Dear Margo: I'm at the end of my rope. Eleven years ago, I married my husband for better or for worse. The problem is that it has never gotten better, only worse. He refuses to get a full-time job, but spends my money like he's a rock star — and then gets mad at me when I object to unnecessary spending. He's ruined his credit and now mine. I never thought I'd declare bankruptcy. This will be his third, so he doesn't blink an eye at the consequences.
I am so unhappy, and I know it will take a divorce for things to get better, but I'm still holding out. I regret marrying him for "love." (We never could afford a honeymoon.) I fear this is what my future will be like: more hard times. What advice do you have for me? — Out of Rope
Dear Out: Any guy who refuses to get a full-time job but spends himself — and you — into bankruptcy needs to be cut loose. I'm pretty sure the love is gone, along with your money. I cannot see any positive reason for staying. Women are not reform schools. I think it will be a constructive step to call it a day and rebuild your life — and your credit. Your future will be what you make it. So go forth and make it. Good luck. — Margo, inevitably
Effects of Abuse Linger
Dear Margo: I am 24 and a victim of childhood sexual abuse that lasted from age 5 to age 18, when I finally got out of the house for college. My stepfather is a horrible predator who was convicted of this same crime against another victim and is currently on Megan's Law. When I was 5, I told my mother, and she brought him into the room and said, "Nothing happened to you."
Last year, I met an amazing man with whom I have chosen to build a life. He helped me gain the courage to go to the police and to seek therapy. Despite this, my mother is still with my stepfather, even with my younger siblings still in the house. The police barely helped the situation, citing budget cuts, etc., but I know he eventually will be put away.
This ordeal has been so painful and has put a great strain on my relationship. Not only have I been depressed and anxious, but due to poor coping skills (drinking, holding my emotions in), I fear I have been downright abusive. The worst part is that after I behave this way, I black out and have no recollection of what I said or did.
I have agreed not to drink any longer and have found a therapist who specializes in what I am going through. Now, however, there is a disconnect between us. Is there any way we can salvage the relationship? We had considered marriage at one point, but these days I don't know if we'll ever get there. He admits to having caregiver's burnout, and I feel he has no faith in "us" now. — Still Hopeful
Dear Still: You've really been through it, my dear — and I can't figure out why this molester hasn't been put away. But for your life now, if therapy is helping, stick with that, and maybe try AA to stay sober and get some insight and support.
I would let this wonderful man know that you are trying everything within your power to repair the relationship between the two of you — and give it your best. I do think things can get back to a comfortable balance where he is the romantic partner and not the caregiver, but this is predicated on your not being in need of "care." And I hope you have nothing to do with your mother. That's an old story, but no less awful. — Margo, restoratively
Dear Margo: My mom and I aren't overly close, but we talk about once a month. She has run out of money, having retired three years after quitting a part-time job, and says she doesn't want to work anymore, that she has "worked long enough." She has a small pension and Social Security, and I suggested she apply for food stamps, which she receives.
Mom has asked me to give her $100 a month, and my brother will match whatever I agree to pay her. I told her I would help out when possible, but I couldn't agree to a monthly payment. We are a middle-income family of four. One child is a college sophomore; the other, a junior in high school soon to be in college. The money I make goes to their schooling and some of our bills.
My brother has two houses in two different states, owns several buildings and exotic cars, and has just a dog, no kids. I do not have the financial means he does. Now my brother is calling my husband at work and trying to talk to him about it. He won't call me because the last time this issue came up, I told him I would talk directly to Mom because he tries to tell me what to do and that we "owe" it to her. What can I say to them without feeling guilty? — In a Quandary
Dear In: In tough situations where you feel you are not being heard, I recommend writing a letter. In your case, write one letter to your brother, with a copy going to your mother. You will have gone on record, the letter can be reread, no one can interrupt, and it short-circuits any efforts to talk about it.
The gist of the letter should be who can afford what. When you state that you simply don't have the money to give your mother a set allowance per month, no one can tell you that you do. You might gently point out to your brother that, from all outward appearances, he is the better able to kick in an extra $100 a month. If he chooses not to, that's his business. As for "owing" people, at this period in your life, the people you owe are your husband and two sons. — Margo, guiltlessly
Henny Penny All the Time
Dear Margo: "Selma" and I have been friends since college. Now we are in our 40s. She was always a drama queen in school, but I assumed it would taper off and tone down. It hasn't. I find it increasingly wearing to have the most minor events turned into a dramatic monologue or a soap opera. Is there any approach I could take that would calm down some of these one-act plays? I mean, if her cleaning lady doesn't show up, it is woe-is-me for 10 minutes. — Annoyed
Dear Ann: I am sorry that your friend is Moliere than thou. It sounds as though the dramatic instinct is just woven into her personality. This suggests a lack of balance, perspective and maturity, but there you are. Something has kept you girls friends for 20-plus years, though, so I would try to jolly her out of the next recitative by responding humorously. You might try, "You're kidding, right?" or remark that her crisis of the moment is certainly on a par with Chernobyl (or the calamity of your choice). I don't see anything wrong with letting her know you find her overreactions a little odd. — Margo, realistically
Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers' daughter. All letters must be sent via the online form at www.creators.com/dearmargo. Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.