How Do I Divorce My Abusive Wife?

I received the following email from a man who has finally realized that he is in an abusive marriage and that he needs to divorce. He describes his abusive wife’s behavior and concludes by asking, “How do those of us entrenched in these horrific relationships get out?  What is the first step?” My reply follows:

Hello Dr. Tara

I’m so “happy” to have found your blog “A Shrink for Men” and have, within the last 12 hours, read every single article that you have published so far.

I am sitting at work having just spent the day doing absolutely nothing.  This isn’t because I’ve been moping over my wife’s last screaming and yelling fit, but because during my wife’s last outburst she took my work computer and tossed it to the floor, fatally damaging the disks and losing me many months worth of documents and emails.  Why such an extreme outburst?  I bought her a spiral bound notebook instead of a glued notebook – who would have thought? – and she became quite aggressive: “you cant do anything right!”, “I should have done it myself”, “you just don’t care!”, “you’re an a**hole”.  I made the mistake of telling her that I wasn’t taking this and that I would go upstairs and do some work.  That’s when the bomb went off.

Today, of course, I lied to my boss and said that I had tripped on a child’s toy and the laptop had slipped out of my hand.  How could I admit that my wife had grabbed it off my desk and lobbed it across a room?  There’s quite a bit of stigma attached to “not being able to control one’s own wife” and I’m not taking any risks.  As it is, I don’t think it really matters.  This marriage has put such a strain on me that my once fantastic career is in tatters and within the next few weeks I will be facing the dole queue.  I have watched myself go from being a successful, happy, professional with a lots of friends to a depressed, henpecked, debt-ridden, isolated man.

She is the absolute dictator of my life.  She controls my finances, who I see, what time I come home from work.  I have to take my shower by 10 o’clock, take off my shoes when I come into the house, feed/bathe the baby when I get home from my 12-hour working day, take care of said baby when she decides to go out with friends.  Failure to do any of these things results in insults, silent treatments, screaming, yelling.  Of course the content is usually the same: I am worthless, I do not take responsibility for my family, I am lazy, I am inconsiderate, I do not listen, ad infinitum.  Any decision she makes is final and enforced while all of my decisions are up for debate.

Oh, I didn’t mention that she doesn’t work in any real sense.  Last year she had the idea that she wanted to run a web business, so I helped her set it up (read: I did most of the work).  Our baby is in day-care so that she can work, and I can honestly say that within the last 3 months, I don’t think she has put a single hour into her business.  That’s not to say that she’s not interested in her work as all her friends know that she’s a “business owner” and that she “has an accountant”.  All of this goes to her somewhat self-processed independence.  She hasn’t brought in a penny since the business started.  Of course, I don’t see a penny of my quite significant salary.  It all goes into maintaining the house, our child and whichever whim she’s on (new front door, lumberjack to unnecessarily chop down trees, in-house child minder, groceries for her out of work sister….)

I have let her ride roughshod over me for so long that my finances and support network are gone.  House payments will be due, there is my son to take care of, and I could well be out of work within a few weeks.

So my question is simple.  How do those of us entrenched in these horrific relationships get out?  What is the first step?

Kind regards,

Hi Glen,

What is the first step to getting out of this kind of relationship? Be very clear about what you want to do and then pursue it clearly, purposefully and strategically. Don’t harbor any illusions about divorcing this kind of woman. A difficult wife equals a difficult divorce. Think of all her worst personality traits and then multiply them by 1,000. The divorce process is designed to be adversarial and will compound her entitlement issues, deceptions, distortions, vindictive streak and general cruelty.

Here’s what I tell my clients who are about to begin the divorce process:

1. Don’t tip your hand. Don’t let your wife know what you’re thinking about doing. Many men make the mistake of trying to be noble and honest. They believe they’re obligated to be up front with their abusive wives and tell them what they’re planning. Big mistake. Huge mistake. Alternatively, many men think telling their abusive wife that they want a divorce will scare her straight. It might get her to be nice to you for a short time, but it won’t last. Plus, that gives her time to make her own plans and or stage a drama and call the police on you.

First, you can’t be straightforward with someone who has no sense of right and wrong other than she’s always right and you’re always wrong. You can’t be open and transparent with someone who deliberately tries to hurt you. If you offer this information to her on a silver platter, she will use it to hurt you. This is a battle for your financial, physical and psychological freedom. Do not underestimate how low she will go just to “make you pay.”

This kind of woman views divorce as the ultimate rejection. It’s a huge narcissistic injury. The primary reaction to a narcissistic injury is rage and violence. The violence may not be physical. However, purposefully setting out to bankrupt you and destroy your relationships with others—including your own children—is an especially cruel form of violence.

You need time to plan without her trying to manipulate and railroad you. I know it’s difficult. It was probably hard for you to set and enforce boundaries with this woman during your marriage. It is imperative that you and your attorney do so during the divorce.

Lastly, don’t talk to mutual friends and family members about this unless you’re absolutely certain that they won’t betray your confidence. I cannot stress enough how important it is for you to keep her in the dark during the earliest stages. Don’t think of it as lying; think of it as not volunteering information. Don’t fall into the familiar pattern of being her hapless victim when it comes to divorce.

2. Do your homework. Visit divorce and father’s rights websites. Schedule consultations with attorneys in your area. You want to find a lawyer who:

  • Has experience and is respected in your local family court.
  • Has experience working with high conflict personalities. That’s lawyer talk for crazy Cluster B women and men.
  • Has experience working with negative advocates. Controlling abusive women gravitate toward attorneys who are adversarial (or more adversarial than the norm), drag out the legal process (to inflate fees) and encourage them to make up false abuse allegations. Water seeks its own level, so you want representation that knows how to handle “peers” who engage in what should be illegal law practices.
  • Inspires realistic confidence. How your attorney handles your divorce will impact your quality of life for years to come—including access to your children if applicable. Don’t go for the cheapest representation (by the way, the most expensive attorneys aren’t necessarily the best). If your attorney is incompetent, an appeaser or doesn’t have experience with high conflict personalities, it will end up costing you far more than attorney’s fees in the long run.

3. Documentation. Start keeping a record of abusive incidents—especially if they occur in front of the children. Invest in a small digital recorder to keep on your person. If you do a lot of direct childcare, keep a record of how many days you drive them to school, bathe them, prepare their meals, watch them, attend parent-teacher meetings, etc. This will serve as evidence when your wife later claims that she does most or all of the childcare and should thus have full custody.

The digital recorder will also come in handy if your wife is the type who likes to call the police. Remember unless you have some record of what goes on behind closed doors, it’s your word against hers. You can be the one with the black eye and cut lip and the cops will still cart you off to the county jail.

4. Protect your ass-ets. Many abusive woman take financial control in their marriages—especially when they don’t actually have a job. This has always mystified me. Nevertheless, if your wife has kept you in the dark regarding your finances, it’s time to get up to speed.

Begin to quietly (i.e., don’t alert her to what you’re doing) gather copies of any and all financial records that you can get your hands on. Scan them and put them on multiple disks or thumbdrives that you can store in a safe place. Create a new email that she can’t access. Get a personal mail box if necessary. If she monitors your calls, get a new pay-as-you-go phone for divorce related communication and keep the phone in a safe place. Don’t surf divorce websites on your home computer if she tracks your internet activities. Use your work computer or go to the public library.

These four steps are just the beginning of the process. Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst possible case scenarios. Don’t be duped by your wife. Many of these women claim that they want to amicably separate, but their actions belie their words. You don’t want to be wondering 6 months into the divorce process how she managed to trick you and twist things around just like she did in the marriage. Figure out what leverage you have and then maximize it.

Rest assured, if your wife has shown you little to no empathy, has treated you unfairly and made outrageous demands during your marriage; she will be the same, if not worse, during your divorce. Even if she is the one who initiates the divorce, this kind of woman typically has a seek and destroy attitude. You know too much about her and for that, you must be punished and discredited. If this kind of woman “wins” in the divorce, she takes it as proof that she’s in the “right”—the “injured party”—and you’re the bad guy. Your assets and shared children become her war trophies.

Pretend you’re planning to invade the beaches of Normandy. That’s the degree of thoroughness and secrecy that’s required when trying to free yourself from one of these women. Also, don’t let her push your buttons. If you lose your cool at any time throughout the process, it will be used against you. Negative advocates have been known to coach their female clients on “how to get him to hit you.” It’s sick, it happens and you need to be prepared for anything. The good news is that once you get through the process, you can start to rebuild your life rather than let her stress and torture you into an early grave.

Shrink4Men Coaching and Consultation Services:

Dr Tara J. Palmatier provides confidential, fee-for-service, consultation/coaching services to help both men and women work through their relationship issues via telephone and/or Skype chat. Her practice combines practical advice, support, reality testing and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit the Shrink4Men Services page for professional inquiries.


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  1. helpmeplz
    January 22, 2016 at 2:15 pm

    I am 28 years old. We have been together for 9 years almost, married for almost 5. She is 27. Since barely after the honeymoon phase of about a year, she began fighting with me and demanding I change my personality because I’m selfish, freaking out and saying I wasn’t treating her like a girlfriend. As the years progressed it never stopped and changed to different, ridiculous and tiny things. I NEVER get mad at her, maybe 2 or 3 times in 9 years and it’s never filled with screaming and cussing and uncontrollable emotions. It has gotten worse, and for the last few recent years we had a miscarriage and lost our pets. We also went through a tequila phase, drinking heavily. Whenever she gets drunk she demands a divorce, says she hates me, and screams at the top of her lungs. Once I had to get her cousin to come take her away. She always threatens suicide when she has a tantrum and says she’s miserable. We have the same fight at least once a month where I give her another second chance, think I’m going on 11 now recently after having finally realized what she is doing isn’t okay. But it isn’t working. She drove me away from my family and friends, I will be homeless if we divorce and I’m afraid she might hurt me or kill herself. We have no kids, all she wants is kids even though we cant get along over anything or afford it…? I fear she just wants to get pregnant then leave me! I’m seriously scared and I don’t know what to do. I don’t have any money really and I’m not worried about that beyond not being able to afford a lawyer! I have to do it myself…but like I said I’m pretty fucked. IT’s so weird to she can be so nice, but at minimum once a month for years she gets pissed at me. HELP

    • onemeremember
      January 22, 2016 at 6:15 pm

      The first thing I would suggest is to take some time and read two other threads on this site. and Then I would go back and read what you wrote. It appears to me that her behaviour may be linked to her monthly period cycle. IF it is, it may be an hormonal disruption. It all depends on you. If you want to go and record her behaviour in some way when she’s being like this and then play it back to her when she’s not, and see how that goes, then you may have some chance of talking to her and persuading her to see a Dr. If she won’t go and just reverts back to her screaming and abusive behaviour, then you know she can’t be helped medically, especially if she is not having her periods.

      So, what do you do if you find she’s just basically a bitch? Well, again, that is up to you but I would take the advice of most posters here and that is to “get the hell out”. You are still young and you will bounce back, but for God’s sake, don’t breed with her – not just for your sake, but for your kid’s. If you go down this route, go and see your family. They will help, especially parents. Maybe you can just have a bedroom with one of them for a while until you get back on your feet. Swallow your pride and just go and talk with them. There shouldn’t be much to share. The divorce should be fairly straight forward and do it yourself – go pro se. Best of luck with everything.

  2. Patrick
    October 7, 2015 at 7:43 am

    Patrick, your daughter reached out. To be as confidential as possible. May need sent anonymously. Always keep your peace and well being first in line and things will actually get easier. Here to help.

  3. Nat Sullivan
    July 5, 2015 at 6:43 pm

    Whoa, reading Glen’s letter made me feel sick to the stomach. I had a manipulative ex who goaded and goaded me during out divorce. We were forced to live together for a few months and one night I bit. The advice you’ve given is Fantastic. If you’re reading this Glen, I hope it all worked out and your happy with a new life .

    • Nat Sullivan
      July 5, 2015 at 6:46 pm

      By the way I’m female but just goes to show that men go through the ringer too. Glen you sound so kind and decent.

  4. swati
    June 26, 2015 at 6:14 am

    hi this is on a behalf of one of my very close friend who is badly looking for a advices , he is now in a trauma that he is not able to work at all, because her love whom he got married after facing lot of hurdles in life, he faced her parents who used to threaten him that they would kill him and their daughter if she get married , he convinced every one in the family and got married , he managed her expenses when she was in london for her studies. She cheated him by actualy sleeping with a guy and shared all his things with the new guy he slept with. He even then decided to marry her because she accepted that she was wrong and out of frustration and her family pressure that they will never let us marry, she did this mistake of getting along with the other guy. They got married in 2013, and now she is totally different , she forced her to get away from his family and live seperate , she spend all the money in abroad trips etc shopping, and also make many stories and tellher parents that this guy is forcing me to divorce , some time she herself asl for divorce , she is going insane , she does every work for him but make hi realise that she is doing all this because they dont have a maid , every day they have fights m every night she try to be close to him be nice to him and suddenly screams , picks out any topic and start yelling that you have made my life hell, and then also says that she will not leave her by giving divorce , she wants to see him crying .. if he file a divorce he will definitely file many cases on him . Any one reading this story please if you can help us by suggesting us , that will be the great for us , My friend is just 28 and he is ruining his life by living with this girl whom he loved ones .he still cares the fact tht if i divorce her wht she will do. pls help us on this case . waiting for some replies. we are ready to have a discussion on a vice call. please let me know if you want to talk over phone. thanks in advance.

    • onemeremember
      July 6, 2015 at 2:54 am

      It seems to me that he should get out of the marriage. However, a lot depends on the laws of the country he lives in and what they dictate, as to what sort of a divorce he can expect. The woman is obviously unstable. It is going to be easier on him in the long run if he divorces before they have children.

  5. My Info
    March 31, 2015 at 9:10 am

    My wife has been physically, emotionally, and verbally abusive to me since we got married 6 months ago. Im being evicted from my home cause her one job was to pay the rent and bills with the money that i make. She has never worked since we met four years ago and she failed to pay the bills and now i have tl leave my home. She lives with her parents with my two children so she doesn’t care where i go and those are exact words. In oct of last year she assaulted me in front of our son with a pair of keys and was arrested for assault so i was more or less wondering if that has any weight in court and she’s attacked me in front of my parents where my parents have had to call cas on her. WHAT DO I DO?

    • onemeremember
      July 6, 2015 at 3:07 am

      You set things up so you can indeed divorce her and get shared custody of your kids. You did not say if these children were hers and yours, or yours and someone else’s. All you said was that you got married 6 months ago. That means they could also be hers with someone else. A chap I know is going through a divorce. He did his homework, found out how much the court would award her – maximum and offered her this. She refused due to greed.He then went bankrupt and instead of her getting nearly eighty grand a year for 30 years, she is now down to fifteen grand a year over ten years. You have to plan an exit and stick with it. Look up the McKenzie Friends club mentioned either above or below this post.

    October 19, 2014 at 3:18 am

    “1. Don’t tip your hand. Don’t let your wife know what you’re thinking about doing. Many men make the mistake of trying to be noble and honest. They believe they’re obligated to be up front with their abusive wives and tell them what they’re planning.”

    Wow! I wish I would have read this earlier today. I met my wife for dinner tonight. She is “house sitting” as we struggle with our relationship. During dinner I confronted her about her accusations of abuse, but she stood behind them. That, I told her, is the deal breaker for me and that this week I’ll be filing for a divorce.

    I’m just so naïve on how evil and mean she can be. In fact, I was supposed to go to a prayer meeting at church afterwards, but couldn’t with all I had on my mind. So I went home. Who showed up? My wife! She seemed surprised and said “I thought you were supposed to be at prayer meeting?” I didn’t answer her. She got some things and left.

    Unfortunately I’ve tipped my hand. What now?

    I’m writing a list of things to do on Monday (today is Saturday). Man! I’m overwhelmed!

    Help please!


  7. Sydney Father
    August 4, 2014 at 12:54 am

    Wow I can’t believe I found this site…I have been married to an Asian woman for the past 8 years and we have an 8 year old daughter, I am currently reduced to wearing rags and sobbing like a baby alone in the house, finding this site and this thread has given me some hope, I can’t believe what I have allowed to happen to my life..

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