As you can imagine, we have very personal conversations with our clients about life, about love, about hope and expectations, about reality crashing against dreams, and about what led to their considering a divorce.
“You’ve got to help me. I’m a prisoner. My husband keeps me a prisoner,” a potential client once exclaimed to me.
“How so? You are here,” I observed.
“Yes, but he doesn’t know it.”
“That’s probably a good thing.”
“More than that, though. He won’t let me have friends. He won’t let me enjoy social groups. He won’t let me take vacations without him.”
Here, I stopped her. I certainly know of many relationships in which the couples take separate vacations with their seperate groups of friends quite successfully over the course of decades. I also know many couples who do not take seperate vacations and would consider that an anathema in their relationship.
“He’s jealous or envious or something,” she insisted. “And he just gets mean when I want to do something, anything without him. I have to be willing to endure his coldness if I so much as spend the evening out with a girlfriend. I can’t breathe. I need out.”
“Does he manage your money?” I ask.
“We each have our own accounts and manage them,” she told me.
“Does he read your email, inspect your browser history?”
“I don’t think so, no.”
“Does he follow you or have a GPS in your car?”
“No, definitely not!” she insisted.
“Is there any other way that he is keeping you a prisoner?”
“It’s just that I can’t leave to do anything with anyone else without his cold lack of acceptance at best, his hostility at worst”
“In Georgia, we have 13 grounds to authorize a divorce. I think yours would best fall into the Irretrievably Broken reason. Do you think your marriage is irretrievably broken?”
“I don’t know. If he would let me have friends outside of the marriage. If he would let me attend some social gatherings without him. If he would let me have a girls’ weekend from time to time without the cost.”
“Does he miss you when you’re gone.”
“He says he does. But he doesn’t rush to greet me when I get home. Instead, he keeps his distance and sometimes won’t even make eye contact for a few hours. Eventually we’re fine again, until the next time,” she sighed.
“I can’t tell you how bad it is. I can’t tell you if it is reason enough for you to get divorced. ‘Prisoner’ is a strong word. You sound desperate, at the end of your rope.”
“I am, but I wish I had a different way out.”
“Like what? If you had your druthers, what would you do,” I pressed.
“It’s not what I would do, it’s what he would do.”
“And therein likes the problem,” I expressed. “You want the change, but he’s got to make it.”
When is a situation bad enough to warrant severing the ties that bind, to warrant a divorce? When is an issue big enough to justify cutting that knot? There can be no absolute answer. “Irretrievably broken” is in the eye of the beholder. One person’s pebble is another’s boulder. One person’s broken is another person’s bent.
It seems that relationships are a constant exercise in communication, introspection and negotiation. Mix in a dose of compassion for good measure. When those elements seem a burden too great to bear, and when loneliness seems the larger account than companionship, it may be time to cut the losses and look for a better investment.
The couple wound up not getting divorced. At least not yet. She hadn’t given up hope, hope that she could have a life seperate without recrimination and hope that he would lay down his burden which caused him to burden her.
And they moved on into the next chapter of their lives.