should never be assumed to be healthy. Just as your physical health needs monitoring, so does your marriage. As an aviator by trade, I can’t help but relate many issues to flying. I often refer to a dangerous state in a marriage as one that is on autopilot. You’ve been together for a few years. You’re comfortable, you’re focused on your career, and now there are kids that take your attention when at home. Before you know it, months and months have gone by without any meaningful discussion between the spouses. When in that situation, stop everything and take the time to be with just your spouse to talk. Don’t talk about the kids, talk about each other and the marriage. Open up to discuss what’s good and what’s not so good. If you both are committed to each other, the marriage, and the family, you are off to a good start. By avoiding the autopilot and always talking about each other and your relationship, you can avoid a situation I was in, where you don’t know the plane is flying into the mountain until the crash.


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TJ Carver
TJ Carver is a divorced dad, blogger, and author of the Solo Fathers book series, dedicated to supporting fathers during and after divorce, keeping them informed about their rights to help protect and maximize their vital role in their children's lives.

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