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Partner and Head of Family Law, Rugby
How sad it was to read last week of a woman not being allowed to escape an unhappy relationship because the judge decreed her reasons for wanting to end the 39 year marriage didn’t fit with his idea of what would make someone feel miserable and unloved (Link here). The issues raised by the 66 year old women were dismissed by the judge as “the kind to be expected in marriage”. This very subjective view seems to say more about his own expectations of how relationships should be conducted, rather than showing any empathy towards someone who in their later years feels they cannot tolerate living with their long term partner for any longer.
I am a great believer in giving relationships time and effort in the hope that challenging times will pass and difficulties will be overcome, however, in this case one could be forgiven for thinking that the relationship had been given time and it would appear that behaviours hadn’t changed in order to improve the couple dynamic to make the relationship a healthier one.
From what I have read about Mr Owen’s behaviour as described by Mrs Owen, I know if they had presented themselves to me for therapy, I would have been interested in the power and control dynamic in their relationship. Was it a healthy balance or was Mrs Owens, as suggested by the article I read, always feeling that she had to acquiesce to the will of her husband? True Mrs Owens had an affair, but it is my experience that for some who has experienced a controlling relationship, that is their way of ending their unhappy experience. Rather than trying to leave by citing all the things that have made them unhappy over the years, they create a set of circumstances which will make them ‘the bad person’ (the adulterer), but at least they won’t be coerced by their partner into staying.
Controlling partners can be extremely expert in suggesting that their other half has got it all wrong and actually the marriage is working and if there have been times of difficulty it was probably their fault anyway!
Mr Owen’s barrister is quoted as saying that “unhappiness, discontent and disillusionment” can’t be relied upon as facts which prove irretrievable relationship breakdown. He obviously is the legal expert, but what I would suggest is that for many people who spend a lot of very unhappy years in emotionally abusive relationships without realising the levels of abuse, these are the exact words they might use to describe how they are feeling. So has the judge who ruled against Mrs Owens last year condemned her to yet further emotional abuse at the hands of a controlling man?
The irony is that when Mrs Owens took her case to court last year to try to escape what she described as an irreconcilable relationship, she was heard by a judge who chose not to believe her and dismissed out of hand all her reasons for her unhappiness – possibly very similar to what she had experienced over the last 39 years of marriage.
I should add that since writing this article, the case has very rapidly gone to the Court of Appeal who have reserved their decision so I suspect we will know very soon whether this seemingly harsh decision will be overturned!