Sometimes you don’t see it coming. A reader wrote to me about her “pending” divorce. Neither she or her husband have yet legally filed for the dissolution of their marriage.

For purposes of anonymity, let’s call her Liz.

Liz said she was totally shocked when her husband said he wanted a divorce.

She has spent months crying and grieving, trying to accept what has happened in her life.

Candle and faux plants

Her husband has been dragging this out for nearly three months. They’re still living together.

He tells her: “I don’t know if I want to stay with you or not.”  *Psychological Torture Tactic #1

I’m sure she is wondering: Who is this man? This can’t be the man I married.

Because you don’t recognize them anymore.

She has lost one of her pets, a little dog. Her husband was no support for her during this terrible time.

She still has one dog who needs special care, food and medicine. When she asked her husband if he could stay with him because she would not be able to afford to cover his needs, he told her: “I will put him down.”  *Psychological Torture Tactic #2

Just When She Was About To Retire:

Liz has been a nurse for thirty years and was just about to retire. This has happened at a crucial time in her life. Though there is no good time.

She told him to contact an attorney because she’d had enough.

He said he would, but she doesn’t think he has done so. He has cleaned out her accounts, so she doesn’t have the money to get things going on her own.

Liz has a job offer in another state. She is thinking of moving there until she has the money for an attorney.

When she told him she wanted this over with quickly, he said: “Tell me you’ll marry me again someday if I ask.”  *Psychological Torture Tactic #3

Kitchen shelf decor

My Thoughts:

Liz and I have communicated back and forth via email. I have always made myself available to women in this situation because I have been in their shoes.

My worry is that this man has too much control over her life. I understand that money is a real issue here. He has made sure of that.

But I worry if she leaves him to get the divorce underway, he will do nothing. Or he will further harm her financially and emotionally.

She is in the first stages of divorce hell. This is the stage when you have to accept that the situation is untenable and that you must move on. When you’re at this stage, you are obviously fragile, emotional and afraid.

Duraflame electric stove

Fear Makes Women Stay:

The first step is to try to overcome your fear. That’s not an easy task. Your life is turned upside down.

Fear makes many women stay.

I know this from experience. Fear corrodes what self-confidence you have left as you stay on in this terrible situation.

The next step is to take the control away from him. You can’t control everything. But you must control everything you possibly can as you begin to separate yourself from this person. You must do this in order to create a new life for yourself.

This is the time to sit down with a notebook and pen and write down what is possible for you to control.

Write down a perfect scenario for the next chapter of your life.

Then write down what you must accomplish in order to get there.

Oven mitts hanging on wall

Taking Control:

I truly think she must try to find a way to take the reins here. He may drag this out. Or he may never file for divorce.

I’m not sure about the laws where she lives, but I’m not sure you’d want to file for divorce while living in another state. If anyone knows, please speak up here.

If she were to go back their hometown to start proceedings, how long could she afford to stay there? Legal proceedings take awhile.

My Experience:

I was in shock when I learned what my now ex husband was doing during our marriage. I cried for days. It was hard to think straight. I couldn’t arrive at a decision. At that point you’re both grieving and angry.

I felt like I was tumbling downhill with nothing to grab onto.

Liz is likely at this point. It is hard to make decisions when you’re this upset and afraid.

But the longer she lives with this man, the worse it will be for her. I strongly believe that, because he has already proved to be so cruel.

The Legalities:

After I filed for divorce, I had to live with my ex for weeks until we went before a judge. In the state we lived in, the law says you cannot make him leave his home against his wishes. Not until you go before a judge.

He employed all manner of scare tactics during that time.

He knew I hated noise so he continually opened and slammed doors to up my anxiety level. I would pick up the phone to call the police and he would back off. Then in a bit he’d start up all over again.

Finally the court date came and that afternoon he and his girlfriend moved in together. I finally got some peace so I could plan my move. I knew if I stayed in that city, I would never feel safe or content again.

But it would be two months before I could move into a house in the state I was moving to. Thankfully he left me alone during this time.

Farmhouse themed vignette

My Advice For Liz:

The sooner Liz can separate herself from him, the faster she can move toward recovering from this terrible time in her life. The more control she can seize, the less he can continue to hurt her.

These things are never easy. They’re messy and ugly and traumatic. She will be emotionally wrung out for some time. The wounds take a long time to heal.

But her husband sounds to me like a sociopath. And you don’t even want to live next door to a sociopath. Much less in the same house.

His objective seems to be to demean, confuse and frighten her.

It is truly one step at a time. But you must find a way to take that first step.

I’m sure “Liz” would appreciate any advice you might have for her if you have any experience to share.

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55 Comments

  1. I am a domestic violence counselor and provide free services to shelter and non residential clients. Our agency also does legal aid and referrals to attorneys who do not charge. Liz is not alone and not to blame for this situation. And there is hope for her future! Many of my older clients have moved beyond similar circumstances, gotten their own residences, New jobs, and relationships/friendships. It has taken time and lots of healing work but they have made it to the other side. My suggestion is for Liz to seek support and counseling, and focus on herself and her needs right now. Loving self-care and kind compassion to herself too!

  2. Great advice, everyone!!

    My experience has told me that a Women’s Shelter would be one-stop shopping for everything:

    Legal help; free or low-cost therapy (I paid $5 a session years ago); expert advice in financial directions to go; an oh-so-strenghtening support group with other women; friends going down the same road, etc.

    Not sure if you’d have to be living there to get services, Liz, but they would definitely have the expertise and contacts to help you on your journey.

    Also—the EAP where you work should be able to find you a counselor or even provide therapy themselves. Please do NOT walk this road alone, as so many other women have said here!!

    Praying for you!!

  3. Before she takes another breath, Liz needs to consult a divorce attorney ASAP. She needs to know what her rights are under the divorce laws in her state and how she can protect herself financially if she has been the primary support for the marriage or he’s been sucking her earnings dry for years while tucking his own away who knows where (or spending it on gambling, drugs, or women). Does she has a family member or friend she can move in with while she gets things sorted out? Does she have funds to have the household belongings packed up and put into storage, so possessions can’t be stripped out of the house when she’s not there? She needs to stop the financial bleeding. Many state bar associations and local bar associations have attorney referral services and many also have attorneys who will accept clients at reduced rates. For instance, in my state (Wisconsin), the Wisconsin Bar Association and the Milwaukee Bar Association have attorney referral services. Many attorneys who receive a referral through a state or local bar referral service will give a free 30 minute consultation to a potential new client, so Liz should go in with a list of questions to ask. She can also try the Legal Aid Society in her area, although they are usually overflowing with cases and only take on the most desperate situations. If Liz decides to move to a new state to take a job, she can ask the local attorney where she now is to check on what the residency requirements are to qualify for filing for a divorce in that new state and what grounds, if any, are necessary to obtain a divorce. Many states these days have enacted “no fault” divorce laws where one does not need to go into court and prove adultery or “cruelty,” which includes mental, emotional and/or physical abuse; other traditional grounds for divorce are non-support and abandonment. There are organizations that help attorneys connect with others who specialize in certain areas of the law in other cities, states and even other countries. If Liz decides to move, she could ask the local attorney if he or she can give a referral to a divorce lawyer in the new state.
    Liz should also around where she works or check the local yellow pages to see if there is a women’s support group in her area for women going through divorce. Being able to share her experiences and emotions with others going through the same thing can be immensely helpful, not the least of which to assure her that she is not alone, and this is NOT her fault. Her husband sounds like a manipulating bloodsucker who revels in inflicting emotional pain on others and she is better off shed of him once and for all. She needs to move quickly to protect whatever assets she has, including any pension and 401(k), life insurance, and individually owned (not jointly owned) assets from her bloodsucker grasping husband. If she won’t fight for herself against the degradation her spouse is inflicting upon her, she needs to get somebody – QUICKLY – who will fight for her!

  4. Definitely lawyer first – if she belongs to a union, they may have legal benefits she can access to make it more cost effective. She should also start documenting everything. Using the camera on her phone can make it easy to take photos of everything; bank records, deeds, insurance, receipts, bills. Even if she thinks it isn’t important, take a photo of it. Also photos of anything valuable in the home; jewelry (his and hers), antiques, furniture, computers, cars, tools. If the money in the bank is already gone, those will probably be next. Call all three credit bureaus and check and freeze all of her credit. File fraud claims on anything opened by the husband as a “joint account” in the past year.

    Lastly, find a counselor for herself and love her self.

  5. One more thing — be prepared for some people to urge you to hang in there and stay with this person who is mistreating you. You may feel very alone and start doubting yourself. But you will have to dig very deep and access your gut feelings. We went to marriage counseling while we were separated for six months or so, and while I didn’t want a divorce I knew deep down I just could not go back because I’d just keep being a wimp and wouldn’t be able to stand up for myself. So I didn’t go back and my mom was so upset because I left things behind like the washer and dryer and the good china! I told her I had my sanity which was more important. And then I went to the coin laundry and used plastic plates from the dollar store.

  6. Bless her heart! I will keep her in my prayers. I too was once blindsided like that and it was a long process to get life back in order and back on track. But the experience does make you stronger and able to protect yourself in the future! Please keep us posted! Love and hugs!

  7. I am rooting and praying for Liz. I went through a divorce in my early 30s after eight years in an emotionally and verbally abusive marriage, with two small kids. I made lots of mistakes during the separation, divorce and and first years as a single mom. But the main thing is that I somehow stumbled and bumbled around and got out of an exhausting situation of living daily with someone who was so critical and judgmental and created emotional upheaval that he blamed on me. My advice is, yes do get good legal advice and learn divorce laws for your state before taking a big step like moving to another state. But if you do make a mistake or two along the way, it isn’t the end of the world. Just keep working at it. Brenda or someone suggested writing out goals and a plan – sure wish I would have done that! But I didn’t and still got through the process in a clumsy sort of way. It will be such a relief for you when you aren’t living with him each day. My cheers and prayers are going up for you and others in a similar spot.

  8. Wow, what amazing suggestions and helpful thoughts. I haven’t been down this road, but share the opinions of those who say, “Get expert legal help ASAP”. I am an RN, I bet I can safely say that Liz is a caring and empathetic woman. These wonderful qualities make for great nurses, but don’t always equip a woman to hold her own in this kind of life struggle. Liz, I wish you all the best in this most difficult situation. Be very strong, do not isolate yourself, and keep working or return to work. Work is excellent medicine as it provides self worth, diversion from one’s own issues for a few hours, socialization, and –yes–needed income.

  9. What a strong, invinceable group of women congregate here! I am filled with pride at the number of us within this particular group of blog readers who have faced the devastating situation that “Liz” is facing and come out intact and thriving.

    I feel such sadness for Liz that she has to go through this time of betrayal and meanness at her husband’s hands. I’m wondering how she has been able to stay with him for all the years she has. I guess we all keep hoping things will get better and fear the insecurity of stepping out on our own. I know that was true for me. I was married for twenty-five years and had two daughters with this man that I admired and loved. We had a beautiful renewal of vows celebration for our twenty-fifth. And then, when our twenty-sixth rolled around we planned to go out to dinner to celebrate. It was a Saturday and he was up and gone all day until close to time to go to dinner. I was annoyed and in the car driving to the restaurant I asked him point-blank where he was and why he was so late. He hemmed and hawed and finally admitted that he had spent the day with a woman we both knew and that they had a relationship. I was furious. I made him turn the car around and park in a nearby grocery store parking lot. I remember sitting there, devastated, not being able to think and him sitting there totally silent. Finally, I said, Well, what do you want to do?” His response, “I’d like to be with (what’s her name). He wouldn’t come right out and say he wanted a divorce, but I knew that was what he was thinking. That night as we were preparing to go to bed, I don’t remember what exactly was said, but I flew into a rage and screamed at him to “get out of my house and get out of my life.” I’ve said since that that was the one time in my life that I felt I could have killed a person. He left and went to a friend’s where he stayed for some time, not doing anything toward filing for divorce and finally after doing some reading I decided that it would be to my advantage to file myself so I would be more in control. He wanted to sell our house and I refused to accept the upheaval that would mean for me and our daughters and insisted he sign the house over to me, which he did. I was so angry for such a long time. And then, after much soul-searching I decided I had to let go of the anger and wishes for retribution, that it wasn’t my job to punish him. And I was able to do that to a great extent although I still carry a significant amount of sadness, even after twenty years. He went on to marry the woman he was involved with and even adopted a child with her. Then, ten or so years later, she learned he’d been unfaithful to her and asked him to leave and divorced him. By that time I had let go of most of my anger and I actually felt sad for him and for her and their daughter. At the same time I tho’t, “Well, what goes around, comes around.” I admit I did feel a bit of satisfaction that he got to feel what it was like.

    I think the advice and bits of insight and information that have been offered here to Liz are all extremely useful. I can’t think of anything else to offer except to take the initiative to get out of the situation and away from that man as quickly as you are able and to lean on whatever friends or family members you feel you can trust. You need someone to have your back with as vindictive a man as the husband is. I sincerely hope the comments here have been helpful and encouraging. Brenda, let Liz know she should never forget that this is not her fault and that she deserves none of what he is handing out. And that she is a beautiful and competent woman and can survive to make a happier life for herself.

  10. I feel for your friend having been there myself. Maybe there is free legal help she can look into and she may need a restraining order soon. The mind games can be torture along with the emotional pain. I will pray for her and hold her in my thoughts.

  11. I have no advise, but I would just like to wish Liz all the best. As one person has said karma is a -itch, I hope it gets him, for all the hurt he has caused. And to say that about her fur baby!!!!
    Hugs Liz

  12. I don’t know much but I do know don’t move out and get the financial ducks in order now. This poor lady doesn’t need advise from us. She needs to find a certified divorce financial planner/ lawyer. Each state has individual laws regarding financial situations and what is community or marital property and what financial aspects are appropriately handled by the courts. Some things to consider are insurance coverage and long term disability insurance, establishing your own credit and removing your name from joint accounts, change in beneficiary status, etc. One must consult a knowledgeable counselor/ lawyers because changes to certain things , ie beneficiary changes can be seen as raiding the community pot and will ultimately work against you .
    She needs to keep her wits about her, get her financial paper work together, and see a good lawyer.

  13. She should see a lawyer right away just to talk about her options. She should also open up a new bank account with only her name and switch her pay check and any other automatic deposits or her automatic withdrawals to that one. If she can prove sheis moving to better paying job that wouldn’t hinder a legal separation. She really needs to seek legal counsel right awsy.

  14. Give her my best as I have been there and know that situation well. The difference for me was that I was young with two pre-school boys. If she is near retirement and has worked as a nurse for 30 years it is imperative she safeguard her retirement whether it is a 401 K or what. She must immediately remove her husband’s name from any and all financial and legal documents she currently holds. She needs an attorney and should not let lack of money prevent her from getting one. She can go to legal aid or find out about the different ways of handling the payments. My ex pulled this on me so I had my attorney’s fee to be paid by him as part of the settlement. You can also workout payment arrangements. She needs the legal help. Also be careful how things are handled. In my divorce my ex was supposed to take on certain bills. After things were finalized he declared bankruptcy and all those bills came to me so watch out for that one! Tell Liz she has my love and support and tell her to let this make her stronger because it can. Thank you for helping her Brenda.

    1. And thank YOU for your great advice. I contacted her and she is very thankful for all the great info. She said she’d just sat down to cry when I emailed her and that the comments are very helpful. I told her the comments are often the best part of the post!

  15. The first and main thing the woman needs to do is meet with a reputable/good divorce attorney. She has many rights and needs to be represented so she is not taken advantage of. Even if her husband cleaned out their accounts, there is a paper trail and she is entitled to her share of assets, retirement plans, etc. So often, women do not fully understand what they are entitled to and are taken advantage of. Never let the other party make all the decisions. As hard as it is to deal with all the issues, she needs qualified legal help to make sure she gets all she is entitled to.

  16. I agree with the comments that Liz should find out how moving out would affect her status in the divorce. Protecting herself legally, financially is the first step.

  17. When there is no fixing a relationship due to both, one or the other, it’s time to gather courage and move on. But I know that’s not easy. I have been there. My first husband and I were married for 13 years and have 2 children together. Within the first 6 months of our marriage, he showed his true colors. I had married a Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde, who was also a functioning alcoholic.
    When I had finally had enough, and he would not seek help to change, it took me 6 of the longest months of my life to finally pack up myself and our children and leave. I moved to a different county within the same state. When I refused to come back, he filed for divorce, and the court proceedings had to take place in the county where I had once lived. That may be the case with Liz also. I did read that there are certain rules and time frames of residency to be followed according to each state before a person can file for divorce, so she would definitely want to seek the advice of an attorney whether or not she is the one planning on filing for the divorce, and wants to take the job offer in another state.
    An attorney once told me that this process is something that you have to look at and accomplish in small increments, advancing through each, one at a time, until you get to the end. Otherwise, it’s extremely daunting and overwhelming. I can say from my own personal experience that his advice was very wise and absolutely correct.
    While the entire situation was extremely unpleasant and stressful, life after HIM has not been. It’s incredibly richer in so many ways. I would say to Liz to not prolong the process, but to gather strength and determination to forge ahead into a new life that does not involve her husband. She will be all the better for it, especially emotionally and mentally, and, in time, she will even see a silver lining in all of this. Praying for strength, wisdom and peace for Liz in the days and weeks ahead!

  18. I wish I had some sage advice but alas I do not. On the flipside there has been some great advice already given. Brenda, you’re wonderful to listen and attempt to help Liz. Hopefully things will be better for her soon.

  19. She should be able to consult with an attorney for legal advice no charge. Sounds like a carbon copy of what I went through. I was not employed due to surgery for cancer when he started his garbage. Four years later we finally divorced because he strung it along. I have been alone now for 12 years . It has been hard financially and sometimes lonely but it is peaceful! It was for the best because he ended up in huge financial trouble and could have dragged me down with him. Karma is a bitch! You don’t threaten an innocent animal!

  20. Although I have no personal experience, I am so grateful “Liz” has you to lean on. The amount of support in the comments above is amazing. I am glad Liz is a nurse. They make good money and have job security and benefits. If I were her, I’d accept the new job after taking a loan in both their names. Deposit it in the new state and don’t tell him a thing. I think once she disappears he’ll come crying to get her back. Too late! She’ll be all set in a new state with a new job and the money she needs to contest anything he throws at her. Let him be the one who files. I bet he won’t!

  21. Thanks first of all for your kind listening to this poor woman. I believe she needs legal advice before she does any moving out with her possessions – some states may consider her moving out as abandonment (hers not his). Much of the advice written in comments is right on. Will keep her in my prayers.

  22. Thank you Brenda for being there for Liz. I have no doubt she is extremely grateful for you and your wisdom. i wish her the very best.. Do keep us updated as to how she’s getting along.

  23. I’ve been there also. It is so scary and along with mental abuse I had fear of physical abuse. I got to the point that I just wanted out if I only left with me and my cat and lost everything. The manipulation will not stop and she needs out. I hope you can continue to help ‘Liz’ and give her support. Let her know there are many of us survivors out here and we are with her in spirit!

  24. I feel very sorry for your friend and I agree with everything said here. Fist and foremost, she needs to get good legal help. In addition to legal aid maybe there is some help she can get from the hospital she works at. Sometimes unions offer legal help. She needs to file for legal separation because until she is legally separated any and all debts incurred in the marriage are owned by both people. Secondly, she needs to document all of the money they had, after 33 years the money, property, etc is both of theirs and her husband will find that out when they get divorced. The good thing is that she has a job and insurance both are very important. Be strong Liz, you can make it through this, find some legal information and help, seek a support group and move on to a new and better life.

    1. The tip about unions is a great one. She’s got to get herself legally untangled before he causes her even more trouble. I had to file bankruptcy after my divorce.

  25. Luckily, for me, my divorces were relatively easy. But I have heard many horror stories like the one Liz is going through. First she needs to document the money he took, showing the amount prior and after he took it. If her name was on the account, she can easily go to the bank and get statements. And she needs to move out and be in an environment where she is not being bullied. Then she needs to learn what her options are, there are many online resources to read up on divorce laws in her state. Honestly this is probably a good thing for her, the man sounds like a control freak. Even if she has to work a few years longer than she thought it will still be better than staying in a bad relationship. Freedom is such a good learning environment- learning to depend on yourself is so empowering.

  26. God know I’ve been there. I don’t know if any of this will help, but this was my experience:
    1) Get a job/stay working. Retirement is not in the cards right now.
    2) Find legal help. Ask around for a trusted attorney. If they cannot help you they will direct you to someone who can.
    3) Gather your true friends around you. You will need all the support you can get. This is not a time to be proud.
    4) Get counseling. Again, ask around for a trusted counselor. You can’t make decent decisions in this condition. Have someone — therapist, pastor, priest, unbiased person, help you through the first shock.
    5) Go see your medical professional and tell them what you are going through. Let them assess your stress/sleep condition. You may need anti-depressants to get you through the first stage of this hell. You can’t make good decisions when you are sleep deprived. Again, don’t be proud.
    6) Most importantly: Remember you are worthy. Be your own best advocate. You cannot control your soon to be ex-husband’s behavior, but you can control yours. Fear is a horrible companion. If you see a lawyer he/she will tell you your legal rights and financial rights — and then your ex cannot hold that over your head. If you need your own bank account, open one. If you need a restraining order, get one. If you need to move, make that happen.

    My experience was this: if you stick your head in the sand and “hope that things get better” you are only delaying and worsening the inevitable.

    I wish you all the best.

      1. Also, the attorney will tell her whether or not the husband must pay attorney’s fees for them both. That may depend on the state they live in but a judge would or even her lawyer would demand he put back her money so that she would have something to live on meanwhile. That happened to someone I know. He cleaned out the checking and savings account before asking her for a divorce but the next day she checked the bank, went to the attorney and the attorney told him he had until the end of the day to return everything back into the account. I just don’t understand the meanness that comes out when a man finds himself a new love!!

  27. I am stunned as I read this, Brenda. I have a friend who is in this very situation. Her husband asked her for a divorce at Christmastime last year. After 45 years of marriage. The divorce paperwork was all ready to be signed and she signed them just before he decided he’d changed his mind about divorcing and then without her knowing he took the papers and filed to finalize the divorce and then didn’t tell her. He even rented an apartment, which he didn’t move into behind her back. For months she thought they were still married, the hell that it was, she continued the best she could until in a fit of rage he dropped the bombshell on her. He has divorced her!! And now she is still living with him because she doesn’t want to go through the pain and significant change in living “status”. He could walk out, leaving her without much money at any time. He has since asked her to remarry him!! What you wrote here today is Kathy’s story in many ways except the part of having no options and choosing not to use those options. These men – personalities push and pull on the cruelest ways. I’m heartbroken for your friend (Liz) who is going through this. All I can add is that there will be no peace until she does the hard work of moving on. The suggestion to use legal aide is a good one. He might find out he’s not going to get away with taking everything and leaving her high and dry. He’s counting on the paralyzing fear of unknowns and grief to keep Liz hostage. Liz must be without any kind of support and feeling extremely alone to stay in the house with this man. I’m sure she would like to change things and needs help to do so. The threat to kill her dog is monsterous.

  28. My heart goes out to Liz ~
    I’m very glad she has you to listen to her ~
    No legal advice here; it varies so from state to state… Maybe she could explore options for pro-bono counseling for herself, or seek advice via some type of Women’s Shelter. I know there are all kinds of services out there for women in her shoes ~ it is just a matter of tracking them down.
    I wish her all my very best ~
    And bless you, Brenda ~ you are an angel!

  29. Her husband is disgraceful. Shame on him for taking all her money. If she has a job offer in another state, and if she is still employed, tell her to go get a signature loan and use the money to move on, even if she has to leave with nothing. When my husband asked me for a divorce to be with his secret love, I left with a couple of thousand dollars and left almost everything behind and moved to another state and got a job and started over.

    But I have never looked back. And I will never marry again, I love being in control of my own life even though I live on a pittance compared to when I was married.

  30. She needs people in her corner who can advise and guide her. Call her local legal aid society and ask for a number for help. There are people available you may not know about that can show you what needs to be done. God Bless her and all who are hurting.

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