What can you do if you’re trapped in a love­less mar­riage?

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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.


‘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.


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.’


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.'


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.’


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