Author and self-proclaimed "Divorce Doctor" Erica Manfred shares some of her break-up advice.
The Question: My husband of 21 years told me two weeks before Thanksgiving that he is no longer in love with me and wants out of our marriage. I am 49, with two kids: a 17-year-old high-school junior and a 13-year-old seventh grader. I do have a good (stable-for-now) job, as does he, but I am worried about my future. He wants to go through divorce mediation as do I (although I do not want this divorce) to save money as we have plenty of debt we need fairly divided. I think he will declare bankruptcy as soon as the divorce is final to get out from under the debt. I am at a loss as to what to do at this point.
My Answer: First, let me say how sorry I am that your marriage is breaking up. This whole "I’m not in love with you anymore" midlife crisis thing is getting old in my opinion, but did a man ever listen to me? No! Second, from my research I can tell you that mediation is probably a bad idea in your case. You have too many complicated financial issues to sort out, including all that debt—plus child support. Mediation can work if the issues are simple and the playing field is level, i.e., you have the same assets, are basically splitting everything down the middle and just have to agree on who gets what. Feminist divorce lawyers have told me that mediation works against women who don’t have experience in tough negotiating. Mediators tend to push agreement, and women are more likely than men to give in. Visit a lawyer for a consultation before you make any decisions. Most divorce lawyers offer a free consult. Also, it sounds to me like you’re in too much of a rush here. Thanksgiving was just a few weeks ago. Don’t let your husband push you into mediation—or divorce. The end of a long marriage is a major trauma and you need to do some healing before you can make rational decisions. Wait until you’ve seen a lawyer and have really thought out what you need to survive in the long term. A hasty divorce agreement can haunt you forever.
The Question: I am 45, have three kids ages 10 to 14 and I am unhappy in my marriage. I have not worked in 15 years and am afraid of being on my own. My husband is a wonderful person and a good father. I just don’t love him anymore. I feel lost and alone. My friends all say I need to stick with it. They do not understand. Where do I go from here?
My Answer: I hate to be a prissy old biddy, but your friends are right! As a former hippie, graduate of the sexual revolution and once a diehard romantic, I never thought I’d say this, but … get a grip! Marriage is a sacrament—fer-gawd-sakes—and you have three young kids. You say your husband is a wonderful person and a good father. Who do you think is around the corner for women over 45, especially with three kids? George Clooney? If you leave you will find a lot of bald, paunchy old players, who are discovering how desirable they are now that they’re in short supply. Meanwhile, some smart cookie will grab your wonderful husband and will be part-time mom to your two kids. That will not be fun. You will have to split all your assets, and unless you’re rich now, you will be poor divorced, especially since you have no career. You have read too many Harlequin novels and think that romantic love should last a lifetime. All the studies show that it lasts two years at most, then reality sets in and you have to make a satisfying life with the partner you’ve chosen. I strongly suggest you go to marriage counseling or a marriage workshop to revitalize your marriage. I have a chapter on marriage counseling in my book that will be helpful. If you’re Catholic, or even if you’re not, consider Retrouvaille, a weekend program run by the Catholic Church for couples considering divorce. (My ex and I are Jewish and we did it. I think it would have worked if he wasn’t having an affair.) It’s a powerful experience and hopefully it will make you fall in love with your husband again.
The Question: Do you have any advice for a child of divorce? I just don’t know how to cope. There are all sorts of groups for young children of divorce, but none for people my age. I do see a therapist, but having advice from those who have been through divorce or anyone who is an adult child of divorce might be really beneficial to me right now. It’s hard. I don’t even like the holidays anymore.