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Dear Chump Lady, I’m afraid to tell him I want a divorce

Dear Chump Lady,

My husband doesn’t want a divorce, and he said that he wants to rebuild what we have. I’ve told him that I can never trust him again and that I need to move on, but he keeps telling me that he wants to come home. I know I need to file for divorce, but I’m afraid. Everyone keeps telling me that these people get very vicious once they are served. I’m finishing up my degree right now, and I can’t focus with all of the drama. I dread the moment he turns on me. I wanted to hold off until May, then file. However, his pressure is pushing me forward.

Thing is, the lawyer told me that since he’s co-owner of our house, I can’t keep him out. What if he gets vindictive and stops respecting my wishes not to see him? I freeze every time a car door slams outside in case it’s him. What if he moves in? He doesn’t have a history of violence, but just seeing or talking to him is traumatic for me. I’ve been communicating via text only. Right now, I’m going to stall as long as possible, but if I’m forced to file before I graduate and he starts coming around or moves in, I’ll stay with friends. Does this sound like a good idea?


Dear Theresa,

I would defer to your lawyer on this one. If you were to start the divorce process, then you could push for a property settlement, which could include terms about who lives where right now and how you’re going to pay for that. (Some states, if you’re in the U.S., require physical separation for a specified period before you can even file, so may as well start the clock ticking now.) It may be that your lawyer can get some temporary support papers in front of a judge ASAP and the idiot would have to pay your rent, if he insists on moving back in. Figure out what sort of arrangement you can negotiate, but you can’t negotiate anything if you don’t tip him off to the fact that you want to divorce him.

I don’t see how delaying the divorce filing will keep Mr. Cheaterpants at bay. Right now he says he wants to reconcile with you. I would assume he’s moved out to be with the OW? So either that’s not working out so well, or he misses cake. Often cake eaters amp up the drama (reconciliation noises) when they sense that cake is slipping away from them. It’s about control, not a sincerity to do better or be better. If that was the case, then he would respect your desire for physical separation and be in therapy working on his entitlement, fucking around issues.

Also, Theresa, pay attention to your fear. It’s not an irrational thing. Your hypervigilance is trying to tell you something and you’re right to listen to it. I don’t know the specifics of what he’s done to make you fearful, or why you believe he will turn “vicious” — that must be based on some experience of him. I can tell you, as someone who had protection from abuse orders, he doesn’t have to hit you for you to get a PFA. Raging at you counts, verbal threats count, possessing firearms counts. If he’s created an environment that someone would reasonably construe as threatening, you can get a temporary PFA at your county court house. Generally it’s good for a month or two until you go to court for it to be permanent. Once you have a PFA (temporary or permanent), he cannot contact you or be in proximity of you. If he violates it, he goes to jail.

All to say, if he comes back and there is a domestic “incident” — don’t take any chances. Don’t be alone, and call the cops.

I’m sorry all the drama is interfering with your studies. But I think you need to make a plan to extricate yourself from this  marriage, and get appropriate professional help to make that happen. Just waiting for him to show up on your door step is giving him the power here to up-end your life. Take your control back and start directing this. Besides being good for you, it’s always a good strategy with narcissists. Some of the best advice I got when I was going through it was — GO ON THE OFFENSIVE. Narcissists are always surprised at this. They really do think you are an extension of them, and when you act with agency, it’s as if their right arm suddenly started whacking them, and having a mind of its own. Loss of control is terrifying to them  — and gives you a running head start to get the hell away from them.

Run the living with friends scenario past your attorney. If you move out, it may be construed as abandonment and he could get the house. Conversely, he has abandoned you and left the house, so see if you can make some hay with that, legally.

If he gets scary, do NOT HESITATE to go stay with friends — but then get that PFA and throw the motherfucker out. But whatever you do, lawyer up. You need a plan, and some good professional assistance to help you execute it.

Ask Chump Lady

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  • Your fear is coming over loud and clear. CL has a good focus for you. You need to look after YOU. Talk to someone at the Uni (College?) to see whether you can have some leeway or extra support with the degree. I remember tell my daughter to ask for help when I was going through the divorce (she was reluctant) and she found their supportive response helpful. The further I am on my journey, the clearer I can see those cake-eaters. You need to amass supporters carefully so if he does return you have a backup plan. When I reached that point of no return I just had to get him out – I couldn’t handle his weird drunken rages.

  • Theresa,
    I am going through exactly the same thing right now. My H also moved out and then begged to come home. I knew I wanted a divorce, but I was terrified of his response. I loved the peace of him not being there. We also communicated through text only so I could just put him out of my mind. I didn’t want more drama so I did nothing. Big mistake!

    It didn’t take long for him to start dropping by the house for the day. It seemed harmless enough. On a gut level, I knew it was a bad idea, but he was being so “nice.” I ignored my intuition for the millionth time. Then he began showing up more often. I became uncomfortable, but there wasn’t a lot I could do since he was co-owner and I had nothing legal in place to keep him away. Unfortunately, the state I live in requires a six month physical separation before a divorce can be finalized. By letting him have frequent access to our home, I lost precious time.

    Anyway, it only took a few weeks of coming by on a regular basis before he felt quite comfortable back in my life and this time the abuse started in earnest. It was terrifying. He made me pay for humiliating him. His rages became frequent. Yes, it escalated to physical violence. I left and I filed.

    Please listen to CL. Her advice is right on target. By trying to keep the peace, I only ended enduring more abuse. He viewed me as weak. Plus, I made many mistakes financially by not retaining an attorney earlier, and now I am trying to do damage control. Don’t just listen to your intuition, act on it. It’s the only way to keep you safe and sane. Take care of yourself. See you on the other side.

  • He has cold-heartedly screwed up your relationship. He is more than capable of escalating the drama when it suits him. Enforce boundaries asap (I wish I had). Don’t expect a fair fight (my downfall). Maintain NC (finally!)
    “He viewed me as weak.” Can you imagine what they would do to us if we were unfaithful to them? They would throw hailstones from their moral high ground if perchance they’d find themselves in our position.
    Actions speak louder than words.

  • The night I found out about my ex’s cheating, he slept on the couch. The next morning I kicked him out and he had to stay in a hotel because he had no friends. Two days later I filed for divorce and had him served. But then, my waffling started. The immense fear got me and wouldn’t let go. I was SO SO afraid, riddled with panic attacks, not knowing what I was going to do, grieving what I thought was my great life, afraid of the future.

    So I called the lawyer and told him to hold off while ex was in therapy. I started going to therapy too (bad idea for me, she just made me feel worse – totally marriage-reconciler type). I sat on top of that fence for months wringing my hands and going through my grieving and letting fear run my thoughts and mind. We have kids together, so he would insist on coming over to be with them, and to hang out at night to read to them and tuck them in (by that point he had an apartment, but I wouldn’t let the kids stay with him until he passed a sexual deviancy exam by a psychologist). It was truly excruciating, and I hated every minute of it with every fiber of my being. But, I resolved to put off divorce just to keep the status quo and pretend to tolerate him, until I finished school (three years away), to avoid financial fear and the inevitable drama and expected retaliation.

    But I couldn’t do it. Several months in this scenario and I was a wreck. I _knew_ I could never be with him again, just being in the same room with him set me into panic attacks. Who wants to grow old with a sex offender? I found him morally disgusting, and physically revolting to boot. So, I finally had enough, pulled up my bootstraps, decided I couldn’t live in fear any longer, and handed him the divorce papers. Once I made that decision that it was going to be okay, I’d perservere, and I was a capable and worthy person, I felt like the world lifted off my shoulders. My fears were, for the most part, unjustified. Mostly it was just the fear of the unknown holding me back.

    My divorce was final last week, and I can tell you that I feel so much HAPPIER and relieved not to be living that lie any longer. Take the plunge and take care of yourself. Don’t waste too much time fence-sitting because of fear of the unknown. It it hard to take that jump off, but you will feel so much better not living in fear.

  • When you have been married tosomeone like this, over time, your self esteem and confidence gets mutilated. So, it is scary getting out. We are so used to walking on eggshells around them and appeasing them.
    This is why you get a good lawyer.
    My dad handled a lot of divorces. He was street smart and had lots of experience and training.
    He told me “Arnold, I have handled a lot of divorces where my client is in your position, feeling depleted and hurt. Invariably, these guys want to just get it over with and make all types of concessions just to have it over and done. Get a tough lawyer who will slap you if you start to concede things unneccessarily.”
    With infidelity and other abuse, we find ourselves weakened, vulnerable to these types.
    Best thing you can do is look for a non-appeasing lawyer. Not a nut or a rabid dog, but a really experienced, smart one.
    You can settle these things, but you need someone who will reallystand up for you. Aks around and get a good one.

      • Yeah, he was really good.Went through Harvard Law in 2/12 years, as many returning vets did. Never drank less than 32 shots with beer chasers a day , though, until he quit. Before that, he was hell to live with.

        • A scary and loving man, my dad had a stroke when I was fourteen, died when I was 21. I had to grow up too soon which made me very conscious that I didn’t want the same for my daughters. Btw that is a hell of a lot of drink to consume!

  • my STBX did move back in for almost 3 months after I kicked him out because he knew I couldn’t legally keep him out. He slept in his car one night and his parents another before coming back. But it didn’t really change anything about when we could be legally divorced… 1 year from our separation date and that wouldn’t change as long as we didn’t sleep together. So he slept in the spare room and tried to get me to help him find an apartment and pick out furniture for it. A-hole, right? Still trying to use me for whatever he can. That was between his suicide threats and me buying him self-help books and myself self-help books. Amazon chump. I guess at least I wasn’t worried about violence to me, but I was worried about what he might to do himself… even though the sofa buying probably told me I shouldn’t be worried.

    I actually think you should move forward and get something legal started… the sooner you do that, the sooner he’s out of your hair and has no claim on you or anything that is determined to be yours. And I think the looming thoughts of what might happen and fear of the unknown are actually more stressful and would take more away from your studies than speaking to a lawyer and starting to execute a plan of action.

    And technically, for the settlement, won’t it be better for you if you’re a student than if you already have a job?

  • Of course you are afraid. Going to a lawyer and getting the ball rolling will empower you. Really. I am still sitting on the fence not so much because I am afraid but I know once I start the he will not know what hit him and that will make me sad. I have loved my husband with my whole heart and that fact that he has done this to our marriage well their are no words I can use to convey how he has hurt me and how angry I am. But I have seen a lawyer and I am lining up my ducks Actions like this will make you feel stronger and less afraid. Your lawyer will help you see how little power your H has. And like Another Erica said you might be better doing this now while you are a student alimony etc.. Please go talk to a lawyer and if you a re afraid of him trust your instinct and get a protection order and some peppper spray

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