Our Divorce Showed Me Just How Extreme My Husband’s Personality Really Was

Our husband's personality shocked our children, too.

man sitting in his kitchen in the chaos he made New Africa via Shutterstock | cottonbro studio via Canva 

When I first saw where my husband was living during our elongated divorce, I brushed it off. I told myself he was playing the role of the poor broke man to pretend there wasn’t any money. It was an apartment attached to a house that was cluttered and dirty.

I knew it was intentional because I knew the amount of rent he was paying. He could have afforded to live in a far nicer place for that amount.


We finalized our divorce and he moved to a pricey townhouse rental. The neighborhood and the home were beautiful. One day, I had to stop by to pick something up from him.

I was taken aback as I walked through the first floor.

All I could think was, "Who lives like this?"

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I immediately remembered something one of our children had said, "It’s weird — it’s, like, worse than a college kid's place." I hadn’t really known what they meant until that moment.

The kitchen was a mess and things were all over the counters. There were boxes (his work boxes) strewn all around the room. There was absolutely no furniture in the house sans a desk space, a floating island from our old kitchen, and a bed. He had plenty of money. He was living like this by choice.


It didn’t look like the home of a functional human being.

Especially, one who had lived there as long as he had. It was depressing. All I could think was thank goodness I had divorced him. Thank goodness some self-preservation instincts had kicked in. Because I had tremendously underestimated the extent of my husband’s personality.

Eventually, he would furnish the living room with a few things. But despite being divorced from my husband, it troubled me because he didn’t appear typically functional. I knew it upset my kids.

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He began frequenting a pub at least six days a week.


He would sit at the bar and hang out with strangers. He didn’t meet with friends or come looking for our children. To be fair, his local friends all walked away from him after witnessing the severe financial abuse he was inflicting on his wife and children.

There was some illicit dating — meaning unavailable women. He was making choices that made all of us shake our heads. My husband had made a massive departure from the man my children believed their father to be.

Yes, he was extremely financially abusive during our divorce and that was traumatic. But I think our kids hoped it was temporary. I think they wanted to believe their father would re-emerge post-divorce.

The great guy, the dad who actually cared, and the fun guy. But that person was long gone and our children knew it.


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My children would ask me one question in a variety of ways.

"What’s wrong with Dad?"

"When did Dad get like this?"

"What happened to Dad?"

"When did Dad get so weird?"

The other day I was on the phone with a friend.

They were explaining how out of control their former spouse’s behavior had become. It was beginning to impact their children. It was baffling in many ways.

"I’m going to tell you what I have told my children," I said. "Because you are experiencing something similar. When my boys have asked me what’s wrong with their father and when did he become this way, I say one thing."


I am not suggesting my friend tell their children this. I am trying to help my friend make sense of the behavior that now seems so off the charts that it’s beyond odd and extreme. We both divorced personalities that were intensely difficult.

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We both divorced extreme personalities.

"The short version I tell my children is this," I said. "Your Dad is who he has always been, only while we lived as a family we absorbed much of it. We helped keep his life in order." Now here’s the elongated version I told my friend.

"Here’s the thing," I said. "This person hasn’t changed. They are who they are. They are who they have always been. Only they no longer live with a spouse who absorbs much of that behavior."


As my friend took in my comments, I went on.

"While we were married we didn’t just absorb their extreme temperaments," I said. "We made their world go round. They were controlling and they got their way and as we bent over backward to please them there was a respectable world order." My friend took in my words.

"It took a divorce to understand exactly how extreme the people we married truly are," I said.

"These are unyielding personalities. They have spent a lifetime getting their way. It’s part of the reason they are so punishing during a divorce. They can no longer control us. But it also indicates that despite the fact we were the ones controlled, these are individuals who needed us in many ways to survive. We were the stronger and more confident spousal parties."


What was I attempting to tell my friend?

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Our former spouses may have been outwardly trying to project they were doing well. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they were.

Difficult personalities need someone to absorb their moods, wants, and demands. Like spoiled children, they need someone to witness and become hostage to their tantrums. They were going through the motions of moving forward.

But again, that doesn’t necessarily mean they actually were.

Divorce can be a wake-up call.

If you were to speak to my ex-husband he would insist he took care of me. But nothing could have been further from the truth. In many ways, I was more like a parent than a spouse. He needed something taken care of and I did it.


If he needed me to quit my job to grow a business, I did it. If he needed me to pay the bills because he found it stressful, I did it. If he needed me to take care of household repairs, I did it.

It wasn’t an equal distribution of teamwork. He was responsible for one thing — going to work.

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My husband liked to say we had a traditional marriage but it wasn’t a traditional marriage.


He wasn’t a man who was handling work, bills, yard work, repairs, cars, and building things. He was a guy who went to work.

I underestimated how much I took care of in his life. And that included our family and social lives.

In divorce, my husband didn’t even come looking for his own children.

It was odd and unnatural. It was certainly hurtful and upsetting to our kids. Children can understand two parents who no longer get along. They can’t understand a parent who isn’t still attached to them. My friend and I both struggled with the end of our marriages.

We resisted divorce.

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But sadly, it took a divorce to expose the true nature of the ridiculously extreme personalities we had attracted ourselves to.

And of course, to recognize the role we played in absorbing their mood, wants, and demands.

It isn’t uncommon for pleasers, fixers, and rescuers to gravitate toward difficult people. One need meets the other. It works until it doesn’t. In my case, I left a diagnosed narcissist.

There was a lot brewing below the surface. Perhaps an ironic statement given there isn’t any depth to a narcissist. But you understand what I am attempting to say. My husband was as complicated as the day I married him. It just took a divorce to accurately expose it.


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Colleen Sheehy Orme is a national relationship columnist, journalist, and former business columnist. She writes about love, life, relationships, family, parenting, divorce, and narcissism.