Ending A Marriage With Kindness

I tried for years and failed, so now it has to end.

Ending a marriage with kindness Rido, Jacob Lund | Canva

I keep reading articles about how marriages break down. I’ve read about Miserable Husband Syndrome, Walk Away Wife Syndrome, Wife Abandonment Syndrome, and some other topics. 

The catch for me always comes toward the end of the article, when the author starts suggesting strategies to reverse the demise of the relationship. That’s when I stop reading. All I can think is, “Nah, I’m good.” I am so done with not trusting my intuition. Why does the narrative always return to trying to preserve the marriage? Why is it seen as giving up if a person chooses not to destroy themselves to maintain a miserable and volatile relationship?


In other words: Why in the world would I stay married when I’m not happy just because I don’t want to make someone else sad?

I have spent the last 5 years struggling to successfully navigate a marriage with a perpetually miserable person, who won’t say what they want or make a move in any direction. I have come to accept that I can’t navigate it. I tried for years and failed, so now the relationship has to end.

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What’s taken me so long? My intense fear of my husband engaging in irreversible self-harm had frozen me. He is from a country with a very high suicide rate, and he’s also an active alcoholic. Since he only works part-time, he’s usually already drunk by the time I get home from work most days.

Relationship discussions with him are awful. He either cries hysterically or argues and gaslights. I end up never being able to present a concern or make a request, as the conversation morphs into me defending myself against things so stupid I can hardly remember them the next day. It’s all a tactic to control the conversation, all a game — so I stopped playing.

This makes dialogue outside of the safe container of couple’s therapy very daunting for me, but I can’t continue to use that as an excuse to not take control of my life.

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Sure, we love each other, but we’re not happy. I have communicated with him very clearly, for years, about not just what I wanted but also what I needed to be happy in our marriage. 

I thought of what my therapist told me at one point when I was expressing my frustration over the life I’ve found myself in. I was specifically frustrated at the idea that I’d have to wait years for my husband to get an income that could help us reach certain goals. My therapist responded, “Well, you can have all that, you’re just going to have to make it happen completely on your own. You can’t rely on your husband to help you reach this goal.” She was right. She was so right. They weren’t our goals, they were my goals.

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The irony is not lost on me. In my desire to be kind to my husband, ie. keep him happy and avoid arguments, I cultivated a life of extreme unhappiness and dissatisfaction for myself.


Last week I took a drive around my area to look at Christmas lights before they were all taken down for the year. I drove past beautiful homes, with parents out walking dogs with their kids next to them on scooters, and thought of how badly I’d wanted what I saw as a life of abundance, beauty, love, and possibility. I was living a life mired in sorrow and longing, a life that would keep me staring out of the car window indefinitely.

Sad woman looking out car window Antonio Guillem / Shutterstock

My therapist recommended that I tell my husband that I wanted to separate over the phone, while he was out of the country. She said that it was primarily for my safety. I felt she was being overly cautious at the time, but my husband’s drinking and volatility reached a new level two days after that, so I’m glad I followed her advice.


My husband was a total jerk about it, of course. He immediately began smiling, chuckling, shaking his head, and asking me about things I’d said in couple’s therapy. I held firm with my boundaries and kept the interaction short, telling him that I wanted to separate, with the only reason being “I’m not happy”. No need to repeat everything he already knew and never did anything to fix.

I asked to talk again in a week so that we could both take it all in, and he refused to set up a time. I was worried that this was a sign of future uncooperativeness, especially since he broke the no-contact request eight hours later. He wanted to let me know that he was “okay” and he hoped the week would be good for me; that it would “fulfill [my] needs”. He let me know that he wasn’t expecting a response. Aw, thanks for approving my request and permitting me to put boundaries in place.

We did talk after a week though, and this conversation was much harder. Somehow he’d convinced himself that by “separate”, I only wanted to take a week-long break from communicating. 

He’d shown up to the video call with a list of steps he intended to take, to address the issues he’d been promising to address for years. When I broke it down to him that I wanted a marital separation, where we live different lives and eventually divorce, he began to cry hysterically and ended the video call. I was worried. Was this more avoidance? Thankfully, he let me know 20 minutes later that he wanted to continue talking. 


He was no longer crying and was surprisingly put together. He spoke pragmatically, asking about things like lodging (I’ll stay in the house for now), health insurance (it’ll stay as is, until we divorce), and what to do if we want to have guests (ask first, and the other needs to be out of the house). We discussed what we would tell our friends, and were specific that we’d leave details out.

This is perplexing, for him to become so accepting so quickly, after being so resistant to pretty much anything I wanted for years. I am concerned about his state of mind, and I wonder if he thinks that coming back home will somehow get me to change my decision. I will pack a to-go bag, in case anything goes down. My bedroom door locks, and I’ll lock it every night, as well as when I’m in the bath. He has one time to act out and drum up concern in me, and then I’m out.

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Dick Nail is a writer at Medium, sharing the story of their life in transition and starting over in their 40s. DickNail uses a pseudonym, to protect their privacy.