I received a comment this week on my very popular Should I Stay Married for the Kids? post.
I think it's an important one, so I am replying to it in this blog post. If you have kids and are considering divorce or do not currently enjoy being married, I hope you will read the whole thing.
It's from someone who gets what it means to kids when parents divorce but must make a difficult choice to stay or go. He begins:
Most of the advice I see on the topic of stay or go boils down to "There was love, love is gone (perhaps now replaced with evils of resentment and all its displays), do I leave or do I stay?" In fact, science even has statistics that help make this choice easier: if your fights are loud, violent, and frequently in front of the kids, and anger management doesn't help, divorce is a BETTER option for the kids. If you can keep the kids near-oblivious to your situation, staying together is in long term better for the kids. In fact, happily married parents did not necessarily raise happy kids, so your happiness means very little for kids, as long as they have the both of you, and no clear fighting and violent unhappiness. The absolutely BEST advice I've ever received on repairing a marriage is "you cannot get your marriage back - it wasn't working to begin with if you got here, but if you remember how you once loved each other and wanted to be together, you can find the desire to build something new together, something that works." I agree with that statement VERY MUCH!
Generalities never describe our own situations perfectly, and the kids we're all concerned about are always our own. And by the time we're trying to figure out what's good for them, we're usually in over our heads, frantic for a solution to our own problems. I have an awful lot of empathy for him as he deals with whether to end the marriage or stay.
He continues with words surely familiar to many:
But what does one do in an odd situation when two people were married young and for all the wrong reasons? My wife and I have very passive aggressive fights - no violence, no yelling that kids can hear (VERY rarely anyway), no thrown objects. We're just ridiculously incompatible. Never have been. VERY wrong for each other. It's not that I resent her now, it's that given another pass, I'd never marry her in the first place, nor she me, and I'm fine with that.
In my observation, one does not need to marry young to marry for all the wrong reasons. In Western culture, at any age, we may marry because we're crazy in love and can't imagine the obvious differences between us ever getting in the way, and then they do. We marry for someone to live with other than the parents or spouse we're currently living with, and then we discover it's no easier living with the new person. We marry because we are so flattered to be asked by someone with such fame, money, or respect, and then they lose it or aren't so happy sharing it. We marry because it's the only way to get the sex we want or because it's the only decent thing to do after the sex we wanted leads to the pregnancy we didn't, and now the sex is a good bit less exciting.
We each get to this place of feeling "I would be happier elsewhere" in our own way. And it always feels unique, because it is.
However, we seldom get there overnight. I am writing this to anyone who might be putting up with what they don't like or checking out of the marriage into a career or hobby because they don't know what else to do.
He writes (and I am omitting his name because he really could be any of us who have ever considered divorce):
Her core passion is comfort - she loves a state of minimum activity, so long as everything is in-place. I am an adventure seeker, to whom a chaotic turn of events is just another adventure to adapt to. She's ultra-punctual, and I'm not. She doesn't love through touch, and I cannot live without touch - it's a 12 for me (5 love languages reference). Kisses are awkward, sex is virtually non-existent (1/month on average, but as rare as once every 3-4 months happens).
Oh, wow. I could write a month-long series of blog posts on ways to thrive with such differences. Maybe I will. But not today, because unless we get him back from the ledge, they won't be helpful to our commenter.
We recently escalated things to the point of discussing divorce. She wanted to leave. At first I had every intention to save the marriage, then I realized that it cannot be saved since there was never love. And as different as we are, building anything new would be hard. I have a life list mile long of things I want to do with my life, she wouldn't come up with 1-2 things we could enjoy doing together.
"Building anything new would be hard." No question. Once it's gotten to this point, building is always harder than leaving. It's like being 275 pounds overweight, knowing it's reducing your life expectancy and doubling or tripling your chances of being disabled, and staring at a plate of brownies. It's hard, really hard. It takes time, and the brownies are always there. No one can answer for him or any of us whether it's worth doing.
Only three things seem to make rebuilding a marriage worth doing for most people: money, God, or kids.
All would be simple without kids, but we have 2 amazing boys: 6 & 4. They love each one of us very much and we love them back. In different ways, but with our full hearts.
Oops. It will be at least 2028 before those two are both old enough to go their own way. Until then, at least one of them will be dependent on and dealing with both mom and dad. They will be trying to keep mom comfortable and dad convinced they love his adventures. And they will be listening to ultra-punctual mom seething every time dad is late to pick them up.
Kids are a good reason to do the work. Not just to stay married, but to find a way to really love those kids' other parent, as they do.
The last straw was the fact that I never knew love before this marriage, and thought that it's a myth, or something that I can create, fake, live with a "cup half full",
Just pausing here to get the attention of anyone not yet married who might be thinking the same thing.
but in my search to fix the marriage, I discovered a lot of materials on fixing my own confidence, my own world views, my understanding of male/female roles in a relationship, female psychology, sexual/seduction approaches that got me attention from the opposite gender that I never dreamed of having.
My first thought was family-bound: how do I seduce my wife? How do I get her attracted to me? And I managed it... a little bit anyway. Our sex life got better, things go a little bit smoother... but it required a LOOOOT of work, and I didn't like who I became doing it. I was basically someone else. I felt she was attracted to what I did, not to who I was. I realized even more strongly she felt no acceptance towards the real me, she didn't want the real me.
I'll bet this is familiar to a lot of readers, too. Maybe you did not improve your seduction skills. Maybe you became a vegan or took cooking classes or got fit and when things got better in your marriage felt your spouse was attracted to what you did, not who you are. Ouch!
In my psychology research I found a type of woman that matches me far more, and accidentally one day ran into a woman of just that type... in fact, not only her type was a match, but everything from her Briggs-Myers personality to our life interests. She also had a life list, and it was similar to mine. This woman inspired me and was inspired by me. I took 2 weeks away from family life to get a perspective and spent them with this woman. I should probably feel guilty, but I do not. I didn't cheat, I just wanted to research what I was missing.
Note to anyone else whose marriage is going downhill: change your definition of cheating. When you research what's missing, it's like pouring hot fudge and whipped cream over those brownies you're staring at as you decide whether you can find the will to lose those 275 pounds. You are cheating yourself, your kids, and your spouse.
Our conversations were amazing, way she put her hands on me felt incredible, even in the most unsexual of her intentions, it sent electricity down my whole body. Our life goals are identical, she thinks my sweat smells sweet. What does that even mean?!!! I'm still baffled by that phrase! It sounds so incredible. I think I flew up a little when she just took my hand and told me "I'm so happy right now". We ended up kissing, and her kiss feels like heaven, no less. I feel through touch, and the way she feels I've never felt before with any of my ex's (and I'm not the most experience-deprived man in the physical department).
Our reader is quite smitten. It's like taking the first brownie from that platter. Making the choice to lose the weight is now much, much harder than it was before. So, note to anyone else, move yourself away from the brownies until you've made your decision.
The truth about affairs (even affairs where you carefully refrain from actual intercourse) is that they mislead you into focusing entirely on the brownies. When you're craving them (or researching them), they are wonderful, but you forget how unexciting they are when you're in the mood for crab cakes or tomato soup. And you forget how awful it feels to shop for clothes after eating a lot of them and how much you long to run beside your kid the first time they fly a kite.
If you're looking for love, and you're married, an affair is going to make it harder and riskier to find it.
Before you go to criticize... I sat down with my wife and tried to work out a way to fix our marriage and she completely refused, that happened before I met the new girl. I told the new girl that I am married and have kids and probably will get divorced. So no one had been lied to.
I am not criticizing. I am empathizing. I know how painful it is to decide whether to leave your spouse and whether to put your kids through divorce.
However, I am not going to agree that he told either of them the truth. He is half in and half out, and it's a really, really awful place to be. But until he makes his decision to work on the marriage (without his wife's cooperation if necessary) or end it, he is leading both of them on. And he's making either choice harder to make.
Cheated on? I don't know... lately my wife has once again expressed an interest to try to work on our marriage, but her idea of "us working" is "me changing myself", and her enjoying the benefits of me becoming more like what she wants me to be.
If you've read much of Assume Love, you know I think she's in an awful place. She believes the only way to improve her marriage is to get him to change. I am sure she gives lip service to needing to make some changes herself, because "it takes two." That's the myth.
But I have seen quite a few marriages on the brink of divorce become loving again without either spouse getting the changes in their spouse that they expect would make them happy. How? By making changing the way they participate in the marriage until they enjoy being married. Other people find it a whole lot easier to be married to someone who enjoys being married.
We've been together for 7 VERY LONG years. Most of those were spent in fighting, unhappy, just committed to raising kids, and content that there's nothing better out there - this is my life, and I must live it. Plus some legal things until recently made our divorce impossible. But those things are about to pass and won't stop us anymore. AND I SO WANT FOR MY KIDS TO BE HAPPY!!!!!!! But are fighting and violence really the only two things that decide if they'll be happy or not?! No, they're not exposed to those... but will they grow up to be happy men?!
Many things determine how happy they will be, and we have no control over a lot of them. Right now, all he has control over is whether he's all in for building a new and different life with their mother or not. And it cannot be easy to even consider choosing that when he has a fantasy future with someone whose life goals, touches, and kisses thrill him to contrast it with.
Would they not be better off seeing their dad love to the fullest and be loved by someone? Would they not be better off with a model of what acceptance and wanting look like?
Absolutely. If he can give them any part of this, he should. But he's not headed in that direction.
I respect their mother, we're very unlikely to have any sort of custody battles..... uncomfortable meetings in the future? maybe, maybe not... or maybe she'll meet someone she can fall in love with too and she'll be happy?! I would really like that for her. She admits she never loved me, and she also says she's loved before, and knows what that feels like for her, and that she doesn't feel it with me (never has). Given that a future full of love is really possible for each of us separately, SHOULD WE REALLY STAY TOGETHER JUST FOR THE KIDS WITH 99% OF NEVER BEING LOVED BY ONE ANOTHER?
In my opinion (since I am not one of those who believe we make our marriage vows to God rather than to fallible humans like ourselves), absolutely not.
I would not tackle the very difficult task of rebuilding a marriage if I thought the chances of success were just 1%. I would leave and do what I could to minimize the effects on the boys of living apart from their other parent.
But, as most reading this know, I don't believe a non-violent couple has such a small chance at rebuilding. With a few new skills, I think it's a better than 50-50 bet he can do it.
This is a lot higher than the percentage of people who actually marry and stay married to the person they fell in love with before their divorces. It's not only his wife who may not find a happy marriage after the divorce.
I would caution his to be sure he chooses divorce for the kids whether or not he finds a loving partner for himself.
Please understand that I would never ask if I wasn't willing to bite the bullet and just stay. But I hope someone out there with more worldly wisdom can offer another point of view or words of experience, or just words of support. My heart is breaking... to know love, to know it's SOOOO CLOSE, and to possibly never be able to love or be loved in a way I was meant to be. I made a mistake marrying the wrong woman and making children with her. But now that they are here, it's not just about me anymore. I want what's best for all 4 of us. I want my wife to find love too, just not at the cost of raising heartbroken kids. Do kids really suffer if their divorced parents do not badmouth each other? respect each other? speak kindly of each other? Just live with a new partner...
Many don't. But some do. All live their lives very differently, either living two completely different lives in different places (unless Mom and Dad swap homes every week) or living with a single parent and being a visitor with their other parent. All live their lives loving two parents, increasingly different in goals and values and interests, who no longer make any attempt to develop ways to bridge them.
And I'm still young. I could have more kids, the new girl is amazing, and thinks the world of my kids. So it's not like they'd have an evil stepmom. Instead they'd gain an adventurous beautiful stepmom who grabs the life by its horns, and lives it to the fullest, she and I together could teach my kids to live without fear of failure, to go start a business, to go learn to dance ballroom, to go fly a paraglider off a mountain... these are things I'm afraid they'll miss out on (most of them anyway) in the company of their present parents staying together. PLEASE HELP! ANY ADVICE IS APPRECIATED!
His children will still have the same two parents they have now. He can do these things with them now, just not with his wife.
Do not mistake what you need for what your kids need.
His kids will almost certainly not be happy about sharing him with her when they do these exciting new things. They will not likely be happy being the stepkids who show up in their half-siblings' full-time home for a few days a week.
And the civil relationship he has with their mother will be affected by the perception that their stepmother is the reason her kids are now doing things that scare the bejeebers out of her. It will also be affected by whatever reason there might be for this other woman already knowing his kids well enough to think the world of them.
I am aching for the author of this comment. Either direction he goes in now will be a huge risk for him and an unknown risk for his kids.
Had I heard from him before the research project put that a huge platter of brownies in front of a person in dire need of a big change, this is what I would have advised him to do.
Do everything you would do after a divorce, except break your vows. Take a ballroom dance class without your wife. Take your six year old to one for kids, too. Try paragliding, and make your wife as comfortable as possible by taking out an insurance policy that covers your boys' futures against paragliding accidents. Take your boys skiing. Join an adventure club. And come home from each of your adventures with some way for your wife to enjoy where you've been in the comfort of her living room.
Had I met him before he had the kids, I would have suggested a condom until the wrong reasons for marrying were just a funny story about the start of the great relationship they built by loving and being wide open to being loved.
And if he's no longer willing to fall in love with his sons' mother, this is what I would suggest.
Keep them and your new love apart and use two methods of birth control with her until your divorce is final and you have had a real chance to learn who she is outside of an affair. Do not let them fall in love with her or even learn to look forward to seeing her while there is such a big chance of another painful separation they have no say in.
But I am secretly hoping the new gal does something to break his heart and give him one more chance with their mother, because no one should have to choose between risking everything on the brownies (or even trying to continue to stay put and resist all brownies) and getting healthy by losing the weight.