TOO POOR TO DIVORCE?
What can you do if you’re trapped in a loveless marriage?
CRYING HERSELF TO SLEEP AT NIGHT IS A REGULAR OCCURRENCE FOR SUE KELLY. BY DAY, SHE PUTS A BRAVE FACE ON THINGS. HER PART-TIME JOB AS A HOTEL RECEPTIONIST PUTS £500 A MONTH IN HER POCKET, AND HER TWO CHILDREN ARE THE LIGHT OF HER LIFE. ‘BUT IT’S AFTER THE KIDS HAVE GONE TO BED AND I’M ON MY OWN WITH MY HUSBAND, THAT I FEEL TRAPPED IN A MARRIAGE TO A MAN I NO LONGER LOVE,’ ADMITS SUE, 40, FROM MANCHESTER. Sue stays with her spouse, Alec, because she can’t afford to leave – and she’s part of a growing trend. New research reveals that one in seven divorced or separated people have stayed together for longer than they wanted to because of financial worries. Women in particular are more likely to be financially worse off after a break-up. Since a third of women have no retirement savings and a quarter of women will have to rely on their partner’s retirement pot, it’s easy to see why staying put is often easier than leaving.
NO WAY OUT?
‘I earn a small part-time wage, we have no savings, and we owe about £8,000 on credit cards and a small bank loan for our last car,’ says Sue. ‘Thankfully Alec is on a good salary as a construction foreman, and that’s what we rely on to keep our heads above water every month.’
The problem is that Alec had a two-year affair six years ago with a close family friend – a betrayal that Sue cannot forgive, and which has slowly strangled the love she once felt for the man she married 12 years ago. ‘We went to marriage guidance counselling for six months, but try as I might, I can't forgive Alec for what he did,’ says Sue.
She has been trying to find full-time work, without success, for the last two years. Without it, she says she couldn’t afford to house, feed and clothe her children and herself. ‘So I stay in this miserable marriage watching the years slip away and crying myself to sleep at night,’ she admits.
A GROWING PROBLEM
Sue is not alone. Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reveal a 3% fall in the number of post-recession divorces to the lowest figure since the 1970s, which suggests that our precarious economy could be forcing unhappy couples to stay together. But Relate counsellor Denise Knowles says there are reasons to be positive if you find yourself in this situation.
‘It’s so easy to feel stuck because we’re afraid of change, but there really is no need to,’ says Denise. ‘Instead of feeling paralysed, reach out and share what you’re going through. Talk to friends who might make useful suggestions because they’re looking at the situation with a clear head. If you work, talk to your boss about giving you more hours. If you’re in debt, you can always talk to your mortgage lender or your bank manager or your credit card provider about what steps can be taken to help you.’
KEEPING UP APPEARANCES
From the outside, estate agent Angela Driscoll, 34, lives a rose-tinted life.
Her first baby, Alfie, is a happy, healthy ten-month-old, and Angela was able to give up her job as a fitness instructor early in her pregnancy, thanks to her husband’s lucrative career. But instead of celebrating what many would regard as good fortune, Angela, who lives in West London, feels like she’s living in a gilded cage.
‘I couldn’t love my son more than I do and I wouldn’t want to jeopardise things for him in any way, but the truth is that the sole reason Steve and I got married was because I was pregnant. We’d only been together for six months and it’s now patently obvious we’re just not right for each other. But what can I do?
How can I move on?
‘Even if I found a job and went back to work full-time as a fitness instructor, I’d be earning about £20,000 a year – barely enough to put a roof over our heads. Of course, Steve would have to make some sort of financial contribution, but I still don’t see how I could provide for my son and myself on such a limited income, especially since working full-time would mean me having to pay for child care.
‘Whichever way I look at it, I’m stuck, and I can’t tell you how panic-stricken that makes me feel. I find it hard to talk to people about my predicament, in part because I feel ashamed that I’ve put my son and me in this position.’
However, Denise Knowles says that feelings of being trapped can be misplaced. ‘There will be a way out, you just have to find it. So often in the counselling room women tell me they can’t leave because they can’t afford to, when – if they’re honest – what they really mean is that they’re not willing to see their standard of living drop. They worry
‘We got married because I was pregnant, but we’re just not right for each other’
‘Our marriage was happy for a time, but over the last decade we’ve simply drifted apart’
about what people would think if, after doing the school run in a BMW, they’re suddenly doing it in an old banger. I say, stop worrying about what people think and have a reality check. It may not be as bad as you think – and there’s no need to be embarrassed about asking for help. It’s just the first step to escaping.'
LIVING IN HOPE
Vivian Barstow, 47, has been married to John for 18 years. ‘Our marriage was happy for a time, but over the last decade we've drifted apart,’ says Vivian. ‘I think we’ve made love about three times in ten years – we don’t even share a bedroom any more. We simply live very separate lives.
‘I have lots of friends and I run a charity for children, while John works all hours in insurance. I don’t love him and I don’t want to be with him, but I’m not in a financial position to leave.’
Vivian and John made an unfortunate house purchase in 2008, which has left them in negative equity. ‘If we were to sell, we would lose £40,000 and we can’t afford that,’ says Vivian. ‘Right now, I can’t go anywhere, but I live in hope. I’m saving money so that one day I can move out and start a new life, even if we have to sell the house at a loss.
‘I know there are people in a worse financial situation. I still have a roof over my head and a job, but this feels like a half-life and, for the foreseeable future, there’s no way out of it.’
NAMES HAVE BEEN CHANGED