I met my husband at age 37 and had our only child at 40. Now she’s nine and my marriage has disintegrated in many ways. I sought a therapist to help me with an “exit strategy” but after months spent getting familiar with every aspect of my life, the therapist has advised me that leaving my husband will only cause more problems. Financial ones (my husband earns more than I do, keeps his finances separate from mine, and has a family trust to protect all of his assets), and emotional ones (the therapist says that if I leave, we will share custody, and my husband will be free to expose our child to damage in the form of other people, junk food, late nights with lots of screen time, and sarcastic comments to our child which I currently kind of mediate when I can).
I never thought when we got married and started a family that I would be in this position. Living on solely my income would be tough. Yet the main financial advantage our marriage gives me is a house to live in rent-free. I am on my own, budget-wise, for any purchases I need and nearly everything our child needs. There is no physical abuse, but there have been periods of emotional abuse and for sure my husband’s refusal to have shared, cooperative accounts and spending decisions qualifies as financial abuse. What is a sane and sensible way to work out whether I am better off resigning myself to staying in this family unit vs. seeing if I can scrape by on my own? I feel that if I were 15 years younger I might leave in hope of finding a more loving partner, but being on the cusp of 50 kind of makes me feel like my chances are winding down.
My husband currently pays for health insurance on me and our child, but expresses resentment that he has to do that because, when he said he wasn’t going to keep us on his plan, I pointed out that he would probably be court-ordered to cover us if we got divorced. He badgered me so badly about “wasting money” on life insurance that I gave in and canceled our policies, so we have no life insurance at all. I feel very aggrieved about that, and sometimes very anxious. He has retirement savings and keeps them separate where they will not be available to me even if he should pass away. I have spent mine over our years together, covering expenses that he refused to for our household and child. I might not be the brightest bulb due to my inability to put up firm boundaries and take care of myself selfishly as he is himself. But I can’t BE like that.
Trapped In Love
Dear Trapped In Love,
And because you can’t be like that, the question begging to be answered is how can you be with that?
When we place our heart in hands that aren’t meant to carry us, we feel this sensation—this anticipation—of those hands dropping out from us.
We do not feel protected, looked after, or even desired—never mind loved.
Your therapist is afraid for you. But fear will not protect you. Fear will spare you nothing and save you from even less.
Your therapist is afraid for you and you are writing me because, in the smallest corner of your heart, you do not believe she needs to be afraid for you.
This is the most extraordinary insight I have into all you are made of. This is why you are more young than you know. Because you still have it in you to believe that beyond fear there is an alternative, an alternative that takes guts and questioning, that doesn’t always have the backing of everyone in the room, (not even the licensed advisors), but it’s an alternative that ultimately draws forth your wildest, wisest nature and rewards you for living through it, for honoring yourself, for believing that beneath all the fear is an excitement struggling to escape.
What is it about escaping, about exiting this marriage, that could excite you?
Because you can do it. You can escape. You can divorce him. You can give yourself a chance—a second, heck, a fifth chance—at a more freeing, inclusive, more earnest life, should you want it.
Why would you want it? I want you to answer that.
What do you think is still alive within you that you could carry out of your marriage and unleash on your future days? What is it right now that’s being held down inside you? What is being crushed, rejected, or starved? What is the first thing that comes to mind?
Your therapist has told you that to protect your daughter, you must stay with your husband. You must shield her from her father’s influence—the potential for junk food, television, sarcasm. She’s essentially told you that she doesn’t recommend being a wife, a mother, or a role model as much as she recommends you be a mediator. She doesn’t want to see you comfortable, liberated, and in love, she wants to see you scrape your knees, huff and puff, call time-out, and play referee. Is your therapist out of her mind? Is she listening to herself? Is she listening to you?
You and I both know there’s something off here. You and I both know that there is more than just junk food at play. We know there are other ways to damage a young girl, and that those ways have nothing to do with television. They have to do with reality, with what’s happening inside a home, inside a mother’s heart.
A child doesn’t weep because a man uses sarcasm to dominate the room. She weeps because he does not show her mother love. Because he snatches her mother, this vibrant creator, and locks her in a world that she did not know was on the map, that she did not know could become her life.
A child is damaged not by the junk she eats and the television she consumes but by everything she is never fed.
By a love she has never seen, by what she has seen instead.
Like, her mother imprisoned by the chances she did not take, by the woman she chose not to become.
And yes, it is a choice.
Do you want your rent taken care of or would you like your life back?
Maybe without the rent there would be a fire in you, a passion, a self-reliance that comes roaring into the life of you and your daughter’s. You can’t say it won’t happen because as of yet you’ve never put everything into seeing that it will.
Don’t doubt what you can create for yourself. Don’t doubt that the struggle to be fiercely independent won’t be good for you, that it won’t make you proud and happy, that it won’t make you more appealing and attractive to anyone, to everyone, you welcome into your life.
That’s what this letter comes down to. It comes down to you choosing to either create your life or accept your life.
And the reality is either can be done.
The beauty is that choice is yours. You get to choose what is more important to you. Is it a roof or is it freedom from emotional anguish and financial abuse? The roof might be easier to make out than this other dream of independence and perhaps new love but the roof you’re under now might also be harder to live under.
If you don’t like what you see taking place in your life, what keeps you from believing that the alternative can’t be better? My thinking is, maybe what you can’t see can promise you more than what you already can.
PS: Don’t worry about your age. The differencing factor between the young and old is more than anything their spirit, is the sense that the young believe. If you want to feel young, believe in you. You’ve got this. Don’t be afraid of making a strong move, if anything, fear making the wrong move. The strong move, by the way, will never be wrong.
Previously Published on Huffington Post
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