In December I received an update from someone who wrote to me the previous July. Here is what it said:
“Well, it happened again. Last night he told me I don’t make him happy but he couldn’t give me any specifics on what I can do to make him happy. He apologized very nicely this morning and explained he’s under a lot of stress but so am I. Does this change your earlier advice?”
The latest update I received last week shouldn’t surprise anyone: her husband finally left her.
To refresh your recollection, below is the original blog:
I consider myself happily married (second for us both) with the exception of occasional complications of our “blended family.” My husband and I have very different perspectives on how those issues should be handled and whenever they come up there is stress in the marriage.
That’s no big deal because I know there’s no such thing as a perfect marriage. My problem is several times when we discuss or argue over this matter my husband has threatened me with divorce.
Not threatened, actually, he’s just said, “I’m done” and told me he isn’t happy and wants to split up. Then he later apologizes and says he didn’t mean it.
This is not just emotionally devastating. I am in a financially bad spot right now so these threats are also terrifying for me because I panic and think me and my two kids will end up homeless if he suddenly quits the marriage.
I told him a few months ago how hard it is for me when he does this and he promised he never would again. Then he did it again. Since then I don’t trust him and I’m feeling really lost in my marriage.
Should I put a lawyer on retainer just in case? If so, what is a reasonable amount?
Dina in Medina
I appreciate your letter and our chat. Yours is not a situation I think any of us would envy.
Marriage is not always easy, but those integrating new families can be especially tough. Regardless of the ages of the kids, smooshing people together into a new “family unit” is often fraught with awkwardness, resistance, and futility.
Blended family problems are common, and help explain the obscene divorce rates for second marriages (67%) and third (73%).
But enough of those depressing stats, let’s look at your depressing stats!
Dina’s Bullet Points of Despair
- You want everyone to be a big happy family, but nobody else is cooperating.
- Your husband has never appreciated your role in trying to make this fantasy come true.
- You are either too optimistic or naive to realize that it’s never going to happen given the motivation levels of your husband and his kids.
- Your children have been ignored by your husband and his kids for years.
- Your husband has made this threat several times in the ten years you’ve been married.
- You have extremely different personalities and while you embrace your differences, he has grown to despise them.
- You lost all your money in your divorce and the economic collapse and you have no savings, no retirement, nothing.
- Your career is floundering and you are thinking of going to law school. Are you fucking kidding me? Don’t do it.
Advice for Dina from Medina
Should you put a lawyer on retainer? Before I answer that, please see my disclaimer here: I Ain’t Yer Lawyer and this Ain’t Legal Advice!
My answer is simple:
Therefore, your second question on retainer amount is moot.
First, I don’t think you need a lawyer even if your husband follows through on one of his threats and files for divorce. You kept all finances separate, have a prenup, have no joint kids, assets or even pets, and the lease of the home you’re renting is in your name.
A drunken monkey could handle this dissolution so I’m sure you and Mr. Wonderful could figure it out on your own without adding DICKs (Divorce Industrial Complex Kingpins) to the mix who will churn your file and make you even more financially screwed than you are now.
Second, if you don’t want to get divorced but you retain an attorney “just in case,” you’re putting yourself in a mental position to believe this is actually an outcome you find acceptable, which I know you don’t. You don’t need a lawyer; you need a professional of another sort.
Therapy: Party of One?
While average-to-middling advice columnists would suggest couples counseling, I’m not so sure. Everything you told me about the ten years of your marriage indicates these are not your husband’s problems.
They are yours.
Let me put it to you this way:
Dragging Mr. Wonderful to couples counseling after ten years of the same argument would be about as helpful as Mrs. Leopard doing the same because she doesn’t like Mr. Leopard’s spot configuration.
He knows how threats of divorce affect you. He knows how the blended family problems trouble you. But after ten years if you can’t explain it to him and change his way of thinking, or he yours, I’m doubtful a marriage counselor can.
Instead, I suggest you find someone to talk to who can help you understand the complexities of stepfamilies, adjusting your expectations, and how to deal with your hyperbolic husband.
As to those threats of divorce, he has always apologized immediately and sworn he didn’t mean it. I would wager he is just not good at “using his words” and these occasional eruptions do not accurately reflect his desire to end your relationship. As you said, most of your marriage is pretty damn great.
Then again, that’s a real dick move.
Given your emotional investment and financial fragility I’d say his propensity to play the “Big D” card is cruel at best and emotionally abusive at worst. A therapist can help you identify why you keep tolerating this shit as well as what to do when it happens again.
Note I said “when.” Not “if.” I hope this doesn’t happen again but history tells us it will. At some point you may have to believe him when he tells you he wants a divorce, or you may just start to want one yourself.
Disgorge the Dream and Embrace the Reality
On the blended family question, your steadfast banging of your head against this wall of resistance has gone from sort of cute to obnoxious to just plain weird.
You’re embarrassing yourself.
You can’t cast a play with ten characters if only three want to take the stage and yet you keep trying over and over and over again. In the meantime, you are missing out on the wonderful three roles you and your kids have in your own production.
Get yourself a 10% divorce, Dina. Work on your marriage and drop all efforts on the perfect blended family. While it would be wonderful if you had that, you don’t. It’s time to accept what you do have, embrace it, and move on.
You Knew I’d Say This:
Get your financial shit together, sister.
You are 50 years old and completely dependent upon your husband. I understand how you got there.
You and millions of others suffered the same fate when the economy took a giant dump in our Cheerios* starting in 2008. But you can’t remain where you are, especially given the particulars of your situation.
Do whatever is needed to shore up your financial health and ensure if Mr. Wonderful follows through on his threats you won’t be left high and dry.
DECEMBER 2015 UPDATE
See up there where I said it would happen again?
I am REALLY good at my job.
Dina told me a few more things too. A major financial opportunity she’d been working on for months recently suffered a setback and despite the massive amount of energy and effort she poured into it. She got little sympathy from her husband and he recently berated her for having lunch with a friend by saying,
“I wish I could go to lunch and drink wine and have fun but I have to work my ass off to support us.”
Dina was attending therapy for a while but she quit because she could no longer afford it and she was too ashamed to pay for it with her husband’s money.
New Advice for Dina
I have none.
When your spouse tells you “you don’t make me happy” what they are really saying is, “you make me unhappy.” Those are some very powerful words.
Reflecting upon those words this morning, I’m struck by your husband’s expectation that you should make him happy. While I’d agree living within an unworkable marriage can cause unhappiness, I don’t think even the most perfect spouse can create happiness within another person.
You may very well be married to someone who isn’t happy with you but who is also unhappy with himself. Perhaps he wouldn’t be happy with anyone, because he seems to misunderstand a partner’s role. Good spouses serve in but one position of many, the amalgamation of which brings a man or woman to “happiness.”
- Spirituality, if that’s your thang.
Expecting any one person to make you happy, unless that one person is yourself, shows an abdication of personal responsibility for your own mental state. I hate to make assumptions about your husband, but he sounds like someone who has always gotten his way while making very little emotional investment in others, despite his generous financial investment in them.
Yes, he is a very hard worker who has supported you and your kids and I know you feel a deep sense of gratitude about that, but you also feel shame and fear and you hate yourself every day for not making money as you used to. You reiterated your dream to go to law school yesterday but you must put your dream on hold until you can support yourself.
The resentment and anger that keeps bubbling to the surface of your marriage is deeply concerning to me. These emotional eruptions give way to hot lava flowing everywhere, but you know what happens to hot lava after a while, right?
It turns to cold, hard, impenetrable stone upon which little to nothing can grow.
Get your affairs in order as soon as you can and please follow up with me.
JUNE 2016 UPDATE:
She didn’t follow my advice and now she is now up shit creek, but paddling hard. Let’s all pull for her because she will need as much emotional support as possible, even from strangers.
*The Cheerios® reference was not product placement. However, I am open to such opportunities.
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