When self-destructive behavior starts to put your family at risk, separating from your spouse is the best thing you can do. I should know - I was put in just this situation a number of years ago. When my ex started using drugs and engaging in self-destructive behaviors, divorce, for me was unavoidable.
While it was an excruciating time in my life, the strength I found and maintain has been a blessing. And I know that if I could do it, you can too.
Happy beginnings make it hard to let go.
Maybe the hardest part of my separation and subsequent divorce has been how wonderful it all once was. Our marriage was storybook. He was tall and dashing and seemed to have all the potential in the world. We met our last year of university and stayed together through graduation, grad school, travel, and our twenties, and we both knew we’d be together forever.
He was in finance and was a go-getter, had been fortunate enough to inherit a bit of money. As such, we were comfortable and bought a nice home. I became pregnant at 27 and we had our son. We were happy and life was good. Unfortunately, it didn’t last.
When problems become so bad, you know you have no choice but to leave.
Like I mentioned, my husband was in finance, and quickly developed a reputation for being good at his job. Apparently, this got his attention from higher ups in his firm who took a liking to him. He began to stay late for “business meetings” and would come home smelling of alcohol. At first, I didn’t mind, and he seemed happy, but things kept getting worse.
Long story short, he developed a taste for hard drugs, including cocaine, and his extra-curricular activities began to span weekends. When I would approach him about his growing problems, he would first laugh it off, telling me not to worry, but when I tried to press the point he became violently angry - something I’d never seen out of him. There were nights he didn’t bother coming home. I began to suspect he was having an affair, and I eventually found out he’d been visiting prostitutes. The last straw was when he came home drunk and high and insisted on waking our son up. I knew then that our marriage was over. It was time to go.
My son deserved a better life and role model than he was getting, so we left the only home he’d ever known. And I needed to be strong for myself - I couldn’t tolerate such reckless and damaging behavior from my husband and the father of my son. As my husband became more distant and I started to realize things were out of hand, I began to drink as well. I put on weight. I felt alone and lost, but I knew I couldn’t let my self-pity get in the way of a better future for my son and myself.
At first, my ex refused to cooperate on divorce proceedings; he wanted to try to “work things out”. A lawyer friend recommended we sign paperwork that would allow us to legally separate where I could dictate visitation, and he wouldn’t have to go through a divorce. I began to see a psychiatrist and urged him to as well.
The repercussions of not protecting yourself financially.
As often happens, my ex’s problems got worse. He was eventually fired from his job and he couldn’t find another one. He went from high-powered breadwinner to pawning personal items and selling his car to keep up with his bad habits. Things continued to spiral and, in a moment of clarity for him, I was able to convince him we needed a divorce. He finally agreed.
One major problem, however, was that because we were married and he owed mortgage payments and had other debts, I was potentially on the hook for those. He had borrowed from a range of sources and people, and when it became clear he couldn’t pay up, many of his lenders tracked me down. I consulted my lawyer but was warned that because we were married, I might have to pay for some of his mistakes with money I had inherited from my own family.
What I Learned
While I did have to ultimately contribute to some of my husband’s delinquent debts (like mortgage payments), I was able to avoid much of it with good legal advice and counsel. And while my ex is trying to get his life back together and I wish him the best, I was eventually able to divorce him, win sole custody of our son, and cut off most contact with him.
I learned how to be independent and that few things are a sure thing. I learned how to really care for my son. I also learned that I need to protect myself, and sometimes that means protecting myself from people who claim to love me. If I get married again, I will take steps to ensure we remain financially independent should things not work out. And I will also take my time in getting to know, and falling in love with a new man.
If you find yourself in a similar situation, do whatever you can to get out. The sooner the better. Good luck.