My mom was a psychologist, so when she gave personal advice, people tended to listen. On one occasion, she gave a neighbor relationship advice that backfired. Things did not turn out the way either of them expected.
The neighbor was in a passionless marriage. Her husband was emotionally distant and uncommunicative. The wife was taking psychology classes as part of a program to become a psychiatric social worker. This made her particularly dissatisfied with her flat relationship. However, she had two young children and no way of earning money, so she didn’t want to end the marriage.
She confided in my mother about her unhappiness. Mom threw fuel on the fire. Mom encouraged her not to settle for an empty marriage. She told her that she deserved more and could get more in her life and her relationships. Mom told her that if she left the marriage, her husband would have to support her and put her through school. She could then have a career, a better relationship and keep her kids in the bargain.
I don’t know how much influence Mom had on the neighbor’s decision to leave her husband. But she did leave and expected a favorable settlement and a rosy future.
I tried to tell my mom that however good her relationship advice was, she was giving the neighbor terrible legal advice. My mom had no idea what she was talking about regarding the state of divorce law at the time. Mom still believed that the law totally favored women. She was sure that women were always awarded custody of the kids and always got good settlements.
But times had changed, and so had divorce law. The neighbor was in for a big surprise. Especially since she couldn’t afford a top-notch lawyer of her own. The neighbor didn’t have a place to live or a means of support. So she lost total custody of the kids to her husband. She didn’t get money to go to school. She barely got enough money to support herself — and that support was only for a short time until she figured out how to make a living on her own.
She ended up living with relatives and getting a dead-end, menial job. The kids didn’t spend much time with her for a while because she had no place for them to stay with her. Her whole world fell apart.
She eventually got a place of her own but I lost touch with her. I know she never got to be a social worker. The kids were never a big part of her life again.
I sometimes wonder if the neighbor had understood the ramifications of leaving her husband, whether she still would have done it. I always thought that if she wanted to leave, she should have waited until she had finished her social work training. Then she would have had a career, an income, a place to live, and would probably have kept her kids. She at least would have gotten joint custody. I know her ex-husband. He’s a nice guy. There was no abuse or unbearable hostility. He was always a good and involved dad. Why was she was in such a rush to leave? She didn’t even take the time to research what Connecticut law would provide for in a divorce.
I worry that my mother filled this woman’s head with unrealistic ideas about her fulfilling and happy future. I regret that I didn’t talk to the woman myself. I’ll never know if I could have changed her future. But I feel guilty for not trying.