What I need from you is inspiration. I know that I have to leave my husband, but I don't know how to do it. He's not a wife beater, adulterer or drug addict. He's actually a very good man that I love, probably too much for my own good. We are simply unable to get along. I don't think there has been one week during our five-year marriage that we haven't fought about something -- from leaving dirty dishes in the sink to the anti-constitutionality of the death penalty. Every slight difference of opinion inevitably turns into a raging battle of wills. We've been through every form of therapy and couples counseling imaginable without any results. There is so much unresolved anger and hostility that I think we are, after years of shouting, crying and being unheard, too weary to unearth its roots.
For the past couple of years I've learned to just keep my mouth shut, avoiding the arguments before they begin, which seems to provoke more anger in him and leaves me feeling passive and powerless. We've had numerous fights in which divorce seemed to be the inevitable outcome. But then faced with this reality, there are always tears on both our parts, and then the comforting, and then we invariably end up in bed together, as sex has always been our only means of intimate communication. We are both miserable, but we continue to cling to this sinking ship.
At night, I lay awake fantasizing about leaving him, leaving my conservative job that I hate and this city with its brutal seasons that is so far from my home. But then I hear him breathing next to me and there is no trace of anger in his face, and it reminds me of everything we've been through together and that he is in fact a kind, intelligent person who is so generous with his love toward others, but that we, unfortunately, are like a negative chemical reaction when it comes to communicating. There is always an explosion.
I've long since stopped blaming him or myself. We are simply incompatible and unwilling to change who we fundamentally are. So, this is life. Some people just never get along and then they go their separate ways. But why am I unable to go? The irony is that I'm a strong person and a natural decision-maker, always the pillar of support for my friends and family. So why do I lack the resolve to take charge of my own life? How do I summon the courage to leave it all behind and start over?
Dear Lacking Courage,
Maybe you can't summon the courage to leave it all behind and start over because leaving it all behind and starting over doesn't exist. Instead, what you face is a series of small acts of mutual extrication, the careful untying of knot after knot. Each of those acts is a bid for freedom, and each of those acts takes courage. But it is a courage to perform the particulars that you need. How about summoning up the courage to ask your best friend if she knows a good divorce lawyer? How about girding your loins for a look in the phone book? How about finding within yourself the strength to write down the five first things you need to do -- say, 1) call a divorce lawyer; 2) say you want to initiate divorce proceedings; 3) make an appointment; 4) keep the appointment; and 5) label a folder Divorce and put the papers he gives you into the folder.
The whole process will probably be like that: a thousand steps, one by one, each one redolent with feeling, like stills from a Bergman film. The big thing is to stop vacillating and commit to your project and be ready to cry at the locksmith's without changing your mind, because if you change your mind the locksmith may keep your deposit. Say it out loud: I am getting a divorce. Then attend to the myriad details, and do not stop until, one day when you're not really thinking about it at all, the final papers arrive in the mail, perhaps at your new apartment, which is strangely spacious and full of light.
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Want more advice from Cary? Read yesterday's column.