After 28 years of marriage, the couple split up because of a number of sad things. In 2004, when I was 51, I did that. Even though divorces often take a long time, mine may have broken some records: My marriage wasn’t over until 16 years later.
In May 2002, my beloved brother died in an accident. This set off a chain of events. Six months later, my mother was told she had ovarian cancer in stage three. I thought I might have ovarian cancer, so in May 2004, I had my uterus taken out. A week after the surgery, I took my seven-year-old daughter with me to West Virginia to help take care of my mother. He didn’t come with us.
Before my mother died in August, God gave us two pretty good months together. During that special time, she told me that, even though she had been married to my dad for almost 40 years, she had never felt “cherished” by a man.
She begged me not to go back to my husband john molner before she died. I knew what she had been through, so I knew that I should take her advice seriously. It was almost as if she was telling me I could do something else.
My husband never came to see us when my mother was sick, and he didn’t even come to her funeral. Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised when, four days after we buried her, divorce papers and a restraining order telling me I couldn’t go back to our home in Ohio were left on my mother’s front porch. But I had to send our daughter back there because lawyers told me that if I didn’t go back to Ohio, it might look like I was pulling my daughter out of her school, and that would be used against me.
The idea that I might have to give up my seven-year-old daughter was too much to bear, and I didn’t trust my then-husband not to treat her like he treated me. My first lawyer told me to find an apartment and move back to Ohio, so I did. At first, the court gave my husband temporary but primary parental custody of my daughter without ever meeting me or talking to me. I still don’t know if this was legal because I have never met or talked to my husband. He said I left him while I was taking care of my mother, and the court didn’t like that.
I fought to get my daughter back at several hearings. After that, my husband and I shared custody of her until she was 15 years old. He used her as a pawn in the fight because he knew I wanted her with me more than anything else. I felt like shattered glass.
During the 16 years of court cases, my husband worked as a university professor with a permanent job. He put off retirement for about five years just so he wouldn’t have to give me my share of his retirement money right away. When the court cases started, I was a doctoral student who worked as a graduate assistant and made about $8,000 a year. The judge told him to pay me $300 a month for child support and $500 a month for alimony, but only for three years.
But my husband kept taking me back to court to fight the terms of our divorce. He told me in private that he was trying to break me financially, which is what he did when we signed the final papers in 2020. Throughout the whole process, financial ruin was a constant threat, and by the end, it was a reality. Credit cards have helped people get by for years. Now, they were a force that had to be taken into account. By that time, I was lucky to have a third lawyer who cared about my case and fought for me as hard as she could. Because of her, the settlement was better than it would have been otherwise, but all those years of legal bills made it so I had to pretty much start over financially.
I had never done anything wrong before, except maybe get a speeding ticket. The whole thing was very scary, and my lack of knowledge was used against me. Now that I look back, I wonder how I and my kids got through it, but we did.
You might be wondering how I got married to someone who treated me like this and why I didn’t just end the marriage on my own. My background helps to explain some of that.
I grew up in the southern West Virginia mountains. It was beautiful, and the people were kind and loyal, but Appalachian culture back then was very patriarchal. Men yelled orders, and their wives jumped to keep the peace. I saw the same kinds of marriages everywhere I went. At 23, I met my husband, and after a year of dating, we got married.
Things changed quickly. My husband never yelled at me, but he controlled me by pulling away and being passively aggressive. He would completely ignore me, sometimes for weeks, and I wouldn’t always know why. I always blamed myself for my bad moods, which is typical of Appalachian women. I was so young, and he was the first man I ever got close to. I had never been married before, so I had no idea what should be normal.
I knew something was wrong two months after the wedding. On our first Valentine’s Day as a married couple, we had a short fight, and then he threw a glass thermos at me. It broke on the chair behind my head.
My culture had taught me that I had “made my bed, and now I had to lie in it,” and that a good, strong, Godly woman wouldn’t even think about leaving. I told myself that things would get better in the long run. I had always wanted to be a mother very much, so I told myself that when he became a father, he would change and become more loving and open to talking. That the kids and I would change him together. We didn’t.
When I was getting a divorce, I knew that my three kids were watching how I dealt with almost everything. For them and for myself, I had to be strong. So, I went back to school and got my Ph.D. in education. I worked on it for eight years while I taught at a local community college.
I’ve learned that I can be self-reliant with help from above, and my spiritual faith and trust have grown by leaps and bounds. I know I can handle things. I don’t worry as much about the little things as I used to because, compared to the past, almost everything seems like a small thing. I don’t waste my time with people who said they were my friends before my divorce but then disappeared. I really do care about the people who were there, and I will always care about them. My motto is written on a sign in my office: “You don’t know how strong you can be until you have to be strong.”
I’ve changed because of that heartache.
Would I marry someone else? For women of my generation, living together meant you had to get married, so I still feel that pressure, even though logic tells me that’s not always what I have to do. I think the thing that has kept me from moving forward is the threat to my finances and the fear that someone could threaten my stability again. And at my age, I’d never get better.
Still, I’m in a relationship right now that feels very new and different to me for the first time in my life. I’ve known him for most of my life. We were in the same class in elementary school. He had a long, happy marriage before his wife died of cancer a few years ago. We’ve been friends for a long time, so it’s easy for us to work together. I don’t have to be so careful anymore.
So, yes, I’m really thinking about getting married again, even though I’m 68 years old. After some professional counseling, which I would also highly recommend to anyone going through a divorce, I’ve come to realize that the men in my past all had similar control issues. I think I went with what I knew and thought it was normal. My heart goes out to women or men who have been in similar relationships. When you are in one of these relationships, you don’t realize how strange and dangerous it is until you get out.
My message to the next generation is this: If you think you can change your spouse’s behavior in a big way, please think again. What you get when you get married only gets worse as time goes on. I learned the hard way, and I wouldn’t want anyone else to have to go through what I did. I want women who follow me to have more options, know what could go wrong, and be able to protect themselves. If you’re reading this and thinking about getting married, make sure you can talk to your partner easily and often. Respecting each other is a must. It seems so easy.
My mistake hurt my children, and for 28 years, I didn’t know who I was. But it makes me feel better to know that even though I did what my mother did, my daughter would never put up with what I did.