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For many families, wounds of divorce are slow to heal

If a marriage is destined to dissolve, the vast majority do so in a couple's first or second decade together.

But what if the split comes 20 or more years down the road, after many people figure they've made it through the roughest parts?

The stories that follow are a reminder that divorce can happen late in life.

And when it does, the surprise and hurt can be magnified by the length of time people spent together.

Readers who agreed to share their stories asked to be identified only by their first name, stating they did not wish to open wounds that for many families remain fresh, regardless of how long ago the split occurred.

'Trust, respect totally gone'

Dee says her marriage of 20-plus years ended after her husband was unfaithful.

"My children were teenagers. It blew their world apart and it was very difficult for me; the trust and the respect were totally gone," Dee said.

She coped by staying busy with two children who were hurting.

"I did not dwell on the other part, other than the fact you're extremely concerned because you wonder what you're going to do to take care of your kids."

Dee, who is 61 and lives in the lakes country of northwest Minnesota, said she was granted a permanent award by the court.

"I do receive support, which is not a large amount but it helps," she said.

Family and friends assisted her in getting through the most painful times, but Dee said her ex-husband could have made things easier for the family if he had been more honest about what he was doing.

"Had he been forthright, it would have been much easier on my children and me," she said.

'A death would have been easier'

Ann was rummaging around her computer desk several years back when she found a business card from a Fargo law firm.

When she asked her husband about it, his response was:

"I just woke up and didn't know who I was ... I need to get an apartment while I try to figure this out."

For Ann, who was divorced at 55 and continues to live in the Fargo-Moorhead area, the shock of the way her marriage of 30-plus years ended has never left her.

"A death would have been easier to accept," she said. "I still can't say his name."

The divorce was followed by other setbacks.

"Four weeks ago my job was eliminated due to the economy," she said recently. "I have no medical insurance and now I will have to pick up the pieces and try to start over."

Ann said things have also been difficult for her two grown children, both of whom, she said, shared her shock and confusion.

The children have not spoken with their father since he left, Ann said, adding that her ex-husband has never seen his grandchildren.

"He had a daughter who worshiped him," Ann said. "I don't believe my children got closure."

Ann said she dated her former husband for five years before they were married. She had yet to get her driver's license when their courtship began.

"This was my life-long love," she said, adding that in hindsight there were indications that things weren't right: secretive behavior that hinted at affairs; a controlling nature that served to isolate her from her family.

Ann said she will likely never trust again.

And she offered advice to anyone thinking of committing to a long-term relationship.

"Get your education. Keep things separate. Be very aware," she said.

'Anti-depressants and therapy'

Mike got married in the 1970s when he was in his early 20s.

The union followed a familiar trajectory:

The starter home; a first child followed by a second child a few years later; the larger home.

Then, after years working for a national company in the Fargo-Moorhead area, Mike was part of a corporate downsizing.

He was out of full-time work for two years.

Eventually he found employment, two jobs actually, but the responsibility left little time for his marriage.

The divorce came approximately 13 years ago, after more than two decades of marriage.

Mike, now 59 and living in the Twin Cities, said neither he nor his ex-wife has remarried.

"I vowed I would never give anyone half of my belongings ever again," he said, adding that he considers the loss of his marriage the biggest failure of his life.

"There is not a day that goes by when I don't wish I could fix it," he said. "I have taken anti-depressants for years along with a great deal of therapy."

'You like someone to show appreciation'

Barb sought her divorce a few years ago after nearly four decades of marriage.

At the time, she had grown children and a number of grandchildren.

"I got married at 18, high school sweethearts. We were really young and the persons we were then are not the people we are now," said Barb, who is 61, remarried and living in a state far from the Fargo-Moorhead area where she used to make her home.

After being a farm wife and raising children, she said she just felt it was time for a change.

Making the decision easier was the fact her husband seemed more interested in farming than being an attentive husband and father.

"Not that I didn't make mistakes," she said, adding things might have been different had she spoken up more about what she needed from the marriage.

But that wasn't done in the culture she grew up in, Barb said.

"I know we would have ended up hating each other because there just wasn't anything left to maintain," Barb said. "He was becoming a person I really didn't like and I couldn't see staying in that.

"Maybe that sounds selfish," she added. "But when you've spent all your years giving for everybody else, I think you do get to a point where you say, 'Maybe it is my chance now.'"

She said her ex-husband has someone new in his life and it appears he is taking more interest in his children and grandchildren.

"Which I think is great," Barb said. "You don't want to go to your grave thinking the only thing they can say on your epitaph is you were a good farmer."

And she's happy with her own life.

"I enjoy having somebody there. It's just a different type of relationship. You like someone to show appreciation," she said.

The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and Bemidji Pioneer are both owned by Forum Communications Co.