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Can my husband, after 42 years of marriage, divide our assets without divorcing me or without my approval?
Can your husband subdivide your assets legally? I don’t know. That’s a question for a lawyer. Can he do so morally?
The last handful of times that I have been to a wedding, one word in the service has particularly caught my attention. That word is “mutual.” Marriage, the Book of Common Prayer tells us, “is intended by God for [a couple’s] mutual joy.” Or, as another worship resource has it, marriage is “a relationship of mutual fidelity and steadfast love.”
I guess that I have been drawn to the word “mutual” because it so succinctly and powerfully names one of the vital elements in a thriving marriage. Mutuality (a term that we might try paraphrasing by saying “balance” or “reciprocity”) is about both partners in a marriage helping one another to find satisfaction and happiness and healing and meaning. Mutuality, in other words, means making decisions in a way that feels reasonable to you and your spouse alike; it means being an attentive and an adventurous sexual partner; it means honoring basic commitments about when you will get home and what jobs you will do. And it means being able to expect the same thing from your wife or your husband.
Mutuality is important when happiness comes easily to a couple, but it is even more important during times of conflict. That’s because a mutually engaged couple is committed to doing the difficult and important work of fighting fair, of bringing passion and patience and presence to their fights. In a fair fight, neither partner shouts the other down, neither partner retreats into silence when things get hard, neither partner resorts to careless generalizations or character assassination. Rather, both tell the truth and both listen.
You have a right to insist on that kind of mutuality with your husband, Claire. Whatever the reasons may be that he suddenly doesn’t want your name on the checking account or on the deed to the house, whatever pain may lie behind this abrupt idea to build a wall within your finances, love and honor and integrity demand that he share this decision with you. If he is incapable of doing that on his own, then it’s time for the two of you to engage the services of an impartial counselor who can help you respectfully and honestly talk with one another.
Your husband owes you that respect and that honesty, Claire — and you owe him the same in return. After all, mutuality is what the two of you promised to one another 42 years ago on your wedding day.