Dear Emma, WTF!?
My husband of 35 years wants a divorce. He dropped this bomb on me about four months ago, and since then my life has been total hell. I was so shocked — and I was already having a tough time. Five years ago our adult son was killed in an car accident, and since then his widowed wife has forbidden our 7-year-old grandson from seeing us, even though they live one town over.
Related to this stress, I have slipped into a deep depression and suffer anxiety issues and insomnia, and have gone on disability as a result. My husband has retired and pulls social security, but I am financially dependent on him and his pension, which is minimal. I am 55.
Over the years my husband has gone through bouts of unemployment (he was the primary breadwinner by far), alcoholism, and depressions of his own. We stuck it through the death of our son. And now he’s leaving me and I am so, so mad.
We’ve been talking to a lawyer, but the reality is that there isn’t much money to argue about and no small children to fight over. All I want is to stay in my home, which is by far the biggest asset, and to keep my five small dogs. My ex is fighting me tooth-and-nail to sell the home, and is threatening to split up the dogs and take two of them. If he insists on leaving I feel I deserve these two things, and he won’t even give me that.
What can I do to ensure my financial future?
You have had a tough haul indeed. It is not fair your son was killed. It is not fair you are depressed. It is not fair your husband drank too much, or that he lost jobs. It is certainly not fair that he wants to divorce you.
For better or worse, this is life.
Life is not fair.
It just isn’t.
I have to say this again: LIFE IS NOT FAIR.
You used in your note the word “deserve.” That you deserve the house and dogs. You also asked how to ensure your financial future.
The only thing you can do for sure, that is guaranteed, is to take responsibility for your future. It would be lovely if all the years you spent with your husband were like payments into a pension fund that would then spit out a return later in life. But it doesn’t work like that. You are not entitled to his devotion. And you are not entitled to a disproportionate share of your collective finances. Just because your heart broke does not mean the world owes you financially or otherwise.
But it is hard for you to see that right now for two reasons: One, you are heartbroken and in the midst of the trauma that is always divorce. Two, you have a sense of entitlement.
In my years speaking to and hearing from thousands of women post-divorce I have learned there is one differentiator between those who thrive after their marriages, and those who flounder indefinitely. Just one character difference sets these women apart:
Those who thrive take responsibility for their lives.
Those who flounder hold fast to a sense of entitlement.
You have a choice. You can fight him for the house, and likely lose. Depending on where you live and what judge presides over your case will determine how your situation will be handled. But since you don’t have money for legal fees, you will likely settle this out of court, even between the two of you. And since your income is low and savings nil, you cannot afford to buy him out of the house.
So you will sell the house, split the proceeds and go on your separate ways.
Probably, a judge would order this, so your lawyer will suggest it. And I am telling you to do this.
Take your half of the money. Buy in cash a cute condo. Maybe it is on the beach, or the mountains. Or in the city so you can walk to a darling cafe in the morning and flirt with the barista and read the paper while you drink you cappuccino while your dogs lounge in the sun by your feet.
You will decorate your new home with new furniture that was not in your old home. This is your home, in your new life. Your tastes and your books and paintings. You will invite the neighbors over for wine in the evening, and you will take little trips to see friends who you’ve lost touch with.
You’ll start to exercise again, and you will feel better. You will meet new people who will open your eyes and heart. You will see that you are not limited by your past experiences, or the small sums of income from your husband and benefits. You will see ways to make money again. On your own. So you will not have to be dependent on an ex-husband.
You have your body. Your life. You have more energy and skills than you believe you do now. But you are trapped in memories. And you are trapped in a sense that all the goodness and life inside of you is not enough to be happy and full, and only someone else — your husband, and his money — can sustain you.
To change that, your life must change.
By moving, you will not be in the house where you raised your son or were married for so long. Those times — both good and bad— will be with you forever.
Life — your life, all life — is much bigger than what we focus on, even if we can get stuck on what is right before us. And in each step – selling your house, buying the new one, creating a life there — you are opening yourself up to growing and changing far beyond what you now know.
This is a new time– a time full of possibility that you cannot even imagine.
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