My sister is ten years older than me. I watched with awe when I was a flower girl at her wedding, as she walked up the aisle to marry a man she loved.
It didn’t hurt that, for my parents and our family, the groom ticked every box that added up to “a perfect match.”
We were all overjoyed when their first son was born a year later, and thrilled again a year later when his brother arrived.
My sister was smart, but put aside going to university and personal ambition other than to give these two little boys a very happy home life.
None of us - neither family nor close friends - knew that she was living with serious disappointments and doubts in the relationship with her husband.
It soon became apparent to her that, while her husband wanted to “settle down” with a wife, he did not want much intimacy, distraction from his work, nor any let up of his own special interests.
She was on her own emotionally, but for her sons. I later learned that she did try to get her husband to see how remote he was from her, but that he just brushed her off.
When the boys went to school, she took up painting, and that opened up a whole new world and gave her renewed confidence in herself. She asked her husband to attend marriage counselling with her. He refused. Instead, he suggested she stop painting as it was distracting her with a false dream of having an artist’s career.
She knew this tension could lead to leaving her husband and all that goes with divorce. She just couldn’t see herself changing the boys’ lives so drastically.
So, she kept all the emotional turmoil to herself.
When the boys were 13 and 11 my sister could no longer bear her own despair. She saw a counsellor on her own, then a lawyer, and she divorced.
She was right about her sons’ reaction. They were devastated. Their father badmouthed her, yet he also spent more time with his sons than ever before.
As they went through their teens, the older boy chose to see less of his mother, the younger boy became moody and morose and did poorly at school.
Knowing now all that I do about my sister’s difficult and lonely marriage and its breakup seven years ago, I question whether the long-held belief about staying together until death isn’t actually a cruel life sentence in such cases.
Wouldn’t it have been healthier for all if they’d divorced at the time of their obvious differences, and co-parented their kids from then?
Witness to Sadness
There’s no easy time for getting a divorce.
Even in a so-called amical breakup, the impact on children can be far worse than imagined. Then there are the property and financial divisions that can leave both sides feeling cheated and resentful.
There’s no certain answer whether early recognition resulting in leaving a failed union is a “healthier choice” than trying to make it work.
Your sister’s children spent their formative years in her devoted care. The sense of security was imprinted on them.
Their father being more involved with them after the breakup added another layer of care.
Or had the couple split up years before, the children might have seen co-parenting from two different homes as natural. Hindsight offers few absolutes in these situations.
Bottom line: Divorce has no “best before” date.
FEEDBACK Regarding the man, 34, whose five sisters “mothered” him to an extreme and he now has difficulty dating (Aug.24):
Reader – “A writer describes how he was, and to an extent still is, bullied by his siblings and your advice includes his telling them that he appreciates the positive things that they did.
“I’m sure your answer would’ve been different to a female writer describing treatment by her brothers.”
Ellie - I take your point about the gender difference in this case.
Here’s how I started my answer which reflects his need to separate from them: “Take a mental health break from your sisters.”
I also wrote, “Tell them . . . that you need to find your own footing in the dating world now.
“That means that they must stop discussing your life on social, and that you’ll have to block them and also leave the platforms that they’re on.”
Tip of the day:
In a troubled union, seeking counselling early can help the couple see if there’s hope or not for their marriage.