Tag Archives: marital abuse

Death and Taxes

#5 in my ongoing book series; original post August 16, 2013

This book was originally called “Death and Taxes,” a spoof on the ironic realities of dating in today’s American post-divorce shark pool.  At the time of my divorce, I was a consultant for several Washington DC arms merchants, and my friend Denise was an IRS official.  I was “death,” and she was “taxes.”

This was supposed to be funny because we were such soft-hearted, loving women; that is, two of the world’s worst co-dependents. It had the potential for a really wild movie script. Some day…

BrousBlog5a Ben Franklin“Our new Constitution is now established,and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” — Benjamin Franklin, 1789

We crossed paths the week both our marriages collapsed in 2006, raw, uninformed, and in extremis, at a women’s divorce law seminar just outside the Washington, D.C.  Beltway. “Unfortunately, Virginia is not New York or California, community property states where each gets half the assets,” the female lawyer announced. “In Virginia, ladies, you are basically up a tree. If you go to court, the legal fees will cost you whatever you get from a settlement–and then it’s a black box what the judge will do.  He could easily make you pay alimony to your husband.  If you don’t go to court, you might not get anything, either.”

On that unstable note, Denise and I looked at each other and said, “Doesn’t anyone want to network?” Nothing, in short, was certain–except Death and Taxes. We started to meet ad hoc in restaurants and call each other late at night for moral support.

The first thing we noticed was that neither of us had children (after her 20-year marriage and my then 26-year marriage to my college beau). This detail had hitherto escaped our attention. Had I focused on it at the outset, I might have had an earlier clue that something was wrong, not just with my ex, but with my ability to attach. Until I addressed me, anything else I did would lead in circles. But I didn’t.

Instead, we did what everyone else does: we blamed our spouses. They didn’t want children; they were the problem. Later we realized that these were men who couldn’t attach. Women at the legal seminar would ask each other, “why did you get divorced?” and the cause was always the same: inability to attach.

For example, Denise benefitted financially from her marriage. She would wow visitors from the women’s center with tours of her stately home with swimming pool near the CIA. Her antique tables were piled high with albums of photos of their exotic international travels.

But ascending to the second floor, she would escort visitors to a certain room. Inside, all four walls were filled with rank upon rank of book shelves, shelves along every inch of wall. On the shelves were arrayed: Teddy bears. Rows of pink Teddy bears. Rows of blue Teddy bears. Calico Teddy bears. Teddy bears in cowboy suits. Teddy bears dressed as firemen. Purple People Eater Teddy bears. Teddy bears in tuxedos and top hats and sequined gowns and tiaras. Naked normal Teddy bears.

Denise got to where she developed a dramatic flair for all this. She would silently allow a gal to enter the room, take in the scene, let it sink in, pause, then sweep her arm in the grand manner and proclaim: “And this, is Donald’s teddy bear collection.” Donald was her ex.

Clearly, Donald had better uses for his time, than attaching to Denise. One fine day, he summarily left her for his dental hygienist. She never saw a thing coming and wept for months.

It wasn’t until years later that we realized: he never presented her with the challenge to attach, so she stayed and stayed–until he made it physically impossible for the relationship to go on. Not she.

In a sick system too long

No one at the women’s center could believe the situation I stayed in so long. My ex was sweet during our early years in New York, but once he moved us to the Virginia suburbs of Washington, away from the mobility of the subways, he had me where he wanted me and lost interest.  Larry literally got in his car and left one morning and never came back until past midnight–for years.  I was lucky to see him on Sundays.

Larry had his businesses, his political ambitions, his expensive tennis and other sports, and I was the junior partner assigned to support his mission. I got to be the out-front sales gal and fly around the world doing international economic consulting, while he stayed in his office behind the scenes. In my ten years of global travel, he never made a single trip with me; there was no one with whom to share all those memories; he’d hardly look at the photos.

BrousBlog5b Cat You got a Puppy I’d return from two weeks in Tokyo and Seoul to find that the litter box for our two good-sized indoor cats had not been touched by human hands since I’d left. The cats, at least, had the presence of mind to feel abandoned.

With all his high-level talk it never hit me, but by the mid ’90s, it would have been clear to anyone with eyes to see: under all the words, Larry lived by the law of the jungle. He had less than zero regard for my personal welfare. One day I got a lucrative consulting gig, and before I knew it, he’d quit working and had me out paying the mortgage.

Soon he had me working two jobs, 14 hour days, 6 or 7 days a week. This went on for ten years. The money was gambled away in his business and political schemes; periodically he’d present me with his credit cards run into the $20-$30,000 debt range and say “take care of it.”

I began to suspect something when I finally googled “marital abuse” and read on a George Washington University women’s website that domestic abuse comes in many forms. I was shocked to read that it need not be obvious physical beating or rape, but that there are such things as purely emotional, verbal, and financial abuse which are still abuse for sure. I’d been clueless. “Whu Nu? He was the Prime Minister of Burma after U Thant,” became my running gag on myself.

While it was dawning on me that I was in deep kimche which could not be thought away by singing “Stand by Your Man” another ten years, Larry began taking the equity out of our home. Late one night, he demanded I sign a $280K refinance. When I refused and tried to leave the house, he got physically brutal, bellowing “You’ve got to protect my credit rating.”

I ran for the bathroom and locked myself in, but never thought of calling 911 on the man I loved (never even crossed my mind another two years). At dawn, I crawled out, signed the papers, then looked at myself in the bathroom mirror and said, “You just signed your life away because you’re afraid to be alone at this age.” I was at the women’s center in days.

Why try to change death or taxes? I’d lived for years as though abuse in relations was just as inevitable. “You’ve been in a sick system so long, you’re numb to it,” Dr. Henry Cloud says; “All your life what was done to you in the name of love was the furthest thing from love.”1 In fact, I was so numb, so frozen, that I was dissociated.

It wasn’t until years later that I realized: But he never presented me with the need to attach, and so I stayed, no matter how miserable I was. And stayed, and stayed, until he made it physically impossible to go on. Not me. He had to beat me into leaving.

Who Dunnit?

Next I blamed the economic decline for badly impacting men. The stealth cause of America’s 50% divorce rate, I thought, must be the economic dislocation tearing society apart. Just as the stock market did not look good, I decided that neither did the guy market. Men were too depressed, too stressed out or too emasculated by the rotten economy to connect emotionally.

BrousBlog5c Work ItI wrote the preceding sentence in 2006, and on the surface, it’s stood up well. More recently this has been dubbed the “mancession,” recession for men.

According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, between December 2007 and June 2009, jobs held by men made up 70% of all jobs lost, to the point that TV sitcoms about men posing as women to get hired such as “Work It” have emerged.

Men, when all is said and done, have the need to be builders. They are not all hunters or predators. It is men who build sailing ships and cities and airplanes and travel to the moon, and write things like Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony which require tremendous courage–all of the things which I admire so. We just don’t see a lot of women doing that, because women have a different, important job. A real woman ought to recognize, applaud, and appreciate men for doing their job. But what happens when the economy dies and we pull that rug out from under a man’s feet?

“You betcha! This was a matter of reality and necessity in my generation,” exploded one retired engineer who spent a lifetime building missiles at Boeing, upon hearing my theory. “The Cold War was for real; we had to make those rockets work–or Americans could die. Take away the sense of national mission, and you pull the rug out from under a man’s sense of potency. Do that, and how can men have the self-respect to really love a woman, especially when the women are not as connected to the economic reality and do not understand what is going on?”

Yes, it’s been a nasty economy. But what went wrong with these marriages?  Who Dunnit?  Let the reader beware.

This book spills out onto the page, how I found out the hard way. You will see through my eyes exactly what was in my consciousness (and it wasn’t much at first!) as I walk you through events as I experienced them. You’ve got a ring-side seat in the first row of my astonished brain as I enter a maelstrom which would make Edgar Allan Poe pass out. I do this to you because otherwise you will neither understand nor believe what happens as this mess unfolds. There is no other way to make this story credible.

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This is part one of Chapter One of Kathy’s forthcoming book DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME: The Silent Epidemic of Attachment DisorderHow I accidentally regressed myself back to infancy and healed it all. Watch for the continuing series of excerpts from the rest of her book every Friday, in which she explores her journey of recovery and shares the people and tools that have helped her along the way.

Footnotes
FN1  Cloud, Henry, PhD, “Getting Love on the Inside,” Lecture CD, April 2002),   http://www.cloudtownsend.com/resources/, {Co-author with Townsend, John, PhD, of the bestseller “Boundaries,” Zondervan, 2004)

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