I’m Stuck In A Miserable Marriage And I’m Afraid To Leave

wife thinking about divorce because of a high gap in salary with husband

What advice would you have for an unhappily married woman who is separated but still has to reside in the home with her husband for financial reasons? I have two children in college, housing is more than I can afford and don’t make enough to support myself and my kids. I’ve been married for 25 yrs., most of my life. Separation would mean taking kids out of college, no insurance and, well…many other things. I’m 47, other women have told me that my time to find a suitable mate will be harder if I don’t do something now because “more desirable, high quality” men prefer youth. The problem is my “married on paper” is a roadblock. my marriage is absolutely over but we’re still tied to each other because of finances, children, like many other couples. I’d really love your input.
– Stuck and Miserable

I’m really sorry to hear about your situation, S&M. I know it’s small consolation but you are far from the only one who is in this predicament. I know someone who told her husband she was leaving him and then got locked down by coronavirus. Awkward! I have a client who called me from her car bawling that she was stuck and paralyzed and wanted me to fix her miserable 23-year marriage (I don’t fix broken marriage; I get people out of them). Another woman told me she had been dumped 14 times by her man but was back with him for a 15th go-round and hoping for different results. Let’s just say that if I was a betting man, I’d put the whole ranch on divorce lawyer stock in 2021-22. 

As far as YOUR situation goes, my friend, while there are no painless solutions, there are some easy conclusions you can draw from your situation. 

  1. You’re separated. That means that both you and your husband have expressed the intent to consider divorce even though you are highly dependent on him financially. That tells me that things were making you so unhappy that ANYTHING would be better than continuing to stay in this relationship. Please don’t lose sight of that; your feelings are your North Star.
  1. If you have two kids in college, I would surmise that your husband also wants them to succeed, so their futures should not be on the table or at risk in this discussion. Of course, I could be wrong; I guess I don’t see how the end of your marriage would mean the kids have to leave college. I admit that I’m lacking your financial information and the mindset of your husband.
  1. If you’ve been married for 25 years, I would assume that there are divorce laws protecting you. Have a conversation with a lawyer (or a mediator to keep it even less expensive/less contentious) and find out what your options are. I have a friend who got divorced last year and they settled without lawyers for a more-than-fair monthly stipend to support her in addition to her working income. 
  1. Your friends suck and you shouldn’t turn to them for advice. Being 47 isn’t the reason to act now; being UNHAPPY is the reason to act now. Do you want to be in this position in one year, five years, ten years, or the rest of your life? How long are you going to let your (very rational) economic fears dictate the rest of your life and prevent you from freedom and lasting love with someone else?

Listen, I’m in no position to minimize the scope of what it means to be on your own for the first time in your adult life at age 47. 

But from where I sit, you have two forks in the road: 

One is to stay on the current path of misery and the other is to attempt to find a peaceful and moderate settlement that allows your kids to go to school and for you not to starve.

Fear is always the problem and never the solution.

It’s obvious what I think. Fear is always the problem and never the solution.

Yet it’s up to you: how much is your happiness worth? Is happiness being a prisoner in your home? Or is happiness having the freedom to reinvent your life from scratch?

I wish you luck with whatever you choose.

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  1. 1

    Agree with Evan here; your situation is painful but also a wonderful first step to a new life; one that ifs full of possibility if you let it be that way and retrain your mindset and what you believe to be true. Being stuck in a marriage that is no longer working is hell as is staying in the same home, feeling helpless or like you don’t have any other choice. This is not true, you are not helpless and you are not “past your prime.” I started my own company at 49 and because I worked on all my crap (because I had to in order to get my company off the ground and profitable), I am much sexier, more confident and attract more men now than I ever did before. Despite a few wrinkles and sags here and there. Doesn’t matter. Your husband seems like a decent guy and probably wants what is best for your kids also, so let him support their college and other costs as he makes most of the money. Get a good lawyer to figure out what is fair. But take action, even a small action, then do that every day to get yourself on your feet and out of there. It will make you feel better. I know this is scary, but what is scarier is being 85 and looking back at your life and wishing you did things differently, got out sooner, started a better life for yourself. Start now so that 85 year old version of you is happy with the life she created. 🙂

  2. 2

    This sounds almost identical where I was 9 years ago. Married for 23 years, one child in college, ex hubby pulled the rug out from under me asking for a divorce. Heartbroken (I didn’t want the divorce) and worried about finances, including college. We had a very strange in house separation. I was in physical therapy on his insurance and a legal divorce would mean my 3X a week physical therapy would increase greatly, as would my premium, deducibles etc. I was in my mid fifties.

    My search for another suitable mate wasn’t exactly my primary concern. Mostly, where will I live, how long will I need physical therapy, my son’s college, how will I make ends meet. Somehow through getting a second job and a room mate, I muddled through financially.

    I too thought I was too old to find a suitable mate, but decided to give it a go anyway. At first my boring profile (and the fact that I was separated, not legally divorced when I first went to online dating) didn’t attract many good prospects. Eventually my divorce became final, and I re-vamped my boring profile according to EMK’s book about online dating.

    One year, almost to the day, after my divorce became final, I met a wonderful man and we are now married. I walked down the aisle again at age 61. It’s never too late !

  3. 3
    Erika Gloss

    Oh I can feel it, I know what you mean

  4. 4

    I agree with the ladies’ responses. I was dumped at 48 and fought with all my might to keep the marriage. We divorced a year later and he married the 16 year younger woman (they are now divorced). I’ve spent 10 years traveling the world, building great friendships and creating the life I want. It took a LONG time, but my high quality man was not interested in the twenty year younger version and we’ve been together almost 16 months. You have no idea the life that is waiting for you. “Leap and the net will appear.”

  5. 5

    Spot on Evan. This is not a dress rehearsal; it’s your only life. Don’t waste it in a miserable situation. A few years ago, I had a very high paying job, a huge house, but was miserable in job and in the town. Leaving both for an early retirement meant living very simply and likely makes me even more undesirable wife material. However, I’m the least stressed and depressed I’ve been in years. You have to take the risk. The kids can stay in college; they need to get part time jobs and apply for scholarships. As a Professor, I can attest that many scholarships go unawares because students don’t wish to take the time to apply, get recommendations, and carefully write the oft required essay.

  6. 6

    I can’t believe that no one asked what the husband did that made the marriage so miserable.

    Eat Pray Love has given many people the feeling the “Grass is always greener…”

    1. 6.1
      Emily, to

      But doesn’t the book end with her landing a hot Brazilian guy? I didn’t read it but I have a vague memory of the movie.

  7. 7

    Dear Madam, bonjour
    We have a say in French “better be an ugly bird and free than being a pretty bird in a cage”.
    Unless you have time to waste, why staying if you are not happy? I am giving you a Frenchman’s perspective. Instead of moving to the next chapter of your marriage, change the book madam!
    Guy Blaise
    Author of ViVe la Difference: A Frenchman’s Perspective On American Women, love, respect and relationships. bit.ly/Frenchviews

  8. 8
    Yet Another Guy

    I was in the LW’s shoes not too long ago. I was so worried about my children living a reduced standard of living that I signed a lopsided settlement agreement. However, the lopsided part of it was only until they reached age 18. I also did not have to worry about college because I work in higher education. My employer covers tuition and my ex-wife and I split the other costs. The inability to see the other side is what keeps a lot of couples locked in unhappy marriages, especially when one has been married for close to twenty years or more.

    As far as to men wanting a much younger model, well, it is true that most men prefer to be the older partner (a lot of women prefer the man to be the older partner). However, only delusional and foolish men believe that a relationship with a much younger woman has any staying power. Now, older men may want to play around with much younger women. However, when it comes time to settle down, most older men with functioning grey matter want a women within ten years or their age, preferably within five years. No sane man wants to be wanted for his money and that is usually the way things are with much younger women.

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