Love and Relationships

[Two Pronged] Can I leave my husband in the middle of the pandemic?

Margarita Holmes, Jeremy Baer

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[Two Pronged] Can I leave my husband in the middle of the pandemic?
'Staying under the hothouse conditions of the pandemic is not doing you or your mental health any favors'

Rappler’s Life and Style section runs an advice column by couple Jeremy Baer and clinical psychologist Dr Margarita Holmes.

Jeremy has a master’s degree in law from Oxford University. A banker of 37 years who worked in 3 continents, he has been training with Dr Holmes for the last 10 years as co-lecturer and, occasionally, as co-therapist, especially with clients whose financial concerns intrude into their daily lives

Together, they have written two books: Love Triangles: Understanding the Macho-Mistress Mentality and Imported Love: Filipino-Foreign Liaisons.


Dear Dr. Holmes and Mr. Baer,

I can’t stand it anymore. I thought I could put up with him until the end of the lockdown, but my relationship with my husband is just too horrible. Could we separate already?



Dear Barbara,

Thank you for your message.

The pandemic has had a profound impact on some people’s relationships while others have survived intact. Some are unexpectedly thrown together 24/7 while others are separated against their wills. Whichever, their relationships are subjected to unusual scrutiny: will love survive either being under the microscope every minute of the day or at the other extreme being left untended apart from virtual communication?

This forces us to analyze our relationships in unfamiliar ways. Most of us are not accustomed to being confined to our homes or to spending every second in anyone’s company. The whole process reveals new things both about us, the other person, and the relationship between the two. This can of course be positive or negative, or a combination.

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In your case, you entered the pandemic already planning to separate from your spouse. The whole lockdown experience has clearly exacerbated your negative feelings towards him while failing to reveal enough on the positive side to alter your decision to call it quits. There seems to be no good reason to stay if you really want out (unless there are legal or financial considerations).

Staying under the hothouse conditions of the pandemic is not doing you or your mental health any favors. so I would suggest you start packing now.

All the best,
JAF Baer

Dear Barbara:

Thank you very much for your letter. No one would envy the position you’re in – either now or before the pandemic when you had decided to leave your husband, but did not.

I imagine there were good reasons for not doing so — financial, legal, biomedical, emotional, socio-cultural, religious, or a combination of some/all of these factors. 

And, like most of us, when the pandemic hit and lockdowns were imposed, these reasons loomed even larger.

As a psychologist writing this column Two Pronged, I do not know what I can tell you that would be helpful, Barbara.  However, as a woman who has been through many situations when I had to suck it up, like you are doing at the moment, perhaps I can share a perspective that might help you hold on until you get the help you need to actually do something to make your dream a reality.

First and foremost, you need information; health, legal, and financial information to know if it will be really okay to separate from your husband right now. If there is something you need from him — half of your joint resources, for example, or cooperation so you can keep your children with you should you want to — it will probably take more time to actually do more than getting the right information to help.

In my opinion, the next thing you have to do is make a list of what you have to do until the time to leave is right. Make it a list of concrete, measurable goals or you will convince yourself that it isn’t okay to separate “just yet.”  Nobody else can really tell you when it will be okay to leave except you.

In other words your sucking it up right here and right now is not just sucking it up until manna falls from heaven.  It is to give you the time you need to acquire the necessary skills so you can leave without having to depend on anyone else.  

You need to make sure you have a reliable source of income before you leave. Suck it up until you find that job, get that loan, say yes to that business proposition, so leaving will not just be a threat but a promise you know you can keep. Again, all it will need is time to learn the skills you need to make leaving your husband a less onerous task than it is right now. 

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The psychoanalyst Erich Fromm once said that (the misconception about) loving is that it has less to do with the object (one loves) but more with the skill of actually loving. Otherwise, you are like a would-be painter who says he can’t paint until he sees the right sunset/sunlight/still life to paint or a would-be writer who claims he will write when he finds the right topic to write about. 

No, no, no. You are a painter because you paint, not because you “want” to paint or are “ready to paint,” not because you are waiting for the right inspiration to do so. You are a writer because you actually write, not because you are waiting for the right issue to rail against. Because like loving which is also a skill, you become a lover when you actually love someone — a friend, a child, a partner.

The same goes for leaving someone. You become a woman who has left her spouse when you walk out that door, be it of an apartment, a house, or even a room, that makes clear that this is where you cannot follow me or count on me anymore.  

Yes, it will take time, sweat, effort, and a whole lot of humility until someone reaches the point when he can call himself a successful painter/writer/lover or leaver, but the point is, you keep on trying, you keep on doing. For a painter or writer, it means continuing to paint or continuing to write. For you, it will mean actually honing those skills you need so you can leave permanently and not just for a week or two after a fight.

You have to find out what it is you actually need to know, to master, to achieve, and keep at it until you gain the confidence to do it openly and without apology. Otherwise, you will be like the man telling his mistress he will leave his wife “when the time is right.”  

It never will be.  

All the best,
MG Holmes  


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