Separated since January of this year, Elizabeth Miller and her husband of eight years now live apart but have maintained their relationship during this period of their lives. For Miller, this is the second time in their relationship that she has moved out.
“My husband is a hoarder and I have problems with that,” she tells us. “The biggest problem is that he sees no problem. He doesn’t get that he hoards and sees no reason to clean up.”
The irony in all this is that Miller is a licensed mental health therapist who helps others in their relationships but cannot help her own.
Miller left her husband from 2006 to 2008, but returned when he promised to change his ways. Now separated again, Miller says that she is trying to maintain the relationship without them living together, but admits it has been difficult.
“My husband does not believe he has a problem and that the house is fine,” she says. “At present, the roof on the garage has fallen in and it’s been this way since February and there are several rooms that cannot be used due to clutter. You will not change a problem you do not acknowledge.”
She often asks herself if she should cut her losses and move on since she believes that he is not going to change.
“But somewhere deep inside I keep hoping he will do something about this but the history shows he won’t,” she says. “I feel like I’m in limbo.”
Miller is coping with this experience by talking to friends and family members who she says will give her a much-needed reality check.
“They tell me the truth,” she says. “My co-workers are the greatest. Since we are all mental health professionals, I had good, healthy support from them. My relatives told me to get out years ago. My mother couldn’t believe I continued to live in that mess as long as I did.”
While some have been supportive, others looked at Miller as the bad person.
“It was difficult at first,” she says. “Over time, his friends became my friends and my old support group slipped away. When I moved out, I was the bad guy and suddenly I had no one to confide in. After some time I cultivated my support group—my friends and family—but for a little while I felt very alone. I started to second guess my choice. When I went back to the house to pick up some things, the stark contrast to my new, clean apartment was even more apparent and I knew I did the right thing.”
Over the years, Miller has learned that the best thing you can do for yourself is to take responsibility for your own actions. When she met her husband, Steve, she owned a beautiful 4-bedroom home and had a great job at Johns Hopkins Hospital. She was a single mother with three children and finances were always tight. When Steve came along, he began taking care of all her financial responsibilities. She sold her house and moved in with him knowing the house was a mess.
“I just wanted someone to take care of me for awhile,” she recalls. “What I learned from my past and from previous relationships is that I walked into this with my eyes wide open. I am not a victim, I volunteered. I was looking at his potential—not the present reality. Steve is what Steve always was. I was choosing to look the other way. I need to take this information and try not to repeat history in future relationships.”
Finances are one of the most difficult issues that people who are divorced, widowed and separated have to deal with. Miller thinks it keeps them in bad situations much longer.
“Another issue I see is loss of self esteem and confidence,” she says. “If you haven’t been on your own in a long time you may doubt that you can do it. It also brings a sense of failure. This can make you feel like something is wrong with you, especially if most of your friends are couples. Feeling like something is wrong with you will spill out to other aspects of your life.”
Today, Miller feels she is in much better shape than earlier in the year and started a seminar/workshop business in late June.
“My friends say I have amazing energy and will go above and beyond to get things done,” she says. “In June, I assessed my financial situation knowing I had minimal retirement savings and I plan on retiring in 10 to 12 years. I devised a business where I could eventually delegate most of the work; also the business could continue after my retirement with minimal work on my part. Financial motivation has been a strong drive.”
She has three pieces of advice for those who are recently divorced, widowed or separated to help them move on to the next phase of their life:
- Please keep your own friends when in a relationship; it will help with some of the issues if the relationship comes to an end. Keep your friends close.
- Do something outside the box and hopefully fun. A new hobby, take a course—it will keep your mind off things and help you make new friends.
- Don’t hang onto resentments or ‘what ifs’. I believe what is positive attracts positive. Repeated talk about how bad your spouse is or how horrible your separation is will keep you in that bad place. Forgive; forgiveness is for you, not them. It does not mean forgetting. It allows you to give up the negative energy your resentment holds and move on.
“I have overcome many obstacles in my life,” says Miller. “Some may look at me and say that she has a degree and a business; what hardships has she really gone through with this separation? This is not my first separation; I was a teen parent. At age 25, I became addicted to heroin and I have been clean for over 20 years. I went back to school at age 37 and had a Masters degree by age 42. You can get through anything if you put your mind to it. I believe everything in life we initially perceive as a negative will turn into a positive if we wait long enough. I live by this philosophy; it always helps me turn things around.”