real life

'I was too innocent to see the red flags in my eight-year marriage. It cost me everything.'


In school, I was told I was a natural swimmer. But every time that swim-team whistle blew, my stomach turned and twisted.

I am not a competitive girl.

At least not the individual type. Give me a good team sport like softball or soccer and I can prosper. But duking it out with just one person — never my thing.

Foolishly, in my youth, I should have forced myself to compete.

Maybe then I would have been prepared for the dirty tactics some use for one on one competitions. Not the ethical challengers but the ones who will do anything to win.

My husband always said, “It’s MY money.”

Sure, I heard him.

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There’s this thing called anger that makes people say all kinds of stupid things.

In fact, village idiot types of things. The kinda words we never want anyone else to hear because we are so sad and mad. Because we have forced an unhappy relationship to the brink of emotional disaster. Because we are frightened we may lose someone we love. Because we are terrified of the outcome. Especially if those we love are suffering and we feel we can rescue them.


Yup, I heard my husband when he called it “MY money.”

But I was so innocent.

I knew some people did bad things but I didn’t know those people.

I knew good people.

The kinda people who bring you dinner when you are sick. The kinda people who pick your kids up from the bus. The kinda people who fight to pay the dinner tab. The kinda people who make your world feel safe.

The kinda people who are individuals but do life as a team sport.

I never really saw the bad person coming.

Sure, there were clues. Like the time I found the key to a P.O. box. But innocent people are naive. Not a red flag here. Instead, I just inquisitively questioned why my husband would need this peculiar new address. After all, everything had always shipped to our home or our office.

By the time I understood why ruthless competitors need alternate addresses the money was gone.

Gone for so long it couldn’t be found.


Did I mention, innocent people tend to stay for longer than they should in unhappy relationships. Long enough for seven years worth of bank records to manifest little in the way of clues.

There were enough hints to know how innocently naive and trusting I had been. Just not enough to track “His money.”

Funny, I never got the foreboding twists and turns in my stomach. I didn’t recognise the moment my marriage switched from team to individual competition.

In school, you could tell on cheaters. On liars. On bullies. On people who hurt people. On people who did really really bad things. There was an equilibrium. Mums and Dads. Teachers and administrators. Coaches and refs.

The people who kept order in our young lives.

But in the adult world of competition there exist no true boundaries. People can get away with bad things. Especially in divorce. Especially in the name of money, control, and winning.

People can hurt you.

They can hurt your children. They can make a divorce last forever. They can take your money. They can take your security. They can take your dignity. They can take your emotional peace.

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All you are left with is the fantasy of fairness.


The one where you stand before a judge and he recognises the bad person doing bad things.

But the judge doesn’t really know you or the one behaving badly.

The judge only witnesses you both for an hour if that. It’s hard to see sneaky competitors. There are no tests for cheating. No indicator that an otherwise normal-looking individual could be capable of such ruthlessness.

And the records of wrongdoing can be lost in a mere seven years.

Thus, by the time my stomach twisted and turned and recognised this agonising one on one — it was too late.

My husband had won.

I didn’t even have time to protest I wasn’t comfortable competing. Nor had I ever been trying to win. I just wanted a fair game.

But divorce is seldom fair.

With no parental controls… It didn’t just cost me “MY money.”

It cost me my innocence.

The feature image used is a stock photo. 

This post originally appeared on Medium and was republished here with full permission. The feature image used is a stock photo.

You can read more from Colleen Sheehy Orme on Medium, or find her on Instagram and Facebook.