Dear Prudence: I am a senior military officer in a smaller branch and have been married almost 30 years. Our children are grown; my wife is utterly miserable.
She hates my calling, its protocol and social requirements, my colleagues and my constant travel. When I return she blasts me with torrents of abuse, screams at me for trivialities and then threatens me with divorce — but we remain married.
We’ve talked separation but we have moved so much she has nowhere to go. She says she will only divorce me if she can have “the same lifestyle she has now” but that’s just impossible given the work perks I get as a flag officer. Failing that, she says if I file for divorce she will “destroy” my reputation and force me to retire in disgrace. (While I’ve led an honorable life, she could throw enough mud to take me out of the running for promotion, and I am competitive for higher rank.)
If I lose my wife, my career will be destroyed; if I retire for my wife, I believe the misery will just continue. What should I do?
My personal life is a lonely disaster. We have no real friends left, not wanting to expose our failings. We sleep in separate rooms, scarcely speak privately and smile only for the cameras. Our active official life masks the truth but not the misery.
Prudence says: Here you are, a man trained to confront and vanquish the enemy, and you go home each night to endless combat, a fight you appear to be losing.
Obviously, I don’t know what’s wrong with your wife. But you might want to take a look at some of the literature on borderline personality disorder and see if that sends up any flares of recognition.
Your wife is fiendishly clever, I’ll give her that. Her terms are that you can separate, as long as she enjoys the same perks she does as the wife of a high-ranking officer, which is an impossibility. Or, if you unilaterally try to end the marriage, she will destroy your career out of spite. That, of course, would have a material effect on her financial comfort, but it sounds as if she’d prefer revenge.
Your wife is unstable and dangerous to you, so you need to discuss your strategy with some professionals. Talk to a psychologist — one with expertise in personality disorders — and a lawyer — one with expertise in the military. You can speak to both confidentially, so don’t hold back.
You need to consider all of your alternatives and contingencies, and put the best plan possible in place for protecting yourself and your career. With the lawyer, figure out what dirt your wife might fling, and how to contain it. You have been living in abject misery for years, but only you can decide how much longer you can bear feeling like a hostage in your own home.
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