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Your parents divorced? Tell me about it.
July 31, 2014 8:47 AM   Subscribe

I want to leave my husband and need to understand the potential impact to my daughters, aged 10 and 11. Please tell me what your parents' divorce was like, and the different ways in which it affected you.

I've been married for 16 years. My marriage was essentially arranged, and though I've never been attracted to my husband, I tried to make the best of it and be happy. He's a wonderful, caring man who has always treated me well...but I never developed any chemistry with him. He's below my level intellectually and we just do not click in the ways that turn me on. This doesn't bother HIM - he's always found me very attractive and considers himself deeply in love with me. But I'm dying inside. I can't imagine living the rest of my life not attracted to my husband.

We've had other problems in our marriage; they are complex and ongoing, and I have finally decided to call it quits. My husband will be devastated and my kids will be shocked and confused. They've never really seen us fight. They think we are happy...but I am not. I've done a good job of suppressing my unhappiness, and my relationship with my husband has always been affectionate, at least on the surface. He's a good person and I care about him. I just don't want to pretend to be happy anymore.

I've told my husband how I feel and he is in denial. He thinks we can work things out. He is 43 years old and feels it's too late for him to start over. He doesn't realize (nor have I told him in absolute terms) that my mind is made up. But it is. I want to separate within the next 6 months.

My daughters are very close to me. I feel confident that I can guide them through this with strength and grace, and that one day, hopefully, they will understand my decision. But I'm afraid my husband will not handle it well. I won't blame him for being heartbroken and angry, but I don't want his reaction to hurt our kids. They love their father to pieces, and he them. It will be very difficult for him to accept me breaking up our family. I can imagine he will say things to them like "your mother wanted this divorce, not me".

I'm terrified that my husband will end up depressed and my kids will hate me for it. I'm worried that I will cause them heartache and anxiety. The hardest part about this is hurting the ones I love.

As a person who has gone through their parents' divorce, what advice can you give me? What did your parents do well during the separation process? What could they have done better? Thank you.

Note - some further details about our relationship in this question that I posted anonymously last month.
posted by puppet du sock to Human Relations (47 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
I can say this, my parents divorce was a terrible experience for me, but that was due to a family dynamic that was totally unhealthy. The circumstances would have been 'bad' whether my parents stayed together or not. People can and do have healthy divorces. It completely depends on the people involved.
posted by marimeko at 9:01 AM on July 31 [3 favorites]


I was 12 when my parents split, and I was honestly relieved. I was tired of the fighting, and my dad and I never really got along anyway.

What they did badly:
-talking about it in the house without telling us first. (I found out because I overheard my dad talking about it on the phone.)
-using the kids as a mediator/middle ground/go-between. For example, they couldn't decide who got to keep the family pictures and the Dave Mason albums, so I got them instead.
-bashing each other to the kids post-divorce. I remember my dad doing this much more than my mom did, but that may be my slanted worldview. I found it annoying and abrasive, but my brother (who was 9) took a lot of it to heart, and it colored his perceptions of our parents in ways that I can still see in him today.

What they did well:
-giving us input into custody arrangements. We had a weekdays with mom/weekends with dad thing set up, but when I didn't want to go to dad's, I didn't have to go. My brother, on the other hand, got to spend more time there when he wanted to.
-working as a team when it really mattered. When I was in the hospital, my parents were there as a unit figuring out what needed to be done. Same with when my brother was hospitalized, with grandparent funerals, etc. The day-to-day might have sucked, but they were able to suck it up for the big stuff so that we had the support we needed.
-having visible post-divorce relationships. When I was 15 and my mom met her now-husband, it was great just to see her happy again. When I split from my ex-wife at 35, though, it was there in the back of my mind - mom remarried. Dad remarried. This isn't the end of relationships.
posted by okayokayigive at 9:03 AM on July 31 [10 favorites]


My parents split when I was 19 (but I was still at home, commuting to college) and my brother was 12. It sucked, but we were relieved because of fighting.

Decades later, I still remember vividly the thing that was the hardest. It was the "tell your father/tell your mother" game. It was awkward to say "Mom says she needs you to either look at the (thing in the house that they both still owned) or give her half of the money to pay someone to fix it" and "Dad says he can't watch the dog while we are at the beach because he's spending the weekend somewhere else." I wish they'd have picked up the phone once a week and talked instead of using us as messengers.
posted by kimberussell at 9:04 AM on July 31 [5 favorites]


I was 10 when my parents told my siblings and me that they were getting a divorce. It was very painful and shocking news to me because, like your children, I lived under the belief that my parents were happy and everything was great -- I had no clue about all the trouble brewing under the surface. I went through a couple years of great sadness about the whole situation, and desperately hoped that they would reconcile (which they didn't).

However, my parents did a great job of making sure that I was loved and cared for through the whole process. They were civil to each other, and they made sure I got to spend lots of time with both of them. I feel like, as far as divorces go, it was done about as well as one could hope -- and yet it was still a very, very sad time for me.
posted by BurntHombre at 9:13 AM on July 31 [1 favorite]


My folks divorced when I was 10. They told us that family is forever and backed it up in how they treated each other: Never, never bad mouthed each other to us. Spent Christmases together until I was in college. Went to each other's second weddings. Accepted the new partners and step-sibs as members of the family. Showed up for each other in loving and supportive ways up to the present day.

My mom says now, "We had a so-so marriage but a great divorce." I'm very proud and grateful for how my parents divorced. In the long run, I feel that it made us a stronger and happier family that staying together unhappily.

All the best to you and yours.
posted by ottereroticist at 9:17 AM on July 31 [42 favorites]


My parents divorced when I was 13. There was no fighting beforehand so it came as a surprise to me. Maybe that was because I was young and wasn't really looking for signs of discord. What my parents told me and my siblings was that they would never put us in the middle and that our well being was still both of their's first priority.

While they both agreed to not put us in the middle and not bad mouth each other, there were a few instances where circumstances almost dictated we were going to hear things or be in the middle. We children learned that it was not intentional or maybe it was accidental, but that it really had no bearing on us. Both of my parents actions spoke louder than any words. They both were very supportive of us.

One thing that did happen was that with something like the type of comment you are worried your husband might make like "It was your mother that wanted the divorce." was that in the rare times that sort of thing came up, it was always preceeded by or followed by something like "I think puppet du sock is a great mother. She loves you kids dearly and on parenting we see eye to eye. On other matters we did not. Your mother is the one that wanted the divorce...." But, the way I view it, a statement like "It was your mother that wanted the divorce" is not a value judgement, it is a statement of fact.

I think what is important is to demonstrate and say to your children how your love for them is unchanged, how you two will work together as parents to ensure they are still the priority, and then have your actions demonstrate that.

I don't know you or your husband, but it sounds like you respect him, you just don't love him. Well, that should not change. Tell your children how much you respect him as a man and as a father.

I also know that this is a process. Only over time will you be judged and only over time, when your children are adults will they truly understand a lot of what happened.
posted by 724A at 9:20 AM on July 31 [1 favorite]


I'm terrified that my husband will end up depressed and my kids will hate me for it. I'm worried that I will cause them heartache and anxiety. The hardest part about this is hurting the ones I love.

My parents split up when I was 11. Unlike your marriage theirs had been acrimonious for quite some time and it was actually a kindness when they split because my home life got much better very quickly. Here are a few things I noted

- Back in the day it was seen as weird to have parents who were divorced and I think I could have used some sort of support external to my family (therapy, support group, family friend) that I did not get. I had some friends who I didn't tell for years.
- My father never said a negative word against my mother and I thought that was classy (my mother was not the same. Kids know these things.)
- My father was sort of an absentee parent for a long time and my mother was always trying to get him to hang out with us with varying degrees of success. This was sort of lousy. They didn't have an official divorce with a custody agreement so he sort of paid the child support he wanted to and saw us when he wanted to with my mom bitching about him all the time. I got it, it was lame, but she was still acting like his absentee wife which was sort of awful.

It's fine if one person wants the divorce. It's a good message to send to your children that you don't have to stay in relationships just because one person wants to. Your feelings matter also and if you are not happy, you are not happy.
posted by jessamyn at 9:22 AM on July 31 [4 favorites]


I'm terrified that my husband will end up depressed and my kids will hate me for it. I'm worried that I will cause them heartache and anxiety. The hardest part about this is hurting the ones I love.

This will happen, plan on it. The kindest way to divorce is to do it through couples therapy.

I've been there both as a child of divorced parents (I was 13) and the unsuspecting spouse. In both cases therapy would have surely softened the blow and I regret that didn't happen.
posted by Dragonness at 9:37 AM on July 31 [4 favorites]


We were 16, 13 and 10.

The bad: Almost all of it. Which was not really my mother's fault, but when my dad left, he didn't really see us much for the next few years. Occasionally weekends and holidays. Also, we really struggled having only one adult to do errands, help kids get places, etc. I was constantly begging rides off of my friends' parents. Because my mother was the custodial parent, my younger siblings never really recovered a great relationship with my dad.

The good: I don't even know. There really wasn't anything good. Divorce is hard on kids, and it sucks. I suppose it was good that my dad was able to be happy, but I'm not sure if his happiness translated into being a better father when he could; I guess so.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:43 AM on July 31 [2 favorites]


I was six and my sister was eight when my parents divorced. I think one of the best things my mom did during that time was to "level" the amount of information she was giving us about the circumstances. A young child is not ready in any way to hear the nitty gritty of your relationship dynamics. Keep it boiled down to its basic, true parts. As your daughters get older, you can help deepen that understanding for them by providing them with more context so it continues to make sense in their own maturing minds.

It is hard for kids to process their parents' split. I think I have only just (near 30) fully wrapped my head around it, as I am entering into my own first marriage. Granted, I never saw a therapist about any of it. I had many shifting, changing phases of anger, denial, sadness, confusion, and even some unexpected, weird, giddy happiness while I processed the whole situation throughout my life. Was my life ruined or somehow damaged by my parents' divorce? I don't really think so. There are a lot of hard things to deal with in everyone's life, and in some ways I think dealing with my parents' divorce was a really strengthing, enlightening, clarifying experience that helped me as an adult.

You haven't addressed this at all in your post, but I'd like to mention a piece of advice regarding if/when you begin seeing someone new. The standout best thing my mom did when she began dating again was to always always consider my sister's and my happiness and comfort with her partner. She eventually married the man who is now my stepdad, but not until my sister and I, still young children, 100% approved and were comfortable with it.
posted by Temeraria at 9:49 AM on July 31 [2 favorites]


My daughters are very close to me. I feel confident that I can guide them through this with strength and grace, and that one day, hopefully, they will understand my decision. But I'm afraid my husband will not handle it well.

I think you are romanticizing the situation when you talk of strength and grace. As long as one party to the divorce is not consenting, there can be no grace. It will get ugly. As you are drafting your divorce agreement attorneys will bring up worst case scenarios that will push both you and your husband to the limits of your tolerance, and your mutual respect and trust will give way to anger and hurt.
posted by Dragonness at 9:55 AM on July 31 [8 favorites]


I was 18 months old when my parents got divorced (yup). Obviously I don't remember that part of it, but what I do remember is how both of them behaved for many years afterwards. They got married very young (18 and 22) and both of them went "wilding" in an attempt to reclaim the youth they lost by getting married young.

For my dad, this involved dating lots of younger women, making plans to move to California and live a hippie lifestyle without regarding how that would affect me (I was 11 at the time), drinking a lot, smoking a lot of pot, and just generally shirking any kind of responsibility.

For my mom, it involved dating a whole lot of random men, many of them abusive, and a desperate attempt to not feel alone. Those men took absolute priority over me, and then when she married again and had a son, my stepfather was alternately controlling over me (not allowing me to see my father) and dismissive of me in favor of my half-brother.

I have that half-brother (he's 6 years younger than me) and a half-sister on my dad's side (8 years younger) and I'm not close to either of them in part because neither of my parents were invested in curating a typical "family" life. Like, we rarely sat down for dinner together, etc. In part I believe my mom was doing the best she could after her second divorce, working full-time and raising us alone (because my brother's dad basically abandoned him after the divorce). But she was also doing things like going out drinking with her friends after work most days of the week, not coming home until the bars closed. This behavior, I believe, was either an attempt to deal with the stress of being a single mom or an attempt to reclaim her youth, which was spent married and with kids.

Reading your previous question, you seem to have a "grass is greener" "anything but this" mentality. If you are worried about your husband's depression, how will that affect his ability to parent your girls? How will your desperate search for someone better than your husband affect your ability to parent?

Someone gave you this advice in the other thread: would you be happier even single and alone than you are now? Or does your happiness depend on finding someone better than your husband? Because any time you spend on that search for someone better will be time you can't spend on your daughters.
posted by Brittanie at 10:04 AM on July 31 [17 favorites]


I don't think the stuff that keeps me in therapy is related to my parents' divorce as much as to my mother's difficult personality and childrearing technique, so that's some good news. And the divorce was better for everyone, because it put an end, mostly, to the fighting. But some things that affected me strongly, and advice I could give based on my feelings as a 12-year-old girl in the midst of this (and please forgive if my strong feelings and painful memories overstep the borders of Reasonable Advice):

- My dad did get depressed, and reacted in an extreme way before he found his footing again (and eventually became very happy and we have a great relationship now). How your husband handles it is largely out of your hands, but be kind to him.

- Try to be consistent with discipline and routine throughout your custody hand-offs. It was a lot of unnecessary turbulence to go from a crazy-wild "anything goes" household to an iron-fisted authoritarian regime and back again. For years.

- If you go on to date other people, pay attention to how your children feel about them. My mother spent my teenage years with an abusive man (because she didn't think she could do any better, because she was gas-lit and undercut by him so often) and part of me still resents her for choosing him over us. I know this is unfair, but still.

- Counseling for everyone. Prioritize and treat any mental health issues that come up. Validate your children when they don't feel well emotionally.
posted by magdalemon at 10:07 AM on July 31 [3 favorites]


My parents split up when I was 13. I'm not sure when they formally divorced (I think 1-2 years later), but that's when my dad moved out. I didn't see it coming, at all, and it was really painful for me and my little sister. I felt adrift, uncertain, angry, and depressed for years.

What my parents did right:

My dad moved out of the house and made it clear he didn't want to be married to my mom any more. However, he continued to be our father. He had us half the time (something he demanded and which my mom was happy to agree to), actively parented, and showed us through a million small actions over the years that he wasn't leaving us. He turned down lucrative job offers to stay in our city and be our dad (he didn't brag about that and in fact only mentioned them in passing a couple years ago when it came up in another context).

My mom supported my dad's continued key role in our lives. She was bitter and angry about him as a husband and ex-husband, but knew he was a good father to us and insisted he continue to play that role. His continued role in our lives was the one thing they both always agreed on.

Neither parent ever tried to exlude the other from our lives as a way of hurting the other.

My parents made a point of living close to each other. I could always bike or take the bus from one house to the other. If I was living at my dad's house but really wanted to see my mom some afternoon, I could just go over there and see her.

After a few years went by, they were able to be in the same room without fighting.

What they did wrong:

While neither parent accused the other of being a bad parent, they did say nasty things about each other on a regular basis for years. Each knew they shouldn't, but I think they were too angry to help themselves. They fought over money and property and also both had years worth of emotional grievances.

My mom had some shitty boyfriends for years, and insisted that my sister and I treat them and their kids as family. It sucked living part-time with jackasses. I remember her insisting that we spend Christmas one year with a people we hated (for good reason, they treated us horribly.)

I had to move every week or two for five years, which was an odd way to live. I don't know what would have been better though. I'm glad my dad wasn't just a vacation or summer dad.

The money which had been supposedly saved for us to go to college all went away.

For a few years they couldn't be in the same room without fighting.

They were both so busy divorcing and then building new lives that became less focused on parenting for a couple years. Neither intended for this to happen, but I think they would have had to work hard for it not to be the case. The whole process takes lots of time and emotional energy.

You should also know that I do have good relationships with both my parents. I live near them, see them often, and love them dearly. The divorce was horrible and they made some real mistakes in how they handled it, but it didn't ruin my life, our relationships, or the love we have for each other. Oddly enough, my sister and I are particularly close to each other partly because we clung to each other emotionally during the worst times. I'm offering the above because you asked, but I have no idea whether or not you should get divorced.
posted by Area Man at 10:10 AM on July 31 [3 favorites]


My parents divorced when I was 11. It wasn't a big deal. One of the things about being a kid is that you have very little life experience... so you don't really know what's normal. Whatever happens... is just what happens. Kids are sometimes surprisingly resilient that way. At least that was my experience of it.

That said, there are long term patterns of thought associated with having your parents divorce. Not "ruin your life" kind of stuff, but you don't want your kids to wake up at age 40 and realize that they've been playing out the same less-than-optimal pattern of thought over and over when a little introspection would have set them on a better path earlier in life. A little research is in order---some reading, talking to a therapist, etc. Forewarned is forearmed.

My mother was very angry at my father. Being young, I absorbed a certain amount of that. I was with my father every weekend, and things were fine, we got along, but I was always a bit tense with him until I left for university and began to see the situation with my own eyes. By my mid-twenties, my father and I had an easy, relaxed relationship. So things got better, no permanent damage, but I wish it hadn't taken so long.

From your question, it seems that you're very focused on the things that can go wrong as a result of this ("I'm terrified... I'm worried..."). That's natural and understandable in this situation, but keep in mind that there are something that can go right, too. Taking concrete action toward your own future happiness will probably feel good.

Do what you need to do. I believe that kids learn much more from what we do and how we are than from what we tell them. Being excited about your own life rather than dragging yourself through it is important---your kids will learn from that. Not important to the exclusion of all else---I'm not endorsing radical selfishness---but don't discount your own happiness.
posted by ngc4486 at 10:10 AM on July 31 [2 favorites]


My parents split when I was a little older than your daughters. I really can't complain about how my mom (who was the one to instigate the divorce) handled anything -- she tried her best throughout to do what was best for us kids, never badmouthed our dad, and it was obvious that the divorce was her last resort after doing her best to improve the marriage through therapy, etc. My dad (who did not want the divorce) on the other hand acted nastily throughout and his bitterness has really hurt his relationship with my sibling and me. He is still not over it 15 years later. The divorce was the best option for my mom and for us kids but there was a lot of collateral damage, and nothing my mom could do (short of turning back time and not marrying my dad in the first place) would have avoided that.

This may indeed be the right decision for you, but you really can't control how your husband will react. I hope he really is as mature and decent as you say for your kids' sake (and your own), because that will be the deciding factor in how this divorce turns out. I think Dragonness' point about couples therapy is a good one, especially since it doesn't seem your husband is aware of how unhappy you are. But if he's determined to be in denial there's not much you can do except what's best for you.
posted by oinopaponton at 10:12 AM on July 31


I wonder about the financial impact. There is nothing in the questions about how the financial aspects of the proposed divorce are going to work out. How much does each parent make? How much will it cost to maintain two households? What is the financial outlook for each parent upon divorce?

Also, what is the future effect on paying for college? Is there a college or post-secondary education fund for the children? If so, what will be the effect of creating a second household on the fund?
posted by Ironmouth at 10:13 AM on July 31 [4 favorites]


My parents split when I was 6. The best, best, BEST thing my Mom ever did was she never said a bad word about my Dad. And believe me she could have said plenty. I see others talking badly about their exes in front of their kids and it breaks my heart. I'm not saying you shouldn't vent, just do it with a counsellor or a trusted friend in private.
posted by sadtomato at 10:15 AM on July 31 [3 favorites]


As a person who has gone through their parents' divorce, what advice can you give me?

That divorces are as unique as relationships. When you're a kid, sometimes it feels like adults have this sense that all the divorced kids in the class share some kind of bond and common experience. There's nothing common about it. All the circumstances are totally different.

You also, as a kid, get the sense that parents believe they can steer events more than is realistic. Your question mentions the possibility that your husband will end up depressed and your kids will blame you. This might happen. The point is, you can't control it. Parents are individuals and can't control each other while married let alone afterward, but as a kid sometimes it seems like they forget the kids are individuals, too. This might happen, that might happen. In a family there are a lot of moving parts.

Adults talking about divorce always reference spouses not badmouthing each other. Kids really do notice this. They notice it happening, and they notice when it doesn't. In my family growing up, divorce didn't involve animosity or cruelty. We joked about how we all had Christmas together with my dad's two ex-wives. I invited his first wife to my wedding, and that was my decision and not anybody else's, because she was part of our family. Teenage stumbles aside, I've been able to handle breakups amicably in my own life. Unusually so, compared to my peers. I'm proud of that. I had good examples.

It's a tricky thing. The family belongs to everyone in it, and your kids are old enough to have say; yet the big decisions still belong to the parents, and this one is justly unilateral. Many adults lack the depth to process this dynamic. Kids probably can't. Yet it happens to them, whether they understand it or not. I guess my point is, don't expect it can be clean or uncomplicated, your husband's resistance and your kids' surprise aside. Don't kick yourself for failing a goal that's unreliastic in any case.

My last advice would be that the best examples my parents set for me from their own lives were events where they made a decision and went with it. That was a positive influence, irrespective of what happened next. In other words, a divorce can turn into a gigantic flaming wreck and still, as a chain of events, effect positive influence on the kids. Trust yourself. That's an example to set.

As you are drafting your divorce agreement attorneys will bring up worst case scenarios that will push both you and your husband to the limits of your tolerance, and your mutual respect and trust will give way to anger and hurt.

This can happen. Speaking as an attorney, I would say two things. First, it's challenging when clients walk in with preexisting unrealistic ideas about how events will transpire. The attorney has to reset their meter to zero. It's an extra step that requires finessing. Not all attorneys are capable of it. It's time spent that we'd rather not spend, and it's time that you as client are probably paying for. In divorce contexts you meet a lot of clients who believe there can be rainbows where, no, there cannot.

Having said that. (None of this is legal advice.) Family law is incredibly squishy. Do you know why there are so many bad family attorneys? Because like personal injury law, family law is an area where attorneys can get away with being not very good. This is because it's such a squishy field. There are fewer hard-and-fast rules (which vary from state to state; seek licensed counsel in your jurisdiction) and more guidelines that can be worked to and fro.

What this means is that while it's challenging to have a client whose expectations are unrealistic, it is very reasonable and helpful for a realistic client to walk in and say, "Here's what I want. How do we do this?" Granted, this means more work, and a shitty lawyer who bases his business on using Microsoft Word templates will be put to the test. But your divorce is your own, and you can sculpt it. There will be limits: your husband's cooperation, legal requirements due to having children, state-specific peculiarities, etc. But divorce is not a one-size-fits-all legal form that you adopt. It's a process. Think about what you want yours to look like.

Good luck.
posted by cribcage at 10:21 AM on July 31 [5 favorites]


My parents are not divorced.

However, as a child, and especially as I got older, I knew my parents were (and still are) very unhappy, especially my mother. She became cold and distant, and at times was unable to be a good parent to me and my siblings. My mom sacrificing her own happiness to stay in a marriage and not break up our family resulted in her sacrificing her ability to be a parent at times.

I spent years hoping for my parents to divorce, so my mom could finally move on and create a life for herself where she could be happy.

My siblings and I grew up trying to figure out ways to make my mom happy and protect her from the shitty situation she was in--even when it meant hurting ourselves. One of my siblings is an adult and is still stuck trying to do this.
posted by inertia at 10:25 AM on July 31 [5 favorites]


Divorce is bad for kids, at least on average and if you believe research studies.

You don't have a violent or chaotic household. If you are worried about your daughters, I think you should consider staying with your husband until they're out of the house or nearly so.

My parents announced a divorce when I was about 12. I was shocked and cried a lot. I don't remember how my younger brother responded. A week or two later they recanted and announced they were staying together. I walked on eggshells for a little while and then forgot about it. Then when I was 19 they divorced for real. This was easy to deal with (relatively anyway). At 19 it did not turn my life upside down the way it would have at 12.

If you do go ahead and divorce now, there is no way to make it nice. It's going to be ugly. I think the best thing you can do is resolve to maintain a civil and respectful connection with your husband, even if he disgusts you or tries to drag you into emotional scenes, which seems likely. Don't fight with him (at all if possible) and don't run him down in front of your daughters.
posted by mattu at 10:52 AM on July 31 [2 favorites]


My parents divorced when I was 9 and basically didn't do anything right, as far as I'm concerned (though the split was for the best). Don't do what they did:

- Both parents would say negative things about the other to my sister and I, or in front of us. My dad complained about child support.

- They could never be in the same room and be civil with each other for the sake of the kids. This was mostly my dad's fault. You don't have to LIKE each other to treat each other with respect and not make your kids feel terribly awkward.

- My dad was really a "part-time parent" who didn't cultivate a great relationship with us and didn't know how to interact with two young girls.

- My mom brought guys home/introduced them to us too early. She also moved us in with her boyfriend, who was TERRIBLE, because she didn't want to/had trouble affording living on her own without a man. I think it is very, very important to take things slow when dating after marriage, don't introduce your kids to the new person until it's clear you're serious and in it for the long haul, don't go on dates when you have the kids if you're not full-time parenting, don't combine households until you've been together long enough that everybody is comfortable around everyone else and you're heading towards marriage. When you say, as you will, "I'll always put you kids first," really understand what that means and follow through.
posted by Safiya at 11:03 AM on July 31 [4 favorites]


In your situation I would not divorce. Rather I'd stop pretending to be happy and instead give the marriage a genuine, honest shot. This thing where you see the marriage as the barrier to you being genuine and happy is going to lead to you trying to find happiness in a different relationship.

Divorce is great if your marriage is miserable. It's not great if you blame your marriage because you're unhappy.

So my advice as someone who has been there is that you need to be honest and try harder.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:25 AM on July 31 [26 favorites]


When my SO's parents got divorced, it was devastating to the entire family because everybody thought that they were happy. It was a one-sided thing (one spouse was completely blindsided about the other's unhappiness). I think it would've been easier if the rest of the family could've somehow seen it coming. But it was sudden and painful and both emotionally and financially and life-logistically taxing. I feel that my SO has this quiet pain when dealing with his family now, knowing that there was some level of deception or outright dishonesty that had gone on for so long from one of his parents. His parents never talked badly of one another, but I know that they did talk to their kids (my SO and his brother) as a way to communicate indirectly, and that was incredibly stressful and unfair to them.

I don't think my SO has gotten over his parents' divorce yet, even though it has been years. He started to see the parent who initiated the divorce as being somehow undependable and selfish, and there is definitely a distance between them now, even though growing up, both his parents were very loving and attentive. My SO started seeing a therapist and I believe that his brother also was depressed for some time (or may still be)-- I think that was of limited helpfulness. The family (even all the in-laws) definitely "sides" with the spouse who was left behind, so in effect, the spouse who initiated the divorce has been cut off from the family. Not formally, perhaps, but the emotional distance makes it so.

My parents didn't divorce, but there were times when they fought all. the. time. It was stressful and I remember being afraid to talk to either of my parents out of fear of setting things off. I remember writing in my journals as a little kid that I wish they would just get divorced already (even though I don't think I actually meant it). But thinking about it now, I am glad that my parents fought so openly, because it meant that they still felt that they had things to fight about and negotiate, and if they were unhappy, they were willing to say something about it and not have it build up. In the end, they stuck it out, found some shared activities/projects, and they seem content. My grandparents were the same way-- unhappy in the beginning, and now care for each other very deeply. In a way, showing me that they would stay together even though they were unhappy or frequently fighting demonstrated to me how devoted my parents were to our family. It is this idea of putting the family's wellbeing before individual happiness and committing to a promise despite the challenges that has really stuck with me over the years.

It's good that you're concerned about your kids, but I think that divorce is really hard on kids no matter which way you slice it, especially when it's a one-sided ordeal. Research shows that divorce strongly negatively impacts health outcomes, school performance, and the like. I think divorce is even harder on female children-- I had a few friends who had divorced parents growing up and I could see how damaging it was to not have a father figure as teenagers.

Good luck.
posted by gemutlichkeit at 11:35 AM on July 31 [2 favorites]


My parents split up when I was 15, divorced six months later. It was awful in every way. Yes, I was relieved that the daily shouting matches were over, and that I didn't have to live with my controlling, demanding dad who I could never do anything to please. There was not a lot of softness in our family. There was a lot of fighting, yelling, lecturing, guilt-tripping, and emotional manipulation from both my parents towards me and between them as well. My parents were deeply co-dependent, and my father did NOT want my mother to leave him, though he had been unfaithful to her for 20 out of their 24 years together.

I was not surprised when my mother told me she wanted a divorce, but neither of them did very well with how they handled the situation. They would both bad-mouth the other, made me take nasty messages back and forth between them, and made me choose a parent to live with, the implication being that I didn't love the one I chose to not stay with.

It created a host of personal issues for me that now, almost 20 years later, I am still healing from. It took me a long time to forgive my parents, and to teach myself what a healthy relationship was, and how to behave in one. I was SO ANGRY at both my parents, for years, because of how they handled the divorce. I still rarely talk to my father, though our relationship has been improving.

If nothing else, know that your kids will model their future relationships on the two of you. Please give them a better example than my parents gave me. There are ways to handle this, even with him not being happy about this, that are healthy for your kids. I strongly encourage you to seek relationship counselling so both of you can reach agreements about how this will be presented to your children.
posted by ananci at 12:00 PM on July 31


I was a bit older when my parents split--high school--and it was at the end of a failing marriage (think arguments, coldness, petty bickering). What they could have done? Worked on it earlier. I applaud you for addressing this now, before it turns into something worse. If they had done counseling earlier or simply divorced earlier, I think we (I have two siblings; I'm the middle child) would all have been better off.

I'm sure you've heard and will hear this, but NEVER EVER bad mouth the other parent to your kids.

My younger sibling (middle school age) had a really tough time with the divorce. Therapy helped. Definitely look into having your kids have a session or two just to make sure things are clicking right.


As for your husband, well, my dad was against the divorce; my mom initiated it. Bad feelings all around. But my father started dating pretty soon afterwards and was actually happier. He used to be a pretty angry guy, but between whatever counseling he went to (and at least some was court-mandated family counseling) and what happened afterwards, he totally mellowed. Way nicer guy now. He's also now remarried.
posted by carrioncomfort at 12:00 PM on July 31


My dad left my mom and me when I was 10. He came back once or twice and then they divorced when I was 12 or so. My mom had total custody and was great; my dad was not.

I did not want to raise my daughter as the child of divorce. And yet, my marriage was so dead that I separated from my husband when she was 12. I wanted to leave when she was 10 but forced myself to stay for two more painful years.

The kidlet is now 19 and we remember that period very differently. She believes that I abandoned her. Literally.

Because I got a new job to support the family (my husband was unemployed and depressed for years before I left), I saw her Friday afternoons to Monday mornings at the family apartment. In terms of total hours, I spent more time with her than her dad.

But because he saw her Mondays after school until Friday mornings, it felt to her like he was always there and I never was. Meanwhile, I nearly had a breakdown from the stress of working full time in a new job and then caring for her all weekend (her bipolar disorder was undiagnosed at the time).

So I don't have any advice for you. I can only share my own experience. My dad was an alcoholic and eventually my husband became an alcoholic. A high-functioning one (yay) but one nevertheless. And he was no longer interested in me sexually.

My kid was already damaged. My departure damaged her further and there was nothing I could do about that. Leaving was life-saving and necessary at the time. I was having frequent, disabling panic attacks and felt like I was going to die if I did not get out of my marriage.

Leaving was the hardest thing I have ever done but also the right thing for me. Even though it made life harder for my kid. Today my life is 1000 times better. My husband (we are still married) is also happier. Because of my daughter's illness, I simply don't know if her life would have been better if I had stayed with her dad given that my misery was so palpable.

After 7 years, I still miss living with my husband. (He's a good guy and, luckily, we have stayed friends and see each other perhaps twice a year.) But I don't miss the many years of misery from fights about money, parenting, sex (lack of), and his drinking (too much).

If your only problem is sex, perhaps you have a choice. Perhaps you could open up your marriage and see other men until you find a lover who gives you what you need.

That may be too weird for you. That may be impossible for your husband to accept. But if a lack of desire for your husband is the primary issue, finding a suitable lover might be a way to stay in your marriage comfortably and happily until your children are older. Or forever.

Please note: I am not advocating cheating. I'm suggesting you consider telling your husband that you have emotional and sexual needs that he can't meet, even though you love him, and that you want his permission to find an outlet for those outside your marriage so you can continue to live with him.

Just a thought. Good luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 12:01 PM on July 31 [1 favorite]


This is ancillary to the question, but I piped in on your previous one, and in this one I saw "He is 43 years old and feels it's too late for him to start over."

I'm not sure what "start over" means to him, but: I'm 46, male, married. In a nominally "open" relationship, because we talked about that when we met, but neither of us has used that clause in 15 years. In the past month I have apologized to a young lady that I didn't get naked with her the previous night because I "got a better offer" (which happened to be going to sleep fairly early with my partner, but...), had at least two conversations with people in which there was visible deflation when it came out that I was in a long-term monogamous relationship, and have generally been getting a hell of a lot of positive potentially romantic (if not just potentially erotic) attention.

Middle aged guys are apparently the hotness. I had no idea. If he makes an effort, dude will have no problem finding new romantic partners.
posted by straw at 12:06 PM on July 31 [2 favorites]


My parents divorced when I was about 10. I had no clue until they sat me down to have a talk. In retrospect there were very obvious clues, but I missed them completely at the time. For various reasons, some directly and some indirectly related, their divorce is probably the best thing that could possibly have happened to me at that point in my life. It's upsetting and scary at first, but it certainly does not have to ruin the lives of everyone involved and end in misery forever. So many good things in my life happened because of it- moving to a new social situation, getting to have my step parents and step siblings and their extended families in my life, and most important, having parents who weren't unhappy all the time.

They did pretty much everything right:
- Never said anything bad about each other in front of me. I still have only the vaguest ideas about the specifics of why they divorced. There was no complaining from either of them. When I complained to my mom about my dad (our relationship was pretty strained), she sympathized with me but always reminded me that he loved me and he wanted to take care of me and help me be happy.
- Never fought in front of me. Not once.
- Never used me as a go-between. I think once Dad asked me to carry a child-support check between him and Mom instead of mailing it? It wasn't a big deal, just a "Hey, can you give this to your mom? Thanks."
- While I think they both dated occasionally, they never introduced me to anyone until it was serious. In fact, they only ended up introducing me to one person each- these people turned out to be my future step parents.
posted by Adridne at 12:35 PM on July 31 [2 favorites]


I apologize for scrolling straight to the bottom of this thread.

My parent's divorce was very tough on me and my siblings, mostly because my mother (who was essentially the one dumped) was so angry about it.

I recommend that you be very careful to NEVER talk to your kids about your feelings about this or discuss your husband with them. And do not criticize them in any way for their reactions. (My mother's observation to me when she announced to me that she was moving 3000 miles away and taking my younger siblings with her that "you certainly don't adopt well to change." stung and hurt for years and years.) You certainly can and should listen to them, but when they ask you questions like "why?" you need to be ready to tell them that's something between you and your husband, not something you can talk to them about. When/if they talk to you about your husband's feelings and behavior, listen closely and respond to their feelings but do not discuss your husband with them. And make sure you insulate your kids completely from any discussion you have with other adults about your husband or the end of your marriage.

Also, there is nothing much you can do about your husband's feelings about this except to be as kind and nice as possible and keep telling him that you care about him and respect him but that this relationship just has never worked for you romantically. You are going to need to sincerely apologize to him for concealing this fact from him so long. And remember that going forward, he will always be the father of your children, so you need to (at best) be friendly toward him and (at worst) be businesslike with him.

Also, IANYL, but you need to get a lawyer to get a dissolution underway, get financial arrangements in place including moving toward distribution of assets and debt, get a child support order in place, and get a parenting plan worked out.
posted by bearwife at 1:00 PM on July 31 [2 favorites]


Very interesting and thoughtful thread - interesting to read about what inspite of being quite common seems to rarely get discussed, not in my life anyway. A lot of what I would have shared has been covered, I might add the following.

When I briefly dated a divorced parent I asked my stepmum when she met me and said I didn't recall it and that that must surely be a good sign as it wasn't traumatic.. (unless I'd repressed it I guess, but that didn't fit).

My dad who was then very sensitive, aware and truly dedicated to his kids did not introduce us for a year of them dating (good move) and when he got her around he had other friends over too. She said "he was very clever".

Throughout my childhood he would tell me "I love you more than anyone in the whole world".. I knew he meant it too.. and felt it every day.

My mum was a different story... crappy boyfriends (?) .. for sure an utter lack of sensitivity on her part. I hated it and them and used to wee in their shoes at 5! They took precedence, it sucked BIG and has had a big bearing on my own unsatisfactory relationships I feel. Also I became a surrogate parent to my half sibling and had way too much household responsibility. I know this is a lot about her but I wonder if she also didn't realise what being a single parent realistically looked like.

Nthg give the kids some say in how they split their time.. this little crumb of control could be a bit of a life raft for them. Expend tough times ahead and a process to work through.

If you have lived a life of denial and sorrow... hub's going to be shocked and hurt, I'm not sure what could soothe that sting.
posted by tanktop at 1:15 PM on July 31


Oh.. and I as I got older I got a burning desire to know WHY? And felt it was a failing in me as they were "happy before I came along" by my teens I rooted through letters and probably got it all jumbled up. Be ready to respond/reflect on hard questions.

Erica Jong has written "Mollys book of divorce" don't know if good or age appropriate??
posted by tanktop at 1:19 PM on July 31


My parents didn't split up until I was in college. They didn't plan it that way, things just got bad enough after I left home (I'm the youngest) that my mom finally felt she had no other choice. She has mentioned, though, that she had thought about divorcing my dad years earlier, but didn't, partly because she didn't want to do any emotional harm to me or my brother.

In hindsight, I really, really wish she had left him sooner. Kids can tell when a relationship is unhappy, even if they aren't able to pinpoint what's wrong, and that alone causes a lot of anxiety. (Plus, it absolutely gutted me that the foundation of "home" that I had left to go to college was gone by the time my first holiday break rolled around. My father, unlike your husband, is an abusive ass, but it was still deeply unsettling and upsetting to have that upheaval happen while I was away, and dealing with the normal stress of starting college, and couldn't do anything but worry and fret.)

In short, I guess, if you're thinking it'll be better to stay together until your kids are grown and out of the house... it isn't, not really.
posted by sarcasticah at 3:05 PM on July 31 [1 favorite]


My parents did a pretty shitty job, though both would deny it. It was partly personality, partly circumstance and partly sheer selfishness. Note the effects are the same whatever the cause. I was thirteen. Things they did that suckled in no particular order :

1) badmouth the other parent and use us as go betweens.
2) move far far away meaning we couldn't see them as much, or they made us move away from home town, school etc
3) throwing previous family traditions and ways of doing things to the wind, and then often pretending we had always done things the weird new way or that the old way was stupid and valueless, which is very upsetting for a young kid to hear about Christmas for example if it's something they really like. This was often done because it was the way new boyfriend girlfriend does it, which made it transparently clear that
4) new boyfriend girlfriend was more important than us. Making vast and sweeping changes to lifestyles for new boyfriend and girlfriend, making few for us.
5) Implying that new boyfriend girlfriend could fulfill some kind of parent role that was already filled by other parent. Forcing a false intimacy between us and girlfriend boyfriend to create this creepy grim charade of the former family.
6) "making up for lost time" mentality that was obvious, looked immature, and frankly felt like a disavowed of previous life including us, as boring and unpleasant and a burden.
7) pursuing this new life at the expense of actual parenting and completely taking eyes of the ball and ignoring or not noticing problems in us that were becoming quite serious and have actually negatively shaped the entire life of one of my siblings, and exposed me to much suffering that was unnecessary and cruel.
8) being rude and petulant with each other at public events.

That's a good start. I love/loved my parents today, but goddamn did they fuck up the divorce on multiple levels. Put your kids first, really. Mean it. Live it. It won't be easy.
posted by smoke at 4:28 PM on July 31 [1 favorite]


I hate to be that person. I really do. I want to tell you, "go for it, get divorced, go be happy, it's horrible to be with someone you don't love, you'll all recover."

But I can't. The truth is that my parents' divorce when I was 12 scarred me deeply, probably for life. I get a horrible, fearful, painful, sinking feeling even thinking back to those years; I would rather block them out in my memory and pretend only my childhood exists, and my adulthood. Everything in between was a horrible state of constant unease, flux, depression, suicidal moments, and fear.

-My dad got super depressed and weird and sad and cried in front of me often.
-I hated his bachelor pad condo.
-both my parents relied on me for emotional support when I had barely enough strength for myself.
-I started having panic attacks.
-moving back and forth really, really, really sucked
- 12 and 13 is the absolute worst time for a kid. 7 is young enough to recover. 16 is old enough to be almost out and gone. 13? That is exactly the moment in life when scary puberty and changes changes are happening (esp for girls) and when kids need parents most. When I needed parents most, I had none.
-I had to be nice to my parents' dates. This was super awkward.
-they bad talked each other. Still do.
-they used me as a go between
-my grades slipped
-I had to see a shrink, which I hated at firsts but eventually really needed
-my friends didn't understand me
-non divorced adults didn't understand me
-both parents took a big financial/lifestyle hit
-the divorce came as a shock because my mother, like you, covered up all unhappiness for years. I was totally blindsided.
-my parents basically both checked out and didn't parent me. I was home alone a lot. I cooked for myself. I started taking the bus. I vividly remember my mom calling me when I was home alone (12 years old) and telling me to clean the house for the realtor so we could sell my beloved childhood home.
-everything was about my moms needs. Hearing "Your mom is stressed, be good for her" - made me want to throw up eventually when I was suicidal
- my first boyfriends parents also divorced. Four thanksgivings. We made the rounds each year. Exhausting making everyone happy, soothing each parent that I liked them
-I checked out emotionally with both parents early when I realized neither was reliable. I still love them. But I will never, ever, ever fully trust them, or probably anyone, again. I truly believe this had made me a much harder and more bitter person than on average.
-I had no siblings to sympathize with me.
-other relatives picked sides.


Sorry the truth is ugly. On the bright side, 15 years later we all more or less have okay lives now. My dad is a lot happier. I don't talk to my mom or sister much anymore.
posted by quincunx at 5:11 PM on July 31 [12 favorites]


...my kids will be shocked and confused. They've never really seen us fight. They think we are happy...but I am not.

If your kids are anything like my sister and I at that age, you may be the shocked one. My mother thought she did a great job of hiding how horrible her marriage was, but we weren't blind or stupid.

Other than that, our experience probably won't be much help because Dad was a scary piece of work and we were just glad he left, even though we went through tough times. Anything was better than before, and I still consider their marriage a cautionary tale.

Dad and his entire family went completely no-contact, so there isn't much to say about how they handled it. It was gut-wrenching to see Mom go through what she did; first her self-esteem was shattered, and then she went through a party phase. But it sounds like that may not be your situation.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:02 PM on July 31 [1 favorite]


Something else I forgot to add: transparent jealously and pettiness regarding amount of time spent with other parents. I spent Christmas when I was eighteen in a train for three and a half hours because both parents insisted I spend it with them. What. A. Load. Of. Shit.
posted by smoke at 6:39 PM on July 31 [6 favorites]


My parents forgot to tell me that my dad was moving out. That was an awesome feeling, hearing someone casually mention it and not having anyone sit me down and explain to me what it meant. Years later, I learned what happened was my mom was pissed (my dad had been cheating on my mom) and told my dad it was his job to talk to us about his decision to move out. My dad, at least it's been speculated, kept putting off telling me because it was the hardest of the conversations to have. (I was youngest.) I was left confused and couldn't understand why our family was breaking up and becoming, in my words, "dysfunctional." My mom messed up a bit in the way she handled things, but I understand she was hurt, distraught and blindsided by the situation. My dad made a choice though and he handled it very poorly. My relationship with my dad has been broken essentially since that day I overheard someone say he was moving out.

My advice is for you as parents to present a unified front, explain what is happening, make sure the kids know it has nothing to do with them, and work together as a team. Since you are the one dumping your husband, you are going to need to make the effort because he may be pissed at you. Do not use your kids to get back at anyone. Do not keep them in the dark about what's happening. And do not push your kids to "get over it."

Part of the issue with my dad is that he wanted us to quickly accept that he had moved out and was in a new relationship, quicker than the kids wanted to. He wanted us to meet his new wife and spend time with her and he was often unwilling to hang out with just the kids. I think he was caught in between, he didn't want his new wife feeling like she was a separate piece of his life. It doesn't sound like this is so much an issue with you, but I would say you should be willing to give the kids time to adjust and go through things the way your kids want. When we tried to call him up and ask him to go out with us or stop by when our mom was out, he'd say he couldn't because he had plans to have dinner with his new wife or some other reason. He really should've just dropped what he was doing and saw us, because otherwise we barely saw him. Our relationship didn't feel normal or casual or comfortable. Basically, the divorce forced our relationship with him to change, so you should really try to keep yours the same so you don't lose them.

I haven't spoken to my father in more than a decade, by the way. All stems back.
posted by AppleTurnover at 6:52 PM on July 31 [1 favorite]


My mother was the unsuspecting spouse who was utterly debastated by the divorce and spent at least a couple year period totally reeling from it. I honestly don't think she ever fully recovered. It affected me deeply. I, like my mother, had no idea that my father was unhappy in the marriage. My mother was a wreck. We were not doing well financially because of the split. She moved us to another state to try and to start over. She would sometimes break down sobbing and hysterical that she was still in love with him. She sold their bed so she wouldn't have to sleep in it, but then didn't buy another and slept on the floor in her room for years. It was all kinds of messed up.

Looking back it's pretty clear my mother was in a deep depression and it's pretty impressive that during that time she also went back to school so that she could restart her career after years of being a stay at home mom.

I'm not sharing this to try and pressure you into staying, but I'm not trying to sugar coat it either. At the end of the day about half of my childhood was pretty awful even though my parents had a very (almost ridiculously) amicable divorce with virtually no fighting or badmouthing. But my mother's mental state and my father leaving was extremely hard on me. You really can't understate how much a parent's mental state can affect their child especially when they no longer have someone else there to pick up the slack and keep up appearances.

That all being said. I'm pretty much fine. I dealt with pretty serious depression for most of my teens and 20s. A lot of that was triggered by my parents' divorce, but most of my family has struggled with depression so that may have happened anyway. I certainly have trust and abandonment issues, but all in all I've done pretty well for myself and have been able to make my peace with it all.

I would consider staying until they are at least teenagers. I think would have been far more equipped emotionally to deal with my mother's breakdown at the age of 13 or 14 than I was at 8-10.

The one thing you have to remember once you get divorced is you will no longer exert significant influence over your husband. As long as he isn't abusive (and that doesn't sound like that would be an issue here) he will dictate 50% of yours kids' life and you will have minimal input as to what that looks like. You being strong and handling the situation with grace is only going to be one half of the picture. He may be unwilling or incapable of doing the same.
posted by whoaali at 7:07 PM on July 31 [1 favorite]


My daughter is now 19, and her father and I split up when she was 6 and her brother 4. This is what my daughter has to say (dictated).

"I was only six, so I don't remember much about it. I remember my parents telling us about it. I don't remember feeling any strong emotions. I remember my mother assuring us that they didn't love us any less. It was exciting knowing that we'd now have two houses, and it was exciting going to Dad's new house. I told a friend who was shocked and upset, but I still didn't feel it was a big deal. I think my parents being civil was important and really helped--no fighting and screaming. That helped with the transition and change. I never had fantasies about my parents getting back together, but I did have fantasies about my parents marrying the parents of friends so we would be step-siblings, but that never happened."

From my point of view, here's how my daughter reacted when we told her: I asked how she felt, and she said, "it's kind of exciting! Can I tell everybody (meaning all her friends)?" And that was it. Still waiting for the other shoe to drop...

From my own experience as the children of parents divorcing (when I was 18), it couldn't happen soon enough. They hated each other, and my father was a cruel, abusive asshole, so we were thrilled when my mother finally got it together enough to make the break. No fallout whatsoever.
posted by primate moon at 7:50 PM on July 31


Sorry, just thought I would add a few points that I think were crucial to making this all work as well as it could for the kids:

- Never badmouthed other parent to children and NEVER made child feel disloyal for loving other parent or wanting to spend more time with him.
- Assured kids that other, non-custodial parent was their parent just as much as I was.
- Lots of communication between parents about what was going on with kids, school, all the details of kid life.
- Stayed very flexible about custody arrangements; switching nights or weekends if necessary, but not abusing it or taking advantage of other parent.
- Encouraged kids communicating with one parent when with the other (phone calls, etc.)
- Encouraging the set-up of non-custodial parent's home to be as home-like and comfy as possible.
- We managed to have apartments in the same town and very close to each other so there wasn't too much commuting or transition time, and if things got left behind it was no big deal to get them to kid during weekend or time with other parent.
posted by primate moon at 8:00 PM on July 31


It's actually been kind of therapeutic to read all the different varied responses. I'm a member of the child of divorce club. My dad left when I was 15 (three older siblings, all of which were in college/out of the house at this point) and it was very tough.

The biggest problem with my circumstance is that no one really wanted me. I was always much closer to my dad growing up (although the two years up to the divorce were hell living with him) but he didn't fight for me. He didn't want me. I had to stay with my mother who spent the first few months alternating between sobbing at the kitchen table and yelling at me. After that she left, I think. I'm not sure how accurate my memory is but the way I play it back is that she took off to go live with her mother out of state and left me with a credit card and the house I grew up in that once belonged to a whole family.

It was better once she left, I got to be on my own without the financial burden and I saw my father once a week. I think the most damaging thing was that no one wanted me, if given the opportunity I would have loved to go live with my father but it was never an option. I felt (and to an extent 10 years later still feel like) I was a relic from a life they were both trying to forget, it was terribly lonely. Your daughters will be lucky to have each other in all this.

I'll second what others have said about making sure your kids have choices about where they live and for how long. Also, making if clear there is no chance you're getting back together. Divorce is really awful on kids and they're going to resent you but you don't deserve to be unhappy, as an adult I understand completely that my parents had to do what was best for them at the time. I think everyone managed the best they could.
posted by neurotic narwhal at 9:51 PM on July 31 [2 favorites]


My parents divorced, and the process started when I was four and lasted until I was five. There was nothing done well, and I still have issues about it, including a deathly fear of divorce. Now that I'm married, if we ever did get divorced, I certainly would never marry again.

In terms of things done badly:

They constantly talked badly about each other, and even now that my father is dead, my mother still bad mouths him.

Visitation rights were decided with Friend of the Court, and the person working the case directly asked me which parent I wanted to live with, and how often I wanted to see the other one. This was after I don't even remember how long of sitting in that room, listening to them fight with each other, throwing out all kinds of hellish information I was too young to deal with.

Prior to that meeting, my mother actively worked to make me not want to see my father. It was a pretty horrid thing to do, but given the chance he would have done the same.

Post divorce, my father had visitation rights every other weekend. It was years before he had a house of his own, and instead lived with various girlfriends. The girlfriends were always given priority over my sister and I, to the extent that, one weekend when my sister broke her collarbone playing softball, they didn't take her to the emergency room because they had dinner plans and thought my sister was faking it so she could go home to our mother earlier.

If I had a good time with my father, my mother would react with guilt trips, telling me how unfair it was that he only had to deal with kids twice a month, making me feel as awful as possible for smiling when he dropped me off.

The thing is, it was a horrible marriage, there was physical abuse, and they never should have been married in the first place. To me, just by asking this question, you're more likely to do your level best to make it as easy as possible for your children, which is admirable, and I honestly thank you for that. I wish my parents had been remotely as concerned.

The thing is, pain and resentment are inevitable, in a way. You being married to your husband is the very definition. Of status quo to your children. They've literally not ever known any other life than where their parents are married. Divorce is going to change that, and people don't react well to the world changing suddenly. It's going to be very hard for them. Then again, they aren't you, and you have your life to live, and it's too short to be unhappy, as harsh as that might seem.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:09 AM on August 1


My parents divorced when I was five, and I am currently with a divorced man who has a child, so I am seeing it from the other side :)

I guess my number one tip would be that unfortunately for you, you have to suck it up sometimes. That doesn't mean staying married to someone you don't love. But it does mean a little mental reframing to truly put your kids first. I'll give you an example, I have heard tons of women complain about visits with the dad as 'I am so sad, I don't get to spend Christmas with my kids this year.' I, I, I, see what I mean? It is not about you and who YOU get to spend Christmas with or not, It is about YOUR KIDS get to spend Christmas with THEIR DAD and that will be a good experience for them and THEY will be happy. If you have any Poor Me thoughts in a situation like that, you can't say them to the kids!

It also means sometimes choosing 'being the bigger person' over 'being right.' Let me give you an example, my guy's ex has this thing about him having the proper stuff. We have to have our own toothbrush for Kid, our own bottle of vitamins, etc. So one time, when he was a baby and we had driven five hours in the snow to see Kid, we got into a car accident on the way over to get him for a visit. We hastily arranged a rental car, made it to the visit with only an hour lost, and asked her of we could borrow her car seat while we had him, since ours had been in the accident. No we could not! WE are supposed to have a car seat! Noooooo! And so we did not have a car seat, could not take him anywhere during the visit which required a car, and sent most of the weekend holed up in our hotel room with him. She could have given us hers, given the circumstance. And she didn't even need to be using it because we had the kid. But the 'principle' was more important to her than what kind of weekend her kid had...

I've seen this kind of thing all the time as a teacher. We have a family at school where the mom had it in the court order that the dad's access started at 3:30 in the afternoon, because that is when school ended. One time, there was a half-day of school on the dad's access day and they had not made an accommodation for that when they got the court order. So the mom came to get him, had him until 3:30 and then the dad picked him up from her, I'm guessing. But it was just so, so petty! If it's his day, it's his day, and if you think the kid didn't notice the fight, you are wrong...

The court system is set up in a very adversarial way, and sometimes, that turns people into enemies they don't need to be. My guy's ex has calmed down and become much more reasonable now that all the court stuff is done. I guess what all of my advice to you boils down to is IF you have the opportunity to be amicable, that is always the path you should choose, even if it stings a little to you. Be the person who loans the metaphorical car seat. Be the person who lets him pick up on the early dismissal day. be the person who is happy for your kids when they have a nice time with him. Your end goal here is not to get every dime you can from him and keep your kids with you for every second possible. Your end goal here is to be able to look them in the eye someday when they are grown and they ask you, and to honestly be able to answer 'yes' when they ask you if you did this right.
posted by JoannaC at 5:43 AM on August 1 [2 favorites]


The biggest problem with my circumstance is that no one really wanted me. I was always much closer to my dad growing up (although the two years up to the divorce were hell living with him) but he didn't fight for me. He didn't want me. I had to stay with my mother who spent the first few months alternating between sobbing at the kitchen table and yelling at me. After that she left, I think. I'm not sure how accurate my memory is but the way I play it back is that she took off to go live with her mother out of state and left me with a credit card and the house I grew up in that once belonged to a whole family.

It was better once she left, I got to be on my own without the financial burden


Yeah, that's a good description of my experience, too, excepting the pre-divorce closeness with my father. He had been making it clear he didn't want me for as long as I could remember, so there wasn't that sense of sudden loss with him.

But the weird position of being pretty much on your own at an age where all your classmates are still getting lots of support (practical, emotional, all kinds) from either one or both parents rings incredibly true, and is something I'm still feeling the effects of. My sister and I were lucky that we were close and had each other to lean on, but any two adolescents are going to have a tough time giving each other what they both should be receiving from parents. (We were the envy of many of our peers for the lack of parental supervision, but we were too busy surviving to enjoy it in the Risky Business way they imagined they would.)

I guess if there are things I wish Mom had been able to do differently in hindsight, they might be:
  • Leave him instead of being left, and do it years earlier. Seeing her mistreated for so long, watching her tie herself in knots trying to placate and hang on to him, and listening to her defend him even after he took off was one of the most traumatic periods of my life. It also was hard on us that they seemed to think we couldn't tell what was going on.
  • Be more aggressive during the divorce process itself and its aftermath. Although there were many very real and practical factors preventing her from being able access resources that might have helped in that area (including her own PTSD), in retrospect she really got screwed by the courts and the entire legal/social service system. Maybe if she'd had more of a support network around her it would have been different, but Dad moved us away from all her family and friends two years before leaving.
  • Get into therapy sooner, and with someone who has expertise with people in her situation.
  • More calm talking with us about what was going on with her. For a long time, we only ever heard her when she was incredibly depressed; the rest of the time she spent with new friends. Any request to spend more time together when she was feeling good was met with a (completely understandable as n adult in hindsight, but hurtful as a kid) reaction along the lines of, "I spent so many years being the good little homemaker, now it's MY life." Not OUR life together as a new, smaller family.
Of course I'm completely biased, but I think a good divorce is better for kids than a bad marriage any day.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:14 AM on August 1 [2 favorites]


Since you referred to it, look again at the comment made in the previous question, and think hard.
posted by lalochezia at 10:00 AM on August 1 [1 favorite]


My DH's parents divorced when he was 19 years old and had gone away to college - his mother had been unhappy for years and his parents fought in front of their kids constantly, for all of his childhood that he can remember - but no, she "waited" until my DH left home to finally leave her husband because: the kids. That was a really messed up choice. And his father was, of course, in total denial because he is socially clueless like that. Anyway.

Current research says one of the worst thing parents can do to their kids is to fight in front of them but not make up in front of them. The making up in front of them piece is critical. My DH is most scarred by the fighting his parents did in front of him. Not their divorce. Their eventual divorce finally put an end to what was messing up my DH most. I repeat: they never made up. He never got to see how conflicts can be resolved. The fighting went on for years. "Staying together for the kids" my ass.

They both have mental health issues though, so their particulars are probably irrelevant to you - suffice to say they did everything "wrong," right down to badmouthing the other parent, having poor boundaries around new partners, etc. In hindsight, she should not have waited. She should have divorced him immediately.

FWIW, you sound like a good mother, I'm sure your kids will do fine. Please get everyone into therapy, most of all yourself. You must find out what it will take for you not to repeat your pattern of entering into relationships against your own true, free will. Because if you don't, you'll just keep repeating your pattern in any of your future relationships. Good luck!
posted by hush at 8:38 AM on August 4


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