He Keeps Threatening Divorce (Freshly Pressed AskDesCamp!)

Dear Robin:

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

Dear Dina:

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:

  • 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 lost all your money in your divorce and the economic collapse and you have no savings.
  • 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: No (rendering your second question re:amount of retainer moot).

First of all, 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 of all, 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 disagree. 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, 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 This Was Coming:

Get your financial shit together, sister.  

You are 50 years old and almost 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.


*This was not product placement. However, I am open to such opportunities.  

If any advertisers would like to see their products worked seamlessly into my blog in exchange for meaningful compensation and/or free gear, please email me. I’d be happy to put down my Nespresso® coffee and speak with you on my iPhone®.

If you’d prefer to meet I’ll don my best Calvin Klein® dress from Nordstrom®, strap on my Jimmy Choo® sandals, hop in my Jeep Grand Cherokee® and pay you a visit.


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This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. TLM

    Wow. I agree with your advice Robin. It sounds like Dina and Mr. No So Wonderful were never really on the same page about the family issues. What I don’t get is how this is still going on after 10 years. One would almost think that half the kids would be out of the house by now. I hope she can work through the issues and get to some acceptance of the way things are, which hopefully will result in fewer fights with Mr. No So Wonderful, and therefore fewer threats. It’s no fun being threatened like that, even if he doesn’t really mean it, it can’t feel very good, and would certainly lead to trust issues. You can’t spend your marriage walking around on egg shells.

    She should definitely get her financial house in order; it will provide a confidence boost, and frankly, a really good way to call Mr. Not So Wonderful’s bluff the next time that happens. If her response is “fine” let’s do it, then either that’s what’s meant to be, or he’ll perhaps never make that threat again.

  2. Sarah S.

    Sorry Robin, I disagree with you on this one. I think he is going to absolutely eventually leave her and she should leave first. Anyone who threatens divorce like this jerk means it – trust me I have experience in this area! If he really doesn’t mean it, he should know she will probably eventually bail on him, because nobody can take this kind of bullshit forever. Again, trust me on this!

    Happily single and free of my jerk,


  3. Keith Stone

    Some great advice all around, Good Job Robin, but scaring her with DICKS could put her over the edge!

  4. Karen

    Whether or not they should do couples counseling is unclear but I think her kids could benefit from some time with a stepfamily expert counselor too. I think it would be hard to grow up in this house.

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