Posted by fxckfeelings on October 15, 2012Share This Post
Many people think you shouldn’t leave a marriage until your feelings tell you you absolutely can’t stand it anymore. Given the fact, however, that marriage either impacts kids, your ability to have kids, or both, there are good reasons for leaving a marriage that have nothing to do with hurt feelings, failed love, and/or whatever your internal emotional barometer indicates. If you went into marriage thinking more in terms of partnership and less in terms of passion, you wouldn’t have to worry as much about how much you stand because you’d know what you should and shouldn’t stand, which means you’d know for certain if it’s really time to go.
I’m determined to leave my marriage because my husband has gone psycho on me twice, literally—he had to be hospitalized, and when the doctors told us he’s paranoid and has mood swings, he didn’t believe them. He doesn’t remember his violent outbursts, won’t get help, and thinks everything is my fault. So I’m about to have divorce papers served on him, and since that’s the last thing he wants (and he doesn’t even really understand what he’s done wrong), I feel bad about hurting him and creepy about not telling him in advance that this is going to happen. I can just hear him telling me that he loves me and we need to learn to communicate. At least I should explain to him that I can’t go on like this, living with someone who can get violent and crazy. My goal is to not hurt him unnecessarily or get his craziness stirred up.
Given the divorce rate, it would probably be a good idea to let marriage vows include some opt-out clauses, i.e., after “‘til death do us part,” insert “or ‘til one of us joins a cult, becomes a vegan, or goes totally psychotic” (“literally”).
Since your vows of eternal love were made at a time of boundless optimism (and no vow qualifications), now is the first time you’re forced to reconcile your moral and ethical priorities with the harsh unfairness of real life.
Given your husband’s issues, you have to ask yourself how much good you do by staying with someone who has lost the ability to benefit from your presence, and vice versa. Sure, you do benefit your husband as a financial provider or an anchor to whom he is greatly attached but cannot really recognize, but if you wanted a relationship like that, you wouldn’t have committed to a marriage, but to a cat.
Then ask yourself how much harm you cause yourself and possibly your children by staying with someone whom you inadvertently but repeatedly trigger to rage. Once you do a rational assessment of the good versus harm of sticking with a behaviorally disturbed partner, absolute loyalty may seem like throwing yourself on your husband’s funeral pyre: it’s noble, but a divorce would leave you less crispy.
From your account, I assume you’re leaving your husband, not just out of anger or helplessness, but because you think you’re at risk of being hurt and see your presence as a stimulus to his rages. You have good reason, at this point, to feel you can’t help him because, after doing everything to get him treatment, you’ve discovered that he won’t listen to a bunch of doctors any more than he listens to you. Sad, but it proves you can’t help him by staying and thus reduces your moral obligation.
If, after doing your moral homework, you decide to leave, it will be because it’s right and not because you’re angry. That means you have the right not to explain yourself, which is good because, if you try, you’ll stir up trouble, and the last thing you or your husband need is another argument. Assuming then that you believe leaving is right and necessary, lock up your guilt and prepare your divorce announcement. After consulting a lawyer, come up with a separation plan that you believe is fair and workable. Then you’re ready to open your mouth.
Begin by recalling what’s been positive about your marriage and your regard for your husband. Describe the cause for your decision as behavior that you happen to find difficult and frightening while making it clear no one’s to blame and recognizing that he sees things differently. Stress your reluctance to leave, but since this difference of opinion is unlikely to change, tell him you believe it’s necessary for you to go, and then do just that.
As long as you don’t feel defensive about your reasons for going, you won’t push him to own or acknowledge bad behavior, which means there’s no need for further discussion. You don’t have to wait for him to agree that the conversation is over before you leave the room, or that the marriage is over before you serve him papers.
Yes, you vowed to say married through sickness and health, but if your union threatens your own health (and does nothing to help his), you have good reason for voiding your vows.
“If only I could get my husband to see what he’s doing, I wouldn’t be so afraid of him and we could keep our marriage together. I know, however, that trying to make him acknowledge his paranoia and violence will only make things worse, and that I have a right to figure out what needs to be done now that illness has changed the potential value and meaning of our marriage.
I’ve been feeling lonely since I separated from my wife, particularly because we’ve lately been very friendly. We split up after 5 years, no kids, because she’s got a sales job she loves that keeps her away all weekend, so we never spent much time together, and at least once I caught her having an affair. I’ve let her know how angry I was, but now that I’m not angry any more, I enjoy talking with her. My goal is to figure out whether we should stay together, have kids, and have a real marriage.
Returning to the topic of opt-out clauses in marriage vows, think about the behaviors that you consider essential to a marriage and that might turn up missing after the honeymoon is over and the actual marriage begins. Just because you love your wife and enjoy her company doesn’t mean you should stop asking yourself whether she’s got what it takes to be a good partner and mother.
Yes, there is probably a part of you that sees marriage as an expression of loving feelings, so anything that restores those feelings appears to lead in a good direction. If, however, you also believe that marriage is a commitment to building and preserving a family, based on agreed-upon standards of behavior, then you’re asking for trouble if you let love and loneliness bind you to a girl whose behavior is unlikely to meet those standards, regardless of how much she loves you. Don’t stay or leave because of the way you feel about her, but because of what you observe about her behavior that will or won’t allow you to stay together.
Of course, breaking up a family isn’t just a matter of pain for you and your wife; once you have children, a divorce decision damages their welfare and reduces financial security for everyone. Weighed against the moral and financial consequences of divorce, the fact that you currently enjoy your wife’s company and find her attractive is not as important as raising kids in a home that isn’t at high risk of being broken.
So don’t let possible loneliness drive your decision. If you decide that you need someone with more availability and fidelity than your wife has to offer, then you need to move on. You have a limited amount of time to find someone who can satisfy your partnership needs, and you can’t afford to waste it talking to someone who’s fun, but can’t qualify.
Once you’ve made a decision based on your experience and put being real over being emotional, you’re ready to make an announcement rather than have a discussion and follow the same respectful, blameless procedure that’s described above. Respect your own values, no matter how much you value what you shared.
“It’s hard not to call my ex-husband when I’m lonely, knowing he’s a warm friend, but I know he can’t be the husband I need and that our contact prevents me from letting anyone else into my life. I need to stop calling him and instead use what this marriage taught me about partnership to find someone with the necessary qualifications.”
More advice from Dr. Lastname