I am desperately seeking advice. Being in quarantine was difficult for couples who get along well; it felt like torture for couples who do not. Being quarantined for so long with my husband made me realize how awful things are between us and how they will never change.
My husband and I have been having difficulties for years. We have been to therapy together and individually; he still goes to therapy once a week, although I don’t see any improvement. The bottom line is that we are both unhappy. He has said (and I agree) that this is a marriage of convenience. We are both scared to leave for our own reasons, but there is no love or respect in this marriage.
At this point there’s a lot of manipulation, and we do things for each other because we’re afraid of the fallout — if I don’t do what he wants, he’ll threaten not to do what I want, and if he doesn’t do what I want, I won’t do things for him. My husband is hypocritical, and although I call him out on it, he continues his behavior. We don’t enjoy spending time together; it feels like a chore and something that we have to do.
Although we try to hide all of this from our children, they can sense that things are bad. I don’t want them thinking that this is what a normal marriage is. I feel like such a coward. Why can’t I take that leap and ask for a divorce? My husband will never be the one to initiate it because he has more to lose than I do, but I know he’ll be vindictive and use our children as pawns in the case of a divorce. I don’t want to look back in 10 or 20 years and have regrets. How can I get out of this rut?
You’re correct — quarantining has certainly fueled the fire of various issues in our lives that perhaps were once only embers. Without our usual distractions and with more time on our hands to think about and even obsess over what is not working around us, it’s easy to finally acknowledge the fault lines that have long existed. The added stress we are all living with may be lowering our tolerance threshold.
You and your husband have been stuck in a difficult marriage for many years. Though you’ve seemingly done the work by going to therapy together and individually, nothing has changed in how you feel about one another and how you treat each other. I wonder how much of a chance you’ve given therapy, whether you’ve worked with the right therapist, or if you’ve acted on the experience. Without knowing any of the above, I’m going to assume that you’ve done all you can do and nothing has helped.
Not all marriages are meant to be. Divorce is always a last resort, especially when children are involved, but there sometimes comes a time when two people recognize that they are not meant to be together — that they actually highlight the worst in one another, bring nothing but pain into one another’s lives, and, ultimately, are holding each other back from living a more peaceful existence. It does sound like you and your husband have arrived at this point.
While I understand that your real question relates to how you can muster the courage to take that first step and call a lawyer, I want to comment on what your lives presently look like. Though you both believe that you are living in a “marriage of convenience,” it is still important to live with dignity and respect. I know how easy it is to fall into anger, hostility, and disrespect while you are living under the same roof, despite the fact that, as you point out, you have children who are seeing and absorbing everything they are exposed to. Until you make the move toward to divorce, it is important that you don’t engage in ugly behavior, as tempting and natural as it seems. Such behavior only escalates the ugliness and makes getting up in the morning that much more challenging. You may not respect your husband, and he may not have earned your respect, but it is still important that you act “as if” he deserves it, for his sake and for your own sake. You want to create an atmosphere that is less negative and toxic for everyone.
Regarding going through with what you must have been fantasizing about for years now—actually getting divorced — assuming all other efforts have failed, your goal now is to empower yourself on all levels to feel whole and worthy and self-sufficient. Face your fears. What exactly do you worry about when you think about becoming single? Is it about finances? Do you have a career, a way of supporting yourself if your husband becomes the vindictive person you fear he would be? If that is one of your fears, now is the time to secure some kind of profession. Whether it means going back to school or finding a job with potential, you need to know you can stand on your own two feet.
Do you fear being alone? Notice I didn’t use the word “loneliness,” since many married people suffer from loneliness. But there is still a warm body living under the same roof as you, someone with whom to attend a social function or co-host company at the Shabbos table (G-d willing, someday soon again). If being alone is something you worry about, now would be the time to work on your relationships by starting new ones and cultivating and strengthening those you already have, whether family members or friends.
Perhaps your issue revolves around “what people will say.” Many people worry way too much about “the talk.” It’s important that you work through that, perhaps with a therapist, so that you build the confidence you will need to fully embrace the knowledge that it’s just noise, and tomorrow they’ll have something new to gossip about.
You need to dig deep and connect with what exactly is holding you back and has been creating fear within you. Might your husband be vindictive should you initiate divorce? Possibly. Marriage is not a prison sentence, and there are laws that have been created to protect everyone. An experienced and talented lawyer should be able to assist you.
Now I’m stretching, but is it possible that you’re not truly in touch with the fact that, despite everything, perhaps you love your husband and wish that you could rekindle what I assume you once had and rediscover that happiness? It’s a long shot, but that might explain why you seem to be stuck right now.
Make the effort to know yourself even better than you already do, to face your fears, and to do what you need to do out of confidence and the conviction that it’s the right thing for you.
Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Hewlett. Esther works with individuals, couples, and families. Esther is presently offering phone sessions. She can be reached at email@example.com or 516-314-2295.