I know what you are thinking. You’re going to be the better couple and stick it through so your children can survive childhood unscathed by their parents’ divorce. Your own parents may have divorced and it hurt you deeply. You vowed you wouldn’t make that mistake with your own kids.
Maybe you both get along okay. It’s just that you are missing that spark or have been drifting apart for a while. It happens to everyone - you are not quitters. It could be much worse; you just don’t like each other much. He/she is boring. He/she doesn’t make an effort. It’s not like you are being cheated on or beaten up. Your excuses are familiar. It’s admirable to hold yourself to your vows. That was my intention too.
Sometimes, though, you have to think it through. Do you really think your children will benefit by sticking together? I’m no advocate for divorce. I wasn’t prepared and I hadn’t planned on that ever being an option for me.
After years of infertility, we hit the proverbial jackpot – triplets born in 2000 and another baby the following year. Our hands were full – so much so we had little left for each other. It’s almost like you press a pause button on your marriage in those early years. Some lucky couples are able to press “play” again and move on. But that all depends on lots of things that were circulating in your marriage before the kiddos came along.
Children can be like temporary Band-Aids for a marriage, offering just enough distraction so you can avoid your problems. All marriages have problems, don’t they? That perfect couple at back-to school night? Especially them. But where it gets tricky is what kind of problems you have.
Once my ex husband said something to a friend that rattled me. His friend’s comment was about how he should be taking me out to dinner more or we should try doing special things as a couple together without the kids sometimes. My husband responded with “Why should I? The kids will grow up and move away. My wife isn’t going anywhere.” Right there he was admitting that I wasn’t worth the effort.
After that, lots of little things came up. There was the July 4th invitation to the family’s lakeside cottage in Michigan that was not extended to his wife or children – just him. I told him that he needed to explain to his mother that we were a family unit. How could he even conceive of visiting if we weren’t all invited? He went. Alone. I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that he was afraid of being disinherited if he displeased her. The family fortune was at stake. But he put his mothers’ wishes over mine. That was not sexy and set the wheels in motion for making my exit.
Yes, I could have “stuck it out” for the kids. Financially, it would have made a lot of sense. We lived very well. Once it was out that I wanted to separate, things got ugly.
Back up – we had been in couples’ therapy. He was fully aware of the things I needed to feel loved. Something so simple as a birthday card for my birthday. He told the therapist that he didn’t want to have to make the effort it would take to keep the marriage going. But he didn’t think I would actually leave. At this point, my ex was not holding back any of his cruel threats and psychological injuries. I was chronically ill with sinus infections that required hospitalizations. Our bodies know.
I heard all kinds of lame-ass threats from his family members. The best one was from his brother. I had said that it wasn’t good for kids to grow up in an abusive household. This brother said, “What if this will help your kids so that when they grow up, they will decide to be advocates for abuse and prevent it from happening to others?” Nope. I do not feel like participating in a case study so my child will be able to help others. I want to help my children now. I didn’t want them to grow up in an environment of emptiness. I didn’t want them to grow up in a household where they didn’t understand what love looks like between a husband and wife let alone a father and a mother. What a disservice to lower their expectations of what being in a supportive partnership feels like. This would become their normal and continue the cycle of domestic abuse further along.
From his sister I was warned that I would be ruined financially. Oh well. My instinct as a mother was to protect my children from growing up sad and afraid, or missing out on a secure family environment. I knew that I couldn’t achieve this with their father. I decided that they would be better off and happier if I wasn’t held down by someone who did not cherish the mother of his children. You see, that’s what I wanted. I wanted to be cherished and I wanted to cherish. I couldn’t do it with a man who revealed his true colors once I started to speak up.
So should you stay?
Answer these questions. Do you like each other? Do you enjoy each other’s company? Do your children feel protected and loved when with the both of you? If so, that is because you feel this way with each other. They can feel it. It may be tough at times. You may need to step back and go off by yourself once in a while to come up for air. But when you come back, you should be glad to see each other. You should care about each other’s happiness and wellbeing and make that a priority. If you don’t take care of your marriage and nurture it over the years, you might find that having kids was not the fix you had hoped for. And staying for their sakes in a situation where your soul is being murdered a little every day will definitely not do your children any favors. Your children can feel any tensions between the two of you - they are the emotional barometers within your family. And you are hurting them by indirectly inflicting your ambivalence about each other onto them.
In order to be a good parent, a strong parent, one who can weather the challenges and establish strong boundaries with your children, you must be able to have a solid foundation with a fully dedicated partner. If part of that foundation is unstable, you are attaching your children’s perception of love and stability to a house of cards that can collapse at any time. They will learn from you. What you tolerate from each other is what they will grow up to expect. We owe them so much more. We must be good role models for them to be happy people; the world desperately needs happy people.
One last thing - if you end up divorcing anyway right after the last one leaves the nest, I guarantee your children will feel guilty for being the reason you stuck it out “for them.” You know what they will probably say? “I wish they had done it long ago.”
The question from earlier in this post “Why should I? The kids will grow up and move away. My wife isn’t going anywhere” ought to be “Why the hell shouldn’t I? The kids will grow up and move away but we will always have each other.”
How does that make you feel? There’s your answer.
I found this little booklet I must have made in preschool - good advice to follow!