I’m Tired of Hiding the Fact That My Marriage Is Falling Apart

Alcoholism, debt. This wasn’t supposed to happen to me.

A bride and groom embrace in the middle of a desert. The bride faces away from us, her face and body partially obscuring the groom's face.

There are some things that people just don’t talk about. We all curate our lives on social media, posting the highlight reel of our days and shoving everything that can’t be made pretty by an Instagram filter back under the bed, don’t we? I was as guilty of this as the next person—posing for the perfect ring photo not even five minutes after getting engaged, spending thirty minutes picking a filter to showcase my designer wedding dress in the days and weeks after my dream wedding. My life was a happy, newlywed bubble, and nothing could stop me from sharing that with the little part of the world that followed me online. And then, the posts stopped. The lull in my social media accounts started to tell a story that I was desperately trying to shove back under the bed. A story that wasn’t supposed to be talked about or shared, as if it was a contagious disease, ready to infect all those exposed.

After 103 days of marriage, my husband admitted that he was an alcoholic and compulsive spender that drained our joint bank account and accumulated $20,000 in secret credit card debt.

THIS WASN’T SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN, NOT TO ME

There were warning signs, of course. The drunken nights leading up to our wedding that were becoming more and more frequent. The secrecy when it came to finances. The fights over the fact that my salary supported 80 percent of our joint expenses as he worked the overnight shift for little more than minimum wage. The elaborate lies to hide the fact that our money was being spent on alcohol seem as thin as lace now. Many may call me naïve, blinded, and I might do the same. I never knew my husband was driving forty-five minutes to work each night, drunk enough to be arrested. I never noticed that the credit card in my name was carrying a larger and larger balance each month, even as I was making payments. I never thought twice about it when my husband insisted on depositing all of the checks we received as wedding gifts into an account that only he controlled.

The night my husband confessed, I drove him to his parents house to stay. At the time, I thought he would be there for a few days to allow the hurt and pain to pass and then we would jump right back in to being newlyweds. My husband has now been living there for more than six months. Every time I consider allowing him to come home, to restart our first year of marriage, I remember what it felt like to hear “all of the money is gone” slip past his lips. I remember the ice that sprinted through my veins and the shock that almost stopped my heart. I remember the phone call I had to make to my parents, asking for money to buy groceries that week. I am from an upper-middle class family, college-educated with a great job that I love. I have a 401K account and a basic understanding of how to do my own taxes. This isn’t supposed to happen to women like me. I had a perfect marriage and I had the social media accounts to prove it. The feeds told a happy story, a story that doesn’t match up with the ugly currents that pulled me out of the life I had created for myself and left me out in the dark to die.

Misery with no company

In the aftermath, the days and weeks where I was desperately trying to keep myself afloat, I spent hours online trying to figure out what women like me did in situations likes this. I Googled “alcoholic husband newlyweds now what” and “divorce after three months of marriage.” While I found lots of helpful legal advice and a great therapist, who I still see today, I found no personal accounts from women who spent their first year of marriage in the kind of hell I found myself in. I realized then how serious of a problem we were facing. No one feels comfortable coming forward to bear the ugly side of marriage, the disastrous consequences of alcoholism and spending addiction.

We are more comfortable with hiding behind the truth that we not only tell the world, but that we tell ourselves. While I have great respect for resources such as Al-Anon, I found that even there, no one was talking about what it means to consider leaving your spouse of three months. There were plenty of resources for those who wanted to make a marriage work with a substance abuser, and even support groups for those who struggled in these kinds of marriages, but none of that correlated to how I felt. I felt alone to my very core and like I deserved to be punished for what I let happen in my marriage.

And so I punished myself with isolation. I stopped picking up the phone for anyone but my parents. I was living alone for the first time in my life and found comfort in a rigid, controlled routine. I cried at the thought of being around “commoners,” people too perfect and happy to ever be able to relate to me. Even people who loved me were now a threat, attempting to draw me out of my comfort zone, to offer unconditional support that I knew I didn’t deserve. After all, I was in the kind of marriage you only hear about on soap operas. I threw myself into the things I could control—exercising to the point of exhaustion and obsessing over my work, earning a promotion two months into my separation in the process.

This only served to fuel my belief that I needed to keep this secret. Successful women do not share what happens behind closed doors, and so I didn’t. I woke up every morning and slipped on my diamond engagement ring, terrified that someone would guess what was going on if I didn’t. I spent the day feeling that ring like a literal weight on my left side, a physical reminder of the illusions my husband painted for me. I spun elaborate lies about my life, telling stories about how my husband and I spent the past weekend, when in reality, I hadn’t seen him in weeks. I kept the wedding photos on my desk at work and hanging on my walls at home, a museum to what I thought I had. If I pretended to still be married, then maybe my husband wouldn’t be an alcoholic. Maybe my husband wouldn’t have stolen from me. Maybe my husband would love me enough to stay sober and stop blaming me for his own disease and shortcomings. And more importantly—maybe no one would have to know any differently.

Let’s share—I’ll go first

This mindset prevailed until today. Today, I woke up and decided that I can’t be silent for a moment longer. I cannot contribute to the notion the only life worth sharing with the world is the one in which you are holding your Starbucks cup perfectly with your manicured hand and just so happen to capture it all at the right moment. My story is worthy of being shared because this is my life. This is part of my journey and I am better for it. My story doesn’t define me, and it isn’t even unique to me. Women around the world struggle every day with what I struggle with. We make mistakes, we marry alcoholics, we trust compulsive spenders, we turn a blind eye to bad behavior, and we pay the price. By sharing my story, I hope that even one woman, in some corner of this Internet world, feels a little less alone. I hope that one less woman feels the shame and isolation that I did. To women everywhere who are drowning in silence: I am here, I am struggling too, and we are going to be okay.

If you or a loved one needs help with a drinking problem, you can find your local Alcoholics Anonymous location, information and learning resources here. For Public Assistance options please click here.

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  • Katie

    My heart goes out to the author. This is really heartbreaking. But ultimately, life still goes on. Hugs.

    The message is so very important. The trap of social media is that we are CONSTANTLY surrounded by somebody else’s perfection. We forget that it’s not real life, it’s just curated small moments that we, too, can and do experience.

  • Jessica

    This hit me right in the “I know how that feels” feels. Perfect life, everything going right, and then the bottom just falls out. I went the route of telling everyone I know and making sure they knew my ex was one fucked up liar who treated me poorly.

  • e.e.hersh

    Why is it so EASY to believe the social media feeds?? Logically, we know that no one’s life is perfect – that all families and couples are at least a little dysfunctional in some way… but it’s so hard to remember that when faced with an onslaught of beautiful, sunny, photos. Hugs to the author here as she moves forward.

    • Amy March

      I think because they’re actually true. My Instagram is full of delicious meals I’ve cooked. That’s true. It just doesn’t show my routine meal, egg on a plate. It’s easy to fill in the gaps around a partial picture.

      • Henri

        Yep!

        Social media is creating a whole new sphere of life that is neither wholly private nor wholly public. Which means we’re still (as a social, culture group) figuring out what it means and how to interact with it (seriously, there’s some really interesting history around the advent of the printing press and the ability to read and discuss things that’s got some similarities to now).

        • Cleo

          To add to that, who tells the whole truth of their life when they’re interacting face to face with friends?

          I can count on one hand the number of people who I’d confide my fears, worries, and more serious life aggravations.

          If I have something bad going on, I’ll tell those select few. Otherwise, I’ll present myself as happy with maybe a little grumbling about work (or whatever might be bothering me) mixed in.

          • Henri

            Very true! I’m more of a sharer with my friends, but I certainly don’t share at work and with acquaintances (which is a vast majority of my social media followers).

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  • lennox

    This was beautifully poignant and I really hope the author finds peace.

    If I may, though, can I suggest that we retire the phrase “This isn’t supposed to happen to women like me.” from our vocabularies? As a woman from multiple marginalized identities, it really, truly bothers me. Who was it supposed to happen to, then?

    • CMT

      Same. That line really rubbed me the wrong way. Especially with the preceding two sentences (“I am from an upper-middle class family, college-educated with a great job that I love. I have a 401K account and a basic understanding of how to do my own taxes.”) It implies that there’s a type of person who deserves this or should expect it.

      • Katie

        I think that the whole essay kinda revolves around the idea how women like her are seen on Instagram, etc. as the perfect women with perfect lives, and divorce is not *supposed* to happen to those perfect women. But in reality it does happen to everybody, and of course nobody *deserves* it!

      • MTM

        I’m not sure if this is right, but I read this more as being embarrassed about not seeing the growing credit debt, not the more relational aspects…

        • CMT

          I know what the intention was. The execution was not great.

    • Leah

      That line hit me as well, but it’s tricky because it’s both problematic and honest. As a white, well-educated, upper middle class woman, when I had some bad stuff go down in my life, that exact statement was in my head as well. I recognized that it was a problem that I felt that way, and actually did some pretty hard work on myself to get rid of that privilege-laden and resentment-creating framing for my problems. And for sure I am a lot better at dealing with the bad stuff now that I’ve called that out in myself and largely shut it down. BUT, for a lot of fairly privileged people that is their honest emotional reaction and part of what they have to get over in dealing with their shit. So maybe it’s more about recognizing and calling out the baggage behind that phrase, then retiring it? Interested in your thoughts, if you’re willing.

      • Katie

        Exactly. I read this as “this isn’t supposed to happen to women like me, whose lives seem picture perfect”. Not because the author literally thinks that “women like her” deserve the best lives and the best marriages.

      • CMT

        I think that’s reasonable. But this essay doesn’t do that, and this essay is on a public forum and is not the same thing as those sometimes problematic gut reactions that everybody experiences.

        • Cleo

          Co-signed. Lennox’s point is a good one.

      • lennox

        Your point is well taken; I often have trouble navigating the “problematic but honest” line myself. I think the way to combat that, as you pointed out, is calling out the baggage/how it’s problematic. Unfortunately, the author didn’t really do that, she listed details of her privilege and left it there made a connection to her theme of social media, and left it there.

      • Anne

        I think it can also be read as a statement of feeling guilty – that precisely because she has such privilege and resources, she felt like she had no excuse for not seeing the red flags and finding a solution. As she said elsewhere in the piece, she felt like she deserved to be punished. That doesn’t necessarily negate the problematic nature of the way she described it, however.

        • Amy March

          That’s exactly how I read it- with all her advantages she feels even more like she should have been able to avoid this. I think it’s a common feeling and I’m glad she was honest about it. It’s hard to write an essay when the whole purpose is to embrace your truth and share it while also making sure not to say anything someone else might find offensive.

          • Amy Elizabeth

            “It’s hard to write an essay when the whole purpose is to embrace your truth and share it while also making sure not to say anything someone else might find offensive.”

            Well said – & many thanks for articulating this. I feel like some of APWs conversations have become very easily offended/the word police in recent years. I don’t speak up often, but I *very often* appreciate how you listen for intent & your grounded comments :)

      • mjh

        Like lennox, I also am coming from a multiple marginalized identities perspective and I also cringed at the “this isn’t supposed to happen to women like me” line, but I agree with you that it is tricky because it is both problematic and honest.

        I think it was right to be in the essay, as that thinking is a part of the author’s experience and perspective, and it is also right and important for the concept to be called out in the comments section as lennox did.

      • NotMotherTheresa

        Yes! I have truly been through this very thing…as privilege laden as I knew it was, the fact that I was white, educated, decent looking, and middle class somehow made all of the problems I was going through seem more shocking and ~wrong~. Even at the time, I felt horrible about it, but all I could think was “I don’t look like the kind of person they feature on the news, tearfully talking about this!”.
        Society, unfortunately, gives us a lot of stereotypes about who different types of things happen to. It’s not that I didn’t think anything bad could ever happen to me–I totally fit the bill for being say, a Missing White Woman or innocent drunk driving victim–but the things that ~did~ happen didn’t fit the narrative of Bad Things That Happen To Educated White Folks With Mortgages and Kale.

    • sassafrass

      I can understand what the author means. When my marriage was crumbling, it was almost like having cancer – this happens to other people, not to me. I had worked so hard, I thought I was different. I was too smart, too strong of a woman to be taken for a lie like I was. I think we all kid ourselves that we are the exceptions and I feel like that’s what she was intending

      • Henri

        I don’t think @disqus_CwXsUZKCfr:disqus doesn’t know that’s what the author meant (at least, I read their comment as acknowledging what the author meant).

        The issue is that NOT everyone is in a social or cultural position to kid themselves that they are the exceptions to the bad things happening due to messages we get through news and movies and TV and other media. And it is worth taking a moment to think about who gets to consider themselves the exception and who does not. And also to consider who we are pointing at as people this happens to.

      • Jess

        There is a line of magical thinking most people do: “If I eat right, I won’t get sick” “If I love hard enough, my husband won’t lie to me” “If I go to school and study hard, I’ll get a good job”

        A lot of times we get stuck with the unfairness of it. We see others eat poorly and be healthy, or take their wife for granted but stay married, or slack off and be hired. We think to ourselves “I don’t deserve this punishment, they do!”

        Which I wish were so very true, because it would offer us a modicum of control. But none of us can stop bad things from happening to good people and life is often not a meritocracy.

        • Stayce

          I can’t remember where I read this, but apparently a Buddhist scholar came to the US sometime in the 50s or 60s and was surprised by how prevalent the idea of ‘original sin’ was. Not so much in a literal Biblical interpretation, but the idea that someone’s suffering was caused by an initial mistake, and if they could have just avoided or corrected that mistake, they would be free from suffering. I really hear that in this essay (and when I’ve thought ‘this isn’t supposed to be happening’ in my own life. Which may have some truth in it, but it also assumes we’re in control of everything that happens to us.

          • Jess

            I have spent a lot of time living in the “If only I hadn’t…” mind set. The idea that suffering happens, independent of blame or responsibility, has been incredibly freeing for me.

            (And I’d be lying if I said I remembered it all the time)

          • woodbourne

            I’ve heard a similar thought phrased as “a contract with the universe” – as in, you feel like by eating right/loving hard/studying hard, you have entered into a contract with the universe to be healthy/have a good marriage/get a good job. But the problem is, the universe never signed that contract…and sometimes those things don’t pan out. And we feel more angry and resentful about it because we felt we were owed those outcomes by the universe for our past actions. It’s a concept that I think about a lot in my life.

          • rg223

            I, former Catholic, am married to a Buddhist, and we have discussed this so many times! It’s amazing how much these ideas have influenced our personalities and how we react to things, despite the fact that neither one of us are particularly religious.

      • Lisa

        Right, but there is a difference between the idea “This isn’t supposed to happen to me” and “This isn’t supposed to happen to women like me.” That “like” conveys something separate, a whole social category, that @disqus_CwXsUZKCfr:disqus picked up on.

    • emmers

      Thanks for pointing this out. I’ve used that phrase in the past, and not really gotten the privilege part, though it’s so obvious.

    • toomanybooks

      Thank you for pointing this out – it’s really making me question what people mean when they say “this isn’t supposed to happen to women like me.” Because of course it shouldn’t be happening to anyone! AND, I feel like the idea that “this isn’t supposed to happen to women like me” – insert all characteristics/background this woman would have – doesn’t help “women like that” recognize abuse (etc) either.

      I mean I guess – viewed in a kind light – I would say it reads as “I never thought this would happen to me” – and i feel like people are shocked when someone who, say, has a certain level of education, a great job, someone who is considered very smart and good at making decisions – could possibly miss red flags. That someone who seems on top of everything could have such a big problem slide beneath her radar. That someone with a seemingly perfect life suddenly had the tables turned on her.

      But I definitely see that this whole idea – “women like that” – is based on the amount of privilege they have that they think will protect them from problems.

      • Jessica

        To me, if I think this, it’s because I believe that I have my shit together. That I can plan, and work, and be responsible enough to make sure this doesn’t happen to me. That I have money in the bank (or so I think), a good job, and family that is supportive. Bad things are supposed to be weathered with my spouse, not caused by my spouse.

        But that is hubris, and it’s not true. There are things that will happen to you that, like you said, are not supposed to happen to anyone. But if I were to look at my friends from high school and think which would be married and divorced by the age of 29, and which would be settled and having kids and appear* to have no problems, I would not have been chosen to be the former.

        *key word, here.

        • Henri

          I think the ability to think “This won’t happen to me” is a feature of privilege (whiteness, able-bodiedness, etc) though. For a lot of folks, they have first-hand experience of being as perfect as possible and still suffering these Life Things (or have seen folks very close to them go through this).

  • Ashley

    Sending you all the hugs I could possibly send. Within three months of getting married I was in therapy myself trying to cope with an alcoholic partner (who would have rather lie and hide his drinking in the garage than acknowledge he had a problem). I struggled with all the horrible feelings you’ve described, but it took me 4 years of increasingly lonely and sad feelings before our marriage self destructed. I should have left when I had the first thoughts, I remember telling my therapist, ‘But who leaves their spouse less than a year after they got married?’ I should have had the guts to say ‘ME.’

    I don’t know how your story ends, if you stay or go, but I can tell you that leaving was the best thing that I’ve ever done for myself. I couldn’t possibly support him and take care of myself, but I also learned that keeping other people’s secrets kills you slowly. He needed help, but I also needed help to process my side of what was happening, and we both needed support from people we loved.

    Thank you for having the balls to share. Even 3 years after I left, I struggle to share my story with people because it’s so easy for people to jump to judge, and easy for people to want to distance themselves from signs of struggle, like it’s contagious or something. HUGS.

  • Diana

    I know it doesn’t seem like it, but I know you have the strength to get through this. It sounds like you have family and friends who love and support you, and you should let them! Sooner or later, most people will go through really tough tests, and you are wiser for knowing that you can get through it.

  • Mrrpaderp

    Hugs to the author. I was very nearly in your shoes. I canceled my engagement three months before the wedding, which I’ve posted about before. My story mirrors the author’s in many respects. The increase in drunken nights. Not realizing he was driving drunk. The complicated web of lies to explain why he couldn’t contribute much to our household expenses (in my case, despite the fact that he makes nearly six figures). All the red flags seem so much clearer after the fact.

    Going to work without the ring was hard. I felt like I was wearing a big flashing sign that announced that my life was in ruins. But hardly anyone noticed. (Most) people are a lot less concerned about what’s happening in your life than you think. Tell the office gossip and it’ll get around – an “I’m separated” is all that’s needed. Most people will feel too awkward to say anything to you directly.

    Socially, I’ve lost pretty much all of “our” friends. It was sad but not unexpected. My ex was violent toward me. When abuse is involved, there is no neutral – inviting him to events, which inevitably include alcohol, means I won’t feel comfortable attending. So I’ve invested in new friendships. I try to never say no to a social invitation, even if it’s out of my comfort zone. I organize happy hours and dinners even though I’m always terrified no one will show. And to that end, I’m becoming more comfortable being alone. I’m making a point of going on vacation and out to fancy dinners, etc. by myself, and it’s been fabulous. I’m over 6 months post-break up and my life now is so much more full than it was before. The author will get there too.

    • Diana

      Truly impressed by your grace and resilience.

      • Mrrpaderp

        You’re too sweet, thank you <3

    • Jan

      My ex “got” all our mutual friends, but that was my own doing. I just couldn’t stand to be linked to him in any way, so if someone didn’t feel like my own friend I sort of cut them out. I felt a bit bad because I went the stone-silent route and no one outside of my nearest and dearest really knew what he had done, so they probably just ended up thinking I was the dick. But, whatever. You gotta do what you gotta do to get by, ya know?

      • Oy Vey

        Same. I silently unfriended and blocked all of “our” friends (who were his friends who he approved of me hanging out with) after the break-up. I decided I would probably be labeled the asshole in this relationship by them, but I was more concerned with taking care of me than what they thought of me (they who wouldn’t be in my life anymore and who thought my ex was an amazing person).

        • Jan

          Exactly. My ex was in the military, too, and was deployed when I finally had enough, which I knew added an extra layer of blind loyalty to him no matter what I might have told them he did to me. The spouse of the service member is, unfortunately, always* the asshole.

          *Obviously this isn’t the case for everyone, but in my experience it has been true.

    • Henri

      Ugh, the anger and sadness I have over the “neutral” people I lost when I dumped my alcoholic ex who then began stalking me. . . just solidarity on that one. It’s rough.

  • Jan

    Hugs to you, author. I’ve been there. What seems to everyone else to be a good life and happy marriage, actually crumbling on the inside. I only told my closest family and friends when my world fell apart. I wore my ring for months longer than actually felt right because I felt ashamed? Or something? It gets better. Also, this Maya Angelou quote was something that really helped me when I was going through everything: “I can be changed by what happens to me but I refuse to be reduced by it.”

    Shit happens. People make mistakes. We learn from it and overcome it.

  • Kara

    My dear Emily, my heart aches for you. I’m so grateful that you’re taking care of yourself.

    Last year, one friend was served divorce papers on her birthday by her husband of 9 months. He never provided any real reason–he wasn’t seeing anyone or anything. It was just a huge shock.

    This year, another friend (married almost 8 years, has 3 boys under the age of 7, seemingly rock solid relationship–been though fire, flood, health scares, etc), found out her husband had been having an affair. They are nearly divorced. Again, it was so surprising.

    Some things you don’t truly see until you are though with them. If possible, don’t beat yourself up. It happens to everyone in one way or another.

  • sassafrass

    Wow – thank you for sharing. We made it about a month shy of a year before I realized what was going on with my husband. I spent years in denial as his problem grew from a college party habit to the monster of the disease it became, not understanding how my husband could go to work in such a great mood and come home the scariest, angriest person you’d ever met. Or wondering how his pay checks kept getting lower and lower. Or seeing him passed out on a table at the reception of my sister’s wedding, but letting him convince me it was his new meds and he was just tired.

    Then one day I couldn’t find him and I walked our apartment complex and found him unconscious behind a dumpster. Not knowing what to do, I called my dad and called 911. He became mildly coherent and chose to go to jail over the hospital. After 90 days in rehab, he relapsed 3 times, each time escalating; arrests, hospital stays, you name it. I have been through the ringer – wondering if our marriage is all a lie, a sham. The hardest thing was sharing anything on social media, only to have my husband relapse and people ask, “how could that happen – you guys looked like things were going so well.”

    By the grace of God, we are still together and he is 4 months sober at this point. That wasn’t without multiple different living situations, a separation, a great counselor and some serious lessons in establishing and managing boundaries. But it was so much work and it is incredibly taxing mentally, physically, and emotionally. My heart breaks and goes out to you LW and I’m so grateful for your post. I have been and still am there – asking how did I not know, pouring myself into activities to the point of being just shy of mania. But everyday is a new day and I’m learning to be grateful for just what I have today and fix those problems I can control. It’s a long road and I hurt for you, but you are SOOOO not alone.

    • Diana

      he is SO lucky to have a wife like you <3

      i don't know if you are religious or just using the figure of speech, but yeah, i've definitely felt like my belief in God was the only way to get through something difficult

    • Jess

      Those kinds of “how could that happen – you looked like everything was so great” comments are so hard. It always comes off kind of accusatory like “You’re letting us down!” which is pretty much the least helpful response.

      I’m glad that you’re finding a place in your marriage to heal from those times and to support your husband. It is a long road.

  • mjh

    Tell it, Emily.

    Thanks for the reminder that we each contribute to creating an environment that impacts what people feel they can express. We’re not only contributing to standards and pressures when we speak about them; our silence shapes the environment, too. Of course everyone deserves privacy and we each need to do what works for us as individuals, but I think it’s easy to forget the impact on the collective and it’s something we should consider.

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  • CB624

    My situation wasn’t precisely the same, but I found myself in the middle of a very similar story during my first year of marriage. The lies. The betrayal. The whole time I felt like I kept bargaining with God that if I had to go through this hell, there had better be something incredible waiting on the other side of it. I had done everything RIGHT. I had made informed, intelligent, logical decisions based on the information that was available to me. Sometimes I still don’t understand how I turned out to be the person whose marriage disintegrated and ended in divorce so painfully and quickly.
    I’m more than two years on the other side now, and there WAS something incredible waiting. I ended up getting extremely lucky, and my life now is SO much better than the life I had planned. I sincerely hope that happens for you, too. I believe that it will.
    This will get better. There will be a time when your life has the normal amount of pain, and not this exorbitant amount. People always reference the second part of Eleanor Roosevelt’s quotation, “You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”, which I love, but I think the first part is even more powerful. “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.'”
    Living with such extreme fear and pain was horrible, but it helped me build a reserve of strength and compassion beyond anything I had developed in my life previously. When you have lived through this horror, you will be able to take the next thing that comes along, no matter what it is.

  • Anonymouse

    I’m living this right now, and it feels like it’s literally killing me. Married 4.5 years, things got bad about six months after our wedding, when I observed a total mental/emotional/chemical shift in my husband. He is a survivor of some pretty serious childhood trauma, which he’s been getting tons of help for, but we’d been together for 6 years and so, so healthy, so I never imagined we’d be going through this. And I don’t feel like I ignored any red flags, which probably gives me a little extra bitterness. I’ve lost all trust in him. He drinks at work, lies to me about where he is, hordes money and has next to no responsibilities in our household. In and out of treatment programs. Meanwhile, I take care of everything: the finances, work, grad school, our home, our rental, bills, family obligations. I’ve completely withdrawn from friends and family, which is something the author talks about and it felt like I could have written those words. My social media is radio silent. I’m so exhausted from trying to support and love him out of this and it not working. We finally separated but it’s excruciating and neither of us is happy. Anyone been through this? Any encouragement from those who haven’t? The hardest thing is, he is still my very best friend and I don’t want to hurt him.

    • Anon for this

      Anon for this because it hits close to home- he isn’t protecting you or your family. You need to. It might not be happy for a long time, you might have to hurt him, but you are the only person who is going to look out for you. If he’s hoarding money while you handle the finances, it’s time to talk to a lawyer.

    • Jess

      Anonymouse, I’m so sorry. This sounds really painful, and I’m hurting for you.

      I hope you can find someone in your life to tell, who you can trust to support you, and talk to you about it when you feel like it and talk to you about other stuff when you don’t, and can make you feel seen and understood without being judged.

      Because this isn’t your fault. And because you are not alone in experiencing someone letting you down again and again.

      Sometimes everything we have isn’t enough to help people we love who aren’t ready to be helped, and the best thing we can do for ourselves and them both is to stop and let them go.

      Sending you strength and hope.

    • Jessica

      I’m sorry that he’s doing this, it’s time to sever as many ties and get rid of him. It will be painful, but at the end of it you will be so much better.

      Get your money into a savings account he can’t touch.
      Reach out to friends you haven’t spoken to in a while and explain what is happening–they will probably jump in to support you.
      Change the locks if you need to.
      Make sure you’re safe. Please, please make sure you’re safe.

      If you’re not already seeing a therapist, start. Mine helped me so much, before and after the split.
      You can do this.

      • Jan

        All of this. The hardest part of separating, for me, was getting to the point where I realized my loyalty and responsibility were no longer to him. It was no longer my job to worry about how he was paying his bills, or whether I made him angry or hurt. And, more importantly (for me), that those things applied to him, too. The moment that realization hit me I felt like I’d been punched in the gut. You will not be happy right away; separation sucks. Divorce sucks. But in the end, you need to look out for yourself. Your responsibility is to you. Lean on your family and friends, get a therapist, and keep contact with your husband to a minimum while you figure out what you need in order to stay sane and healthy.

    • Deirdre

      I’m so sorry, I echo what the others have said and really encourage you to let your friends back in and tell them what’s happening. My husband is also an alcoholic (he relapsed the first time when I was six months pregnant after 8 years of sobriety, and when it happened I was shaken to the core). He has 6 months now, and I’m grateful – but in the worst of it I found that I could manage the stress as long as I was honest with my friends and family, and made sure to continue on with MY life, even if it meant leaving him home passed out in the guest room while my son and I went to dinner with friends. The relief of letting go of the secret was instantaneous and profound. And NONE of my friends or family were anything other than helpful and supportive. Was it embarrassing? Yes. Was my husband mad I was “talking about him with everybody”? Yep. Was it worth anyway? A million times yes. Plus once you start opening up you’ll be amazed at how many people out there have loved ones with substance abuse problems. And, although the author didn’t find it helpful, Al Anon is a good program. There’s nothing like being in a room of people who just GET IT. Good luck and hugs.

    • ManderGimlet

      I am so sorry you are going through this. I think one thing to remember is that, even though his tantrums and manipulation may say otherwise, refusing to tolerate someone’s abuse and self-destructive behavior is not “hurting” them. The guilt he lays upon you, the heartbreak and betrayal he says he is experiencing are not actually real. They are his addictions’ reactions to the reality of all that he is losing when he chooses alcohol and deceit over his marriage. And though you love him, and he very likely loves you, he is not being a friend to you in any stretch of the word. He is not your “best friend” because a best friend does not hurt the person who is most important and cares more about him than anyone else in the world. Whether you choose to stay and attempt to work through this or if you choose to leave, remember that none of this is a failure on your part, not for failing to detect “red flags”, not for keeping him from self-destructing. None of us are given tools for the roughest parts of life, but certainly there is no road map for navigating something so awful. Do your best to honor yourself and who you know yourself to be as a person and what you are capable of in order to promote love and respect and safety in your life.

    • My husband went into a horrible depression during the second year of our marriage, after the birth of our son, but now that I look back I think I saw the signs of depression within a few months after the marriage. As I was going through postpartum depression as well as the challenges of a baby with medical issues, there were times when the volatility of his moods, the emotional abuse, the lack of sleep, and everything else led me to seriously consider suicide. I had to ask him to leave. it was really excruciating, because he was literally my best friend for ten years of my life, and I desperately wanted to, still do want to save this marriage. Separation is hard, and you will want to go backwards, but you have to take care of yourself, and focus on building a life of your own, of being a person you can like and respect who deserves happiness. People will tell you to dump him, but no one can rush that decision for you. What you can do, in the meantime, is (while protecting yourself legally and financially, as people have recommended) take the mental, emotional, and physical space to heal and build and live another vision for your life. If there is any chance at all to save the relationship, you will need to be better and stronger than you are, and if there is no chance you will need to be equipped to move on. You cannot save a marriage by yourself, and you also can’t do it from a position of weakness, of fear of losing them, which is something I have learned in the hardest possible way. Please let people in. For months no one knew what was going on because everyone thought my husband was the most wonderful person (which he actually is, when he is able to be) and I didn’t want to damage that image of him. But someone suffering from mental health disease or substance abuse is seeing you through a very distorted lens, that you start to believe yourself. You have to surround yourself with people who see you as the valuable, competent, beautiful person that you are, until you start to believe that. Once you are that person, that the people who are truly able to love you see, then there is only so much shit you’ll put up with. I still cry for my husband and all of our dreams almost everyday, but knowing that I am super dope (a place thats taken over a year to get to) allows me to dry it up and go on with my day. Don’t worry about him, you cannot hurt him more than he is hurting himself. Maybe, when you are in a better place there is something you can do to help him, but on your own oxygen mask first. My heart goes out to you. It seems like it won’t, but it does get better.

  • Tolkien Gay

    I’m so sorry you’re in this position, LW. I don’t feel like there’s anything I can write that will be helpful so instead I’d like to share an artist I’ve been really into lately who has been great at making me feel all the right things lately. I’m pretty sure this song is about anxiety but I think it’s easily as applicable to any stressful situation.:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nzEsET3zH8A

    She also has this song called Life where the chorus is Life is short, life is simple. Life is joy, life is pain. Life is wonderful, and terrible. But it’s beautiful, and love’s the same. I hope you find comfort in the joyful, wondrous, and beautiful parts of life and love soon.

  • Anonymous for This

    My first marriage had a similar end. My former husband had well-hidden addictions until about three months after we were married. I’m posting anonymously out of respect to his work on himself, but there’s nothing to be ashamed of here. I also wanted to gently encourage you to try out different Al-Anon groups. I had to test several groups until I found one that “fit” my situation. Al-Anon is obviously not for everyone, but I think it can help with the (incredibly privileged) feeling of “this shouldn’t happen to ME.” I came to see alcoholism and drug addiction as a problem that affects every race, age, income level, background, what have you. It also helped me peel back some of the layers of co-dependency is my life besides my former husband. And it gave me the strength to leave my marriage or stay knowing that I was detaching from the alcoholic with love and working on myself. Good luck to you and everyone struggling with the pain of addiction.

  • S

    For anyone who is going through this, may I recommend Aril Levy’s book The Rules Do Not Apply? It’s about the dissolution of a marriage due to a partner’s alcoholism, and it’s wonderfully written and may provide some “misery loves company” or “I’m not the only one” style comfort.

  • Anon

    I soooo know how this feels, and I so appreciate this essay. I’m telling my soon to be ex husband that I’m done in the next few days. I’m over it. He’s an emotionally abusive, lying piece of shit who has robbed me of so much money. I can’t wait to be free. Hugs to everyone going through this.

    • h

      Good for you. stay strong!

    • Aubry

      You’re gonna do great Anon! When i finally left my abusive ex, it was like the weight of the world was lifted. What an amazing feeling. I didn’t even imagine what being in a healthy relationship could be like until I met my husband. It’s gonna get so much better! Internet stranger hugs.

  • Sarah

    It’s eerie how familiar this sounds. Except I kind of knew all along. I’ve always had this rule that I never tell my husband what to do — he’s an adult, I’m an adult, and that’s neither of our place. If I don’t want to do the dishes or he wants go out of town for the weekend for hunting/boys night/whatever, no questions asked. I have a feeling this only works because we have a lot of respect for each other as roommates, but anyways. The boiling point came when I went to pour myself a drink (something like 8 months into our marriage?) and the vodka bottle was full of water. We had a come to Jesus talk, some ugly truths were uncovered, some rules were established, and things are a million times better now, after 2 years of hard work to get here. I remember sobbing that I didn’t want to be the woman who wasted her life married to an alcoholic. TBD, but it’s looking good for now. Se la vie, amiright? TL;DR: life is NOTHING like anybody says it will be, social media or otherwise, and you have to be okay with that and get on with your life.

  • anonforaa

    For more than three years, my husband’s drinking was a problem. At first, I was just concerned with how much more than me he drank. Then it turned into him drinking alone before I’d get home from work. Finally, it became dangerous. He’d drink himself to the point where he’d fall down, twice pulling the shower curtain rod straight out of the plaster walls. He flat-out lie to me when confronted on multiple occasions. It was ugly, isolating, and terrifying. I love my husband, but he was becoming a completely different person.

    We had lots of conversations about how his drinking was affecting him. After 2.5 years of those conversations, he said in passing one night ‘but our marriage is in good shape.’ That is when I realized that I had been hiding, even from him, the extent of the damage of his drinking. I immediately started being more honest with him about what his drinking did to me, how I dreaded coming home to find him with a beer (or worse, a double tall gin and tonic) in hand. How I no longer believed him when he said he hadn’t had a drink. How I walked around looking in every water bottle or thermos to see where he had hidden hard alcohol. How I counted the beers in the fridge every single day before and after work.

    Finally, he hit his rock bottom. He quit cold turkey one day. He went to some AA meetings. He owned up to how destructive his behavior was to himself, and to us. He doesn’t consider himself an alcoholic, and I would be naive to think that we’ll never have to broach the subject again, but we have talked honestly about what role we are comfortable with alcohol taking in our lives, and I plan to keep having those conversations if he is not 100% clear on my stance. Last night he had his first drink in 74 days. We shared a bottle of champagne to celebrate some big things going on in our lives. I don’t want to be the wife that nags him and tells him he can’t do something, so I’m just hopeful that we won’t end up back in the same place.

    LW – it was ugly, it was hurtful, and I hid it from all but one or two people in my life that I knew had gone through something similar. I’m sorry your first year of marriage was so very different than what you’d hoped. I hope your husband is getting help, and I’m glad you are seeing someone. Thank you for your honesty.

  • Eve Sturges

    EMILY. my heart goes out to you, and I want you to know YOU.ARE.NOT.ALONE. I know this because:
    1. I was definitely in this exact same spot when I was 23 years old with a baby on my hip. the lies about the spending (hundreds of dollars from the ATM for lunch?), the substance abuse…GUH! the way it all makes sense in retrospect; you are not naive or stupid or blind. About my personal situation, I can share: this will pass. you will get through this. happiness is on the other side of this experience–I don’t know what that looks like for you or how long it will take, but it’s there, I promise.
    2. I am now a therapist! And I have clients going through this right now! Couple’s like this come through our door on the regular. If not as a couple, then one partner in these dynamics. it is so fucking hard, and you’re right; social media makes it worse. Stigma makes it worse. Assumptions make it worse. Some of the couples I see stay together and are working to rebuild trust and a new kind of relationship. Some of the couples are deciding to divorce. Some are still very much in the “I don’t know” phase.

    I’d be so interested in how your personal story unfolds, please keep in touch with APW if it makes sense to let us know you’re journey. In the meantime, take care of yourself. (Like, really really in an alanon way, put yourself first in all things if you can!)

  • Lisa

    Thanks so much for posting! 1) Hugs a million, 2) oh my god I’m not alone!!! I’ve been in an eerily similar situation and have told no one. My impression was the same- successful women don’t have these things happen to them. But it did and I don’t know what to do next.

    I’m just grateful to know that I’m not alone.

    If anyone else needs to not be alone, please email: brunnerlc12@icloud.com.

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