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#187: I want a divorce and don’t know how to tell anyone.

Captain-

I’ve been keeping a secret from everyone I know. My husband, my best friend, my family. I haven’t even written it down until now.

I want a divorce.

I met a great guy in high school, and we started seeing each other. Things got serious fast and we moved in together, and that was it. I’ve never dated anyone else. Hell, I haven’t ever been sexy in any capacity with anyone else. Kissing, heavy petting sex, you name it. We didn’t marry until about a year ago, but we’ve considered ourselves married for a long time. Until recently, we were trying to get me pregnant. I really care about him and love him and want good things for him. But I also want good things for myself, and more and more it looks like that’s not going to happen with us together. We’ve been over these things in the past, they’re still problems and they’re problems I can’t swallow anymore. I don’t know if I’ve changed or simply reached my limit, although I guess it doesn’t really matter.

I’m afraid to talk to anyone about this because everyone thinks we’re that couple- the one that makes it forever.

I feel terrible about not telling my friend. She paid for some things that would help us with getting pregnant- nothing big, just a few tests to see when I was ovulating- but I feel guilty that they’re sitting on my shelf, being wasted. Every time she mentions the future and includes my husband, I feel sick.

I have never been on my own as an adult. I have never supported myself. We went from living with our parents to living together, and every thing I see in my future right now is terrifying. I don’t even have my own bank account right now. I don’t even know how I can tell anybody. I know that I should, and I really do owe my loved ones honesty. But if I tell someone, then it will happen. Like, really happen.

I want to stay with him until the end of the semester, partially because he needs the support financially (assuming I find myself capable of working) and partially because I want to say this wasn’t some whim of mine, that I tried. But also, we have been going through some financial straights and it’s possible the stress might be getting to me. I don’t really think it is but… I just don’t know.

I am more scared than I have ever been right now. Both cars are in his name, although one is effectively mine he might get petty for a while. The house is his parents’. I think I’d go to Dad’s, but my younger sister just moved out of the house after moving in because a relationship ended, they just got that room back. Plus, I have a dog that is coming with me, no matter what. Probably a cat, maybe all of them (there are three).

How do I tell my best friend? How do I tell anyone? Should I even bring it up if I’m still not sure that I’m sure? I know this will lead to fights, fights we’ve had in the past, problems I have that have never been resolved. What do I tell him, when the time comes? Am I going to be okay? I have never even broken up with anybody. I don’t know how to do this.

-I don’t even know how to sign this

I am so sorry that you are dealing with all of this. Let’s triage this situation.

First priority: Do not get pregnant. One thing you know for 100% sure is that you are not ready to be a mom right now, with this man, in this situation. You say you were trying to get pregnant “until recently”, so maybe you’ve handled this already, but if not get yourself a reliable form of birth control NOW and use it, and do not have sex without it. If you go with something like an IUD or a Depo Shot it has the advantage of being something you can’t “forget” to take and that can’t be tampered with, but I’ll let you work that out with your doctor. This is a decision you can make now for yourself without having to talk to anyone besides a health care pro, because you should absolutely not get pregnant right now and that is the most important thing. While you’re there, you can ask (your university? Your women’s repro health center?) to recommend you for some counseling. You’re going to need that, too.

Second priority: Get some new people on Team You. These people include a counselor of some kind (right now, get one) and a lawyer (at least identify a few you can call). You need someone outside the situation, someone who has no stake in your marriage working out or not working out (financial, emotional, appearances) to talk to who is only on your side and who can give you unbiased advice and a good sounding board. Your parents, his parents, your best friend who bought you “make a baby” gear, and your husband are not going to be unbiased. You will have to talk to all of them eventually, but first you have to figure it out for yourself.

Third: Open a bank account. Even a small one. Yours. Yours alone.

You can get a bank account, a counselor, and a reliable form of birth control within the next week or so? Good.

Now some conversations need to happen, and they are awkward ones. If you think that your husband might hit you, threaten you, do bad things to you financially, or act out in any way, you tell your counselor about that and listen to his/her recommendations for how and when to break the news. You might need to have someone with you. You might need to do it after you’ve already left the house and found a safe place to live. This thread is a wealth of recommendations, stories, and resources.

In either case, I would suggest writing yourself a list of talking points and a list of stuff you would and would not be willing to do and specific things that you want/need. (Getting pregnant = UNWILLING. Marriage counseling? Maybe. Moving back in with your dad for a while? Maybe.) Also do some journalling about the difficult conversations you’ve had about your problems before. How did those go? How did they end? Who decided when they ended? What tactics did you each use to get your point across? Did you get derailed? What can you do to stop that happening next time? Share that stuff with your counselor. Safeguard your passwords, clear your browser history, and be extra careful about privacy.

If you think he’s mostly going to get angry/sad and that you can handle the conversation, here is one possible script, and let’s start with pregnancy/parenting because it is the obvious anxiety and the easiest to swallow. Sit down with him and begin serious talk:

Husband, I am having a lot of anxiety about becoming a parent, and I have decided that I am not ready to get pregnant.”

(Listen)

Some of my anxiety is about myself – I don’t feel ready to support and care for a baby – and some of my anxiety is about the future of our relationship. Before we talk about that, I want you to understand that we are going to stop “trying” to get pregnant until we figure things out. I am going to go back on birth control/we are going to stop having any unprotected sex. Do you understand and agree?

People can get REALLY, primally, scarily manipulative about this stuff, which is why I am hitting the pregnancy thing so hard and recommending that you have foolproof birth control in place before this conversation. No one is more fertile and ready to seduce as the person who does not want a spouse to leave, and you have to make that a dealbreaker for him and for yourself. A lot of us are alive and walking the earth because of tear-stained makeup sex.

Then you need to be honest with him and lay out your doubts and your needs. And tell him what you’d like to do about them. Keep in mind that the subjective feelings case works better than the logic case. By which I mean owning your subjective feelings – “I feel anxious about getting pregnant…” “I married you because I loved you, but now that we are married, these feelings and problems aren’t going away, and I need to do some more work  – going to school, learning to support myself, spending more time by myself and figuring out who I am – before I commit to being a wife and a mother” – is kinder than listing things he did wrong.

Where there are possible solutions? Offer them. Maybe you can meet with a couple’s counselor (though if you are members of a conservative church and either or both of your families are involved in that church, don’t go to their counselors. Go to a secular counselor that YOU choose) and try to work some things out. Maybe you can move out and separate temporarily.  Or, if you are sure you want a divorce, and you sound pretty sure in your letter, lay it out there. “I am willing to go to counseling and/or have a temporary separation to see if this can be saved, but you should know that I am thinking seriously about a divorce.You don’t have to make it work out.  Wanting to leave is its own reason for leaving.

The conversation is going to suck. It’s going to be awful. He’s going to ask why? (With reason, that doesn’t make him a dick, it makes him a human). And you’re going to have to say “I don’t know why, but I do know how I feel, and that’s that I want to leave.” If he doesn’t want to split up or acknowledge the problems, he will promise you ANYTHING to get you to take it back. You basically have to go to the place of “I need these things so badly that, yes, I am willing to hurt you, person that I love, in order to get them, and that sucks a lot and I am so, so sorry, but I still need them.”

I know part of your anxiety is telling your parents and friends. Tell them some version of the truth. Howabout: “We’re having some problems around money and me feeling not ready to have kids, so we’re taking some time to sort things out and see if we really belong together.

When I look around at the people I know who are divorced (and many of my very favorite people are divorced) what I see as a pattern is a (messy, wrenching, draining, financially rough – no one said it was easy) year or two of painful grieving, regret, second-guessing, and self-reinvention followed eventually by peace, happiness, new love,new life, hope, and every good thing. It sucks to be left. It sucks to do the leaving. But time does its work and you move on. Whatever happens you’ll be ok and he’ll be ok in the long run. In the short run, don’t make a kid you don’t want, don’t stay in a marriage you don’t want to be in, and trust that you have a better future than this ahead of you.

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74 comments
  1. Esti said:

    This is excellent, excellent advice, and I don’t have anything to add on that front. But I wanted to let you know that I have a few friends who married high school/college sweethearts when they were young and divorced shortly thereafter. They faced some of the same anxieties you have about people thinking they were That Couple, and most of them were also worried about being Divorced when they were in their early-mid 20s. But today they are all so much happier and healthier because they did what was right for them instead of what they thought people expected. I just wanted to emphasize that you are not alone in this, that there are many other people out there who have gone through what you’re going through, and that you should definitely not stay in a marriage you don’t want to be in because of what people might think.

    • Wendy said:

      I’d add that at your age it’s likely your friends have a lot of curiosity about marriage and are trying to envision how it’ll be for them, so they may be projecting a lot of that on to you. You’re not responsible for whatever fantasies your friends have about having a happy marriage, finding the right person, or having kids.

      • Cassandra said:

        Ooh, good point. That’s super, super true. You are NOT responsible for other peoples’ fantasies about your life.

  2. dj pomegranate said:

    “(though if you are members of a conservative church and either or both of your families are involved in that church, don’t go to their counselors. Go to a secular counselor that YOU choose)”

    THIS IS TRUE. Excellent advice.

    • JenniferP said:

      I don’t want to say “all religious affiliated counselors are bad!” but I do not like patriarchy and coercion all up in my therapy and if there is a hint of it, go elsewhere.

      • Mimi said:

        This piece of advice is wonderful. A former classmate who married right out of highschool stayed with her abusive husband until recently. Her pastor had advised her to stay in the relationship, despite her getting hit and coerced into sex she didn’t want. Pastor’s justification? Her husband apparently didn’t hit her hard enough to break bones, only bruise in places that didn’t show. And sex? Why, it’s the wife’s humble duty to submit to her husband!

        She finally left him recently, after he became drunk and angry and pulled a knife on her. Did I also mention she was visibly pregnant when this happened? Yeah. That’s when she finally decided she had enough. Dumbass pastor was still advising her to stay with violent jerkface so that their child can grow up in “a stable family with two parents”; also, because she “obviously” did something wrong to make husband mad enough to pull a knife on her! Shameful woman! She should have known it was her fault!

        Glad her parents supported her decision to leave him; they may have been super dependent on their pastor, but they know where to draw the line to protect their daughter and unborn grandchild.

      • FemmeForever said:

        A lot of the training seems to come through churches or seminaries, especially for MFTs. Even a psychologist I saw once was evangelical. I wish there was a good mechanism to screen by personal politics. If someone were feminist they certainly wouldn’t advertise that fact and I can’t necessarily blame them.

  3. Beauzeaux said:

    Practically everyone I know had a “starter marriage” and then went on to marriages that lasted. It certainly isn’t unusual. I married young too. It didn’t last.

    Don’t feel like the Lone Ranger — better things await.

    • Lesley said:

      I got married young as well. But here’s a caveat to the financial advice: some states have laws that protect a husband’s right over his wife’s money. Wisconsin has such a law, for instance. So when I tried to leave my husband, and opened a bank account of my own, my husband had to be informed.

      So check out those laws before making financial decisions. I agree that having your own bank account is a great first step, and lots of your next 5 years will be about learning to become an adult on your own, paying bills and taxes, managing insurance policies etc. But before your divorce is signed and sealed, research the marriage and divorce laws of your state.

      • Ace said:

        Holy cow, they still have laws like that? Bizarre.

        • Lesley said:

          The reasoning is to prevent one spouse from hiding debt or credit cards from the other, so a wife isn’t ruined by her husband’s secret gambling or a husband by his wife’s secret spending. Or whatever. Definitely stupid.

          Also a felony in Wisconsin: sleeping with a married woman. Hasn’t been prosecuted since 1994, but still on the books.

  4. commanderlogic said:

    I have only one thing to add to the completely exemplary advice the Captain has given. After you’ve gotten all your ducks in a row (counselor, lawyer, birth control – money can come a little later) I recommend telling someone you already know and trust about what’s happening. Maybe someone who lives far away would be best for this, if you’re concerned about secrecy. You obviously know your contacts better than I do. But it would be nice to have someone on your side through this who already knows you. Who can hold your hand (physically or digitally) while you agonize over when/how to talk to your mom. Who can help you have fun and relax sometimes, whether over drinks or simultexting about some dumb TV. Who wants you to be happy in yourself.

    • Lyla D. said:

      I think this is some particularly sound advice, and I’d like to say, LW, that if all of your physically close by friends are too invested in this, try talking to some online friends (mayhaps even find an support group?). One thing I’ve found about online support is that the inherent distance can make for wonderful perspective as well as a refreshing lack of the sort of bias that hometown-politics can foster.

      (Though, with this method I’d like to vaunt the Captain’s advice about guarding passwords and clearing browser histories so the hubby doesn’t run across your confessionals before you’re ready to bring those concerns to him.)

  5. irishup said:

    Love the advice, with the exception of this

    “…. Do you understand and agree?“

    I absolutely would *NOT* do or say anything that suggests your choice about not getting pregnant is up for debate, needs a consensus, or otherwise hinges on ANYTHING other than WHAT YOU WANT.

    LW, if you have *ANY* concerns w/r/t DV, or that this not-getting-pregnant thing will be a LARGE point of contention while you are still together, OR that you could be guilted or harangued, you might want to consider A) having a long term BC intervention rather than daily or barrier methods and B) having it be a fait accompli before the conversation. BC sabbotage is EXTREMELY COMMON, even in situations that aren’t actively violent or abusive.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2896047/

    It IS scary to make such a big change, and strike out on your own. It’s also REALLY rewarding.

    Best wishes.

    • JenniferP said:

      I definitely did not mean to imply that pregnancy was up for debate! Just a “ground rule one, we’re not getting pregnant right now, say something out loud to let me know that you heard me” conversation, and the advice was definitely to get the BC handled long before the conversation!

      • Niemandsrose said:

        I took your original phrasing to mean, “Do you understand and agree that _we are not having unprotected sex starting now_?”

      • irishup said:

        MY BAD then! I think I read your reply as looking for respectful consensus, which would be reasonable between two married peoples under many circumstances, but potentially worrisome here.

  6. Excellent, well-said, thank you.

  7. Sheelzebub said:

    LW, the Captain has fantastic advice. A million (Jedi?) hugs to you.

    Just FYI, if my best friend wanted to divorce their spouse and I helped pay for a few things in their quest for fertility, I would not be angry. I would be relieved to know that my friend had the foresight to realize that a) staying married was a mistake for him/her and b) having a child would be a disaster. I would feel awful if s/he stayed in a situation that was miserable for her/him because they felt guilty about my gift. I want my friends to be happy–so if *I* was your bestie, I’d do what I could to support you through this.

    But you know your friends better than any of us here.

    • Marie said:

      I mean, can you imagine how you’d feel if, years and maybe a baby down the road, your bestie tells you that they’ve really been miserable and wanted to leave their spouse, but you had given them that help and so they had to stay married?

      You would be like, WTF bestie NOOOOOOO and additionally I do not appreciate being the excuse for your miserableness? I am kind of more mad about that than the money I gave you!

      I went through this somewhat with my divorce. I didn’t want to tell certain people because they had given us nice wedding gifts. Then I was like, oh my god, do I really have so little respect for my friends that I think if I call them and say, “I’m miserable I hate my marriage oh my god I’m going to sob now” they would be like, “I got you a blender, you bitch! You better make some babies with that man you hate!” No, nobody is like this. And if they are, you take the blender they gave you and run cackling, ha ha ha, I got your blender, you dick.

      If I gave my best friend a bunch of relationship crap that cost money, and then they broke up, and I was *at all* miffed about the money, it would be such a minor league miffing that the solution would be for my friend to take me out for a night on the town or buy me that stupid dress I like or make me dinner. So if your guilt won’t let you off the hook, maybe sate it with something friendly like that? Money is balls, friends are awesome, and you pay back friends with more and better friendship, not the thing that’s balls.

      • Cate said:

        This is awesome.

        And right.

        Totally.

      • commanderlogic said:

        do I really have so little respect for my friends that I think if I call them and say, “I’m miserable I hate my marriage oh my god I’m going to sob now” they would be like, “I got you a blender, you bitch! You better make some babies with that man you hate!” No, nobody is like this.

        I am LOLing FOREVER. People are nice! Friends want you to be happy! If someone doesn’t want you to be happy because it gives them a temporary sad, THEY ARE NOT YOUR FRIEND. And no one will take back the nice margarita mixer they gave you for the wedding. I swear.

        • Marie said:

          Right? I mean, the response to “But I got you a margarita mixer!” is “Yes, you did, would you like a margarita? I’m having a lot right now because I’m confused about my marriage, let’s get drunk and talk about it.” Because that is why they got you the margarita mixer: to mix margaritas, probably with company. They did not get you a margarita mixer because they wanted you to be in a miserable marriage. That has nothing to do with margaritas.

          I mean, your friend gave you that help so you could have a baby that would make you happy, because that is what you wanted and she wanted to give it to you. You pay her back by having a baby that makes you happy. You don’t pay her back by having a sad baby raised by sad parents because GUILT. FEAR. DOUBT. That is not what she wanted and that is not what she gave you, so don’t make the happy present into a death-of-my-future present, that was not its intent.

          • commanderlogic said:

            Exactly. The margarita mixer was to make you happy by providing you with happy margaritas. It is antithetical to the concept of gift giving to make margaritas of despair in it.

          • commanderlogic said:
          • roo said:

            There needs to be a recipe for Margaritas of Despair, though. What’s despairy? Cointreau?

          • Ethyl said:

            Right! I am sure that at least some of your friends would be understanding. I think we talked a bit in the previous question about opening up and asking for the help you need — that might be a good discussion to read, too, LW.

            And hey, if it makes you feel any better, that fertility planning stuff could be saved and used later on, or saved and given to a friend or family member or coworker or someone that could use it later :)

          • Marie said:

            I think grapefruit juice is pretty despairing.

          • Copcher said:

            Oh my god, everything you said here is full of amazing! Except maybe the grapefruit juice comment, because I think it tastes pretty delicious, but that’s okay. Differences are good!

          • roo said:

            @marie- The sea-breeze of despair!

          • Aris Merquoni said:

            Oh, man, okay, long time reader, first time commenter, short story, margarita recipe. The story is this: I broke up with my first real boyfriend after two years of dating, just after I turned 21 and inherited a bunch of booze from my folks. It was kind of the best breakup story ever: he came over, said that everything was his fault, and we had margaritas. (We are still friends, and he is awesome.)

            These margaritas are the breakup margaritas: they are so good that the dude who was breaking up with me at the time said they were the best margaritas he’d ever had.

            3 oz sweet and sour mix
            1.5 oz tequila
            0.5 oz lime juice
            0.5 oz triple sec
            0.5 oz Tuaca liqueur
            if necessary, powdered sugar to taste (just a pinch)

            Shake with ice. Serve on the rocks.

            Please note: the proportions here scale up very well. I sometimes make 24L versions for parties.

            Note two: These taste like they have almost no alcohol in them and will knock you flat on your ass.

          • piny said:

            I think you can just swill tequila straight out of the bottle.

          • MissPrism said:

            This is incredible advice.

            When the Capt. gets her paid advice column gig, which CANNOT HAPPEN TOO SOON, I would also like to see Marie’s spin-off advice column where all the answers involve cocktail paraphernalia.

        • JenniferP said:

          Dear Prudence:

          We’re coming for you, and your job. And we’re bringing drinks recipes.

          Love,
          Everyone Awkward

          • Lesley said:

            Give us some time and we’ll bring crafts, too.

            (Prudence needs to learn to stop using compound sentence structures and puns. Unreadable. Let alone the content of her advice….)

      • Elodie said:

        “And if they are, you take the blender they gave you and run cackling, ha ha ha, I got your blender, you dick.”

        This is correct.

        • Liennae said:

          I don’t suppose I know you IRL? Cause I have a friend named Elodie and I could totally picture her running off with a blender while cackling. (In a good way, because the blender comment was by far the best part.)

  8. All brilliant. Especially the DO NOT REPRODUCE. I am glad you don’t have the “children to save a marriage” delusion! Jedi hugs to you and many unicorn muscles beneath your wings to help you with this burden. You will survive, promise, but you’ll have to embrace the suck.

    Re: What other people think: They are not in your marriage, you are. They may smother you with “OH NO” and I AM DISAPPOINT and “But..but..but!” but they aren’t living your life, you are. You live your life for you, and if the life you are in right now isn’t working, it doesn’t matter if other people think/thought it was. I like to think of it like this: they may judge me for throwing away something they thought was perfect, until they understand that I was also getting rid of something that was giving me unhappiness.

    But you can flip that around: If someone told you they stayed in a miserable relationship because they were afraid of being embarrassed, wouldn’t you feel sad and horrified for them? They may be surprised, they may be in denial, but they will manage to adjust. Especially when they see you come out on the other side better, happier, closer to finding what you need.

    People who are on Team You will support you. Yes, they will react with surprise, sadness, dismay. Let them deal with their sadness and dismay. You have plenty of your own to go on with. People not on Team You: Avoid them for a while. Your parents may have just gotten their room back, but they have demonstrated they will open their homes for a child in need. Let them play on Team You and move in there.

    Your husband will be especially dismayed and sad. You want to be compassionate to him because you care about him. That’s fantastic. You will hurt him, but it’s a survivable hurt. It would hurt him much, much more to be in a sad, loveless sham of a marriage with someone who wants out. That cuts deep, deep. Don’t forget to grieve for your own loss while you’re busy thinking of everyone else’s feelings.

    Unsolicited advice but you mentioned the car situation:
    My boyfriend had kept his name on the car & house loans when he divorced his wife because she did not qualify for the loans by herself (hint to lawyers: then don’t let her take on the debt by herself!), and now that she is declaring bankruptcy, he is screwed and technically still liable for the car & house after their divorce. Yeah, it’s fucked up. See if your lawyer can arrange that you buy “your” car from your husband to separate it from his assets (would he want to keep two cars?), or see if your parents can pick it up for you, so you don’t have to be concerned about potential pettiness.

    Sent with love!

    • Marie said:

      “But you can flip that around: If someone told you they stayed in a miserable relationship because they were afraid of being embarrassed, wouldn’t you feel sad and horrified for them? ”

      I have some friends from high school who specifically stayed together because they were “That Couple,” or that’s what they thought of themselves, anyway (at least, that’s what they told me). It was SUPER OBVIOUS when they were having problems and oh my god none of us wanted to be around them, because they were not “That Couple”, they were “uggggggggh *that* couple,” who were sniping at each other and full of unresolved bitterness. We were all thinking, “Guys, just call it off already,” and they were apparently thinking, “But our friends! They will be so disappointed if we ruin the illusion of perfect love for them!” I don’t know what illusion they thought we all had, it was pretty obvious what they had was as far from a happy relationship as anybody would reasonably want to be.

      Anyway, they are still together, and they are the worst couple ever, and their worst coupling has made them really unappealing people to be around. So their desire to keep on being “That Couple” (for us?) did nobody any favors, least of all themselves.

      • JenniferP said:

        Ah, the “Do we have to invite That Couple?” couple. No one wants to be them. Or hang out with them.

  9. Virginia said:

    LW, the Captain’s advice is so good that I wish I could throw it back 12 years and follow it.

    I did not feel that I could get a bank account (I am no good at secrets), so what I did instead was start putting cash into the “tampon pocket” of my purse (you know the one I mean). Just here and there, when I had a $5 or a $20 that wasn’t earmarked for something immediately, it went into my bag. When I had enough for a bus ticket, I felt *so much relief*. So much relief, in fact, that I was able to start talking to people, start taking steps to protect myself, **because I had an out**.

    So that’s an idea to put in your pocket, if you need it.

    Divorce sucks ass, even when it is absolutely the right thing to do. But you will be okay.

  10. duck-billed placelot said:

    Along with the birth control, therapist, bank account, LW, I think you should talk with lawyer about assets and get them in your name before you have the big divorce conversation. Like, step one get birth control. Step two, talk to lawyer about how to extricate your money from his money. Step three, mention casually to husband that you want to put your car in your name. Maybe you can say you want to build your credit history? If there is any resistance, then seriously, seriously consider transferring all your money out of the joint account and into a private one that very day. (I mean, don’t take his money, but take all your money.)

    It might seem mercenary, but since you already know that he ‘might get petty’, you are just protecting yourself. And honestly, if you admit that possibility, then things are going to get horrifically petty. Like new depths petty. Like straight up attempts to steal everything from you petty. And think about it; if he gets angry because you acted preemptively to take ownership of the car that you paid for, is that going to be because you took away from him the right to steal the car you paid for? If he gets angry because you protect yourself, then you know it was exactly the right thing to do, because he would have stolen your car from you, stolen your money from you. You mention that you are staying with him partially because you are financially supporting him; are you paying for both cars? Not that I recommend taking both of them. Just recognize that regardless of who’s leaving who that you should have the benefits of all those long hours you have put in at the jobs you’ve had. Letting him steal from you is not a reasonable punishment you should just take because your marriage didn’t work out.

    Ahh, this is such a major issue for me. I think liberal women particularly are susceptible to this trick, because the gold-digger straw-woman is so villainized and insulting. But economic security is not some tiny thing, and men have been using it to control women for a long time. Get what you earned. Anyone who dares to judge you for protecting what you earned is telling you that you should have let your husband either steal from you or magnanimously decide to let you have what you earned. Fuck that noise. Get the car in your name first. Open a bank account and put at least some of your money there. THEN have the talk.

    • Stentor said:

      Agreed about the importance of separating assets ASAP. If the divorce conversation goes poorly, you don’t want him to have anything to hold over you. If the divorce conversation goes OK and you are trying to separate amicably, you could get lulled into a false sense of security but then find down the road that the situation is breaking down and you’re at each other’s throats about petty things. When you’re no longer financially/materially entangled with each other, then you both have the space to rebuild your lives as just “person,” not “person-divorced-from-X.”

  11. Dorothy said:

    The advice here is so excellent! The only thing I would add is to try to take one step at a time, tackle one thing and then move on to the next thing, because looking at the whole picture can be absolutely overwhelming. You may find that there is love for your husband deep beneath a mountain of frustration, fear, etc., and all of that needs to be talked out, or in the end divorce may be what you’ll want to do. I went through a divorce and yes, it was awful, and there were many days that I didn’t have much energy to do anything and had to force myself and was shaking with fear. But I have never, for one second, regretted divorcing my ex-husband. And when I came out of the tunnel, I felt a deep sense of freedom, peace, and a lightness of being.

    So however your situation works out, I wish you all the best. This burden will drop from your shoulders, and you will experience happiness again, guaranteed!!

  12. FemmeForever said:

    Captain’s advice is excellent but I would add these points:

    I would NOT bring up divorce with your husband AT ALL until you (1) stop waffling (without question he will use your uncertainly against you) and (2) get every last one of your escape plan ducks in a row BEFORE you tell him. Also please don’t make the mistake of thinking that you know how he will react. You don’t. He could get violent for the first time in his life. So plan accordingly. Please be careful and take care of yourself.

    • FemmeForever said:

      *typo* uncertainTy against you

    • Ethyl said:

      Yeah, I agree with this. There’s …. something about the letter that makes me feel uncomfortable and weird. If *my* gut is yelling at me, I wonder if *hir* gut is yelling at hir.

  13. Mary said:

    One thing that stood out a little to me: make sure you trust your doctor, to give you good contraceptive advice and to keep your private stuff private.

    You may, like some young people, especially if you are in a small town, be going to your husband’s doctor or your parents’ doctor, and the doctor might be a personal friend of theirs too. I’m sensitive to this because in my hometown, the doctor I would have is my parents’ GP of 35 years, he delivered my sisters, and while they don’t socialise much he does non-medical business with my father, etc, it’s all just a bit… familiar.

    Now, this isn’t necessarily a red flag: medical ethics require your doctor to keep your contraceptive choices between you and her/him and it would be a very serious breach to let your husband in. But it can happen if the doctor knows you all, even as a mistake (“so now that you and your wife have taken a break on the TTC, we don’t need to worry about … anymore and we can…” “OMG, we’ve taken a break? What? That’s not what she told me!”)

    Again, the vast bulk of doctors are careful and ethical about this stuff and you may decide that your Dr Knows Everyone (if that’s your medical arrangement) is sending all the right signals with regard to your privacy. But if your doctor is already making you ill at ease about their approach to your privacy and your life or apparent priorities (some doctors can be very pro-starting families for example), this is a good time to switch if possible.

    • If this is indeed the case, now would be a great time to find the nearest Planned Parenthood!

  14. I don’t know jack about divorcing, but might I recommend that the OP read the blog archives at lucymarch.com? She blogged for a year-ish about her marriage breaking up, moving to another state and in with a fellow author friend, and eventually getting re-married. She talked about Divorce Crazy a lot. It sounded like hell at the time, but she eventually came through at the end. Maybe that will inspire you?

  15. maggie said:

    Hi LW. Basically, I am you. I got married young, to the first person I had dated. I divorced him after more than 6 years.

    Telling people is not fun. They will be hurt and shocked and will need some time to digest it. But they care about you and will likely understand that you chose the route you needed to go.

    My mother told me I was really brave for doing it — because she never left. My dad told me that it’s not the 1920s anymore and that no one needs to be with someone who doesn’t make them happy. Several people told me they were blindsided, but that they knew if I did it it was because I had carefully considered it and made the choice that was right for me.

    So yes, they were all surprised and sad and upset. But they also respected me, and I even discovered that I have virtues in the eyes of people who are close to me.

    Of course, it’s not going to happen exactly that way for you — but my point is that after a little bit of digesting, most people are going to get over it quickly. It’s sort of like pulling off a bandaid.

    I never felt a moment’s regret for leaving. I’m sorry I hurt him, but it was the best for both of us.

    (Jedi hugs)

    • maggie said:

      [PS: This is just my experience, and if there's conservative religion or a potential for violence or abuse, probably does not apply. Please consider the above only if you aren't worried about repercussions other than just sadness and disappointment. You know the people involved.]

  16. kate said:

    It’s interesting… the advice and comments seem to me to be focused on logistics. And that’s all good stuff. But when I first read the letter, it seemed like the biggest issue on her mind when she wrote it was shame about the myth of her happy marriage — that she had led everyone on to believe everything was wonderful and idyllic, and they’re all going to be so shocked and disappointed that it’s not, and they’re all going to think she’s a great big fraud.

    The thing is, isn’t that what people do? Most of us put forward our best shit-together game face and keep that thing pasted on no matter how things are falling apart behind the scenes, because we are embarrassed about what a mess we are (since we are comparing our messy insides with other people’s shit-together game faces) and want others to think well of us even when we aren’t thinking very kindly of ourselves.

    There are good reasons to not have told everyone. Once upon a time, that myth was true, or at least you sincerely believed it was, so you weren’t lying about things being idyllic. Then when a few things happened that concerned or annoyed you or just didn’t work for you, you probably hoped it was a fluke, or a phase. Or you just plain went into denial, because you LIKED the myth, too, and didn’t want to admit it was not going to be happily ever after for this marriage, after all. You told yourself you needed to revise your expectations, that no marriage is perfect all the time. Maybe what made it feel less wonderful was not even that he did objectively unkind or irritating things, so much as that you grew in different directions, or at different rates. That’s pretty common for young marriages. It’s true of all marriages, in fact, but especially of ones that begin as young as yours, and without you ever having a chance to be your own person and stand on your own feet. So you might tell yourself it’s not that he’s doing anything different, but that you have changed (for example, in how you want to spend your leisure time, who you want to hang out with), so it’s your “fault” (as if that’s what matters). And/or maybe you didn’t want to be one of those people who badmouth their spouses all the time; you felt like you should try and work it out with him, not talk about him behind his back all the time. And/or you’re just basically a private person. Who cares a lot about how people see her. And/or someone who doesn’t ask for help well.

    It would only have been when the things that made you unhappy in the marriage added up to a certain critical mass, and you started feeling like the things that made you unhappy outweighed the ones that made you happy, that you started thinking about ending things rather than believing in fixing things. And even then, when you started thinking that way, the myth of the Perfect Couple would have made you feel like you couldn’t even float that idea around your friends. (Who, however unintentionally, were pressuring you to maintain the myth at the cost of your happiness). Plus there’s just natural sorrow that it didn’t work (you certainly meant it to when you said “I do”), and shame at the failure of the marriage (such a harsh word, but that’s what people say to themselves), and maybe religious guilt (or second hand religious guilt, as in “how will my religious parents react?”). So the gap between what your marriage was, and what your friends and family thought it was, got bigger and bigger. Not because you’re a big fat liar, but because you were protecting your friends and families from finding out that there was no Santa Claus!

    So…. cut yourself some slack! You’re not a big fat liar. You’re someone who tried as long and as hard as she could to be happy in her marriage and to make it work. Who tried to work it out on her own rather than “burdening” her friends and family with her marital difficulties, badmouthing her husband, etc., making other people sad on her behalf, etc.

    People may not even be as shocked as you think — cracks do tend to show, no matter how you’ve tried.

    But even if they are, all you need to say is “I know this seems sudden to you, but I guess I’ve been doing what people do… putting on my happy face because I didn’t want to disappoint everyone, hoping we could work it out. So even though it looks like I’ve given up easily, I assure you it hasn’t been easy at all.”

    Do the things the the advice and the commenters have suggested: Make darned sure about the birth control; get yourself a bank account and some money in it; get yourself allies and figure out what to do if you need to get out. And absolutely, follow your instincts about whether you need backup when you start this conversation with your husband. Especially if he physically or verbally abuses you, seems over-invested in the myth (likely to go into a rage if it’s threatened), seems to like your dependence on him for things like bank accounts, isolates you from friends and family, or has any of the other hallmarks of abuse.

    But unless you have reason for fear, you could start by talking to the man. Honestly. About the things you have come to realize that you want out of life, and that you have come to realize aren’t going to happen in this marriage. For all you know, he’s dissatisfied, too, and will be relieved you want to dissolve things amicably (it happens!), and then you two can present a united, non-embarrassing front to all the myth-believers: “we’ve both realized we got married too young, and that it turns out we want different things out of life, so even though we still care very much about each other and wish each other only happiness, we’re not going to find that happiness together.

    • JenniferP said:

      Thanks a million for this, really well-said and a necessary perspective.

      • Lesley said:

        Also a key thing to remember is the falsehood of failure.

        All divorced people feel as though they have failed the people around them. Parents, friends, siblings, grandma, whomever. This holds true as you start to be happier too — you get your own job, start to spread out and earn new friendships, even meet potential dating partners. And the back of your mind whispers “Look at you, what you are doing. You should be at home with your husband.”

        Do not listen to this voice. This voice is crap. Because all your friends and family actually want – and your future children, too — is a healthy, loving relationship. You fail them only if you fail yourself. So do what is right for you and make your life what you want from it.

  17. Yan said:

    Oh, gods, LW, this is heartbreaking.

    But the advice — official and in comments — is fantastic, and given that some of it is based on experience, probably very effective.

    You are NOT a horrible person, not in any way. Everyone wants to believe the relationship they are in is going to last, is worth it, is worth the time and effort and love and hard work and heartbreak and joy. You want to believe that the good moments are the bulk of the relationship, that they are the truth, that the bad times are just something to get through. But your relationship? The good times ARE true, even now at the bad end of things. The bad times are true, too. Even the dull times are true.

    But this is your life. Don’t be afraid to go and get what you want out of it. No one else can give that to you.

    Be strong. Follow the advice as it suits you. And if it helps, know that a bunch of strangers on the internet are rooting for you and your dreams, and we trust your gut.

  18. Seph said:

    I promise you, LW, everything will be okay. In fact, everything will eventually be great! You haven’t failed at anything, and you are making the right decision for you at this point in your life. Your friends and family want you to be happy. Even if they’re shocked, they’ll soon come around to supporting you.

    You are just where I was 2 years ago, so here’s what helped me the most: having my own bank account (crucial! My ex didn’t want me to leave, and tried every non-violent thing he could think of to prevent me from going).

    If you can, pack an emergency leaving bag – can you rent a locker at the gym to keep it in?

    Your county Bar Association may have a lawyer referral program where for a smallish fee they will set you up with a consultation appointment with a lawyer in your area. This’ll probably be enough to get you started.

    Good luck! I’m rooting for you, and next year you will feel so happy and free, and you will have no more fantasies about your H getting a permanent job out of your hair in Antarctica. (I can’t be the only one, can I?)

  19. three years ago, i went to my husband of then-15 years and said “are you still in love with me” and his answer was “i still love you but i’m not IN love with you any more.” and i cried. and asked for a divorce because we had both been miserable for some time.

    we had kids. (we still have kids, they’re 18 and 29, and we’re waiting for our first grandchild this summer!) it took us some time to get to where we could talk about anything but the remaining chick-in-the-nest. it took us longer than that to get to where he would be able to talk to me about anything deeper than the weather.

    its three years later. we’re back to being good friends again, even though i told him “you’re an asshole and i’m glad i’m not married to you any more!” just last weekend. (we laughed about this. we’re sick people.)

    the long story comes to this: right now, you may not be in love with your husband any longer, but you may still love him, care about his well-being, want happiness for his future even if his future doesnt include you. someday you may be friendly again, maybe you wont.

    but if you stay with him, you’ll never find out what a person you could be without him, and that seems to be what you’re saying now, that you want to see what you could become as a strong independant person…on your own. and you have the right to that.

    see your doctor, get on dependable birth control. from what i hear, the depo shot and the IUD are the least likely to be sabotaged. talk to someone impartial. talk to your husband, then talk to that impartial person again.

    of the people whose happiness matters, YOURS has to come in the top few, too. your name is yours, not yours-and-your-spouse’s. you matter as an individual, not just as half of a pair.

    good fortune to you!

  20. Can't Sign said:

    LW here- thank you so much for all the replies, it’s really helped me out. (Especially Margaritas of Despair, I really needed a laugh). I wrote the Captain because I knew you everyone would think of stuff that I hadn’t even considered. I was worried that part of me was being too practical, that I was doing the wrong thing by waiting to tell him until I was ready to go. I’m glad that pretty much everyone has said “get things ready to go, then tell him, then leave” because I thought that was the wrong way to do it. Thank you so much for all the support and the answers, because this is the scariest thing I’ve ever had to face, and I’m really quite terrified.

    I wound up telling my best friend, who is an amazing human being and my hesitations in telling her were all because my brain is dedicated to derailing me, and not because she wouldn’t be 100% on my team. She is, of course, and always has been. We’re working on a game plan right now, fueled by many fabulous comments.

    We agreed a few days ago to stop trying to get me pregnant for other reasons, so don’t worry, that’s not an issue.

    My biggest fear with telling people is that they’ll try to convince me to work things out, somehow. I feel petulant saying it, but I don’t *want* to work things out. We’ve been together for nearly 10 years and we’re both within spitting distance of 30. These aren’t problems that sprung out of the ground, they’ve been here for years, and nothing we do to work past them is going to change them. I have simply reached my limit, and now we are incompatible.

    I don’t know how he’s going to react. My biggest wish is that he’ll sigh with relief and admit he’s had the same feelings, and that we can go about sorting this shit out without too much animosity. I’m not at all counting on it, but I think it’s possible. My fear that he might get petty more stems from a fear that the world is about to collapse entirely on my head than for any reason on his part.

    I have an immediate game plan, I have an eventual game plan, and I have a backup game plan. This is the first time since I thought the word ‘divorce’ that I actually felt like things might turn out okay, eventually. Thank you guys for that, for your concern, and for caring.

    • commanderlogic said:

      I am SO glad your Best Friend is with you on this, and I hope you take down many margaritas of despair AND delight together!

      You’re amazing, and handling this amazingly; remember that if/when the process gets you down.

      And I give you the margarita of despair:

      http://25.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_l9in94ywFf1qzsizao1_500.png

      • Marie said:

        A million :D for sad margarita.

    • Lyla D. said:

      Oh, LW, I’m so glad you’ve got someone in your corner AND a back-up plan. I feel like giving you a big old Jedi-hug of encouragement (and relief that you have support).

      Good luck in this endeavor. I hope it goes as smoothly as possible for you.

    • Ethyl said:

      Dearest LW, I’m so happy to hear you are feeling a bit better about things. I have a sneaky jerk brain that tries to derail me, too, so I really feel for ya there. See about talking to a therapist, it could be really helpful to you, if you can swing it.

      As for what to tell people who tell you to stay and work it out, it sounds like you’re pretty clear on why you’re not doing that. I’d email yourself a copy of what you wrote above:

      “I don’t *want* to work things out. We’ve been together for nearly 10 years and we’re both within spitting distance of 30. These aren’t problems that sprung out of the ground, they’ve been here for years, and nothing we do to work past them is going to change them. I have simply reached my limit, and now we are incompatible.”

      Good luck!

      • Lesley said:

        Oh, please note what I said above about ignoring the voice that gives you doubt and calls you a failure!! You are not a failure to leave. It is a failure to stay. It is easier to stay that to go. Going takes bravery, courage. I’m so glad you have a three-pronged plan. Good luck!

    • maggie said:

      Yay! As for people who may try to convince you to keep trying…just say “No, this is what’s best for me.” That’s all. Shut it down. Don’t engage with it.

    • Marie said:

      Oh man, I get that it feels wrong to set up your departure before you announce it. It feels like a lie and a betrayal. Emotionally, it feels wrong. But practically, it is 100% right. And even on the emotion side, imagine what it would be like if you announced you were leaving, then started to set the wheels in motion then. He would have to watch you packing boxes, calling apartments, doing paperwork — that is emotionally more terrible than “I am leaving and I have been setting this up in secret for a month, which means all you have to deal with tomorrow is the fact that I am gone.” He won’t have to deal for long with living with somebody who has rejected him in a very painful way. He won’t have to deal with trying to keep his emotions together in front of you or falling completely apart, for days and days. That is the gift you’re giving him by setting this all up in advance, and giving him the ability to grieve in private, without the source of his grief around.

      People who haven’t been through a terrible, no-good, very bad breakup like this don’t really realize that by the time you are saying to people, “I am getting a divorce,” the decision has been made. The comment period has passed. The comment period was when you were coming to people saying, “Badness is happening, I am sad,” but you didn’t have a game plan then, just a sad. That is the time to counsel somebody against divorce, if that’s your thing. Once the word divorce has been breached, divorce is happening, and the only advice you can give somebody is how best to conduct said divorce.

      But people are meddlesome as hell, and you probably will keep getting “oh but have you tried THIS?” the way that when you have a persistent illness or persistent fatness everybody wants to tell you about how melons and meditation solve everything. And your first reaction will be to feel bad for not trying enough, and explain all the details of your life and personal emotions until they agree to understand that you need a divorce. They will not. Because they are not giving *you* advice, they are giving *themselves* advice. Whatever people say to try to convince you to do a thing that has nothing to do with them, you are actually hearing what excuses they have in their own head about why they can’t make X change in their life. I mean, if a year ago a friend had come to you saying they were unhappy in their marriage, you might have said, “Oh, but he’ll be devastated, oh, but you should just squash your feelings,” and you would have been talking about you, not them. For myself, rather than go through this over and over again, I would say this: “Thanks for sharing your advice, I’ll think about it.” None of that is untrue. Thank you for caring enough to share advice. I will think about it. Done thinking, the answer is no.

      My mom has a neat trick she shared with me. When people say things like that — things that obviously do not understand that this is her life and she has to live it — she tells herself, “They are telling me about the weather.” If you called your friend in another state and said, “It is cold and rainy here,” and they said, “That’s funny, it’s super warm here,” you would not have to explain to them that it is cold and rainy where you are and WHY CAN’T THEY UNDERSTAND THAT IT. They are just telling you what the weather is like, where they are, and you are telling them about your weather, and none of it needs to be justified.

      So if you tell somebody you’re getting a divorce, and they tell you that you ABSOLUTELY CAN’T, so awful, Have You Tried Not Getting a Divorce? — they are telling you what the weather is like where they are. It is Never Divorce For Any Reason where they are. In your state, it’s Divorce Because I Must. You do not need to convince them of what the weather is like where you are. The weather is the weather — we can’t change it with logical arguments.

      • RedSonja said:

        Marie, I love you and want to bake you a million baked goods of your choice. Particularly for

        “But people are meddlesome as hell, and you probably will keep getting “oh but have you tried THIS?” the way that when you have a persistent illness or persistent fatness everybody wants to tell you about how melons and meditation solve everything.”

        In my case it’s God and Advocare, but oh dear MAUDE have I been on the receiving end of that spiel.

      • Ethyl said:

        I too dig your fancy brainmeats, Marie. Well said.

  21. transport said:

    LW, this is all wonderful, sensitive advice. The only aspect I haven’t seen addressed is that you might be worried that your husband might never recover from the blow he’s about to receive. Maybe you are confident that he’ll be just fine, but if you’re not, here’s what I’m sure of: He’ll be just fine; and if he’s not, it won’t have been your fault. This is something I wish I’d been convinced of when I was in my version of your situation. I thought that if I left him, no one would ever love him and he would curl up and die. This was not repectful of his ability to inspire love, but I didn’t realize that until later. What I realized almost immediately was that it was flat-out untrue. I told him I was leaving him and he was dating someone else before I’d even moved out. So don’t worry about your husband, LW. He’s in for some heartache and awkwardness, but he’ll be fine, just like you.

  22. tirzahrene said:

    LW, if you read this, I’m writing from your future.

    I married a man at 20 and divorced him last year, six months shy of 30.

    Wanting to leave is enough. The relief of being free of those long-term seemingly small but soul-sucking issues is AMAZING.

    You will love your life, because you will make it awesome, because you CAN. It will be hard work, but all you have to do is just walk it through.

    I did everything I could to make it work, and I’m glad I tried everything, and I’m glad I reached the point where I quit trying, admitted this thing was broken, and finished breaking it.

  23. Oh, Gods, I know far too well what this is like.

    I got together with my high school sweetheart at the age of 14. When I was 18, he asked me to marry him and I said yes. The relationship went on for six years…. which, looking back, was probably about four years longer than it should have. I struggled and struggled and fought losing battles to hold it together over and over and over, even when I knew deep down in my heart that whatever we’d once had, it had died a long time ago. I was so determined to prove to my family, my friends, everyone who said we were too young and would never make it, even to myself, that we could defy the odds and make it last. The break up, when it did finally happen last year, was vicious and hateful and heart-wrenching.

    My point is, when you hang on to the bitter end…. the end does tend to be very bitter.

    People change. I know I did. What I needed at fourteen, and what I needed at twenty, were not the same. Some people who get into relationships very young are lucky and find they can grow together and make things last. But sometimes, what one or both of you need changes so much that being together simply isn’t right any more.

    Follow your heart. And good luck. x

  24. esposito said:

    OMG IM GOING THROUGH THE SAME FEELING – but I’ve only been married four months and we’ve been together for four years. It just does not feel right, my intuition is and has been going off like a police siren for months, and I buckled down and told myself, “It will get better after the wedding. I will change how I feel after the wedding because I will be married.” Let’s not go into the psychologial distress I have put myself through by saying this, but I wanted to get it out there.

    I know that if I make a decision, someone will stand behind me – definitely my friends, most of my extended family, etc. Unfortunately, the two people who I most want to stand behind me currently do not. I got a little courage, and told my parents how I have and currently feel, and both of them immediately blurted out a “NO EXCUSES you’re going to marriage counseling and you WILL work this out! YOU NEED TO! We just paid 45k for a beautiful wedding four months ago YOU UNGRATEFUL DAUGHTER HOW DARE YOU!! If you get a divorce you owe us the HALF that we paid of your wedding and you will pay us that 22k back in installments! Marriage is work!!! You made a commitment, too bad about how you feel!”
    ……….soooo how would you respond. I’m 26 years old. Exactly.

    I just realized I didn’t make the right decision – and unfortunately it took a wedding and living with this man for eight months (four before wedding, and now four after) and not admitting that I had major issues prior to getting married. Well those issues, they came out after, full force again, and multiplied into something worse.

    This whole post and the comments helped me out a lot, but I still am having a hard time not feeling guilty for the way that I feel and for putting up such a huge facade about wanting to get and stay married to him, by going to counseling to please my parents.
    There is no “valid” reason for me wanting a divorce – no cheating, no abuse, no laziness, nothing of concrete substance that people can grasp and hold on to; it just doesn’t feel right and when its not right, its just not right.

    So what I want to say after getting my rant off of my chest :) is YOU’RE NOT ALONE! YAY?! I feel for you and I wish you absolutely nothing but the best going forward. You’ll make the right decision and you will be a happier, more free woman going forward. Lots of love :)

    • Kaesa said:

      …Really? REALLY? Your parents think your happiness is worth less than their money? Urgh. I’m not surprised that those kinds of parents are out there, but that is still bad.

      I’ve never been in a relationship, but I do work for a divorce attorney, and so I see a lot of couples who are getting divorced. It seems like the younger the couple is, the less they drag their feet about admitting something’s wrong, and the earlier in the marriage it is, the less acrimonious (and less expensive) the whole divorce is. Plenty of people don’t have a “valid” reason — their valid reason is that they don’t want to be married to each other.

      (Actually, I met a guy in the courthouse elevator today who was so ecstatic about his divorce that he told us strangers all about it. “TODAY IS A NEW BEGINNING. I mean, she’s a great lady, but we totally never shoulda got married. Everything’s better now.”)

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