If getting divorced were easy, my job would be easy, too. Anyone who complains about their spouse, in-laws, frequent fights, could be advised to split up immediately.
Instead, I look closely at the details – years of ignoring relationship problems, or repeating the same arguments and blaming – without doing the work of seeking solutions.
It’s empathy, not judgement, that leads to my response in many of those cases: Try harder.
Yet, I do not believe that desperately unhappy couples should stay together.
They may still split up even after serious efforts to reconcile. But they’ll feel confident that they’ve made the right choice, despite the difficulties of divorce. And there are many:
For both husband and wife, it means confronting your own failed dreams and aspirations. Your income/savings/assets are affected. Some of your closest friendships and family ties will never be the same.
But no matter how hard divorced parents try to ease the effects on their children, there are all-too-common difficulties:
Reader’s Commentary “As the only child of divorced parents, although now 63, I still feel sadness about their divorce.
“I wish parents would consider the following before choosing to separate:
“Divorce is emotional violence for a child (of any age).
“They’re powerless in this decision that’ll affect them for the rest of their lives.
“While parents can find other partners, their children can never replace their primary family.
“Although most adults fail to retain close friendships with both divorced parents, children are expected to continue loving both.
“They must respect and obey their parents’ rules, (even if they’re completely different rules). They often must bounce living between them.
“They’re at "mom's or dad’s" more than “at home.”
“Children are also held to higher values. They can't order their sibling to leave the house during an argument. They’re expected to forgive and make up. But the adults can behave badly.
“And if the children decide to ignore "kids’ rules" and take on the "adult rules," they’re seen as a problem, and "acting out!"
“I’m not saying, stay together for the sake of the children. That keeps everyone in a living hell. But I am saying, to those who contemplate divorce, do everything you possibly can to heal your marriage. Kids do adapt, but it comes at a cost.
“And if you do divorce, get help for your children. You may not be aware of just how deeply they hurt.”
My daughter, 24, lives with me in my apartment, with her boyfriend. I divorced when she was 12. We’re close.
She works full-time and is very responsible. After she’d dated him for a while, he started staying over. Eight months ago, he lost his job. He now stays here all day, never looking for work, just using her computer, sleeping and taking “snacks” till we all eat dinner which I’ve cooked. What should I do?
Talk to them both. Set boundaries and explain that they’re necessary for both their sakes, as well as yours.
Since he’s possibly/likely depressed, he must see his doctor for a checkup. He must get employment counselling and actively seek work. And he must leave the house for some time every day, not just hibernate, eat and sleep.
If he has unemployment insurance, he must pay minimal rent. If not, your daughter can help him with costs.
But if he doesn’t comply, he must live elsewhere. Facing their situation realistically won’t happen while they both expect you to supply everything.
FEEDBACK Regarding the woman who wrote about difficulties with her marriage and in-laws (Oct. 12):
Reader – “Are you sending an emotionally abused woman back into a toxic situation instead of showing support for her brave decision to leave it?
“She asked how to deal with a man feeling threatened by her decision to move on, and his acting out. She no longer loves him. She shouldn’t have to feel guilty for her decision. She needs help to live through it.”
Ellie – Yes, she does need help, and counselling can provide that help, which I advised.
I told her to turn her energy toward mature attempts to change what’s dividing her and her husband (instead of continuing to blame each other). Then, if their efforts still fail, she can “move on confidently” and leave the marriage. It’s also helpful for learning how to do better in any next relationship.
Tip of the day:
Divorce is never easy, almost always hard on children, but staying in a miserable or abusive marriage is equally difficult.