I Don't Want A Divorce But But What Other Option Do I Have?
I Don’t Want A Divorce But I Don’t Know What Else To Do

If you don’t want a divorce, but you're seeking solutions due to your husband’s emotional and psychological abuse, here are some ideas to consider.

If you don’t want a divorce, there are several alternatives to consider. The fear of starting over can be a major hurdle. After 30 years of emotional and psychological abuse, a survivor shares her story. 

This episode is Part One of Anne’s interview with Karen DeArmond Gardner.

Part One: I Don’t Want A Divorce. But I Don’t Know What Else I Should Do (This Episode)
Part Two: I Want to Leave My Emotionally Abusive Husband

I found myself thinking, “What am I going to do? What’s going to happen?” I was about to turn 70, and I knew I needed emotional safety. – Karen DeArmond Gardner

Reasons Why Women Don’t Want A Divorce

Regardless of age, most women feel intense fear and concern about divorce. I’ve never met a woman who wants a divorce. Women don’t want a divorce because answering this questions seems daunting: 

  • How will I provide for myself and my children?
  • What if this was my only chance at love and partnership?
  • Isn’t divorce wrong?
  • What if he changes at some point, and I miss out on it?
  • What if I spend the rest of my life alone?
  • Where will I live?
  • What if everyone believes his version of the story?
  • I’ve never worked, how will I get a job?

These are perfectly valid reasons you don’t want a divorce. Anne and Karen dive into ways that you can work through these fears in this episode. Further, The BTR.ORG Living Free Workshop offers practical strategies and exercises that you can practice again and again to free yourself from fear and proactively work toward confidence and empowerment.

When You Say to Yourself: I Don’t Want A Divorce?

Anne (02:43): Moving from hopelessness to hope, Karen left her emotionally abusive husband.

Karen is a woman of faith, so if you are agnostic or atheist or anything else, you’re welcome here. 

Everyone is always welcome. If you come on the podcast, you’re always welcome to share from your own faith or non-faith perspective. Karen and I don’t share the same faith tradition. So we’ll be talking about faith each from our own experience and perspective. 

Let’s start, Karen, with your story. Can you tell me a little about your story?

Share Your Story of Starting If You Don’t Want A Divorce

Karen (04:12): Ha, where do you start in your story when you left or when you got into it? I stayed 30 years in an abusive marriage, but at 20 years old, I didn’t know that. He was charming and kind, and he was funny. He was a good listener. I told him secrets I had never told anybody in my entire life, and I had no idea.

Now were there red flags? Yes. Do you pay attention to him? You do, but they excuse him. It’s like, well, that’s a one-off because he’s this guy over here. He’s always telling me how amazing I am, and so it just must be like a one-off.

We got married after two and a half months of meeting. I’m just going to tell you don’t do that. I had no idea what I was stepping into, noticing things changed, but I didn’t have anything to compare it to.

Because my father was abusive, and then the man she was currently married to while I was growing up was an alcoholic. I really didn’t have anything to compare to what is normal and what’s not normal.

Instead of Happily Ever After, I Was Asking, “I Don’t Want a Divorce?”

Anne (05:45): So many women have that situation. I remember telling my doctor, my internal medicine family practice doctor, I don’t know what is okay, because I’ve never been married to anyone else, and everybody tells you marriage is hard and everybody tells you you have to work hard at it and you have to be loving and patient. 

We get educated about how to love and serve and forgive and be kind and listen and all that stuff.  But we get  very little education about abuse, so it gets confusing. We talk so much about recognizing abuse in BTR.ORG Group Sessions.

Karen (06:18): Honestly, nobody talks about that. I mean, even today, every pre-marriage session should include a section on recognizing abusive behaviors, and it should occur separately because she won’t admit that in front of him, and vice versa. 

Yet, even in this day and age, we still fail to implement this. People struggle to imagine that someone so kind, funny, and well-liked could have a dark side. I wasn’t searching for a fairytale; I didn’t even have marriage on my mind. Instead of a fairytale, I ended up living a nightmare.

Some guys, as soon as you say I do, they immediately, they turn, they strip off all the masks and the monster is there and some guys are really slow at it, and ours was slow and periodic and it was mostly verbal and emotional and psychological, but I didn’t know that.

I Don't Want A Divorce But I Don't Know What Else Can Be Done

Accepting the Intention Behind the Abuse When Thinking “I Don’t Want A Divorce”

Most of what I know about what happened to me is after the fact. I still have moments and I’ve been out now coming up, it’ll be 19 years, and so I’m coming up on these anniversaries. I still have moments where I’ll read something on social media and I’m like, whoa, wow. Yes. 

There’s all these tactics. There are so many, but even I am still surprised at what he did and how abusive it was.

Anne (07:52): And also I think the longer we’re out of it, we realize how intentional it was too, which is heartbreaking.

Karen (07:59): Yes, it is. I can’t tell you how many women are like, oh, he didn’t do it on purpose. I’m like, yeah, he really did. No, no, he wouldn’t do that. He just had this and his that.

You can hear the cognitive dissonance going on in their brain, and it’s part of that healing process of getting over those thoughts that have taken over the lies that we think are really true because they resonate.

Because he said it so many times and ingrained it with behaviors and reactions and punishments. Whatever words you want to use. That it is so reinforced that we think that he couldn’t help it because he said it for so long.

It’s hard to admit that this man that you shared your bed with and raised children with that said he loved you, actually purposely married you, so he would have the freedom to abuse you.

When You Don’t Want A Divorce, But You Feel Like You Don’t Have Any Options

Anne (09:01): I think it also comes from societal scripting, some religious scripting as well. It almost confirms the abusive gaslighting that they’re telling you. Then you go to maybe a therapist or clergy or a friend, and they unknowingly are also confirming to you this false reality that yeah, you should be submitting. 

That’s what a good wife would do, or whatever they’re saying that kind of keeps you stuck there and you don’t realize what’s happening.

Karen (09:36): Because sometimes you don’t know that you have an option and which to some people sounds a little bit crazy. But the reality is when you’re in the middle of it, you feel like you don’t have any options.

Anne (09:49): Also you have really good intentions. You care about your children, you care about your family. If clergy or someone else is saying to you, well, if you really care about your family, you need to forgive.

 For example, or if you really follow Jesus, then you need to submit and forgive and pray for him or advice like that. That doesn’t help women get to emotional safety.

But I Don’t want a Divorce!

You’re around 50 years old at the time and you’re thinking, I don’t want a divorce is it time for me to leave. Am I really Going to Just Put 30 Years in the Trash and Start Over? I need to get to emotional safety, psychological safety, and you sort of see it as starting over, which is scary because people don’t want a divorce. They’ve already invested 30 years into this relationship.

Thinking, I don’t want a divorce? Can you talk about your decision to leave and the concept of starting over? How that either can help victims to leave, like, oh, I get a fresh start, or it can actually keep them stuck because they’re like, I don’t want a divorce. I’ve already invested too much.

I Was Afraid to Move, I Don’t Want A Divorce

Karen (10:57): I think starting over is the part that doesn’t even enter your brain. It didn’t enter my mind because I couldn’t even think that far ahead. The time that I left six months prior to leaving was when I realized one day I had the moment when I realized I was done, he wasn’t worth it anymore.

This man clearly cares nothing about me. I was just done. It still took six months to leave because I didn’t know how to do that. I was isolated from my family. And it just happened that my mom came in December for my daughter’s graduation from college and was staying for Christmas, and it was that week before Christmas as everything came to a head.

I don’t know how I decided that I was going to leave, but that’s all that I could think of. I was 51 when I left. When I landed in Texas a little less than a month later, about three weeks later, I couldn’t even imagine life any different than it was. I felt like a little kid who someone took all the fences down and I was afraid to move.

Finding Light in the Darkness

(12:14): There was dangerous traffic all around me, and I was so stuck and I was so terrified. I went from terrified of leaving him, I knew what he was capable of, I felt terrified. Now what do I do? I don’t know how to do this. I was with my family and my sister would drive me places and help me make decisions, and my brother was helping me because I couldn’t think straight.

The thought of starting over just seemed overwhelming, and I didn’t use that terminology until I got a job. About two and a half months after I left, I got a new job here in Texas. Then that changed my thinking because all of a sudden I found these people that just absolutely adored me. 

They liked me. I mean, that was a big deal. They actually liked me.

Over time, as I was away from his abuse, I could feel my mind clearing as I was working at learning a new job, I was in four months of training. I could feel the shift slowly happen to where all of a sudden I could see possibilities and it was terrifying. 

I was just bumbling around in the dark, and that’s what it felt like, I just literally felt like I was bumbling around in the dark because up to this point, I had part-time jobs or I had inconsequential jobs. He wanted me to work, but I always worked under my capabilities. Every job I had was never to my capabilities.

Starting Over: Remembering Who You REALLY Are

(14:01): Now I have a job where I feel myself growing and learning and expanding my mind and starting to see this is so different. I’m not sure I’m really answering your question because it’s hard to put words to what I felt then. 

I had no idea who I was when I came out of the marriage. I was really mousy and quiet, and I’m not that way.

That’s not who I am. I’m not mousy or quiet. I could overtalk. I could be too loud when I’d get excited. It’s only been in the last few years that the Lord has actually showed me.

 He’s given me glimpses of moments in my early married life where I was that way. Because of his reaction, I learned over time that not to be loud, to not talk, to not give my opinion. It took time.

There were times when he would come at me and I would fight back emotionally or verbally. I was fighting back and I thought I always just appeased him and I didn’t. And the Lord had to open up my mind to help me to remember.  He made you this way. This is not who you were. So it has helped me to accept where I am to today, if that makes any sense.

I Don't Want A Divorce - I Don't Know How to Start Over, But What Else Can I Do

Your Personality Didn’t Cause the Abuse

Anne (15:29): When it comes to abuse recovery, the advice is, what were you like before? There is a population of victims who were quiet before, and so they’re like, well, I was always quiet. And so they get a little bit confused.  

You have to realize that that does not cause abuse. There are other women who are quiet whose husbands aren’t abusing them.

(16:23): Also, some women who were quiet and maybe really calm, they became more irritated or more upset because he was abusive.

 They’re thinking, I must be this angry, bitter person, what he’s told her when really she was just trying to protect herself. It’s really interesting the different ways that victims end up perceiving of themselves, perceiving of their life before, and it takes a while to sort it out.

I also think it takes some distance from that person. They’ve been gaslighting you for so long. When you’re away from it, you can kind of process it a little bit better and say, wait a minute. 

Yeah, I did become more loud because I realized that this wasn’t safe or I became more quiet because that was the way I was trying to survive. There’s all different ways that women react to it.

Abusers Want to Squish Our Personalities and They Want to Shift Us

Karen (17:17): I totally agree. There is no cookie cutter and with each one of us, how we respond and when they bait us and how we react.  Just like all abusers have, it seems like they all read the same manual and they use the same tactics. Every abuser has their own nuance to how they do things. It’s never a cookie cutter because first of all, we’re not all the same. We all are different.

You’re going to see that play out. I purposely use the word abuser. I know there’s all these other terms that we can use. In reality, what we’re dealing with is someone who is an abuser. We all have our own way, it’s our own personality. The point is, abusers want to squish our personalities and they want to shift us. Some abusers really get off on the fact that when you react, when you fight back. They can go, oh, well, look at what you’re doing, and they always point it back.

Anne (18:19): They love that they affected you.

Karen (18:21): Oh yes, for good.

They Love the Ability to be Able to Affect You

Anne (18:22): Oh, I’m so grateful. Thank you. Or, you’re stressing me out. You’re a terrible person. They love the ability to be able to affect you. That’s what they love. They don’t love you. They love the power that like, Ooh, I have the power to be able to affect her.

That’s what they really like because you are around 50 and I’ll be 50 sooner rather than later. It’s feeling very young to me right now, which is exciting. A lot of women think, I can’t do this now. My time has passed. I’m too old.

50 is not old, at whatever age, I’m too old to get to safety. This has been my life for too long. What are some obstacles that you see that women sort of put up for themselves or that other people tell them really quick?

So Many Women Think, It’s too Late For Me

(19:20): I had an abusive boyfriend in high school and he really wanted me to marry him. He told me that if I didn’t marry him right then basically, I will have missed my chance because nobody gets married after 22. He’s like, there’s these three phases.

There’s right after high school, there’s right after everybody gets home from their missions, and then there’s right after another time, there are these three phases. He is like, if you miss this phase, you will never get married. So marry me now. It was in his mind the third phase, and I said, no, thank you.

When I talk about obstacles, so many women just think It’s too late for me. It’s too late for me to have a peaceful life. It’s too late for me to get to safety. Can you talk about that in terms of starting over?

My Life Just Continues to Grow After Starting Over

Karen (20:08): Oh, I would love to because I don’t, with 51, it’s starting over. For the first time in my life, I had a career and it wasn’t an amazing career. I learned all that I was capable of. Mow here I am. Because if you start to put together the date she left when she was 51, and it’s been almost 19 years, I’ll be 70 next month.

My life just continues to grow. I’ve discovered that God loves people and it’s not about our age. I mean, look at all the people he used when they were 80 and older in the scriptures like Moses and Abraham and Sarah and all of these people that he used when they were older. 

That means nothing to God because it’s never too late. Even though you don’t want a divorce, it’s never too late to leave, even if you’ve been married 40 years or 50 years, because marriage, you’ll go through hard things, but it’s not supposed to be hard.

Even though You Don’t want a Divorce, Starting Over is Possible… You Will Find Your Way

(21:19): It’s not supposed to be terrifying. That is not what it’s supposed to be. It makes sense that you don’t want a divorce, it’s daunting, no doubt. You think, “What am I going to do?” Depending if you’ve never worked, what’s going to happen, but you will find your way. 

I’m not saying it’s easy because many women don’t want a divorce, and leaving is hard. It’s hard. Leaving is terribly hard, but so is the after because you’ve got to learn, who am I? Who you were before may not be who you are now, and that’s okay because maybe you needed some more healing. It’s who you are today.

Who do you want to be today? What do you want to do? That is some of the hardest questions to ask yourself. How can I learn to dream again? Because we’re not limited. We’re not limited by that. Yes, there’s always, we talk about youth and all of that, but honestly, think about what we were like when we were young and how little that we knew based on what we know now.

To me, about to turn 70 age is irrelevant to me. It used to bother me. I didn’t want to tell anybody how old I was, but now it’s like, no, no, I’m not done. I have so much more that God wants me to do. And I mean, I was 68 when I wrote my book. That’s awesome. It doesn’t limit him. It doesn’t have to limit us.


  1. K Kennedy

    Thank you for sharing your story and helping others.

  2. Doomed

    I left an abusive marriage after 40 years. Even though I worked throughout the marriage, I could only take low-paying jobs because I had full responsibility for the kids and house so he could have his career. Now I’m having to find a job to support myself at age 69 since my monthly Social Security doesn’t even begin to cover my living expenses. DON’T WAIT TOO LONG, leave while you’re still young enough to build up your income/career/retirement for yourself. You don’t want to be stuck like me with only two awful options.

  3. Cyndy Evers

    I divorced a porn addict after 14 years and 2 children. Five years after our divorce I found out that he recently was convicted of a sex crime against a minor. He had been exercising visitation rights with our children all along without my ever knowing he had charged with this crime! No one had any legal obligation to tell me! After he spent 10 years in the sex offender list, he began to repair his on-line reputation using a company and using my deceased daughter’s name to raise money for a non profit. I have tried to raise awareness to those involved but I am an easy witness to discredit as I let him visit with our children!! Horrible injustice against innocent victims. You just can’t legislate morality. He continues to betray without remorse for anyone but himself.

  4. Barbara

    I’m in a mess of a marriage, the third for both of us he pays heavy spousal support to #1. AT 67, I’m retired based on he “promised to take care of me and let me enjoy life after working so hard as a single mom for years”. I missed the red flags, and with in the first year the mask was slipping. After he drained me financially, so I couldn’t afford to leave, he used my credit score to be able to purchase “our dream home”. He’s now facing health issues and planning to retire so he can “enjoy the last years he has”, while living off the savings that was supposed to support us and using it to provide the spousal support he’s responsible for. I want out so badly, don’t know where to go, and the dollars just don’t add up unless I live under a palm tree and eat cat food, joking, but not really joking since it could be reality…..


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