Ask Ellie: Don't stigmatize women who leave husbands

Advice columnist EllieDear Ellie: When a man leaves his wife and family for another woman, why do people assume he’s having a “mid-life crisis,” especially if the woman’s younger? Everyone nods agreement, some pals even consider him, “lucky,” and he moves on.

But when a woman leaves her husband, the gossips are vicious: She’s a “terrible person… she should never have had children… she’s probably been cheating on him for years.”

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But she doesn’t move on easily, because it’s the most wrenching thing she’s ever done.

I know, because I finally left a man I’d not loved nor respected for years. Despite the outrage of some former friends and even some family, I saved myself.

I hate remembering the desperately unhappy person I’d become by then - married at 23, then soon resenting his self-righteous controls, feeling torn between my old dreams of happy family life, and constant disappointment.

I love my children. At 47, I’m close with each of them. I have limited contact with my ex, only on important occasions e.g., children’s graduations.

I remained comfortably single for seven years, then met and eventually married the love of my life. My children welcomed him into their lives, too.

I believe that society’s heavier demands on women to “stick it out” in a miserable relationship, is unfair to both parties. I know that many women/mothers feel they don’t have a choice, due to financial and child-centred worries. But they should get legal advice (available online) to learn their options.

I now feel that I did my ex-husband a favour. I freed him to meet more evolved, independent women who wouldn’t put up with controls. Within two years of my leaving him, he married happily.

How do we end the stigma against women who leave their husbands to save themselves and their children from a home life of arguments, coldness, and their mother’s despair?

Leaving Him Saved Us Both

You make a good case for women like yourself, though there’ll always be critics. What matters is how a family break-up happens.

If there’s been physical abuse, the woman must protect her children and herself. But with emotional abuse over years, there’s deep damage to the self-image of the woman and her children.

If you’d had confidence earlier to get counselling for yourself, it would’ve helped you know that you didn’t have to accept controlling behaviour.

You would’ve learned other methods of responding to your husband, OR encouraged him to seek marital counselling together.

You may still have left him… but sooner. And stronger.

If a couple recognize the need to check into their relationship, and repair miscommunications, there’ll be far less stigma for either if a break-up happens… because both agreed to it.

Dear Ellie: My son, 38, lived with a cold and difficult “girlfriend” for years because her son, age three when my son moved in, loved and needed him. They’re still in contact.

The next woman he co-habited with had “been around.” They’d only dated a few months when she got pregnant with twins. He stayed until she went back to substance abuse, but has joint custody of their children.

I love them but I worry about where my son’s poor judgment will lead. What can I do?

Worried Grandmother

Stay close to the children as they’ll need your steadfast involvement, caring and comfort.

Don’t criticize your son. He’s a good man, loyal to the boy who needed him and responsible for his children who need you both to be watchful for their health and safety due to their mother’s addiction.

Dear Ellie: My brother’s uncomfortable socially unless he’s at a corporate event where it’s widely known that he’s extremely successful.

He’s been driven since young and can now afford most affluent symbols — large home, several cars, expensive clothes, etc.

Our father pushed us from early school days. I resisted. Now I see my brother, mid-40s, never satisfied.

I’m different. I’ve done well on a smaller scale. I’m happy with that and the people in my life, while my brother’s divorcing his second wife. How can I help him?

Caring Bro

Spend casual, relaxed time together. Invite him home with your family in a less-driven, still-rewarding lifestyle.

Ask when he’ll feel fully satisfied with what he’s achieved. He may not answer, but he may privately think about it.

Also, if you feel he can handle it, ask if he’s ever wondered if your father’s “pushing success” was for his sons, or for himself.

Ellie’s tip of the day

Don’t stigmatize women who have left husbands. Their reasons may benefit both spouses.

Send relationship questions to ellie@thestar.ca.

Follow @ellieadvice.

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