To Stay or to Leave? How to Decide
One of the most painful and difficult questions you may confront is whether to stay in your marriage or leave it and end it.
Bob sent me an email about his facing this issue with his wife. He wrote:
I am a child of divorced parents and know how difficult it is especially during family events and holidays. I hate seeing my kids having to deal with those same emotions. However, nearly two years ago I left the home (14 months) after she (his wife) used my 18 y/o’s bank account without his knowledge. She told him she closed it for him (after he lost his wallet). She proceeded to write out nearly 30 bad checks totaling over $1,400 in bank fees…. I also found out that she took my sons car title (which was in both our names), forged my name as a seller and sold it to herself to get a new title in her own name only as collateral for a $4,500 loan. I knew she did this type stuff over the last twenty years, but never would have thought she would target my kids. Stupid me, I should have known because I have so many safeguards I pay for to monitor my credit, P.O. Box, Phones, off-site personal filing cabinets, safes, etc. I filed for divorce, went through the whole process until nearly the end when I found out I would be left with less than 1/3 of my income. Not enough to even rent in this area. Plus I cannot leave my job which I have been at for 25 years. So I stopped the divorce and went back (for all the wrong reasons money, kids, house, dog and maybe her somewhere). The problem is my trust in her is so bad. Within one year of being back, she has lied about her whereabouts on two occasions, she applied for two credit cards and a loan (which she denies).
Bob wrote in an earlier email describing other of his wife’s financial infidelities (cheating with money) as follows:
She pawned her engagement ring, wedding ring, and the guard ring. She told Bob they fell down the sink, or one of the kids took it when a ring disappeared.
She skimmed money from checks dedicated for food shopping.
She kited checks between their bank accounts.
She stole Bob’s identity and forged his name on loan and credit card applications.
She forged his name as the seller on the car title to obtain a new title in her name alone for loan collateral.
She hid and discarded bank statements and billing statements.
She unplugged the phone so Bob wouldn’t receive calls from collection agents when he was at home.
She embarrassed him with the bank president, who was a good friend of his, by reporting that he had kited checks that got him kicked out of the bank.
After Bob returned for a year and her behavior didn’t change he moved out and is now living again at his mother’s. He is asking himself whether to stay or to leave and start a new life being close to 50 years old. He is deeply conflicted whether to divorce or not.
He has been married twenty years and questions whether to start a new life.
This is a big decision. For twenty painful years Bob has managed to stay married.
Clearly there are factors that keep him in his marriage. One is that his parents divorced and he knows that pain from his own childhood and does not want to do that to his kids.
Bob has asked my advice. It is tempting to tell Bob he should leave given how his wife has treated him and one of their children. No one, however, can make this decision for Bob. It is a very important decision and he needs to make it for himself. There is a risk of treating Bob as though he cannot take care of himself and reinforcing that mindset by telling him what to do.
I wrote Bob that a major risk for him is to see himself as a victim. He could easily blame his wife, based on her behavior, instead of taking complete responsibility for having stayed in his marriage for twenty years. Getting into the blame game will not help Bob. He may get sympathy from others for being a victim, but he will lose self-esteem for believing he is powerless and helpless. He has choices. One choice is to see himself as having power rather than being a victim. He has the power to decide to stay or to leave. He has the power to decide what he wants to do regarding his wife, his four children, his dog, his house, and his money.
No one else can make this decision for Bob, nor should they try to. Having someone else tell him what to do will keep Bob feeling powerless and reinforce his feeling like a victim.
Bob must make the decision for himself. Whatever he decides, he will feel the power of having made a choice. Bob will discover that the power of choice can change him from being his own worst enemy into his own best friend! He will feel better about himself for having taken the responsibility for his decision.
What has helped many people in a predicament like Bob’s is to try out each of his choices one day at a time. One day he imagines himself divorced and pictures what that would be like with his wife, his children, his mother, his job, and all the aspects of his life. The next day he imagines himself remaining in the marriage and pictures what that would be like. He continues to alternate between his choices with each new day until he becomes clear.
Bob needs to understand it is ok to take his time to make this very important decision with all the consequences either choice will have for him. There is no good reason for him to act before he is clear. When Bob is clear the choice he makes will be the right one for him at this time. With either choice he will face losses and pain. In facing his losses and absorbing his pain he will grow.