The Reason Divorce Can Be So Ugly Is Because You Waited Too Long To Leave

All the relationship baggage turns into weapons.

couple arguing Africa Studio | Shutterstock

"I’m leaving," I said to several of my neighbors. "I’m taking my boys and I’m moving in with my sister."

I was not playing around. 

I had been married for eight excruciating years. The man I dated was not the man I had married. It had taken me a while to figure out. I initially couldn’t understand who and what he was, nor what happened to the great guy I knew. 

The easygoing guy who charmed me was now rigidly cold and cruel. But I had finally recognized the pattern.


My husband was a great guy if I didn't mess with him. If I stayed out of his world and in my own world things were fine.

This meant I didn't interfere with his work or workday for any reason. I took care of our children and our home and worked in the business. But twice a year I inevitably needed him for something. I mean that’s kind of what marriage is all about, right?

It didn't matter what I needed him for. It could have been a household chore or maintenance. It could have been something with our children or something bigger like getting ready for a trip, a party, or surgery.

And all hell broke loose.


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One point of conflict turned into a month of tears. My tears. There was never a resolution. 

I had to attend to whatever we were arguing over. If it was something I needed help with I did it alone. If it was something with the children I handled it by myself. It didn't matter how big or small the thing I needed assistance with was … my husband made it clear I was on my own.

After a month of coldness and cruelty, I typically picked myself up and moved on. But this time, after eight years, my husband had pushed me to the brink.

Not only had I discovered the pattern of his behavior but he had done two things in the past year that were absolutely intolerable. He refused to pick me up from the hospital when our second son was born and to go to the hospital when our son had tubes put in his ears.


It was unnatural and I was done.

My husband ended up picking me up from the hospital when our son was born only because our townhouse neighbors saw me crying when I got out of our car. My neighbor asked why I was crying when I was going to be delivering a baby the next day and I told her he was refusing to pick me up.

Our neighbor got up in my husband’s face and said, "You will pick your wife up from the hospital." It was the only reason my husband did.

Months later, I was in the hospital alone with our ten-month-old baby getting tubes put in. My husband’s aunt knew I was afraid and showed up to sit with me. My husband felt absolutely no guilt or worry for our child.


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Three weeks into staying at my sister’s house there was a knock at the door from a florist.

"If those are from my husband," I said. "He would have to send the entire florist to get me back." Unfortunately, I didn't stick to those words.

My husband begged and pleaded for me to return. He said he was sorry and that he would go to marriage counseling. I gave in and went back to him. We started couples therapy and the second time our son needed tubes in his ears he actually went to the hospital with me.

We had six relatively good years where I felt like I had the man I dated back — but a leopard doesn’t change its spots. I wanted to leave a second time.


Here's why divorce can be so ugly. Because we stay in extremely unhealthy relationships and we wait too long to leave. 

My husband was still the person he had always been but was older and becoming even more difficult. And he was furious that I would dare to consider leaving him a second time.

The rage was building within him.

Ironic really, because it should have been building within me.

And it did temporarily. I was furious that we were replaying an intolerable relationship. I wasn’t willing to go back there. I didn’t date a man who would treat me that way and I certainly wouldn’t have married a man I thought would treat me that way.


But I stayed in marriage counseling by myself once my husband refused to return.

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I worked through my hurt, pain, and anger. I accepted the mistakes I made and was accountable for the choices I made.

By the time I initiated the divorce, it was a sad reality. It was devastating.

I wasn’t looking for retribution. I wasn’t looking to punish anyone. But my husband was.


He wasn’t willing to divorce me without making me pay for leaving him. He used divorce as an excuse for abuse. He was unrelenting and because he didn’t spend any time in counseling, or even individually reflecting, he played out all of the same problems we had in our marriage.

He didn’t see divorce as an unfortunate breakup. He saw it as a way to exercise any and all anger he had toward me.

The reason divorce can be so ugly, is we wait too long to leave. And all the relationship baggage turns into weapons.

My husband had an extreme personality and was extremely difficult. He already had the propensity to make divorce ugly. It was going to be inescapable with his particular personality but he got even worse with age and with more conflict and resentment.

Even the average person who isn't difficult can build such anger and frustration that it plays out in a divorce. Whether someone is married to a fairly easy personality or a difficult and extreme personality, the longer we remain in unhealthy relationships the uglier it gets.


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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.