It took years of being alone and soul searching and learning that an extraordinary relationship takes ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
I was married for 32 years. Two marriages - the first one lasted 13 years and the second 19 years. It was a long time, most my adult life really, yet it wasn't until many years later until I figured out what it takes to make a good partnership and a romantic love relationship.
It took years of being alone and soul searching and learning that an extraordinary relationship takes ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
Did I have the perfect partner? No.
Was I the perfect partner? No.
Does one need perfection? No.
For a couple to work, they need balance, give-and-take, open communication, mutual respect, kindness, physical attraction, and a huge portion of natural love.
Now, I have learned that there is one more element: independence. I must develop myself into the person I am trying to attract.
I was barely 21 years old when I got married to Hans. He was my first serious boyfriend and he was my chance to get out of Germany. I wasn't in love, but I was in love with the idea of living in Canada. Given my circumstances at the time, it seemed like marriage was the only option I had. I was sad with the lack of romance and the red flags I saw in my husband, yet I did it. I take full responsibility for the decision I made. So, as the years handed me more challenges I always reminded myself that I knew what I was walking into, this was not a surprise, and it was the price that needed to be paid…until that thinking changed.
Our first year was the best. It was filled with adventure of the outdoors every weekend, creating a cozy home, and fine tuning the perfect household routine. Pleasing my husband was high on the agenda, learning English, going to school, and maintaining a job were all secondary, in his eyes at least. At times, I would take on another job to bring in money to buy trucks, campers, boats…all those toys my husband wanted. Keeping him happy was my most important job in those days. I was busy!
I tried very hard to be the “perfect wife” my husband talked about. He set the bar very high and wanted me to be like my mother-in-law, dedicated and doting. It did not occur to me to question or to want anything different.
Over the years, my best friend, Janie, would carefully question me, but I laughed it off, pretending I was totally on board with all the demands and sheltered the true actions of my husband.
I quickly realized I did not matter and there was little common ground to make changes. We started arguing every day about everything, the little things and big things, and arguments would go on for weeks.
I was getting disillusioned because I didn't have a voice. After a long day of school and work, I would come home and my husband would demand a three-course meal for dinner. My duties to provide financially, emotionally, and domestically were unending. We had settled into the relationship, yet I was constantly being shut down. I began to see more red flags as I became slowly more empowered by my process at university. I’d look around at the women in my classes and realize these women had a say in their own lives. I realized it was more balanced in Canada. I began to understand that I didn't have to be a dismissed wife.
Wedding day to my first husband, April 1976.
After two years in Canada, we took a trip back to Germany. Hans was so excited, but I had mixed feelings. I was hesitant to face my family. When I did, my father and I had strained conversations about the future and it was clear that he didn't approve of my choice in husband. Somehow he had always hoped we would return to Germany. I saw the disappointment on his face when I told him that Canada was my home now and I would give up my German citizenship soon.
So, I knew complaining about my husband to my family was not an option. My mother pretended my marital issues were entirely my fault and Hans was blameless, while my father remained silent. I was on my own. On that flight back to Canada that realization really hit home. Somehow, I had to make it work because it was definitely better than what I had left behind in Germany.
with Peter in front of our home in Burnaby
I made it work for years. Keeping my mouth shut for the most part, as I learned that my husband always had the last word. The less I challenged him the easier life was. I embraced the positives as much as I could.
I enjoyed the outdoors, so our road trips throughout B.C. were a few moments of solace.
Not afraid of much, I learned…and learned.
My husband expected me to accompany him hunting, occasionally. He wanted to share it with me. I loved the outdoors, but I didn't want to kill things. I had to train myself to understand that slaughtering an animal in the wilderness and eating it is actually a more humane way of eating meat than buying it in the grocery store. I learned survival skills and armed myself with more tools that would eventually lead to my independence. I even learned to shoot a gun. It was one of the times I saw him get excited that I was doing something well. I didn't miss one of the ten cans he had propped up on the log. He was thrilled.
The memory of the wilderness training course and getting a hunting licence in the fall of 1976 still brings a big smile to my face. I had signed up for that ten-week evening course, held at John Oliver High School in Vancouver. It was my husband’s idea. I was a bit nervous walking down that corridor looking for the classroom. When I found it, I entered and was told by the instructor that the quilting class was next door. After I explained myself, he offered me the front row seat. Sitting with my back to the class of twenty male classmates turned out to be a good thing as I did not have to face their smirking faces.
I passed the written test with the highest mark and the practical test of shooting targets on the rifle range in Port Moody was a breeze after all my practice shooting beer cans in the bush. I got a high from my successes in that all-male environment and even managed to win some admiration from my classmates and instructor in the end.
In the summer of 1978, my in-laws arrived from Germany to visit for two months. A big trip to Northern B.C. was planned in detail and we were all excited to test out the new pick-up truck and camper, pulling the boat across the Okanagan, then explored Nelson and Kimberley followed by a week in the Rockies. We spent a beautiful weekend in a lodge at Lake Louise, a welcome break from the dusty camp life. We watched a female grizzly bear and her two young cubs through the binoculars one afternoon, just as we were setting up camp, chopping fire wood, and preparing dinner, cooking fish we had caught in the lake. Those were the moments when all was well in the world.
While the men went to hunt, Charlotte, my mother-in-law, and I decided to go on our own adventure, and, for once, that was okay. Both men were very possessive and controlling, and took jealously to an extreme level. We both understood what it meant to be under constant watch. For example, our grocery shopping trips were always timed and going out on our own was not an option. My husband always needed to know where I was and I only had freedom at school and at work. Those where the only places I could be a bit more relaxed. It's mind blowing to me now…the restraints I allowed to be placed on my freedom.
Back to the trip. I drove our standard pick-up truck from Watson Creek to Whitehorse on a muddy 4x4 road with my mother-in-law after we left our husbands behind in the camper for their two-week hunting adventure.
We carried on to Dawson City and experienced the old Gold Rush town. We had drinks in an old-timey saloon and listened to the piano player singing “Mr. Bojangles” and “You Are So Beautiful To Me”. The whole crowd joined in, including Charlotte and I. It was a beautiful break for her. Charlotte was a huge factor that kept me in the marriage for so long. She was as close to a mother-figure as I had ever known. She was an angel, patient and, I think, we bonded knowing what it meant to be captives.
It was a magnificent trip.
On the way back we hit a big pothole and blew a tire. I jacked up that truck and changed the tire on that gravel road in the middle of nowhere. Suddenly, I realized what I was capable of on my own. It boosted my confidence and reminded me of my survival skills. Funny, what changing a tire can do for you.
Life continued on back in Vancouver.
In all my years attending UBC, I had a full-time job, but my husband was unemployed often. He escaped the city to go hunting and fishing, yet my workload at home continued. I remember how much I resented having to cook all the time, but I did it and got better with managing my duties. I would plan ahead, cook multiple meals, and freeze them for the week. My husband never cooked a meal in the 13 years we were married. That was a woman’s job, according to his traditional views. I remember laughing many years later when the judge told him
to buy a cook book or take a cooking class after he requested an allowance for a housekeeper as part of the divorce agreement.
Inspired by our trip, my husband became obsessed with owning a piece of land in the bush somewhere in central B.C. I remember picking up detailed geographical maps of the Chilcotin region and looking them over for available land.
We would drive every weekend to scout out the areas and eventually bought a five-acre parcel of land southwest of Williams Lake for $10,000. The property is situated between two lakes and has an airstrip nearby. That’s when the idea of flying entered my mind, but it wouldn't be until many years later until that would come to fruition.
After four years of studying to become a teacher, I graduated from UBC in 1980. Charlotte and my best friend, Janie, attended the ceremony. My husband was absent. It wasn’t important. I wasn’t important to him.
His mind was on fishing, hunting, and building a log home on our new property. The more I gained my independence, the more I felt a sense of uneasiness building inside me. I felt confused and worried about myself, about us as a couple, and I lost my interest in the outdoors. It took years to understand that I was growing resentful of the thing that was consuming my husband. He wanted us to live out there, in the bush. The quiet, the boredom, the loneliness…I began to realize the path I was on would no longer keep me in Vancouver. This is when I started to fear for my future. Deep down I’m a city girl and I enjoy people. All of the things that brought me to the city in the first place were now being threatened by my husband’s dream to live in the wilderness.
In hindsight, I should have forced a discussion, a lay-out of a plan of his vision and share my concerns. I did not, I was afraid to rock the boat. Instead, I pulled the plug and our boat entirely and, with multiple holes, quickly sank to the bottom of the ocean.
A monk once told me that everything comes with a blessing while I was sobbing on a bench high above the valley of Kathmandu in 2012, reflecting on my life. His words always stuck with me.
The blessing from my first marriage was the gift the outdoors, my survival skills, and, ultimately, our sons, Peter and Carl. He gave them a wilderness inside their hearts and an adaptability to nature. In them, I see his intimate connection to the wild and it gave them strength and pride. They follow his footsteps in a more balanced and gentle way, incorporating their families and the wishes of their partners. I am proud knowing he gave them their passion and I taught them balance. Our sons inherited my husband’s cabin when he passed away, and they took it on themselves to complete it for all of us to enjoy.
The first time I saw the land again, in the summer of 2011, I had to hide my tears. It was the first time I was allowed back there since the messy divorce in 1989, 22 years later. That night, when everybody was sleeping peacefully, I lay awake in my sleeping bag thinking back to the sadness that was once attached to this place, and happy that my sons had breathed new life into this beautiful place.
In 1981, I started my own childcare centre. It was a huge step forward for me and my husband took a few strides in assisting me with the set up of the classroom. Sadly, his involvement was ensuring that this would be a profitable investment, and less so an investment in my dreams. That December life got even busier as I worked 12-hour-days and only managed by always planning several steps ahead for my domestic duties.
We decided to have children soon after that, and I quickly realized that I would be a working mom. My paycheque was the main source of family income so I couldn't quit to stay home with my newborn. Our first son, Peter, was born in 1983 and our second, Carl, in 1985.
The cabin in central B.C. in 1982.
Our marriage was in deep trouble for many reasons but things got much worse after the birth of our children. I was exhausted from carrying the load and there were not enough hours in the day to get everything done. I began to crumble. From breastfeeding, bath time, storybooks, making lunches, washing dishes, feeding all of us, and cleaning the floor, I would find myself crawling into bed after midnight. My days started at 6:00 a.m. with getting Peter and Carl ready and leaving for work at 7:30. Handing Carl over to the nanny by 8A.M.. Then at work there were another 88 children to care for and many staff to supervise.
At our ten-year wedding anniversary with Peter and Carl - April 1986
The days were long and exhausting !
Often, when I’d arrive home, my husband was “ready for action”, full of energy as he had been resting on the couch watching a show with a beer in hand. Those were the patterns - the patterns he had learned from his parents. He did not really know any different, but it became clear that this was not sustainable if I intended to live anything close to a satisfying life.
My exhaustion and dissatisfaction eventually led to rebellion, and I was ready for the fight that came with divorce. After 9 years of trying to be a perfect wife, carrying the load and enabling my husband, I knew the end was near. The sleep deprivation and unmanageable demands weren’t the only reason for the disillusion of our marriage. There were multiple affairs, the last one while I was pregnant, that had paved the way for calling it quits. After a while, you become numb to the emotional toll they take on your confidence and self-worth.
It’s when you realize that you have maneuvered yourself into a corner, a self-made prison with huge walls built by poor decisions, you either give up or start developing an escape plan. I actively prepared for my departure for three years, as I knew it would be a total mess, and it was. Saving money was key as I knew I would need it when things got ugly.
In the summer of 1989, I told my husband I was going to leave him and file for divorce. My mind was made up and there was no changing it. I told him that we would have to sell the house to pay off debts he had incurred and split the difference. I told him I would leave all our belongings with him, except for my clothes and the TV my dad had bought us. I did not really care about that TV, but my father repeatedly reminded me to take it. I told him I would pay him a salary for two years so he could get back on his feet with his career. I promised joint custody for our two boys.
As expected, all hell broke loose. He was stunned, angry and hurt. He pleaded for another chance and promised to change, but I didn’t trust any of it. I knew who he was. I knew that it may be better for a while, but it would inevitably go back to the way it was. I was done.
I called his parents in Germany and asked them to come to help calm him down. I was afraid he would do something to harm himself amidst his rage. Charlotte was in shock while his father tried to plead with me, but I reminded him of his son’s “transgressions” in the past and he quickly allowed it to be.
It was a four week period of sorting things out. I wanted to be a good mother despite living in the chaos. I was working, taking care of our boys, cooking the meals, and sleeping in the camper in the garden. I remember our neighbour watching me come out of the camper one morning and she asked “what is happening?” I told her “I’m leaving my husband, I just can’t do it anymore.” She said nothing, just smiled and gave me a big hug. I knew, despite it all, I was moving in the only direction I could.
I had rented a townhouse for the boys and I, bought new furniture and slowly created a new home. It was a time of peace, interrupted by the spastic actions of my husband. He lost it several times, showing up to make me feel uneasy, leaving notes on my car, reminding me that I was never quite out of his reach. He wanted me to feel unsafe. I did, for a while. With time, and a restraining order, things settled down a bit and I could relax more.
At first we had joint custody, one week on and one week off. My week with my boys was action-packed and we had a lot of fun. We had to adjust to different parenting styles and simple things like food choices always reminded our sons of the vast division that now existed in their family. Carl mentioned this to me recently: “there was a range of 40 plus dinners at your house and dad’s were all different”. I could see the boys struggle emotionally, they were only four and six years old. I tried to keep stability and tension low, and I was lucky to see my boys daily as they attended my child care centre. Explaining what was happening was never an easy job, but we managed.
There was a pervasive sadness in all of us. Peter, on the outside resilient and wise, got quieter. Carl, much more emotional and two years younger, had lots of teary moments. It didn't help that as parents we were not on the same page at all in most of our decisions. Our inability to co-parent was only more evidence that we were no longer a healthy match. The tragedy of divorce is the suffering we inflict on our children in the process. We all mean well, but let’s face it, there is no happy divorce.
I often reflected back on my childhood in those days watching my little boys. All I ever wanted was to have a happy family - that sentence was written in my diary multiple times as I was growing up. With a raging mother and a loving but passive father, all I wanted was to create a calm sense of stability for my sons. But either way, stay or leave, it was chaos. I can still remember as a child pleading with my father to “leave mom and move away” and to find a safe and happy place, as I called it. In my naive eyes it all seemed very simply. I had to learn as an adult it was not simple at all. Stay or leave, there is sadness and hurt for everyone involved.
The weekly transfer of the boys continued to be stressful for years to come and letters of anger always came through the door. We never made peace, he would not allow it.
Sadly, Hans passed away from cancer in 2010. I felt compassion for his suffering, but more so sadness for my sons. It was a very challenging time for both of them and all of us could only stand on the outside watching.
On a cold and sunny October day, as I stood with my boys holding their hands in front of my husband’s bed after he had passed, a bit shocked, I was paralyzed with a feeling that I never wanted to hurt him.
I never regretted leaving him, but I did and do regret not having had the courage, the knowledge, and the skill to help him understand why I needed to leave. Maybe he still wouldn’t have understood my decision, but at least I would have tried. It took a process of love, courage, reflection, and understanding, to reach the place that all of us are in now. My sons and I can now understand and accept that chapter of our lives, and speak about it honestly.
The day I received my pilot's licence - Pitt Meadows 1990
Back to July 1989.
At ten years old, I was introduced to flying in a glider. It was the most exhilarating experience I had ever been fortunate enough to experience. From then on I was fascinated by planes. I devoured travel stories and would forever stare up into the sky to watch the vapour trails.
Leaving the 13-year marriage and stepping into my power, I bought a new sporty car, and decided to get my private pilot licence. It took 12 months, as I was busy with my boys and a full time job, but that beautiful day came in the summer of 1990. My instructor stood on the tarmac welcoming me back after the two-hour flight test with the Transport Canada examiner. Her words: “she passed with flying colours” made my heart soar, and I hugged and kissed my instructor who was beaming from ear-to-ear.
That man became my second husband.
We both loved flying. The most beautiful feeling enters your body when the wheels of a small plane leave the ground and you climb up into the sky. You become one with the plane. You are in control of speed and altitude, and constantly adjusting to terrain and watching the sky around you to avoid other planes and clouds. It was the most enduring sense of control and freedom I had ever experienced.
I can say with total clarity that giving birth to my children and my first solo flight are on the top of my list of best highs I have experienced in my life.
This marriage lasted for 19 years. It was a time of ups and downs. We were good as a couple, at first, but lousy as a family. My third son, Mitchell, was born in 1992. Once I got married, my first husband caused havoc in terms of the custody of my two older boys, which resulted in discontent early on in my new relationship. I will never forget Hans’ words: “I will break up this marriage if it’s the last thing I do. No woman ever leaves me.” I was used to these threats by now and paid them no mind, but ironically it would all come true. My second marriage, which was limping along for 8 years prior, ended in 2011, a year after my ex-husband passed away.
In hindsight, I believe now, I married the pilot not the man. He was an extremely intelligent and quiet man, seeking a journey of individual freedom. He was not, however, a caring family man. He tried, at first, and he invested in our youngest son, but my older sons lost out big time. He could not accept them fully and it caused a huge rift in our marriage. At times, he refused them even coming to the house because he didn't want their father knowing where we lived.
I tried to please everybody but pleased nobody. My first two boys lost out on time with me and their youngest brother. For 15 years of those 19, we had two households, with nannies for my older boys who were heartbroken for a long time. I would commute from Vancouver to the Sunshine Coast for years, spending alternate weekends either with my two oldest sons or with my husband and my youngest son - rarely both. At times, I would take Mitchell for a fun weekend to be with his brothers, but his father didn't like it.
It was a challenging situation for me. I was caught between two men and I could not see a way out. Family counselling was not an option as both men were uncooperative and refused to participate.
July 22, 1996, was a fork-in-the-road day that determined the next 15 years. That was the night I got “the ultimatum.”
My husband took our son for a drive, and called me saying we either move away from all the drama, as he called it, or we split up and fight over Mitchell. That night, my fragile world which I had worked so hard to keep patched together, fell to pieces. I cried all night, with Peter, my 13 year old trying to console me.
At my second wedding, 1992
By morning, I had decided to go along with the plan to create two separate households - one in North Vancouver and the other on the Sunshine Coast. I would commute to work by ferry, split my time between the children, and get a nanny for my older boys when I was not there.
Not only did I go along with the plan, I agreed with my husband and hid my sorrow deep in my heart to preserve the marriage. Again, I could feel resentment building and getting stronger year by year. My respect and love for my second husband evaporated, our marriage felt like sand in my hands, running between my fingers, the inevitable collapse unstoppable.
The nanny period was short lived as the kids hated the idea, and their dad became more involved in their lives again. Another court battle began, this one for child support. I did not fight, I just paid. There were days when I sat quietly on that rock at Whytecliff Park overlooking the ocean, dreaming of playing with all my children without their dads in the picture. I was caught merely existing between two realities as defined by other people. Neither of my marriages were really mine, but I had actively participated in both.
As the years went by, we all put on our rose coloured glasses and pretended life was manageable for the most part. Not taking a stand when it came to my children was the worst decision of my life. Fear of the unknown, fear of another divorce and custody battle, fear of being alone without a partner again, were the deciding factors. I was trying to avoid more chaos but I completely underestimated the emotional toll this would take on all of us and on me.
It was my lesson to learn: running from a problem is never the answer. This had been my pattern in my closest relationships, from my earliest memories with my mother’s mental breakdown to conflict with both of my husbands. Lacking self esteem, not trusting my intuition, and not standing up for myself, all just resulted in me ignoring my problems.
I became the doormat, essentially allowing others to make 100 percent of a decision instead of compromising and setting boundaries. I wasn't a victim, my strong survival instincts protected me, and I reminded myself that I allowed these things to happen. I would make the best of a challenging situation, always looking for solutions, always reasoning that this was the only way to make everyone happy. I think we call it “denial.”
The denial caught up to me three times in those years, when I stood up and said enough is enough. It started with me forcing the idea of a family Christmas in our home in Sechelt with both my older boys present. My husband was not happy about it, but I didn't cede to his discontentment. It gave me the power to force the issue of returning back to North Vancouver after our eight year stint on the Sunshine Coast. The weekly ferry commute, working unrelenting hours, and my husband contributing very little, all became too exhausting. I missed my boys and I needed rest. The idea of Mitchell attending the hockey academy at Sentinel to foster his natural skills was a logical step, not possible on the coast, so I used that to leverage my husbands approval. Eventually, we moved back.
I was happy for a short while, but he was not. His unhappiness took over our lives as a couple and destroyed whatever was left of our marriage. Much like my husband’s first proposal to move to a cabin in the woods, my second husband began to push the idea of a small house in the Cayman Islands. This time, I tried to tell myself as long as he was happy, I could handle it and live in this remote community of strangers. I tried for a while - taking basket weaving classes with the other women, spending nights watching the sunset, waiting for the smile to return to my husband’s face. It never did. I quickly grew tired of the sweat and sunshine, and
Mitch and I in the bare bones of our Sechelt house - 1997
craved my old life in the bustling city. Returning home, I felt terribly alone and abandoned. Our marriage stayed barely intact, with him living miles away and me only visiting for a month at a time. I left Mitchell in the care of his older brothers, and my business in the hands of an assistant who made a financial mess of the place. Again, I was sacrificing my desires for a life someone else was defining.
It became obvious things were not going to improve in our relationship, and living in this tropical fantasy world drinking and partying was just a disguise for the unhappiness we were both feeling. 2010 hit and I was juggling our livelihood, moving houses, Mitchell graduating, the birth of my first grandchild, my ex-husband dying of cancer, my daughter-in-laws father passing away, all alone. I was married but I had to function entirely without care or support because my husband couldn't bare the misery of leaving his island sanctuary. He showed up, briefly, to celebrate our son’s graduation, but it was too late for us. The gesture was meaningless to me and I broke into pieces. I had nothing left to give. I realized I was at my rock bottom and will never forget the pain I felt writing down exactly what to say over the phone to my estranged partner. It was July 1, 2011, and I opened with the a line I never wanted to use twice: “I want a divorce”.
In writing my story I have learned that experiences I once regarded as failure I now see as lessons. I slowly learned the dance of a relationship between two people intensely connected by intimacy, children, and possessions. It was a difficult dance to learn, and I think most of the steps I mastered just a little too late. Society tells us marriage is a natural progression in our lives as human beings, but I feel most of us don’t have the skills to master this journey without big bruises. Some of us can recover from the injuries and find a way to thrive in mutual respect and love for one other. Some of us just can’t make it work and want to end the pain. Often, we don’t pay attention to the lessons and end up repeating the same mistakes in our next relationship.
For years I was saddened by my loss and what I thought was my inability to function in relationships. It took years of self-love and work to realize that I was the captain behind my decisions, and therefore able to make better choices in future relationships. Now, I see my married years as blessings.
Peter, Carl and Mitch.
My ex-husbands gave me the irreplaceable gift of three beautiful, healthy sons. Those boys, now men, are a joy that has been with me from the day they were born and will be with me until my last day on this earth. They taught me the true meaning of unconditional love. My first marriage gave me the gift of the Canadian outdoors. Learning to thrive in the wilderness taught me to survive and connect more deeply to the environment, which helped later understanding my spirituality. My second marriage gave me wings. The freedom and control I gained translated into confidence in other areas of my life - if I could master a skill that complex, I could accomplish anything.
Divorce was full of sadness, but it taught me to stand up for myself and appreciate my value as a partner. Building the courage to leave such an entangled web, twice, gave me an overwhelming sense of resilience. If I could walk away from my idea of the fairy tale “happy family” because it was unrealistic, I could survive anything life could ever throw my way.
Lastly, I began to understand that both my ex-husbands took me for granted. Granted, I would put up with whatever they would dish out, but that does not negate the fact that I was neglected, undervalued, and my needs ignored. What always shocked me was that they believed they were right and when I left they were stunned. Only later did I realize that they were stunned because I allowed these patterns to continue for so long, not denouncing their treatment of me. Walking away from those men gave me a fierce independence and a protectiveness of my self-worth. Never again would I waste time or energy in a relationship that was unsatisfying. Never again would I silence myself in fear of bruising another’s ego.
At this point in my life journey, I am unmarried but happily exploring love relationships. I guard them close to my chest as I don’t want to allow another man into my family circle until I know they truly belong there. I embrace the future without bitterness about the institution of marriage, but with hope in my heart and a tattoo on my arm that reads: “Believe in Love and Miracles.”
I will never stop believing that love will return when I am ready for it.