It seems the very least you owe your spouse before you ask for a divorce is the reason you want it.
Charlie and Nancy have been divorced for six years, and he still doesn't know why she wanted out.
"I thought we were happily married. We had a beautiful house in the suburbs, nice cars, two beautiful children. I worked two jobs, and she was a stay-at-home mom when the kids were little. We took nice vacations, went out on dates, argued very little. I thought I gave her everything she wanted. I had no idea she was unhappy."
When he asked Nancy why she wanted the divorce, she said it was because he didn't respect her. He's still trying to figure out what that means. Charlie thinks it might relate to paying the bills.
"In our first year of marriage, she asked to handle the finances, and I said fine. She seemed more frugal than me. Besides, I hated doing it. When I retired 18 years later, after 30 years at the fire department, I said I was taking over the finances.
"She was then working as a schoolteacher. I said she could do whatever she wanted with her paycheck. Her only responsibility was to pay for the kids' Catholic school tuition, which I was against. But if she was willing to pay for it, I guess it meant a lot to her. I would take care of everything else.
"Two weeks later, she asked for a divorce. I guess my handling the finances after 18 years was an insult. I didn't mean it to be. As she refused to go to any kind of marriage counseling after she asked for a divorce, I never really got any answers about why she wanted it. She never mentioned any issues between us, except that I didn't respect her."
Hindsight, of course, is 20/20. Looking back, Charlie says there were signs of trouble "all over the place."
"There were times when I asked her, 'What's wrong? You act like you don't even love me anymore.' Her response was always, 'Nothing's wrong. I love you. Leave me alone.' I just thought there were problems with her family or a woman thing. The more I pressed her the more she'd deny there was a problem."
And there were other signs. Charlie says Nancy stopped laughing at his jokes. "I just thought I wasn't funny anymore." She complained about how he ate. "I've always eaten this way." She complained about how he talked. "I've always talked this way." She complained about how he dressed. "I've always dressed this way."
They stopped having sex several months before she asked for the divorce. And she took the kids on a vacation with her parents the day after Charlie's father's funeral.
"I couldn't believe she did that. I guess I was pretty stupid not to know there was trouble."
The divorce hasn't ended the trouble. "She drags me back to court three or four times a year. I've spent over $80,000 on attorney fees. I have no idea what she's spent. I'm just a retired firefighter. I'm broke and heartbroken. I feel like I'm starting all over again. I don't trust women. I don't trust love, except the love I have for my daughters. They're the only thing that keeps me going."
Has your relationship survived a remodeling project? 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."