Tuesday, June 27, 2006

It's in the air

Divorce. Several people I know are headed toward divorce or talking about divorce.

The landlady picked up her divorce papers yesterday. They have been filed and now she and her husband, who lives in New Mexico, wait the requisite 90 days before they are officially free to do what they have been doing for the past 11 years -- see and become involved with other people. The landlady is the one who initiated the divorce action and her husband has decided not to tell his girlfriend he is getting a divorce. He wants that safety net when his girlfriend gets the idea their relationship is permanent. It is not as if the landlady or her husband haven't lived their own lives for the past decade but she felt like the screen door was hanging open letting in all the flies and gnats and she wants it closed.

Another friend celebrated his seventh year of being divorced by getting drunk and crashing on a friend's floor all night. He's happy and comfortable in his life and getting drunk annually is his way of marking the time, especially since he doesn't get drunk but once a year.

And then there's another friend who wants a divorce and has wanted one for years now. She's even mentioned it to her spouse, gone to counseling and checked all the financial arrangements but just can't take the step to end things. I don't know what's holding her back, except fear. Her husband and his family are all the family she has, that and her daughter. The rest of her family is either alienated and dead. I understand some of her fear. I gave up my dream because my family threatened to disown me and I hesitated for two years before telling my husband I wanted a divorce. She doesn't realize the power she holds and lets her husband emotionally bully her.

She has a very good job and manages their money so well they are in a good financial position. They own three properties and their cars are paid off. She has her retirement from the military, rent from two properties and a lucrative position in a tech company. Her husband finally gave in and got a part time job that doesn't pay much despite having three degrees. He decided to stay home with their daughter, even though she's in school all day and can fend for herself, instead of getting a real job or diving back into his career or even teaching full time. He has the credentials, but he has become very used to being taken care of. She just does not realize her power or how much she stands to gain if she decides to get a job.

If she stayed in the marriage she could continue living her life as she chooses, just like the landlady, because her husband is not going to give up his meal ticket; he would have to go back to work. All she has to do is put her foot down and walk out of that house, stay away a night or two, and then come back and lay down the law. Things would change. Her husband's alternative is allowing her live her own life until their daughter is grown and on her own or getting a job and paying the bills on his own. He's gotten very used to being taken care of; he isn't going to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs. She could parlay that power into forcing changes that need to be made and in being happy for the first time in decades. No more recriminations. No more lies. No more depressions or living in fear of the next emotional onslaught that sends her spinning into the darkness. But she doesn't realize the power she holds nor does she know how to exercise it.

I've found that people with a lot to lose will make any bargain to maintain the style of living to which they've become accustomed. The trick is in recognizing in whose hands the power lies and taking advantage of that fact.

If you decide to stay together for the children (although it's never good for the kids, teaching them that love and respect can be bought) at least make it worth your while. Live life on your own terms. Despite the romance we attach to marriage and all the mystique and religion with which we wrap it, marriage is a contract and contracts can be renegotiated when they no longer work. The landlady and her husband negotiated a separation of their personal belongings and set up separate households, keeping some assets together because of the financial benefits, but then it became more and more complicated to file taxes every year because they jointly held their assets. Divorce began to look better and better until the landlady realized she had more to gain without her husband in tow. She even gave him her favorite leather lounging chair and ottoman because it took up so much room in the living room and she likes things more open. And they remain friends.

In my view, nothing is worth the emotional destruction or the detrimental effects on one's health (my friend has high blood pressure and drifts in and out of depression) inherent in staying in a marriage that doesn't work. She and her husband sleep in separate rooms and both of them have had affairs over the years. They are not even friends and barely converse from one day to the next unless it involves their daughter or money. There is not a single pleasant emotion between them. She resents her husband and he continues to punish her for the affair she admitted to decades ago. She doesn't realize, nor can I tell her without revealing my sources, that he has had several affairs during their marriage. Instead, she feels guilty for needing companionship and love and being close to someone who respects her and acknowledges her needs and her existence, even though night after night she goes home to spend most of her time alone or wrapped in television or working around the house or immersed in her hobbies and silence to remain in a loveless and unhappy marriage out of a sense of duty and responsibility.

It's hard to see people I respect and care about unwilling or unable to get out of a bad situation but, like with my own children, it's not my life to live. I can only offer support and understanding, hold out my hand and hope they take it.

Don't get me wrong. Even though I have been married and divorced twice, it wasn't easy for me to throw in the towel, especially the first time, but I have lived and learned and I know what living death marriage can be. I simply choose life. It's selfish but so is survival.

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