Tom: Hello everyone. And welcome back to another episode of my crazy divorce. I’m your host, Tom Milligan. I’m always excited to share these stories with our audience, but I’m really excited for you to hear Annie’s story today. But not really because of the divorce story itself, which is crazy enough, but for what she’s actually done with the rest of her life. Here’s how she describes what she does.
Annie: I call it starting over stronger, and it is an umbrella of services. I like to say, it’s all your divorce and life transition needs under one roof. It started actually with real estate four years ago when I went through my divorce; I hadn’t worked for almost 20 years. And so I had to figure out a way to provide for myself. And even though I had a degree, guess what? Nobody wants to hire a 45 year old woman that hasn’t worked for 20 years. So I had to go out on my own and venture into something entrepreneurial and real estate is where I landed, and pretty quickly I specialized in divorce. And as I got to, you know, go on these different appointments and meet with attorneys and financial advisors and therapists and talk to them about what I did with divorce real estate, get connected with people going through that process. I would just organically end up coaching them because their needs were so much more vast than just real estate. And I already had some previous training as a counselor, so it was a very natural fit for me. I got my certification as a divorce coach and started a podcast.
Tom: So Annie went from being a stay-at-home mom for more than 20 years to becoming a successful real estate agent, a divorce coach and a podcaster all in less than four years. I love it, but she’s not stopping there.
Annie: And I’ve been developing starting over stronger ever since, including adding divorce recovery retreats starting next year. So, lot of different offerings for people before, during and after their divorce, just to help them find their own voice and advocate well for themselves during the process.
Tom: I think most people who haven’t been divorced, believe that once their divorce is final, that their life will just be a magical paradise. But those of us who’ve been divorced, know that when the judge signs that decree, that’s really just the beginning of your divorce, especially if you have kids together. So, I love the idea of divorce, recovery retreats, and I encourage anyone to take advantage of them if you can. I’m so excited about this story that I’ve gotten way ahead of myself. I’ve already shared the triumphant ending to her story, but the journey to Annie’s success is tragic. I can’t wait to share the full story, but first as always, remember, I’m not an attorney or a therapist, so nothing in this podcast is even close to legal advice, and it’s even further from therapy. So if you find yourself in a crappy marriage or a crazy divorce, make sure you seek qualified help.
If you like our show, the best thing you can do to help is to give us a five star rating on whatever app you’re using right now to listen. That really helps get the word out. And of course, if you have a crazy divorce story and would like to be a guest on the show like Annie, go to mycrazydivorce.com and click on the apply to be a guest button at the bottom of the page. All right, since we already know the end of the story, well, let’s go back to the beginning. Annie was born and raised in Middle America and a little town near Kansas City. She is the third of four children in a family she describes as “just normal.” But what’s normal for one is far from normal for another.
Annie: In my growing up years, just in my family, there was some abuse. My dad predominantly some neglect, just generally not what you would want for a child growing up. But you know, it was all I knew, so it felt normal to me. And certainly, some people had it worse than what I did, but it’s like looking back, I can see how really dysfunctional it was.
Tom: So to Annie, a normal childhood didn’t include a lot of happiness or parental support, at least from her dad, I guess, but as you’re about to hear that neglect affected her parents’ marriage too.
Annie: My mom never left my dad. My mom stayed, my mom was also abused and she stayed and tolerated it. And I watched it destroy her. And honestly, she’s still not the same, you know, I don’t think she’ll ever be healed because she doesn’t choose to do anything about it or acknowledge it.
Tom: That’s just tragic. And as we’re about to see, that tragedy becomes generational.
Annie: The way I would say that that affected my marriage and divorce is that I stayed much longer than I should have and tolerated a lot of things that I shouldn’t have.
Tom: Mom wouldn’t leave, but she still needed an escape.
Annie: I think that it was around age 13, that my mom decided to start going to church and she attended a Baptist church and I began to go with her because I wanted to. It was more of a social thing for me. I mean, I don’t know what I thought of God or Jesus or any of those things at that point. I just liked the youth group. There was a lot of boys in it and my ex happened to be one of them.
Tom: Oh, wow. So, was it love at first sight?
Annie: The funny part of that story is that he was actually my last choice of all the boys. I liked all of the other boys first.
Tom: So by the ripe old age of 14, Annie had ruled out the other six or seven boys in the group.
Annie: I was interested in him before he was interested in me and or before he admitted, he was interested in me. He was two years older than me, so it wasn’t cool for a 16 year old to want to hang out with a 14 year old., It was kind of, you know, I’ll just be your big brother kind of thing. But it became obvious pretty quickly that it really wasn’t that, that he really did have feelings for me.
Annie: Where it all kind of came to a head was in, on a youth trip. We were at a youth camp in Glorieta, New Mexico, right near Santa Fe. And it was like one of those funny stories that, like, it would make a great movie because we were supposed to be with our segregated groups, our co-ed, not co-ed groups. And somehow we managed to break away from those and meet each other at, I guess, we kind of refer to it as the sports shack. It’s where they kept all the equipment for outdoor games and stuff. And it was raining, of course, you know, because what good love story is it not raining? And that’s where we had our first kiss was under the sports shack in the rain.
Tom: Young forbidden love in the rain, under the sports shack, what a great story, even though it wasn’t love at first sight, remember.
Annie: We had been hanging out in the same youth group for a year and a half to two years before that happened.
Tom: So they were friends for a long before that romantic kiss in the rain. And after the fairytale kiss, Annie and we’ll call him Chuck. Well, Annie and Chuck became an item, but it wasn’t happily ever after or really happy from the beginning.
Annie: Well, there was a lot of on again and off again, the whole time we were dating from 14 until 21 when we got married, there was a lot of breakups and get back togethers. And the breakups were almost always, if I could probably say always him breaking up. He would always immediately start dating somebody else. I never did. I always just waited around for him and pined after him and you know, moped around until finally we got back together.
Tom: That sounds terrible. Chuck was always the one to break up with Annie, but with one very notable exception.
Annie: The only exception I will say is that when we were actually living together, before we got married which would’ve been just about a year before we got married, I did initiate that last breakup and I really wanted to just be done. Because we had been dating for six years, we had been living together for a year, we were arguing all the time. It just felt like he was never going to ask me to marry him. It was never going to get better. What was I doing here? You know, I was wasting my life, and so I packed up and moved out.
Tom: Annie went and sowed her oat, so to speak for three or four months before Chuck came running back.
Annie: So I was a little bit reckless for a while. And then, you know, I don’t know, maybe three to four months later he was pursuing me again. He was writing poems and leaving them on my door or sending me flowers at work. And he convinced me to go with him, he said he had to go to St. Louis for work and that if I wanted to ride along, I could, so I did for whatever reason. He proposed to me at the bottom of the arch in St. Louis and had somebody taken pictures. I still to this day, remember having the feeling, like I don’t really want to say yes, but I kind of have to because all these people are watching, so I said, yes,
Tom: Wait, what? Didn’t Annie just say she broke up with Chuck because he wouldn’t propose, but now he’s proposing and she’s like, this isn’t right, but she’s still said yes.
Annie: You know, why now? You’re only doing it because I held your feet to the fire, like you obviously don’t really want to do it. And besides which we’re still arguing a lot, you know, there’s like issues that we don’t ever resolve. I was young and dumb and I guess I probably thought marriage would fix everything.
Tom: Right, because that always works. After dating off and on for five years, living together for a year, breaking up for several months, Annie and Chuck are planning a wedding. But rather than moving back in together, they both choose to move in with their parents to save money. So what do their parents think about their engagement?
Annie: I don’t really know, know what his parents thought of it. I don’t recall having a conversation with them about it. My dad was always trying to tell me that he wasn’t good for me, but because my dad also wasn’t good for me, I didn’t really put a lot of stock in what he said, because I kind of viewed it like he’s rescuing me from my dad. You know, I’m going to be able to get out of this bad situation with my dad because I’m going to get married and go with him.
Tom: I really hate that that makes a lot of sense. I’m glad Annie had a place to go, but going home wasn’t a bed of roses at all.
Annie: There was actually a lot going on in my parents’ marriage at that point in time. And they were renting the house that I moved back to with them. And right around the time of my engagement, my dad took job in Texas and moved himself and lived in an RV by himself to take this job in Texas, driving a truck over the road for Walmart, which had always been his dream job. He wanted to drive for Walmart, and so he did. He eventually bought some land there, which was really what his dream was all about. But for a while there, maybe a year or so, he was just living in an RV. He was telling my mom, he didn’t want to stay married.
Tom: His dream job was to drive for Walmart? Well, as they say, we all have choices and that’s why a good Lord made chocolate and vanilla. Obviously mom and dad had a pretty rocky marriage, not really one to emulate. Dad’s in his RV in Texas, Annie would come home to find her mom on the couch just crying; probably not how most young women imagine their engagement. Instead of shopping for dresses and flowers with her, Annie was just trying to comfort mom and figure out how to pay for the wedding.
Annie: And she just wanted him back, and so eventually they did reunite and she went to Texas with him. That was all kind of going on, so I think that was more of a focus and there wasn’t really a lot of focus on my wedding. I mean, I can remember my dad gave me a credit card with a $3,000 credit limit on it and said, use it however you want for your wedding, that’s your wedding. And so I did.
Tom: So I did. Remember that phrase. Annie Allen is a doer. It may take time to make up her mind, but once she’s focused, I don’t think anything will stop this woman. With the $3,000 from her dad along with another three or 4,000 she’d saved, Annie put together a nice wedding
Annie: That was back in ’95. That went a lot farther than I think. And on top of that, I’m a pretty frugal person and I did put some of my own money toward things too. So I would say the wedding probably cost five or 6,000, something like that. It was in that church where we met, and so we didn’t have a lot of expenses.
Tom: And we’re back to the church. They met at church, had their first kiss at church camp and got married in that same church. A lot of people would call that a great foundation for a marriage. We’ll see. Not too long after the wedding, Chuck graduated with an IT degree and seemed to do very well.
Annie: I would say that probably overall, most of our marriage, we were making more money than most of the people that we were our peers at that point in time. I want to say that his first job offer out of college was 60,000, which was a lot back in ’95, ’96, somewhere around in there.
Tom: 60,000 bucks in 1995, money is about 108,000 in today’s money, not bad for a newly married couple just starting out.
Annie: He worked for a number of different companies throughout our marriage, but whenever he took a new position, it was always an improvement on the old one, both in duties and in money.
Tom: Despite having more money than most of their peers, money was an issue for Chuck and Annie.
Annie: You know, they always say there’s a spender and a saver and I was definitely the spender and he was the saver, and money was a source of conflict for us, but not near like what it was for some people. It was more of an underlying tension. We didn’t necessarily openly argue about it all the time. But it was just one of those things that kind of, we didn’t have a really great plan in place for spending and what that was going to look like.
Tom: Why the tension?
Annie: I was really expected because I wasn’t working. I was really expected to just not really spend money unless it was for the house and the kids, so I didn’t.
Tom: Oh, he’s one of those guys. I make the money, so you you’ll spend it on what I decide you’ll spend it on. Gross! Chuck and Annie had their first child about three years after the wedding. Annie worked at a telemarketing company until she was eight and a half months pregnant. After that, she was expected to be a stay at home mom.
Annie: So then, you know, throughout the years I might get part-time jobs here and there just to have money for what I wanted to buy or things for me. And usually those part-time jobs didn’t last very long because there was always the expectation that if anything I did outside the home limited my ability to do everything that I was doing inside the home, it just wasn’t supported at all. It would be presented as a conflict of interest to his career, which is where all the money was made. So, I needed to just stop doing whatever it was and come back home and take care of the kids in the house and him.
Tom: Remember, this isn’t the 1950s; it’s the 1990s and early 2000s. Chuck sounds like a real piece of work. Doesn’t he? At this point in the interview, I almost felt stupid asking about red flags. I mean, seriously, was there anything but red flags since their first meeting?
Annie: There’s not a lot that I remember about specifics in our marriage from the time we got married until the 10 year mark. I do remember there were times that I wanted to leave. And in fact, the first time was six months after we got married. I was already talking about divorce.
Tom: I’m no expert, but that’s not a good sign at all, right?
Annie: That was the point at which I, rather than divorcing him, his mom was actually a confidant of mine and she was more of a mom to me than my own had ever been. And I could talk to her and I couldn’t talk to my own mom about anything. She wouldn’t really interact with me much, and so I would talk to his mom about the problems that we were having. And at this point she was saying, you know, you guys need to get back into church. And so I said okay.
Tom: So, how did that go?
Annie: I would say that being in church when he would eventually come, which did take some time, did good for our marriage, and I think maybe got us as far along as it did.
Tom: But if a normal church did some good, a cult would do a lot more good, right?
Annie: Until we switched to another church that was more like a cult. It was a legalistic fundamentalist Baptist church. And his brother had been going to it before we did, and he convinced us to come. I didn’t want to go. I had red flags about it all over the place and I didn’t want to go, but it was like, I finally just had to give up because I couldn’t get him to stop talking about it. So we went, and we were there for five years.
Tom: Five years in a cult, sounds like the title of a movie, or at least an episode of Dateline.
Annie: The pastor was certainly a sociopath, if not a psychopath. And he was more or less creating; I don’t even know what to call it. It wasn’t a church. I mean, the men had to go to men’s meetings and they had to report in as to whether their families were good and their kids were behaving and their wife was doing what she was told. And they took attendance at these meetings. And you know, more or less you gave up all of your outside family and friends and just fostered those relationships within the church and the cult, yeah.
Tom: The men in the group would report back on the behavior of their wives. No wonder Chuck liked it so much. It’s wife control ordained by God. After five years of this abuse, Annie had had enough. She told Chuck what needed to change and by when.
Annie: And I had already told him, if this doesn’t work, I’m not coming back here anymore, and I’m not letting my kids either. So you can stay if you want, but I finally took a stand and said, I will not go back there if this does not work. And it didn’t, and so we did actually leave.
Tom: It’s hard to keep everything straight in this timeline and that’s okay. Just know it’s all bad, and that it lasted the entire marriage.
Annie: I always say that the marriage really began crumbling it 10 years. That was the first time that someone presented me with evidence that he was cheating on me and I chose to not believe it. I chose to believe him.
Tom: Sorry, Annie, but it happens to the best of us.
Annie: Now, in hindsight, I know that it was true and it happened many more times. He traveled for business all the time and not once in 10 or 11 years of him doing business travel, would he allow me to go with him on those trips. He would always say, “Well, what if something happened? You know, plane crash, then the kids would be orphans. You have to stay here with them.” Or he would say, “Well, this one is a conference and I’m going to be really busy. I’m not going to have time to do anything.” And I’d be like, “Well, I can entertain myself. I have books. I have things I can do.” “No, I just think the next one will be better. The next one will be better. The next one will be better.”
Tom: Looks to me like Chuck attended infidelity 101 course that all cheaters seem to have passed with flying colors.
Annie: On hindsight, now I know why he didn’t want me to go, and the other funny part of that is that he would always call me, you know, to talk to the kids at bedtime, which would be around eight or nine o’clock and then I’d get on the phone with him after he talked to them and it would be, “Oh, I’m so tired from travel, I’m going to go to bed early. I’m just so tired.” And then come to find out, he’s not going to bed early.
Tom: So Chuck is a controlling outwardly, pious cheater. Anything else?
Annie: He was more or less an alcoholic. I mean, I would say right before we had our daughter, he put himself into inpatient rehab because he didn’t like the way he was handling his drinking. And that was his own choice. And so from that point on that I know of for 15 years, he didn’t drink. He did start drinking again toward the end of our marriage. And the thing I don’t know is, did he drink all the times that he was out of town? And I don’t really know what all went on when he went on these trips. I just knew that he wasn’t being faithful to me. I knew that he wasn’t valuing me as a partner.
Tom: Well, that makes sense. You have to be a partner to be treated is one. Sounds like he thought of Annie as his cook nanny, not as a partner.
Annie: There was definitely abuse in the form of intimidation. He never laid a hand on me. And in fact, because he was so staunchly against that, I think that was one good thing his mother instilled in him that you don’t ever touch a woman. And so he didn’t, he just did everything but that. So there was controlling, manipulation, gaslighting, all of the fun things, but no abuse. The closest it got to it was one time and he was drunk or drinking at the time. He backed me into the corner of a bathroom and he stood right at my height or just an inch or so above. And he had to get up on his tippy toes to intimidate me, but he did that and kind of backed me into a corner. Was I scared? Probably, at the moment I was, but I guess I just faced it because I remember saying, “Go ahead, hit me.”
Tom: Such a horrible scene. I admire Annie for standing up to this bully and I’m relieved to know that he never hit her, but the other abuse he inflicted maybe even worse.
Annie: And it took a lot of years to unfold what was happening. And part of the reason it took that long is because, you know, we’d start seeing a counselor and I would go, and then I would finally somehow convince him to go a few times and then the counselor would get to know him. And I think his goal always in counseling was to get the counselor on his side to get them to agree that I was, you know, whatever he wanted me to be.
Tom: Nice. So Chuck is trying to win the counseling sessions. What a jerk? Sadly, it worked. For years, Chuck was able to manipulate therapy to be what he wanted it to be instead of what it needed to be in order to work.
Annie: But eventually when we got in with somebody, he really, I think understood trauma and understood personality disorder, everything changed because he really began – that therapist really began to be able to, like he knew his number. I didn’t have to explain to me him. I mean, I did over and over again. I would come in and tell him these stories and to me, every story was a new issue. And finally, I think he was able to get me to understand that every single time I came in there, I was explaining the exact same scenario, just with different factors.
Tom: Finally, a counselor that wouldn’t bend to Chuck’s will. This counselor helped Annie open her eye to the reality of the situation.
Annie: I really, you know, kind of had my eyes open through that process. And so, eventually when things really began to be clear to me that the marriage was not going to work, I just sort of, I guess, shifted gears to… I just need to work on me. I need to get my degree. I need to just focus on my own health and recovery. He’s going to do what he’s going to do. I’m just going to try to keep things on and even keel around here and just do what I got to do to take care of myself to be ready for whatever comes. And so, that became my focus for many years while my kids were in high school.
Tom: Good for her. But at some point, someone had to decide it’s time to end it, right.
Annie: That happened on 6/1/16, June 1st, 2016. And I will always remember that because it was a very pivotal moment in my life. And it actually began as just another argument. And at this point, we actually had… I don’t remember if we had been in counseling or not. I don’t think we had been for a while, but I had actually attempted a separation in 2013. For three months, I lived with my mom about 40 minutes away from him. And ended up coming back on what turned out to be empty promises. They always were.
Tom: But three years later, after more empty promise, more therapy, more counseling. And because their counselors were all Christian, more prayer, Annie found herself in yet another argument with Chuck,
Annie: We were having some argument about something; don’t even remember what at this point in time, I just remember that whenever I started understanding things about our relationship and put terminology to it, he would always turn that terminology around on me. And so if I would say that he was projecting something on me, then the next thing you know, he’s telling me about all my projection. So, I learned the hard way not to use the words at all, because they would just be turned against me. But in this particular case, the words were verbal abuse. And I just kept saying, you know, this is escalating. This was a boundary that I had set in our marriage where if we had a disagreement about something that was fine, obviously we’re going to have disagreements. We can talk through as long as everybody’s being calm and respectful. But if it begins to escalate, I’m going to exit the conversation. That was a boundary that I had set. And he knew that. And so, I was trying to do that. And sometimes oftentimes that would require me getting in my car and leaving because that was the only way I could stop it.
Tom: That argument got so ugly and he decided to break the cycle and exit the conversation. But Chuck needed to have the last word because of course, he did.
Annie: So that’s what I was getting ready to do. I was saying, you know, this is escalating and I’m not going to do this. I’m going to just go wherever for now, so we’ll talk about this later. And he said something like, well, good, because I don’t want to take any more of your verbal abuse. And I was just like, I mean, honest to God, he stunned me. I mean, I was like, I probably had my jaw dropped. I was like, are you serious? Are you serious?
Tom: Classic. That’s straight from the douche bag handbook. Use your enemy’s own words against them, but incorrectly, and or out of context, of course. And Chuck played it perfectly. But fortunately for Annie she’d learn the rules of the game and didn’t want to play anymore. But even though Annie was done mentally, after a lifetime of religious upbringing had taught her that divorce was shameful, she wasn’t done spiritually.
Annie: I knew this wasn’t like what I wanted in a marriage, but I didn’t know what God thought about all of it. I needed God to be okay with me ending this marriage. And learn a lot of different things in church and different churches, and so there’s just still a lot of shame around divorce. And it’s very unfortunate because it’s a reality. And when the alternative is abuse, it’s a good reality. So, I think there’s a lot of education that needs to happen in churches across America on that subject, but I won’t get on that soapbox.
Tom: So after being accused of being verbally abusive, Annie needed to figure things out and get right with God.
Annie: So I got in my car and left. And we live near a conservation nature area where there was a lot of wooded trails and I would go walk on them all the time, especially when I was upset. And they were pretty private, and so you know, I could go out there and cry and scream and pray and do whatever I needed or wanted to do, and I did it often. And I did that on this day. And I remember that I was just praying and saying, “God, how can I do anything to save this marriage? If he thinks he’s the one that’s being verbally abused, like how can I even do this?” And it was not an audible voice, but I heard God, as clearly as I ever have say, you have done enough.
Tom: Powerful stuff, Annie, powerful.
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Annie: I literally fell to my knees and cried and everything changed after that. Everything changed because I was just like, okay, you know, now I can decide what I want to do.
Tom: Annie was free, free from religious and spiritual chains, free from guilt and shame, free to start a new life on our own terms. But freedom isn’t free, it takes work.
Annie: And I didn’t end the marriage for another year and a half because I still was trying to finish my degree. I wanted to job. But what I did do that day was I came home, he wasn’t there when I got back and I packed up everything of mine in my master bedroom, and I moved it all to an extra bedroom upstairs. And when he came home that day, I told him the marriage was over. I wasn’t doing this anymore. And I wasn’t going anywhere because I didn’t have anywhere to. And that he was partially responsible for that. And I would be staying there until I finished my degree and until I got a job, and he was to leave me alone and accept that the marriage was over.
Tom: Whoa, there is no way Control Freak Chuck took that very well.
Annie: I don’t really remember a whole lot about that conversation to be a honest with you. You think I would, because that was a pretty pivotal moment, but I don’t. I just remember that, off and on over the weeks and months that followed, he would go on these cycles that he always did where it was, you know? “Well, I’ll do anything, you know, let’s figure this out. I’ll go to counseling,” and turn around in the next breath is, “you need to leave. I am not going to live like this. I’m not going to be treated like this in my own home. Or I can’t do this. I can’t live in the same house with you and not be married to you.” And I’d be like, “Well, I’m sorry, this is where I’m going to be. You can move out if you want to. I’m not going anywhere. I’m staying here.” My daughter had already moved out. My son was in his junior year at this point. And I had so wanted to get him through high school before it all came, crashing down, but it was going to be hard to do that, and so I just stood my ground.
Tom: I want to reiterate that. I don’t know Chuck, in fact, I don’t even know Chuck’s real name, but I can almost picture him, red faced, veins pulsing, just sputtering incoherent babble out of pure frustration. I mean, how dare this woman talked to a man this way? As you heard from Annie, over the next few months, Chuck did his best to hide his misogyny. He offered to go to counseling and he would even go to church with her from time to time. One of those days was September 11th, 2016.
Annie: And so we happened to go to church that morning, and it was on September 11th and they did all the Memorial stuff and everything. He was five blocks from the Pentagon on 911. So he had some, probably like some PTSD from that, so every year around that time was tense and hard for him and for the whole family. And so, that had kind of become sort of a wakeup call for him. That was three months into this. I had moved upstairs three months prior, and he had been saying all that time, Well, I’ll do whatever. You know, I’ll go to counseling. I’ll do whatever.” And I would just say, that’s great, I think you should, but do it for you because I don’t know if it’s going to change anything between me and you, and really it’s not going to work unless you do it for you anyway, so you go.”
Tom: Annie gets it. The purpose of therapy is to fix yourself. And since Chuck is perfect in his own mind, why in the world would he need therapy, duh?
Annie: But he did convince me to go because on this day on September 11th at lunch after church, he said, “I’ll go to your counselor.” And this was the one counselor that I knew had his number. I knew he understood what was going on in my home. And he wasn’t going to be like so many counselors before who just, you know, in their best interests, they had the best of intentions. They would just tell us to pray more, and for me, to be more submissive and understanding of his plight in life.
Tom: She agreed to counseling again. Did she really think it could work?
Annie: You know, I think it was one of those things where I kind of knew what would probably happen, but I was willing to be wrong. I knew I wasn’t going anywhere. I couldn’t move out yet, so I might as well do whatever to try to improve things even if it wasn’t going to save the marriage, and I think in my mind had the potential to save the marriage. I think it was, well, maybe it’ll work, because I got to be the one to say where we were going to go and how we were going to do it and how we were going to do it was, we’re going to do whatever he tells us to do. We’re going to sit down and we’re going to be students, and we’re going to say, “Hey, we’re trying to save this marriage. We haven’t been doing it right apparently; you tell us, what do we need to do?”
Tom: If nothing else, Annie is always hopeful that things can get better.
Annie: The thing about our relationship was always that it was pretty like a roller coaster. I mean, there were really, really good times. They were really, really bad times, but I stayed because there was some times when it was so good. I was just like, why can’t we just figure out how to stay here? If it was all bad all the time, it would’ve been much easier to leave.
Tom: Yeah. I think a roller coaster is a good way to describe their marriage. I would also accept catastrophe, nightmare or train wreck.
Annie: The strategy that was developed was that, you know, we need marriage counseling, but before we can get to that, we need individual counseling for six months.
Tom: Yeah. I think we’ve established that Chuck isn’t willing to accept that he’s partly to blame.
Annie: Well, he actually did all of that. I was shocked.
Tom: Holy crap! Me too. So after months of individual therapy, it’s time to start marriage counseling… again.
Annie: And he brings a book to the counselor and says, this is what I want to do. This is how I want to do marriage counseling, and like dictating to him what’s going to happen. And I think we need to do it separately. I don’t think we should do it together, because we don’t get much accomplished when we do it together. So he’s telling the counselor what we’re going to do.
Tom: Oh, there the old Chuck, I was wondering how long it would take. It’s good to have him back.
Annie: So he comes home from that appointment, throws those papers in my face says, I’m fine. You know, and here’s how we’re going to do it. We’re going to go separately and do this marriage counseling book that I picked. Well, actually he told me that the counselor picked it. And I was like dumbfounded. I was like, wait a second. This doesn’t sound at all like what I talked to him about last. So, I didn’t say anything because I wasn’t going to get into an argument with him. I just went to my next appointment two or three days later and I’m like, “Chris, what is going on? Like, I thought we were transitioning to marriage counseling and this report doesn’t in my mind read at all the way he’s interpreting it.” And he’s like, “Yeah, it’s not. He came in here with all these ideas about how he’s going to control the way this report came out, the way that this marriage counseling is going to look.” And he here’s what he said to me. He said, “I felt like I had to agree to him or I’d lose him forever.”
Tom: I think we can all agree that Annie had done enough back when God told her she’d done enough. But now nine or 10 months later, I suspect even God himself was wondering if she’d ever really give up. But Annie really had had enough. Chuck had made it clear that he was only going through the motions and had intention of working on his half of the marriage.
Annie: And I said to the counselor, “You don’t have to do anything because I’m calling it. This is over. I’m going to file. I just need to figure out who, where and when and all that.” So I think I started getting recommendations and going and interviewing attorneys and stuff pretty quickly after that. I think we actually ended up filing on like the 3rd or 4th of November, and then I had a month to inform him. Was it ideal doing it right before the holidays? Certainly not, but it was just, I couldn’t do it anymore. And at that point, the only reason I think I was able to go ahead with it was because I had learned that I could take half our savings with me whenever I left. And so, I knew I would be okay because we had a really big savings account. So on legal advice, been told I could take half of it and there would be nothing wrong with that. Although honestly, that was scarier to me than telling him that I was divorcing him. So, I literally was very scared to tell him that I just took $50,000 out of our bank account.
Tom: I’ll bet. Based on the way he treated their money, that had to be scary, but I’m so glad she did it. Annie’s attorney drew up the paperwork. But instead of having Chuck served, Chuck offered to make it easy and save money.
Annie: He chose to go to her office and pick it up because he had not yet retained counsel, so he could. He could have a conversation with her. And at this point in time he was saying that he was going to just use the same attorney, save money, you know, we could figure it out between the two of us and she could just do all the paperwork for us. So, he went and picked up the papers from her.
Tom: Well, that’s great. Sounds like Chuck knew it was over and that fighting would only take time and cost money.
Annie: He knew that I was asking for alimony, not child support because our oldest was six months from graduation, and so I didn’t know if he’d be going to college. I didn’t ask for any child support, just spousal support. I wasn’t greedy. I honestly could have gotten more, in hindsight, I would’ve gotten more. But he apparently on recommendation from somebody, went and had a consult with a shark and the shark told him that he didn’t have to pay me anything.
Tom: Damn it, Chuck. You were so close to just being done. Remember, I’m not an attorney and this is not legal advice, but I have a message to everyone listening. If you’ve been the primary breadwinner for your family for 22 years and you’re getting a divorce, just plan on paying alimony or spousal support. And if your attorney tells you otherwise, find a new attorney. And you think that’s the right thing to do, regardless of legal advice, then check your morals because you’re an asshole.
Annie: His attorney sent emails to my attorney that he knows darn good and well I’m going to see, calling me names because I wanted maintenance. And it’s just crazy the way some attorneys behave. And sometimes you get in a situation where you’re stuck with them, even if you decide they’re crazy and you wish you hadn’t hired them, it’s too late to do anything about it now. So, it’s a cautionary tale of not just hiring somebody based on somebody’s recommendation, but really knowing how to select an attorney well, because they can absolutely drag things out for years and make everybody miserable for no reason. And so, we hire this guy who I found out later was very well known for taking guys for a ride with their ego, and so that is exactly what he did for six months.
Tom: So old Chuck is taken for a ride for six months. Then what?
Annie: He stirred the pot so bad that it got to the point by the end of it, that my ex was saying, “Can you just talk to your attorney and see if she can get this done, because I can’t get anything done with this guy?”
Tom: In the immortal words of Nelson from the Simpsons.
Annie: Finally, we were able to come to terms and settle before we went to court, but only because I held my ground and I said, I’m not taking less than this. I’m not going to put myself in that situation.
Tom: Annie always refers to Chuck’s attorney as a shark.
Annie: With every industry, there’s bad doctors and good doctors, there’s bad real estate agents and good real estate agents, and the bad ones are always giving the others a bad name. I have attorneys kind of blocked in my mind, there’s sharks and there’s bulldogs, and then there’s people that really shouldn’t be attorneys because it’s either a part-time thing or they just have no passion. So, bulldogs are the ones that, you know, they will protect their yard. They will do what needs to be done, but they’re not vicious. They’re not predatory. And sharks obviously are predatory and very adversarial. They stir things up on purpose to keep dragging out the whole process.
Tom: I really like that analogy. And I know not all divorce attorneys are sharks, but even the bulldogs as Annie calls them are in a tough situation for two reasons. First, when your case is over and you’ve moved on, your attorney into their next case, which means they’re standing right in front of the same judge or commissioner and maybe working against the same attorney or law firm. Either way, they know they have to play nice because they have to work with these people every day, even though you don’t. And second, almost all attorneys are paid by the hour, which means if your case settles quickly, they don’t make money. No matter how goodhearted or well meaning, the temptation to incite arguments, create controversy or otherwise pad their hours, must be overwhelming some days, especially if the jet ski payment is coming due soon. Because of Chuck’s attorney, and frankly, Chuck’s gullibility, it took six months to reach a settlement. It not as bad as some, but besides the time, what else did it cost?
Annie: Well, I don’t know what he paid, but I will say I’m sure it was more than me. And I would guess that mine was right between 12 and 13,000.
Tom: So Chuck cost the two of them, six months and 25 to $30,000 just to avoid paying alimony, which he’s paying now and will pay for another couple of years. Great work Chuck. Now, four years later, Annie and Chuck have almost zero contact or communication, which I think is for the best. Chuck lives with his girlfriend today, who Annie believes is the last person he cheated on her with when they were on vacation in Hawaii, back in 2016, which sounds about right.
Annie: The thing that I observe quite often with relationships is that hate is much closer to love than empathy. And so the people that are still very bitter and angry, and hate their ex and still argue with them all the time are really still not over them. And I’m very much over him. I don’t think about him ever. I don’t have really any emotion about anything about him. I honestly, when I had that walk in the woods with God and got that clarity, something switched in me and I just decided that he could be who he wanted to be, and I could too.
Tom: Annie is currently in a committed relationship, which she says is very healthy. Her boyfriend even wants her to travel with him on a regular basis. Hmm. Since she’s currently dating, she offered some great advice for anyone in her position.
Annie: Listen to your gut. That’s a lot easier said than done, but I think that most people have a story that they can tell that they usually don’t tell until they’re going through a divorce or after, where they go, you know, I should have known when, fill in the blank happened. And because I think we just are such hopeful people, I think that we want to just say that those things are just human nature and that we will overcome them. But the truth is that the issues that you struggle with when you’re dating or newly married are the issues that are going to continue to get worse once you’re married, and for most people. People are people and I do believe in change because I’ve totally changed my life, but I also believe that people inherently are who they are and they’re not going to drastically change, you know, over the course of a lifetime.
Tom: People can change, but only in small measures. Zebras can’t change their stripes any more than leopards can change their spots. For those thinking of marriage, Annie has this advice.
Annie: It’s really smart to do some kind of premarital counseling, and really define what you expect to be the issues because you already… I thought, you know, ideally, know a lot about one another, and you probably have a pretty good idea of what the two or three top issues are. And because you know that people relax when they get married and things generally get worse in those areas when that happens, you have to acknowledge that and have a plan for how you’re going to deal with that so that you don’t let it become an issue. And that takes a lot of pre-thought that most people won’t do.
Tom: I think too many of us believe that premarital counseling is a red flag. I mean, why would you marry someone with whom you already need counseling, right? Let me be very clear; it is not a bad thing to seek premarital counseling. And by the way, it’s not a bad thing to continue that counseling after the marriage no matter how happy you are. I have a friend who’s been married for nearly 20 years. He and his wife attend a weekly counseling session and have done so almost their entire marriage. I don’t know a happier couple. And if all else fails and you need to get a divorce, here’s Annie’s advice.
Annie: In most situations where I meet with somebody who’s considering a divorce; their language is all about how do I get him to do this? How do I get her to do that? I mean, if I had a dime for every time I’ve said you don’t get anybody to do anything. Can you get it yourself to do something different? That’s the question. And if you can, then you can change everything and you can create a scenario where change is possible. So how that looks is you take responsibility for the places where your falling short of what your ideal is as a partner in the marriage, and start changing those things. And even if that’s your responses to him when he’s abusive, okay, change your responses. Instead of yelling back, now, you said a thing that’s, you know, my key phrase that I liked to use back then was, “I love you too much to argue with you.”
And I said that so much that it pissed him off when I said it, because he wanted to argue, damn it. I refused to argue with him. That was one of the big changes that I made toward the end. And so I would leave the house or leave the room or whatever I had to do to not argue with him. And so, you have to decide what those boundaries are going to look like for you, and get really strong in who you want to be in the relationship and become that person. And if there is hope for change, that’s going to attract him to be more like what his ideal is or what he wants to be in the marriage. But if he doesn’t change, he’s not going to change, but you’re going to get stronger and wiser through that process of setting and holding boundaries and respecting yourself. And at that point, you know, if it’s months or years into it, and you’ve been doing this for a while and you see he’s not coming around, now you have the strength to do something about it that you didn’t have before.
Tom: Amazing. Remember, we can’t control others, we can only control ourselves. Before we ended the interview, Annie offered one final pearl of wisdom I wanted to share with you today. But before I do, I want to thank Annie for her time, her candor and the inspiration she is and the work she does to help others. It’s actually remarkable. I also want to thank our sponsor, ourdivorce.com, who’s made it their mission to provide the most comprehensive, easy to use an affordable self-service divorce process ever imagined. If you want to avoid the sharks and think you can work with your soon to be ex-spouse just one more time, visit ourdivorce.com to learn more and to get started for free today. And don’t forget to review and rate our show. I hope you’ll give us five stars on whatever app you’re listening to right now. Ratings are the way people learn about our show, so please take two seconds to give us five stars right now. Also, if you have a crazy divorce story and would like to be a guest on My Crazy Divorce, just go to my crazydivorce.com and click on the apply to be a guest button at the bottom of the page. I’d love to hear from you. I’ll be back next week with another crazy. Here’s Annie.
Annie: I just want more people to know that divorce is a beginning, not an ending. Or not just an ending. I mean, we do have to recognize the loss and grieve the loss of what was supposed to be. And there’s a lot of tears that go along with that, and those are healthy and you should cry every single one of them. But eventually, you really want to grasp the thought that this is like a new lease on life; I can literally become whoever I want to be. I can change jobs. I can stay single. I can date whoever I want to date. I can do whatever I want to do. This is a whole new lease on life. And actually what’s really interesting – the other day I was journaling about something, I think the question was something about like the most pivotal things that have happened in your life or something. And my answers were divorce, estrangement from family and departure from church as I knew it before. And as I thought about divorce, estrangement, departure, I thought, “Gosh, those all sounds so negative.” And there’s always been this part of me that’s like, I hate the fact that I’m like a certified divorced coach. It just sounds so negative. And so, I was thinking about that, and I’m kind of a word nerd, so I have a dictionary app on my phone and I use it. First, I looked up the word divorce, and I was looking at just the different synonyms and antonyms and I was really trying to think about what word could be used that would put a positive spin on that. And somewhere along the line, I came across the word freedom and I then looked up freedom.
And what was really interesting to me was that one of the synonyms of freedom was abandon – abandonment. And I was like, I had to think about that for a minute. I was like, freedom is abandonment, like letting go. Abandoning everything that’s behind and wishing it well and sending it away and turning and going this other way. You know, that’s how I look at divorce as the freedom to abandon everything that wasn’t working and all the people, whoever they are, that weren’t really for you and going in this other direction where you can surround yourself with people who are for you and who truly know how to love you well.