My marriage is a prison and I need to bust out

I'm being held captive by my husband and my dad. I can't survive as wifey for life. How to escape?

By Cary Tennis
June 4, 2009 2:19PM (UTC)
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Dear Cary,

I am a 36-year-old woman. Mother to a beautiful child, and wife of someone with whom I've become very disconnected. After over three years of pain and anguish, marriage counseling, deliberation and overall agony, I have no doubt that my marriage is over and that I need to move on. It's very clear to me, and the few who know me best, that this situation is now a prison of sorts, and I've been struggling to break free.


My husband remains in semi-denial of our situation and my feelings, and is completely uninterested in moving forward with any separation or related change. He grew up in a very insecure, unloving family, and it's been his goal to have a happy, "normal" family. I admire this about him. I admire his resilience and tenacity in working so relentlessly for the things he wants. In so many ways, he is an extraordinary person (though sometimes extraordinary in ways that are not healthy for me). He is obsessively committed to maintaining our nuclear family. As I'm sure countless of your "gentle" readers will agree, he's decided I am the "bad one," the evildoer who is ruining something beautiful (and ... fake). But, anyway, he is very righteous in his opposition to my desire to end our marriage, even though it creates unhealthy situations for our daughter.

My family lives three blocks from us and we are very close in certain specific ways. My father is a wealthy, very well-respected and well-connected (aka powerful) attorney in our city. The child of a chaotic, broken, emotionally sterile family, he has declared himself "violently opposed to divorce" (his exact words). And so even though I have been entreating his help for over 18 months, and he blandly agrees to assist me, he's never followed through. Something very uncharacteristic given the "get it done yesterday" approach he takes with so many other things, both at work and within the family.

Once he realized I was earning enough money to really leave him, my husband began terrorizing me on a regular basis. He'd refuse to let me finish projects I had to do at night that were due in the morning. He'd refuse to stop arguing so that I could go to sleep, refuse to stop arguing every night and day, following me all over the house countless times and blocking my path ... till very late at night, in the morning so that I would be late for work as I tried to calm him (and my daughter ... ), etc. Last year, the year when things became especially dysfunctional and erratic and abusive in my home, I was fired from my job. When I was fired from my job, he stopped terrorizing me, because he knew I no longer had the financial means to leave. My independence had been taken away, as I have little savings and was focusing on paying down debt, etc.


At this time, I've fallen into a quiet desperation ... a (sort of) comfortable depression, if you will. I'm comfortable because no one is forcing me to go back to work (hell, neither my husband nor my dad wants me to become financially independent ... what century IS this?), my daughter is beautiful and we spend plenty of time together, I live in a beautiful place, etc. But I feel pathetic, abandoned (by my family, who easily has the means to assist me in this situation) and stuck. I am broke. I cannot hire a lawyer. I cannot do anything to move myself and my daughter. I can do nothing.

So what am I writing to you about? My most valuable asset at this moment is my very beautiful, very expensive engagement ring, and I want to sell it. But I am afraid that everyone in my family would shun me if they knew I had done such a thing. I do not have sentimental attachment to it, as my marriage feels like such a lifeless place, a prison. And I cannot imagine happily passing it along to my daughter ... I mean, would you want to inherit the ring from your parents' failed marriage? Do I have a right to make this act of desperation, so that I can at least try to move on with some things in my life (other than unsuccessfully finding a new job ... though I keep trying)? Is it cruel and insensitive beyond belief for me to do such a thing to my future ex-husband and daughter? Will she hate me for it? What right do I have to save myself? I am lost. Very lost and feeling very pathetic and stuck. I need someone to give me some perspective. What's yours?

Distressed Diamond


Dear Distressed,

You do sound like you are in prison. You sound like someone who is contemplating a desperate and dangerous move. You haven't talked it out with anyone because you have no one to talk to in this prison.

The experienced inmates, who have been in and out of this same prison, nod sagely when they see your desperation. They've seen it before. They've felt it themselves. When it's your first time in, and it dawns on you that you're really in prison, at first you sort of go crazy and head for the wall. But that doesn't work. The guards see you right away. They've seen it a million times. It just makes things worse. You get years added on to your sentence by one rash move. Then you really begin to get it. You really are in prison. You really are.


That is when you sit down and begin to think and think hard, every day, working through each scenario, interrogating your own motives, watching for signs of weakness and recklessness, vengefulness, symbolic as opposed to actual victories; you feel your way through it, noticing how a love of drama may be coloring your view. Sure, you'd like to make a dramatic break. Sure, selling the engagement ring would raise some cash and hit them right where they live. Sure, you'd like to show them what they've done to you, how they've degraded you, how they've made you feel. You'd like to throw that ring right back in their faces. And you could buy a ticket to Paris with what you get. But the dramatic way is most likely to arouse a devastating response. Selling that ring is like trying to go over the wall in broad daylight. You're going to need something better.

You need a plan and you need help from the outside. You need a cool head and a clear assessment. Notice the ones who get away and the ones who get shot down in the yard. The ones who get away work out their plans in every detail. They don't talk much. They keep to themselves. Then one day they're gone.

That's what you need to do. So stop thinking like a chump. Snap out of it. You say you can't afford a lawyer. That's crazy talk. You think there's no lawyer in town who wouldn't take a look at your assets and see there's a payoff down the road? You think there's no lawyer in town who won't see an attractive, well-connected dame on a contingency basis? Plenty of lawyers would take a case like yours.


Just be careful when you begin looking. Maybe you should begin by looking out of town. Maybe you should begin with a women's support center, someplace where women who've been through similar things will recognize your situation and guide you. Be careful to preserve confidentiality.

Take it step by step: What is your actual case? What do you really want? Do you want to take your daughter away from her dad? Is that what you want? Is that fair? Maybe you want to hurt this man; sure you love him but maybe you'd like to hurt him too. Watch for that. Vengeance backs you into a corner where you have to keep fighting all your life to prove you were right in what you did. Don't go there. You have a legitimate reason for divorce. Don't give in to your desire for vengeance. Just clarify what you want. You want out of this marriage. You want your freedom.

So that's how you get out. You plan your escape carefully. You work only with a few people you can trust. You avoid flashy scenarios and vengefulness.


And then one day you go over the wall, quietly, cleanly, without a lot of fuss.

Stuck in a relationship? Not sure what to do? Been there.

Makes a great gift. Can be personalized for the giftee of your choice. Signed first editions on sale now.

What? You want more advice?


Cary Tennis

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