I think that my friend Padma is making a huge mistake, but nothing I say makes a dent.
Padma has been married for 12 years and has 3 children, the youngest in his mid-teens. The older kids are in college. She and her husband Mark run a travel agency together. The business is doing fine, but they have problems.
Her husband cheated on her last year, and it wasn’t the first time. He’d already done it twice!
This time, he was planning to divorce her. I have seen Padma hurt before and I was sure this was the last straw.
I was shocked when she announced she was going to try to save the marriage! She fully owns her 50% of the business and isn’t dependent on him for money. I keep telling her that she should be with someone supportive, not some asshole who sneaks around on her. Why would an intelligent woman with her own money fight to stay with a guy who wants to ditch her? It makes no sense!!!
– Raving Jane
This does seem like a no-brainer and any therapist would point out that past behavior is the best way to predict future behavior; Padma’s repeat offender husband isn’t likely to stop.
But it’s much easier to give advice than to actually dismantle decades of your own life, so I asked my friend, Marianne, an intelligent woman who just went through a similar experience of her own, for some insight.
First – back off, Jane. You can’t help your friend by pushing her into what seems to you to be the obvious “right” direction. A long-term marriage, especially where children are involved, is not a surface thing, it is more like a tree that grows and everyone who looks at the tree can see the trunk and leaves above ground – but the root system beneath that tree spreads out farther and deeper than anyone can see. The real story in any marriage is in those roots, not the visible tree, and this is Padma’s life, not yours. She, not you, will have to deal with the pain from ripping out those roots.
That being said, I hope Padma will consider the story I am about to tell.
I divorced my husband after 11 years of tumultuous drama. We’d worked together running our own design studio, so there was something solid I wanted to save. The guy was a compulsive liar and did some very hurtful things but I wasn’t a saint myself, so there wasn’t a clear bad guy. It was only after years of sincerely trying to heal the relationship that I gave up because he just kept lying.
When I divorced him, I knew that it was the right thing to do, but I underestimated the roots that persisted within myself. Every relationship I had came to a fruitless end. When my ex couldn’t find an affordable apartment and I could barely make the mortgage on the house, I decided that the “devil I know” was better than nothing and maybe we could maintain peace if we each had our own floor of the house. I let my ex move back into the basement apartment. My reasons were rational, and Padma’s could be as well – after 50, many women value companionship over sexual attraction.
I was older and wiser at this point and because I handled conflict so much better than before, a coma-like stasis was generally possible. Fights still happened, but calm always resettled. My awareness was lulled to sleep. It took 10 years to discover that my ex’s only real change was from being a bad liar to being a really good one; the cesspool beneath was bigger than ever.
Psychological abuse can be a very deceptive thing. Abusers are smart – they never just abuse. They can be manipulative as hell and put on a show of outward compliance withlavish shows of caring while they carry on as usual in secret. I didn’t realize the damage that his “nice guy/secret bad guy” crap had on my own peace of mind until I caught him in the act and realized he’d been gaslighting me for years..
The divorce rate in the US is 40% to 50%. A lot of people find it easier to just walk out, and Padma’s willingness to try to save her family is not a bad thing. But not every marriage can be saved.
This is a decision that only Padma can make. But she should ask herself some questions first.
Is her husband actually putting in his own effort? When they have conflicts, does he ever initiate talks to resolve them or does she have to do all the work? He knows the right things to say, but what are his reflexive gut reactions? And what does her own guts tell her? Is anything really changing?
Fighting to keep what is hers is not wrong. But no one can have a happy home without trust and respect. I know Padma respects the values of family, but seriously – will she ever be able to trust her husband again?