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Older women imprisoned in marriage

I knew before I motored over to this Better Homes and Gardens house on the tony side of town that this wasn't to be happy talk because the woman, in asking for my ear, clued me in on the problem.

While I knew and she knew that there was nothing I could really do to ease her pain, I thought and she thought that it may interest you to know what really goes on behind closed doors in a 48-year marriage that seems rosy to passers-by.

The 71-year-old woman, joined by a friend, welcomed me into her family room, where we sipped coffee, enjoyed freshly baked blueberry muffins and talked about her unholy matrimony.

Her marriage, she said, had been on the rocks for several years, but in recent weeks it had gotten worse.

"He comes from the old school where it's okay to down your woman," this suburban housewife, mother and grandmother said of her retiree husband in a voice wrapped in pain.

"God knows I feel sorry for him, but I can't continue to take being cussed at and berated. It just hurts too much."

She has been married to him for 48 years.

"The name calling is so nasty," she said, "and there's absolutely no basis for that. I'm not a flirt, and I don't lord over him.

"There's an anger within him, and I don't know where it comes from."

The woman said she is at a crossroads.

"He doesn't want us to separate," she insisted, "but I don't like today. Tomorrow doesn't look any better, and I honestly don't know what to do about it.

"Our life is hell, and it's not getting any better."

The other woman sitting in on this session had earlier divorced her husband for the reasons wreaking havoc on her friend.

"He was never abusive in public," the 65-year-old friend said of her former husband.

The owner of the 48-year-old marriage finished her sentence: "He has never downed me in front of anybody, but the minute that door closes. . . ."

The friend, married for 22 years, said she "kept thinking it was going to get better, but it never did."

"In fact, it kept getting worse," she said. "At that point, I started negotiating for the divorce."

The divorced woman said she is still angry with herself for "having taken it so long."

The older woman said she has been in so much pain she has even thought about suicide.

"I even did a run-through," she said.

The woman's friend was surprisingly reticent about advising the woman to make an appointment with a lawyer specializing in divorce, believing that the censure she would face from family and friends and a lowered standard of living would create their own kind of hell.

The woman said her children are unaware of the problems in the marriage.

"I'd definitely be the villain here," she reasoned.

"When I got divorced it was a financial nightmare," the divorced woman said. "My kids and I were on food stamps, and he was taking trips to Aruba."

The now-happily divorced woman said her job in the marriage was to get her husband through school.

"I worked, did his typing and the housework, the cooking, the shopping, then it came time for him to get his Ph.D.," she said.

The woman, who had done all of the original typing for his dissertation, recalled the Sunday her husband gave her the acknowledgment to type.

"He lumped me in the same paragraph as the woman he paid to do the final typing," she said. "I knew at that point the marriage was over."

By the end of this teary-eyed summit, the three of us had at least agreed on one thing: There is an urgent need for some type of support group for older women who are battle-weary from marriages that they say are killing them, because the fact of the matter is that these women don't fit in with women their granddaughters' ages who are in the same marriage torture chambers.

Something tells me that there are more women over 60 who are wedded to keeping their insufferable secret than we may think.

God bless 'em all.

Jewell Cardwell is a columnist for the Akron Beacon Journal, 44 E Exchange St., Akron, OH 44328.