This was a question posed on an internet forum. The situation was a man who was miserable in his marriage; it was killing him. Yet, he stayed for his kids. The debate was whether or not this was healthy.
The person who initiated this debate went on to detail how miserable she had been in her own marriage, how it had been slowly killing her and she didn’t think her husband would ever change. She then goes on to talk about how happy she is now and how good divorce was for her. She’s remarried. She has 2 more children. She went back to school to get her Masters. She has a husband who makes enough money that he could support her while she was doing this, plus basically support the family because she made very little money at her job. She did say towards the end that divorce was a huge positive for her and probably a little bit of a positive for her daughter.
That was what I thought was so interesting. The question was, “Is it healthier to divorce rather than to stay for the sake of the kids?” The answer, however, had nothing to do with the kids; it revolved around the parent’s happiness.
Another person chimed in and said she thought it was hard to apply that as a concept to everyone; it really needed to be discussed on an individual basis. She also said she didn’t think kids really gave a squat about parental happiness, so long as it wasn’t in their face. I tend to agree with that.
Obviously if there are knockdown, drag out fights between the parents, or everyone in the house is walking on eggshells it’s not a good situation and the kids would probably rather the parents divorce. That’s the problem though. So many of these situations are presented as A or B. Either the parents are living in a tense, hostile situation fraught with yelling, screaming, and potential physical violence, or the parents divorce and everyone is happy with their new lives.
In my situation I wouldn’t describe our home life as tense or volatile. He scampered up to the bedroom most of the time. We occasionally went out as a family and had a wonderful time. The kids and I were always “allowed” to go into the bedroom if we wanted to converse with him. He wasn’t angry and hostile towards me or the kids. We functioned somewhat unconventionally but I don’t think my kids were unhappy or afraid.
Another issue that was raised was how children will be happy if their parents are happy. The first commenter thought that it would be very hard to disguise your unhappiness around your kids and that even if you could it could lead to some long term complications where you compartmentalize problems instead of facing them head on.
To all of that I say, “Bullshit!” First, I wasn’t always wonderfully happy in my marriage. I knew that there were things that other couples did that we didn’t do- go to movies, out to dinner, to church, running errands, sleeping in the same bed… I knew it wasn’t normal to barely spend any time together. I knew it wasn’t normal to have him forego family outings. I knew that I wanted more and I wanted him more involved but I sucked it up and concentrated on the things I could control. I chose to find things that would make me happy- things like my children, my friends, my volunteering. I didn’t sit back and say, “Oh my! I’m unhappy. There’s nothing I can do besides find a different husband.”
Second, I don’t think my kids are happier now than they were two years ago. I know my kids don’t want to see me miserable or crying; I don’t want to portray them as little sociopaths. But I don’t think they ever thought anything was terribly wrong. Like I said, there was no fighting, no hostility, no violence. Hell, I don’t think they ever even saw us raise our voices towards one another, much less have a fight. The only issues they saw were ones their dad brought to the table and I don’t think the fact that he has a new sex partner is going to change any of those issues. My daughter has said before, “I don’t know how you stayed with him as long as you did.” I also think a lot of that is because he was more willing to let everyone in the family see him fall apart this time around.
I think we fool ourselves into believing that our happiness makes our children happy. Obviously there can be extremes but kids are pretty self-centered. They don’t like change anymore than we do. I’m pretty sure that if you asked my kids if they were happier now simply because Dear Old Dad is happy they would look at you like you had your brain growing on the outside of your head. No, strike that. It would be more like your brain was growing out of your ass. Their lives have been torn apart once again. It wasn’t enough that we moved across the country and gave up everything for him the first time around. Oh hell no! Now we’re all supposed to be happy because he’s found true love with his soulmate. They probably don’t even think about the fact they are being forced to start all over again due to him. They’ve lost their home, have had to move another 600 miles away from their new friends, and are now residing in their grandmother’s house in smaller bedrooms while once again sharing a bathroom. Character building, my ass. Fuck that! Their lives as they knew them are over at this point. They would probably tell you that they really don’t give a crap about their father’s happiness, especially when it came at their expense.
Another thing I’ve noticed is that those who extoll the virtues of divorce the loudest are generally the ones who are happily partnered up once again. The first commenter, as I pointed out earlier, remarried within 3 or 4 years of her divorce, I believe. She was also having an affair when she left her husband, although she did not end up with the affair partner and she says she didn’t leave for him. And, from other things she has written, she also had at least one other boyfriend before she met her current husband. Two other commenters who said divorce was better for the kids are also remarried and have at least one more child with the new husband. So far, no one who is not currently in a relationship has chimed in that divorce is just the best! I’m sure if that’s your reality (you meet the love of your life, you go on to have a fabulous new life, you have more children) then you probably do feel that divorce is the best choice. Of course, we are back again to the fact that divorce ended up being the best choice for the adult and not the child.
What happens, though, if you spend the rest of your life alone? What happens if you spend the rest of your life struggling financially? God bless the second commenter who pointed out that she has seen far too many people who have traded in being married and miserable for being divorced and miserable. Honestly, I think that’s going to be me.
Granted, I wasn’t the one who wanted out. I wasn’t the one saying, “Oh, I’m so unhappy!” I simply saw the writing on the wall and knew there would be no going back. I had already warned him that if he did it again we were done. Don’t get me wrong; I definitely know that I will be better off without him. I don’t know, though, if my kids will. With him we all lived a fairly privileged life. My kids didn’t want for anything. Now? I don’t see myself as having some wonderful career that provides enough for me to support my children comfortably. Oh, I’ll be able to pay the bills and they’ll eat, but I don’t see any extras for them in the future. Get a job, kids, if you want to have nice things because Daddy left Mommy when she was pushing 50 and had no hopes of making serious bank.
I doubt I will ever have a house of my own. He has the VA loan to fall back on so he doesn’t really care if we lose everything on this house. I, on the other hand, will have to come up with a down payment. I’ve already bought houses with him so I won’t qualify for a first time buyer break. Plus, why the hell would I want a 30 year loan when it wouldn’t be paid off until I was around 80? No, Mr. Cheater will go on to buy his dream home with the whore, while I live with my mom forever. That sounds like divorce is really changing my life for the better, doesn’t it?
I don’t see myself finding the love of my life. I think that has passed me by. Honestly, I have no desire to date. I have no desire to let myself be vulnerable. I will never let myself rely on another man again. Ever. I will not remarry. I will not move in with someone. Even if I did end up one day eating my words how does that benefit my children? By the time that could even happen for me they will be grown and out of the house. It will be too late for them. They will never experience an involved father. My daughter will never have a dad that wants to attend her gymnastics meets and cheer her on. My son will never have a dad that teaches him to shave or plays video games with him or tosses a ball around with him. That has all fallen, and will continue to fall, on me.
Don’t get me wrong. While I am not a fan of divorce and never wanted any of this, I also don’t think that getting divorced is some horrible evil. I’ll be tackling that approach later on this week. What I have a problem with is people, probably like CF, who use their own happiness as an excuse to wreck havoc on the rest of the family. The thinking seems to be, “I’m not happy. I deserve to be happy. If I’m happy everyone else will be happy.”
I also don’t advocate staying in miserable marriages. I think you should do everything you can to make your marriage happy. If that means counseling or date nights or whatever the two people come up with then I’m all for it. I don’t believe that you only have two options: Stay or be miserable. I think there is a third, often overlooked option, which is to work on and improve your marriage. Too often the, “I Deserve Happiness” crowd decides to simply ditch the marriage and start over, usually with someone they have waiting in the wings.
So now the question remains: Is it better to leave? Is it healthier? That’s the trick question. It’s supposed to be a question of whether or not staying is better for your kids. I suppose that depends on what your future holds. Are you feeling lucky?