Meredith knew her marriage to Jason wasn't working as soon as they got home from their honeymoon and he dropped her at home and went to a Super Bowl party. He always chose the Army over her and their family. And then there was the time he made her drive across the country with four children under 7, two dogs and a cat. But she didn't leave him.
"I stayed out of obligation because I had made a commitment, even though I was miserable most of the years we were together. I had shielded the children from the ugliness and didn't think that just because I wasn't happy that I should break up our family, dysfunctional as it was. But the final straw was when Jason went to Iraq for 14 months and nobody missed him."
When he returned, he told Meredith he was retiring. "No discussion whatsoever." He told her to find a job because he wasn't going to make her car payments anymore.
"He could have gotten a great job with high pay due to his experience in the military, but he didn't want to. He thought his retirement pay was 'plenty' for six people to live on. It put us below the poverty level."
Meredith says Jason always drank, but after he retired, he started drinking a 12-pack a day. He began accusing her of having affairs and threatened to stop giving her money for food.
"I was working four part-time jobs and the stress I was internalizing gave me a heart condition. When he got so angry at me he took a swing at me (I had asked him to stop cussing at me.) I knew that was it. He didn't have to actually hit me — just the idea that he would raise his hand to me was enough."
They'd been married 20 years at the time. Meredith took the necessary steps to get away. She confided in her siblings about the state of her marriage and asked them for financial help. (Her parents still don't know.) She found a job out of state. She packed up her four children and moved.
The children are 16, 15, 13 and 10. "The oldest idolizes his father, but doesn't want to move back with him. The two in the middle — girls — don't like him because he lies to them and drinks too much. The littlest — the one Jason was furious with me for getting pregnant with — has never really liked him.
"They're all happier and our house is peaceful away from him. He had us walking on eggshells all the time. We never knew when he'd blow up over stupid stuff. He did it all the time. The kids seemed happy when we were together, but now I realize it was because I did everything with them and they never had to deal with him.
"Do I regret marrying him? Absolutely. If I could go back and change my life, would I? Absolutely not. I wouldn't have these wonderful kids who mean the world to me. But now I want to move on."
What was the final straw for your relationship? Send your tale, along with your questions, problems and rants to [email protected] And check out my e-books, "Dear Cheryl: Advice from Tales from the Front" and "I'll Call You. Not."