Challenged to Sustain Their Lifestyle

In Unhitched, couples tell the stories of their relationships, from romance to vows to divorce to life afterward.

Quarantining during the coronavirus pandemic has given Debi and Marc Ford time to reflect on the mistakes they each made during a nearly 13-year marriage. Both say that chasing external success strained their relationship and kept happiness out of reach.

While a coveted lifestyle had covered up a bankrupt marriage, kindness and patience has held the family together despite a dramatic split and financial chaos.

Date of Marriage Nov. 5, 1988

Date of Divorce June 21, 2001

Age When Married Both 33

Age Now 65

Occupations Now retired, he was a commodities broker. Before marriage she worked as a paralegal; she currently volunteers with social services.

Children A son and a daughter, now 29 and 25

Where did they grow up?

He was born in Chicago. His Jewish parents divorced in 1959 when he was 4. He bounced between homes in Miami and Beverly Hills, Calif. His father worked in finance and presented a lavish lifestyle, but eventually encountered financial and legal troubles. By his teenage years, he had already started using drugs and alcohol. An older brother died in a car accident when Mr. Ford was 18.

She grew up in Allentown, Pa., in a middle-class Jewish “Ozzie and Harriet” kind of household. After college at the University of Miami she moved to Chicago.

How did they meet?

They met in 1987 at Colin of London, a hair salon in Chicago, and made a date the next day to go to a hockey game. Both say it was immediately clear they enjoyed each other’s company.

Why did they marry?

They found the other attractive and smart, and both wanted to marry within the Jewish faith. “Chicago was filled with wealthy, partying traders, but Marc was solid and wanted a family,” she said.

“We’d both been in the dating world long enough,” he said.

How were the early years?

Both say they were very good. They bought a house in the city and a weekend home at a lake; they entertained often and enjoyed socializing.

“We had a lot of fun, but there were differences that started to show,” he said.

What were the first signs of trouble?

After they had children, he was challenged to earn enough to sustain the lifestyle they had created. They had “the right cars, the right temple and we went on the right vacations,” he said. “I did well, but it wasn’t enough. Neither Debi nor I were financially mature. But that’s how I was raised.”

“We didn’t deny ourselves or the kids anything,” she said. “There was nothing Marc wouldn’t do for us, but we stopped communicating.”

“My job got me up early,” he said. “I was exhausted and checked out and was smoking a lot of weed.”

Did they try to work things out?

They tried therapy, which he had been in for a long time. A few times they thought a fancy vacation would save their marriage. He began studying the kabbalah, searching for something spiritual to fill his needs. He also tried several kinds of group therapies.

She began working part-time, but didn’t bring in enough to bridge their deficit.

Who asked for the split?

She did, in April 2001. Their children were both under 10 and she couldn’t see herself with him after they were grown. “He deserved to be loved more than I loved him,” she said.

He felt blindsided and abandoned. “When my parents divorced, I vowed it would never happen to me,” he said. “But I was in denial and she was a year ahead of me in knowing this wasn’t going to work out.”

The final break up?

Within months they divorced. They sold their house, she bought a small home, he moved into an apartment. She received alimony and the children went back and forth between parents. He felt hurt and angry but vowed to keep the family intact.

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How did they all move on?

The children went into therapy.

Both wanted the family to be as “normal as possible,” she said. They shared Thanksgiving and Jewish holidays. Their own families eventually accepted their choice to divorce.

Several years later, she moved in with a partner who, for six years, helped raise the children. “The two men were friends and knew each other,” she said.

How did they fare financially?

He struggled to fulfill his obligations. She went severely into debt.

In 2009, after the global financial crisis, he hit bottom with his drug and alcohol use. After a stint in detox, he joined a 12-step program to which he remains dedicated. “One day at a time life got better,” he said, including financially.

Should they have divorced sooner?

Both say it was the right time “Even if we’d had a boatload of money it wouldn’t have changed anything,” he said. “Money doesn’t fix anyone.”

What did they do to start over?

She worked on herself and made friends with others who had divorced. “I always wanted something, but I never really knew what would make me happy,” she said. “I had to find contentment inside myself.”

It took getting sober for him to start over.

Is life better now?

Both say yes. They remain close friends and are in contact frequently. He still lives in Chicago and has a committed partner of nearly five years. She moved to Boca Raton, Fla., and is in a new relationship. Their children have done well professionally. As a group, they text often.

Would they have done anything differently?

“If I had been wiser I would have addressed our problems earlier and maybe gone to therapy before we married,” she said.

“You are where you are, 20 years ago that’s where I was and what I was capable of at the time,” he said.

What advice would they offer?

Find out what is important to each of you before you marry, she said, and work on yourself as well as the relationship.

“If material things matter to you, be ready to work hard and be patient,” he said. “In hindsight it would have been great to live within our means and figure out who we were trying to impress.”

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