Virginia Ironside's Dilemmas: To divorce or not to divorce?

This reader says the marriage that produced two children is irrefutably over, but she's too scared of the future to ask for a divorce

Dear Virginia,

I know my marriage is over. We haven’t had sex for years, and though we rub along, we have nothing in common and I don’t love my husband any more. We have two children – twins aged 10  – and he’s not even that interested in them. It’s just that I daren’t make the first move. I’m so frightened of what he would say or do. And I’m frightened of being on my own. How can I overcome this paralysis, which, if I don’t do something about it, will go on for the rest of my life? It’s such a terrible prospect.


Yours sincerely,


Virginia says...

You’re not frightened of the first move. It’s the last move that scares you. You're frightened of saying: “It’s over!” You’re frightened of, suddenly, finding yourself alone and in a flat with two small children. And you’re right to be frightened. If you were suddenly to say to your husband, out of the blue, “I want a divorce,” who knows how he might react. If he were to turn emotional, frankly, who could blame him? You’ve given him no warning. And it seems you haven’t given much thought to his feelings in all of this. While you’re silently weeping into your pillow at night, dreading  the horror of a future of incompatibility and boredom, has it occurred to you that he, on his side of the bed, may be doing exactly the same? Could it be that he’s thinking just what you’re thinking but,  like you, is too frightened to admit it?

One evening, you must take his hand and say: “I don’t feel we’re getting on as well as we used to. Our relationship seems rather empty. How do you feel about it?” No mention of moving out or divorce or “the end”.

You have absolutely no idea how he’ll react. He could hardly be angry, unless he’s a monster, in which case his reaction will give you a clearer idea of whether there’s any chance of salvaging the marriage or not. And if he’s not, and if he agrees with you, then, who knows, there might be a chance of some repair.

If he just avoids the issue, bring the subject up again and again, every couple of weeks, until finally you say: “You don’t think there’s anything wrong, but I do. Can we see a Relate counsellor to help to clarify the situation between us?” And so on. Keep chipping in small stages. Again, at this point he might agree and then, in front of a third party, you could work out what the future might be.

Obviously, the best scenario is that you fall in love all over again and everything's fine. But the second-best scenario is that you cobble things together to make life tolerable for each of you at least until the twins are 18, and then think of going your separate ways. The third scenario is that you split up. But that one’s way down the line. And when it comes as a logical step after all that’s gone before, it won’t be nearly as painful or dramatic as you imagine.

It might be terribly sad but at least this way you’ll never be left thinking: “I was wrong. I should have tried harder.”

The most frightening scenario of all.

Readers say…

Find help

You appear to be feeling helpless, hopeless and isolated, a classic description of clinical depression. So before you do anything else, you need to get help for that, preferably from a counsellor, not a prescription, because you also need someone in your corner to help you to untangle all your feelings and get a clearer view of the options open to you. That person will be a far better source of guidance and advice than I could ever hope to be.

Ian Hurdley, by email

Try working at it

I’m so sorry for how lonely and scared you must be. I have to say, though, that giving up on a marriage, where children are involved, because you’re out of love sounds rather weak. Not feeling connected to your husband must be so isolating but I wonder whether you’ve done absolutely everything you can to rekindle things? Talks over dinner about your feelings, dates, trying fun things together to find things in common, weekends away, marriage counselling? You vowed to love through good times and bad, and this kind of love takes effort, so I’d implore you to try to fight through this bad time.

Natalie, by email

Next week’s  dilemma

Dear Virginia,

Since my 18-year-old daughter has gone to university, I’ve been worried sick. I've read reviews of the new TV show Girls, meant to be an accurate portrayal of real life for young girls. It seems they’re expected to have loveless sex with boys desensitised by pornography, which has removed the link between love and sex. If I raise this with her she just says, “I have never watched pornography,” but the new dead look in her eyes tells me something different. I want her to have a love life rather than a sex life. She won’t discuss it with me. What can I do?

Yours sincerely,


What would you advise Millie to do?

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