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Dear John: A Divorce of Convenience

Tuesday, March 18, 2014


What’s your problem? Write to John at [email protected].

Dear John,

Like many older Americans, my wife and I are in our 50s and 60s and equally underemployed. This is the second marriage for both of us. We've been married almost 5 years now. My guess is like many marriages under these chronic economic circumstances, we have a lousy marriage that's tolerated by both of us primarily because we've figured out how to be good roommates. There are some serious issues including her being an adult child of alcoholic parents and me having been spoiled as a kid.

Regardless, I have an idea that I haven't seen any discourse about at all.

What if we both agree, in writing with a postnuptial agreement, that we socially consider ourselves single for the purposes of finding a new mate, outlining agreeable terms for living within the situation, and agreeing in advance about what happens if either of us finds ourselves in another serious relationship, calling for the specifics of grounds for divorce. That will allow both of us to pursue a better life with other partners. I'm hoping that other singles who respect our ability to agree to such a setup will respect us, allowing for building a good relationship with them, perhaps calling for the same agreement to be in place as a prenuptial for a subsequent living relationship between new partners.

One thing that will be helpful for me regardless is bringing the idea of the agreement to bear with my wife as a positive action on my part to attempt to resolve our marriage problems, perhaps once and for all depending on her reaction. I'm willing to take that risk if I have the law behind me. Obviously I need to check with an attorney and I'm ready (as I'll ever be) to end the marriage if she goes ballistic with the idea.

I'm not optimistic, and I continuously wonder if I'm simply enabling her and my bad behaviors in the marriage by imagining this. On the other hand, sharing household expenses and the company of good “roommates” is not terrible – it’s actually working pretty well. We're fairly well emotionally isolated from each other and I have firm boundaries about her bad behavior that she tolerates and vice-versa. Another complicating factor is her 16-year-old son, who's a great kid. He's a joint responsibility that I'm doing my fair share in supporting, and this arrangement can help keep him safe, perhaps until he's 18.

Things will get tricky as we develop another relationship outside the marriage, but as I suggest, the agreement can have a "Good for you, go for it, you're out of here under these circumstances" clause, calling for an agreed upon move-out and final divorce procedure which would need to include a "no new relationship activities at home" privacy provision.

Even writing this letter helps – thanks. So, whaddaya think?


Need To Do Something


Dear Need To Do Something,

I’m sympathetic with what’s driven you to this – the economic pressures of chronic underemployment, the feeling that being with the wrong person is better than being alone – but I still think it’s unwise.

Your idea assumes that being paired up with someone, whether emotionally or simply economically, is some kind of default state. But what someone in your situation needs more than anything is time alone after a failed relationship. Not solitude, mind you, but you have to spend some time as a single person examining where things went wrong in this marriage before you just go jumping into the next one. Otherwise, what’s going to change? You’re perceptive to realize that you brought some significant baggage into this relationship; it’s not “all her.” But if you don’t take some time to unload that baggage before getting involved with someone new, the very same problems are going to be there waiting for you.

And look at your proposal from the point of view of your hypothetical future partner – here’s a guy whose marriage was on life support, but he was waiting for the next prospect to come along to finally pull the plug. Would you be eager to enter into a relationship with that guy – one who doesn’t see the need for a moment’s pause between the failure of one relationship and the start of the next one?

If your marriage is truly over, get a divorce and move out. Make a life for yourself by yourself. Consider getting into therapy to explore those issues you know you have. Be an independent person trying to understand himself more and learning how to be a better partner and you will be taking positive steps toward ensuring that your next marriage (if there is one!) won’t need things like post-nuptial agreements to sort out the inevitable breakup.

One more thing that’s not directly related to your question: It’s wonderful that you care about your wife’s son and his position in this. I think your postnuptial agreement teaches him a poor lesson in how to respond to a failing relationship. And if you do split up with your wife, I hope you talk with her about working together to help him through this. Divorce isn’t only hard on little kids; older ones suffer, too.


Dear John,

What do you do about a woman who is always breaking dates at the last minute but who insists I shouldn’t “read anything into it” when she does? I just counted and we have planned eight dates together. And we’ve actually had a grand total of…one. This would be a lot easier if that one hadn’t been so great and left me with the feeling that we could really be great together. But I can’t really find out if that’s the case if we can never get a second date. I’m baffled – I can’t imagine having to break so many dates as anything other than wanting to get out of them, but like I said, she insists she had fun when we went out, she really wants to do it again, and this has just been a string of unbelievably bad luck. I want top believe her, especially when it would be the easiest thing in the world for her to say, “I’ve had second thoughts and I don’t think this is such a great idea.” Then this would be done. I’ve never gotten such mixed signals in my life. Should I just give up? Give it one more chance? I need help.




Dear Confused,

Some people are so conflict averse, they can’t bring themselves to give people upsetting news, even if doing so would avoid situations like the one you describe. I’m not saying that’s the case with this woman, but it’s at least as likely an explanation as a string of “unbelievably bad luck.” I would make one more date with her – maybe her luck will change. But if she calls you up saying, “You’re not going to believe this, but…,” tell her that you understand, and to make this easier, why doesn’t she just call you when her calendar is a little less volatile and the two of you can plan a date with a reasonable chance that it will actually happen. If she calls, you’ll have your answer. And if she doesn’t, you’ll have it then, too.

Dear John,

I’ve been seeing a girl for a while that I know for a fact about a year ago had sex with another couple – her, her boyfriend at the time, and this other couple. I’m friends with the guy involved (not her ex-boyfriend). That’s how I know.

I really like her, but this makes me question her judgment a little bit. We’ve talked quite a bit about past relationships and issues, so there has been ample opportunity for her to bring this up, but she hasn’t. And I wish she would because I want to be able to talk with her about it and find out how it happened and what she was thinking so I know if this was a one-time thing or something she’s going to suggest with me eventually, because I want no part of it and if it’s something that’s a deal-breaker for her we may as well just get that out there now.

So I’m thinking of asking her about it instead of waiting for her to bring it up when she may not. I want to bring it up in a non-judgmental way that does not make her feel ashamed or defensive, so how can I do this?


Four’s A Crowd


Dear Four’s A Crowd,

Well, it sounds like you expect her to explain and justify something you find at least mildly repellent – something that happened before she even knew you and is really none of your business, at least until she chooses to make it your business. It’s hard for me to see how you can bring this up in a non-judgmental way that won’t make her feel defensive when that seems to be the entire point – judging her and making her feel defensive.

She doesn’t have to justify this to you. If she chooses to trust you enough to talk about it, then she will, but until that time, forget about it. And if you can’t, do her a favor and move on. Spare her the need to explain everything she’s done in the past that might not meet with your approval.

And why is she the only one who owes you an explanation for this? Did you grill your pot-stirring buddy, too?


John is a middle-aged family man from Providence, Rhode Island. If you learn from your mistakes, he’s brilliant. Write to him at [email protected].


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Really John? Your advice to the guy is to not be judgemental about a four way sexual trist? There is clearly something wrong with the woman. Another name for a 'four way' is an orgy. Not normal.

Comment #1 by Dave Barry on 2014 03 18

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