One of my dearest friends is getting divorced, and while I have long disliked her husband, watching her go through this is breaking my heart. His assholery has ramped up considerably in the past year, but she wasn’t willing to initiate break up proceedings, and now he’s said he wants to divorce. And so, instead of watching her dump him because he’s a self centered ass and a terrible partner, I’m watching her get dumped because (in his words), they aren’t soul mates and he wants to find someone extraordinary. While she is handling it the best she can, it is really hard for her. I am incandescent with rage at him. I want to do whatever I can to help her and support her, and while I know I probably can’t make this any easier, I want to. But I just don’t really know what to do.
(What follows is a long backstory, in which I indulge my need to process all this, but I return to the central question in the last paragraph if you want to skip ahead)
I first had my reservations about her husband (Bob) about 18 months after they started dating. I was living in another country when they became serious, and so I hadn’t had the opportunity to spend any time with him until they came to visit me for a week. My friend (Betty) fell while hiking and severely bruised her ribs. Now, the basis of Betty and Bob’s relationship was that they were both extreme athletes and very active people. Through out the rest of their stay with me Bob kept trying to cajole Betty into doing something active with him, despite her injury. Now, Betty is really tough (see the part about being an extreme athlete). So, when she said it hurt too much to do anything, I believed her. But Bob had zero empathy for her, and would not let up. I finally had to tell him to back off, that even though she wasn’t in pain when she was sitting still, she couldn’t do anything active. He pouted, but got over it. Little did I know that this was my first glimpse into the dynamic that would define their relationship.
Bob is extremely logical, talented, articulate, arrogant, and persistent, and he uses those qualities to push Betty into doing what he wants. Most of these things were in the realm of extreme sports, and so while they carried a slightly elevated level of risk, he wasn’t exactly pushing her to do destructive things, just things that were outside her comfort zone. And generally, once she acquiesced she usually felt pleased with herself for accomplishing something. As a result she didn’t view the behavior as bullying, but I did. It set up this dynamic of her always having to prove that she was extraordinary enough to be with him, and the bar kept moving. In addition, while he always wanted her to bend to accommodate his goals and wishes, he was basically unwilling to compromise in any way to meet her desires. She would then either bend to his will, or get what she wanted by being sneaky. Unsurprisingly, this led to problems.
There have actually been a few times over the course of their 10 year relationship where she came to me because the relationship was in crisis, and each of those times I went out on a limb and told her that I thought she should break up with him. I know other friends and family members had objections to him, but I don’t think anyone besides me ever said anything. At each of these junctures I told her that she was an incredible person and deserved someone who also thought so, without her having to jump through ever higher hoops to prove it. It’s amazing that she has remained friends with me, because many people would have felt defensive, or unable to continue the friendship in the face of such criticism. For my part I will say that I always prefaced my comments by “I will support you no matter what you do, but I think you deserve better”. Each time she thanked me for my perspective, but decided to stay with Bob. I think that, while she acknowledged that they had issues, there was some part of the dynamic that she liked, because she bought into his narrative that they were “extraordinary people”.
However, recently they had a kid, and all the issues suddenly became magnified. He didn’t feel that having a baby should require him to change his behavior. Because he’s an adrenaline junky, he weirdly got off on the attention/condemnation associated with taking a baby on these adventure trips. But Betty suddenly had a reason to say no to him, and to hold her ground. And that changed everything.
In addition to the changes associated with having a kid, Bob also began working at a startup that has a very strange culture, and he has bought into it 100%. I’m not even sure how to describe it, because there are many different elements at play, but the upshot is that Bob wanted to be more like his single co-workers, and that manifested itself in a number of ways. He was trying psychedelic drugs for the first time. He was going away with his friends on the weekends, leaving Betty alone with a baby she already provided 90% of the care for. He joined organizations that could at best be called pyramid schemes and at worst be called cults. He’s convinced that technology will cure all of mankind’s problems. And he decided to pursue an open marriage without Betty’s consent. Which is not to say that he was sneaking around, but he was doing what he wanted to do despite her objections, and defended his behavior as being “more enlightened”, you know, because he was being logical about it. Despite all this, Betty thought it was just a phase and they could work through it. I pointed out that it wasn’t the sex that was the biggest problem, it was the fact that he didn’t care what she thought. But still she wanted to try.
They finally started counseling a a couple months ago, and almost immediately it came out that he wanted to “consciously uncouple” or whatever. And so that’s where they are, trying to negotiate how to be co parents. I know that, moving forward, this same dynamic will continue. Betty is such a great mom, and so she will bend over backward to make sure that Bob has some continued presence in the baby’s life. Meaning that he can do whatever works for him, and she will bend over backwards to accommodate him, because otherwise he won’t make the effort. When she tells me about what he’s up to, I’m torn between being livid on her behalf, and restraining my ire because ultimately she still has to co-parent with this jerk. Do I just listen? Do I give my perspective? Sometimes she gets wrapped up in the world he creates and starts thinking maybe she’s the crazy one, and so I feel compelled to give her an outside perspective, but I probably take it too far into bashing him territory. He’s moving out soon so that might make things easier on her. But what can I do to support her? I’ve offered to babysit so she can go work out or something for a bit, but she hasn’t taken me up on it. For anyone who’s been through divorce, tell me what I can do to help my friend.