I am 54 and my ADHD husband is about to turn 70. I am debating divorce vs. separation, leaning toward separation. Any thoughts, please? I know this is a long post, but I have no family, and few friends after this roller-coaster of a marriage. Here's the situation:
We have an 18 year old son with A.D.D. who--after getting into a very prestigious H.S. for Science, and then transferring to an equally selective Arts H.S.-- was finally diagnosed and is now doing a 5th and final year of H.S. in an expensive prep school for LD kids. Our 14 year old is Dyslexic and in a different private school for LD kids. It goes without saying that the tuition is crushing--we get about 70% of the younger boys' tuition back after our (my) annual Dickensian battle with the Board of Ed, but cannot sue for the older boy since he has "elected" to repeat a year (more like finally get some help at a place that needed at least 2 years to work with a smart boy whose grades ranged from A to D- with mediocre GPA and minimal self-confidence!). Although I am living grocery store coupon to grocery store coupon, spending less than 5 bucks a week on myself, we get minimal financial aid because we own a house in the country (more like an ADHD money pit my husband "had to" have) and because we look like two upper-middle class professionals if you don't know/understand how much I need to budget each year for my husband's parking tickets, damage to the car, lost stuff, broken stuff, whimsical purchases, magical thinking, and miscellaneous disasters.
If you are reading this, I probably don't have to say much about the financial and emotional toll of nearly 20 years of marriage--stolen car which he forgot to insure for theft, tax audit that could have been avoided if he told me about the letter of inquiry from the Tax Board instead of hiding it in his sock drawer until a deadline had passed that automatically had me fighting a final judgment), husband getting us dragged into small claims court...blah, blah, blah... And after the hyper-focus whirlwind romance years I am now no longer a wife but a mother figure who harshes his mellow by cleaning up after the messes.
So divorce, right? And I tried. Really.
By about 10 years ago, my once lucrative free-lance career writing for TV was completely dead--this had a lot to do with my husband's well-meaning sabotage since TV is a high-stakes, high-pressure world where you have to produce on deadline and never let them see you sweat (which is hard to do when you come home from a weekend away to find your husband has asked his buddy to completely gut/wreck the kitchen as a Mother's Day "gift" so you can remodel, even though you 1) have no actual plans for the remodel at this point in time and 2) need a kitchen. immediately, to feed the kids, or... You get it. Multiply that story by a hundred. Then try to keep up with your constantly changing and challenging career. Or even just have a coherent thought. A doctor told my husband never to leave the "H" out of his ADHD because, more than any other patient he'd met, my husband has "earned" the "H". Insert laugh track. That is soooo funny, isn't it?
So 8 years ago, after the crying, and the realization that hubby was entertained by therapy but unable to profit from it, I planned my (loving, understanding, non-judgemental) escape. I was still in my 40s, I'm not afraid of hard work, I could reinvent myself! Fortune had smiled on us in one regard--my husband is a tenured professor. I knew I had to get us out of the "dream house" in the country (more aptly, middle of nowhere life in a badly-maintained pumpkin). I had once taught at this same university's film school--where I met my dashing husband the world adventurer (sigh...). All this paid off when the Dean told my husband that while there was no faculty housing available back in the city, there was a "faculty-in- residence" position opening and he should apply for it. The Dean also told hubby to take me to the interview though I didn't even work there, which was useful since I made the presentation to the hiring committee and kicked my husband under the table every time he crossed his arms or scowled at the inane questions we were asked.
Cut to 6 years of living in a student dormitory. Upside: we're back to civilization, "free" apartment. But it is a j-o-b. Downside, I'm doing all the work: cooking meals for the students, hosting teas for the parents, booking speakers, taking the students on trips, managing the book-keeping to track our budget. And I'm going to therapy to figure out what's next. And I'm teaching at my old job (but not at the full-time salary that my supportive hubby once campaigned for me to abandon to work full time as a writer in pursuit of my dreams, but in the new 21st Century academia of underpaid adjunct hell). In fact the pay is so bad that I get an additional adjunct job at another school in the same university. So I have 3 jobs plus the kids plus taking care of hubby and all our finances, etc. But times are tough, and I'm grateful for the work I can find. And happy to be back among the living, where I can dwell in possibility.
Eventually, I feel strong enough, emotionally and financially, to ask hubby to move out. After all, we own that house in the country bc he had a fit about the city and "how he had to feel the earth beneath his feet" and for years he cheerfully dragged us into the city for his 6 a.m. commute. Why not go there now? Please. The kids might not even notice bc Daddy is often going to the house because there's something he "has to fix" ( he loves the house for its constant engrossing "to-do" list-- not as a place to relax/enjoy/make memories). He lets me go through the entire drama and pain of our hashing out this separation. And then he comes back. He refuses to leave. We are provided housing because of HIS job, remember? (Though I'm doing the work.) I can't lock him out, even if I wanted to...
OK, I say to myself...I've turned these pitiful jobs into a subsistence wage. I've been poorer than this, better to have one's sanity than creature comfort. I will leave him.
And then the first beautiful struggling boy gets his LD diagnosis (years of exhausting research and teacher conferences and detective work by mommy). And then the second boy gets his LD diagnosis. And I go through hell to find school's for them (help from husband with this--next to none). And we do the math. And I am no longer working for my freedom. I am working for my boys' education.
And then my husband gets us fired from the dorm. And moving is a nightmare.
And the cash reserves I've built up turn into credit card debt.
And somewhere around here, patient reader, I either had a nervous breakdown, or a moment of clarity, or maybe both.
First, on my doctor's advice, I QUIT one of my underpaying jobs--no more waking up at 5 am to read students' papers, etc. Now when my husband drives into a row of traffic cones (sober!), ignoring the family's screams of warning, and we watch the sideview mirror arc into the street and get crushed by traffic, I do not feel that the $50 replacement part has come out of my staying up until 3 am to read admissions portfolios for $10 each. This is crazy thinking, right? All our money is from one pot, and we need all we (I) can get to pay for stupidity like this, right? But reader, having quit that hellish job, suddenly I can get a whole night's sleep. And interact with the kids. And breathe. And maybe ( or maybe not) he wonders where HE'LL get that $50 to pay for his foolishness...
And because I'm so underpaid, the 40 hr job I quit "only" results in about $15,00 of take home pay lost. I am looking at at least 8 more years of filing financial aid forms, and starting to wonder if making less money might ultimately have its advantages.
And my breakdown continues. I experience the millionth relationship "last straw". I think it was when he cheerfully explained to me he was coming home late for dinner because he kept a six-pack at his office so he could "unwind' with a beer at the end of the day. (Is he an alcoholic--not at present, he's had lots of bouts of self-medication. He's on meds now. I don't know. My beloved friend who is in AA tells me figuring this out is beyond my control. I am ready to take the advice of others when lucky enough to get it.) Long story longer (thanks for this forum!):
I ask him to leave. He does. (He's done a lot to our teenage sons, who are starting to see him clearly. That may have more to do with his leaving than how I feel. I am past worrying that point.)
And I stay. And some more aces show up in my hand. The university deducts rent for our faculty housing from his paycheck. I do not have to trust/rely on him to pay for the family housing. Plus he can live in the country. Plus several hair-raising episodes have led to my complete control over bill paying and the checkbook.
And I have gray hair and career-wise I'm somewhere between "not dead yet" and a has-been, so why get a divorce? Why not collect the Social Security that's about to kick in? And wait until one of us is dead, and the sons are older, to deal with that ruin of a house to sell it? And put a stop to 2 decades of upheaval and reinvention. And if the stress I've been through doesn't counteract the actuarial realities, avoid the expense of a divorce and instead reap whatever is left someday as a widow who wrote and typed her husband's application for tenure, and who put down a 30% down payment on that house from her savings (those were the days!) and got the best mortgage deal, and held on to enough cash for him to contribute to his IRA...? If I can get through the next 10 years, poor, as I know how to do having come from nothing, I have a pension he cannot touch. And the rest will be gravy. And I can make sure as much as possible goes to the boys.
Meanwhile, I wake up alone. And I think new thoughts. And they are mine. And might lead to something. And I'm a calmer, better mom. And remaking friends. And I don't wonder what random, left-field remark he will make that will have me fighting tears.
It's true my husband could have an ADHD fit at any moment, and do something devastating. But can I really control that? And isn't it better to hold the checkbook as long as possible, rather than try to co-parent with him let loose on the world?
After years of feminist action, making something of myself from nothing... What I want now, that is mine, that I've earned...is to be the wife...to be supported...and to inherit what I have done more than my share to earn.
I cannot believe I feel this way. But I do. Have any of you been here? Or felt something like this?