Most of us happily married women, hopefully, never think about having to leave our husbands (though I admit that after a particularly heated argument, I occasionally fantasize about getting my own apartment about 10 miles away from my spouse). We don’t think about having to move out, support ourselves or start over on our own. But maybe we should.
I’m not knocking marriage or suggesting that we all start looking for a way out of our wedded bliss. But if you had to leave your husband, do you know how you’d do it? Presumably the majority of us were independent working women before we married; we had our own places and paid our own bills. But when we married, we gave up much of that economic power and independence, either because we’re working less or not earning income while we raise the kids, or our household expenses have risen to the point that we’re dependent on dual incomes.
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But what if things got so bad that you had to get out? What if your husband develops an alcohol or drug problem, or heaven forbid, becomes violent? Do you have a plan? And by a plan, I don’t mean going to a domestic violence shelter, though that is of course the safest first stop for women getting out of dangerous situations at home. I mean, how would you live on your own, and with your kids, if you have them? How would you work, pay the rent and other expenses? Logistically, functionally, what might your day to day life look like?
When I get mad at my husband and envision my cute little city apartment for just my daughter, dog and me, I really have no intention of following through on my fantasy. It’s just a way of reclaiming that person I was before marriage and kids, the single gal who called her own shots and didn’t have to answer to—or argue with—anyone. But it’s still a useful exercise. While I highly doubt that things will ever get to the point that I’d need to move out (at least I certainly hope not!), imagining how I’d do it reminds me that it is possible, and it reminds me to always have a back-up plan. I know how much an apartment would cost, how I’d get my daughter back and forth to preschool, and I have at least some idea of how I’d balance work and childcare. I also know which friend would loan me money without blinking an eye—if it came to that.
So again, I’m not advocating that we all find ways to escape from our marriages. Marriage is a fragile enough institution in our day and age, and we don’t need to think of it as even more disposable than it already is. But the reality is that none of us go into a marriage thinking it will end in divorce. Yet, nearly half of all marriages in the US do. A divorce where there are kids and assets involved is going to involve lawyers, child support and custody agreements, so it’s most often not just a simple question of a broken-hearted bride getting her own place. Maybe a mom with kids stays in the house and her husband moves out. Still, having a plan for how to make it on your own, on your own terms, is a good one for us married women to keep in the way, way back cupboard of our brains, even if that door never, ever gets opened.