Advice needed on an amicable separation.
March 2, 2010 8:16 AM   Subscribe

Advice needed on an amicable separation.


My wife and I have been married for 3 years.
My wife wants children.
My wife is a strong christian.
I used to be a strong christian.
Within the last year, I have become an atheist.
As I am an atheist, I feel as if having children with a christian would be incredibly difficult. As such, I do not wish to have children.

Current situation:

Understandably, my wife has been struggling with the fact that my religious beliefs have changed. This is something that has shaken her to her core. Because of this, she recently informed me that she can not continue our marriage as the pain is too much for her. Having children is quite possibly her most important goal in life. As much as I would like to save our marriage by having children (this would, in fact, save the marriage), I don't feel like having children would be a good solution to our problems. As we now have vastly different views on religion, I believe that having children would only cause new problems and new pain for both of us. I understand that there are couples who have successfully had children while holding to different religions. Unfortunately, I do not think that we would be successful. Not least of all because I would want to keep our children out of church while she would insist on the opposite.

This being said, she still loves me strongly and I still love her. Our relationship has just come to the point that we must choose between two painful options. Remain in a marriage where both of us will be very unhappy, or attempt an amicable separation. Neither of us wants to separate, but we are both coming to understand that we will be extremely unhappy if we remain married.

I believe that the least painful, and therefore the best option is a separation/dissolution. Of course if we do separate I hope for the best and most amicable end to our marriage, but I have no idea how to go about it. I am out of work right now and if we separated today, I would be unable to support myself for very long. As such, I want to take the process slowly enough that I can find new work so I can support myself once we separate (I wholeheartedly revile legally mandated spousal support). Unfortunately, I'm afraid that if we draw this out too long, I will just end up hurting her more than necessary.

I would like advice from anyone who has successfully achieved an amicable separation. I don't know the best way to do this so as to minimize her pain. I obviously need to take care of my own needs, but I do not want to be cruel. Any advice will be appreciated.

throwaway email:
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (17 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
There's a lot to digest here, but one particular comment jumped out at me:

this would, in fact, save the marriage

No, it wouldn't. It might prolong the inevitable, but having children would NOT save the marriage. It would also vastly complicate the dissolution of the marriage when it happens.
posted by deadmessenger at 8:22 AM on March 2, 2010 [7 favorites]

Whatever happens, it seems like you really have your head in the right place and both of your best interests in mind. I think it's good that you're ending things now when there is a chance for an amicable split instead of waiting for resentment and anger years down the road.
posted by threeants at 8:33 AM on March 2, 2010

I'm not 100% sure what question's being asked, but all the children/religion/love business aside, it seems from your penultimate paragraph that (a) you're fairly sure you ultimately want out of this marriage, but (b) you feel you need to stick around for at least a little while because you're out of work and need the financial support right now.

To be honest, stringing out the partnership so you can continue to take advantage of your wife's income seems kind of soulless and cowardly, especially if your current career situation isn't somehow the fault of your marriage or your wife (as it would be if you moved to be near her, for instance, or gave up your job to raise kids). Plenty of people are single and unemployed out there right now; if you weren't married, you'd have to just find ways to make this current crisis work, even if it meant crashing on friends' couches or taking odd jobs for a while. If you want to break up, then I'd say, just break up and spare her the pain and uncertainty of another few months of limbo.
posted by Bardolph at 8:35 AM on March 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm sorry to hear about your situation.

My ex-wife and I had a relatively amicable split up and were able to handle the whole thing through divorce mediators. Basically they can walk you through the divorce process without the need to lawyer up and go to court.

We each had our own mediator, but I know people who did it with a single mediator.

I would definitely recommend that you get one. As much as you and your wife love each other, tensions run high when marriages end. One or more neutral third parties can save you both a lot of anger and heartache.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:42 AM on March 2, 2010

I've done it. Divorce laws will vary somewhat state by state. I'm in Texas.

What we did was this: we worked with a mediator. A mediator is a lawyer who represents neither party, and drafts the divorce decree to reflect the intentions of the two parties with respect to division or property, that sort of thing. I think we had a one-hour initial get-acquainted with her, and then a couples weeks later spent another 2-3 hours actually hammering out the terms, which were pretty straightforward in our case. She then prepared a draft of the decree, and gave us each a copy, and demanded that each of us consult with separate lawyers to look over the decree and make sure that it reflected our respective interests (I suspect this was more of a CYA move on her part, not anything legally required)--in my case, it took a little calling around to find a lawyer who would provide this service, but once I did, I just sent the document ahead, and had an extremely brief meeting with him where he asked me about a couple points and then signed off on it.

Then my then-wife went to the courthouse to actually file the petition for divorce and pay a processing fee. I wasn't along for that ride, so I can't say exactly how that part went. 90 days later, the petition was granted and we were divorced.

In bureaucratic/administrative terms, the process was pretty painless and I think cost roughly $500 all in.

Obviously you'll need to work out a mutually agreeable division of assets, and it's best if you can do this when the mediator isn't on the clock while you work it out. If you've got a house, either you'll need to sell it, the one who stays will need to buy out the other's interest (meaning have it retitled and remortgaged), or that person will continue to hold an interest in the house, which would be awkward to say the least. Same with any other large, indivisible asset like a car.
posted by adamrice at 8:51 AM on March 2, 2010

This needs to be worked out with a marriage counselor. You don't have to committ to continue the marriage to go to one. You can work out what it is you want through the counselor, which includes separating. Indeed, you need one more when you are separating/divorcing.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:27 AM on March 2, 2010

IANALC (I am not a licensed counselor.)
Something came to mind while reading your post. Think about this:
1) you were a "strong" Christian three years ago
2) You say you love your wife but you want a divorce because of religious reasons
3) You are currently unemployed
It seems like you are currently in a crisis. You are changing everything that had real meaning for you previously. A good counselor could maybe find out what is the underlying cause of your problem. Honestly, I doubt that it is religion, unemployment or your wife. You need to do this ASAP before you break up your marriage, come out of your funk and realize you may have ruined your life. Personally, I would recommend an open-minded Christian counselor or a secular counselor who is sympathetic to Christianity.
posted by srbrunson at 9:29 AM on March 2, 2010 [6 favorites]

To be honest, stringing out the partnership so you can continue to take advantage of your wife's income seems kind of soulless and cowardly, especially if your current career situation isn't somehow the fault of your marriage or your wife (as it would be if you moved to be near her, for instance, or gave up your job to raise kids).

Why? Women are told to stick it out for these reasons all the time--it's never seen as soulless or cowardly. I agree with srbunson--to figure out what the crisis is before you make a big move.
posted by liketitanic at 9:33 AM on March 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm another who agrees with srbunson. It sounds as though your life is swinging from one extreme to another, and now is not the time to make any more major life changes. And anyway, if, as you say, you love her, and she loves you, and this is a problem that has arisen only in the past year, then I think you are jumping the gun by considering divorce already. Problems--seemingly insurmountable problems--come and go in marriage, but the only way you get to find that out is by sticking around. Go talk to someone, and in the meantime, don't have any kids. Seriously.
posted by HotToddy at 9:47 AM on March 2, 2010

For what it's worth, my parents hold wildly different religious beliefs and they've been together for thirty some years and raised three kids. They just learned not to talk about it, and let the kids make up their own minds about things, which is what kids are going to do anyway as soon as they're old enough. Getting sent to Sunday school won't automatically turn your kids into lifelong Christians. It may do the opposite, in fact.
posted by dortmunder at 9:48 AM on March 2, 2010

I don't think your differences in religious view necessarily mean that you need to divorce. Go to a counselor to figure out your options. It would be shameful to throw away a loving relationship over this if it's not necessary.
posted by sid at 9:58 AM on March 2, 2010

Anon, I get a strong feeling that there's something else going on that you haven't mentioned. What you describe above basically boils down to 'I won't agree to have kids, so I will be a martyr and divorce my wife so she won't suffer because she wants them' - which doesn't jive so well with 'we love each other very much' and no other problems mentioned. It sounds to me like you want to get a divorce and you're using this issue as an excuse.

That is OK, of course - but if you're truly hoping for an amicable split I don't think you'll get it without being completely honest with yourself and her about why you're splitting.

To answer your question, divorce mediators as mentioned above are probably what you're looking for. But I would urge you to do some more thinking and talking with her about this, because as you yourself note, it is perfectly possible to happily raise kids together even when you don't agree about religion. Not easy, certainly, but if all the other pieces are there, absolutely doable. So your first step is to figure out why you're not willing to go to that effort with the woman you say you love.

Good luck.
posted by widdershins at 10:05 AM on March 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

My grandfather was a very devout Catholic; my grandmother was utterly indifferent to religion. I don't know if she would have characterized herself as atheist, but I wouldn't have been surprised if she did. She agreed to let him raise my mom as a Catholic, and he took her to church with him every Sunday while Grandma stayed home and did whatever, and he arranged for things like first communion and confirmation. Later on he did the same thing with me when I lived with them. It was fine. My mom turned out to be mildly religious and I turned out to be not very religious at all.

My aunt is a not-very-devout Catholic and my uncle is a fairly devout Protestant. They came to the, IMO, fucked up agreement that they would raise their son as a Protestant and their girls as Catholics. Amazingly, this worked. They are now in their late seventies and have what seems to be a great marriage, and all those kids grew up to be normal, successful, and totally nonreligious people. They have one of the nicest families I know.

If you love each other and want to make it work, you can.
posted by HotToddy at 10:11 AM on March 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've been in exactly this situation, in your wife's position. (Ok, not the religion, but the fact that having a child would be the only way to "save" the marriage and it's just not tenable to do so.)

Out out out out out get out NOW just do it. Just make a clean break. If she wants it, suggest you see a counselor to do a sort of "relationship autopsy" but make it clear that this is over. Figure out your finances, do whatever you need to do in the next week or two, but as soon as you possibly can, leave. And stay gone.

It sounds cruel, but it is absolutely 100% the best thing for both of you. If you stick around at all, she's going to try to negotiate with you and find some way to "make it work." She may even offer to take children off of the table for the sake of saving your marriage. She may even mean that. If she loves you half as much as I loved my ex-husband, she will try just about anything she can think of to fix things so that you will stay. But, as you've so rightly realized, that won't work. There are no long term solutions.

For both of you, you need to just leave. Find friends to stay with if you have to. Accept that there are no perfect break-ups and you may have to accept financial support from unlikely sources. But absolutely, 100%, get out and stay out.

Anon, I get a strong feeling that there's something else going on that you haven't mentioned. What you describe above basically boils down to 'I won't agree to have kids, so I will be a martyr and divorce my wife so she won't suffer because she wants them' - which doesn't jive so well with 'we love each other very much' and no other problems mentioned. It sounds to me like you want to get a divorce and you're using this issue as an excuse.

No, I disagree. I've been in anon's position. The issue of whether or not to have a child ate my marriage apart from the inside out. What he's talking about isn't a one-time thing, it's probably the result of years of disagreement and there is absolutely no way to solve it if one party wants a child and the other can't accept that as a possibility. You can't have half a child. Either the partner who wants a child ends up unfulfilled (and no, "getting a dog" isn't an acceptable alternative) or the partner who didn't want a child ends up with a child that s/he may grow to resent - which, in my mind, is even worse.

There's no way around it. This isn't an excuse, it's an unsolvable issue. I've been there. I tried for three years to solve it. I even offered to give up having kids. It can't be done in the long term if both partners are truly on totally opposite sides. Even if they are totally in love and committed to each other - my ex-husband and I were - it will end up destroying them both. He felt guilty that I would never have what would make me happy if I stayed with him and I felt like he didn't truly love me if he didn't want me to have children, which is truly absolutely the #1 goal in my life. You can't keep a relationship going with that in the background. You can work around it, you can "postpone" kids, you can put off talking about it, but you can't maintain a healthy relationship indefinitely with those emotions in play.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 11:15 AM on March 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

I am out of work right now and if we separated today, I would be unable to support myself for very long. As such, I want to take the process slowly enough that I can find new work so I can support myself once we separate
You say you love her, but you really want out of the marriage. No kids, are there any property issues? Be kind to her, and move out. Do whatever it takes to support yourself. Ask her if she wants to go to counseling with you, to see if the issues can be resolved.
posted by theora55 at 12:18 PM on March 2, 2010

Grapefruitmoon, I hear you - having children was also my #1 goal, bar none, and I was once in a relationship where that was pretty much a dealbreaker and it sucked. From reading the question, I assumed that the OP doesn't have a problem with having kids per se - the problem lies in raising a kid with someone with incompatible religious beliefs, which to me is not quite the same thing. You can find ways to compromise in raising a child with or without religion, but you can't compromise on whether or not to have a child.

If the OP doesn't want kids at all, I completely agree with you. But if he's OK with having kids, just not in this situation, then I think some more digging into why he wants to get divorced would be a good idea.
posted by widdershins at 2:06 PM on March 2, 2010

A couple with whom I am extremely close are in nearly an identical situation. So close that I am a bit suspicious that you are actually him. And if you are, send me an email and don't let what follows hurt your feelings.

Here's what I want to tell them but am afraid to say directly because I don't think I should be giving people this advice (too personal a decision) and because I fear that my bluntness will hurt both their feelings and my relationship with them:

End the marriage as soon as possible. Whatever you do, do not bring children into the relationship. Even if you think it will "save the relationship" (it will not), children raised in a home with divided religious views like yours will inevitably end up breaking the heart of one of the parents. There are few things in life more heartbreaking and painful than feeling that you have irrevocably disappointed a parent who you respect. Your children will be forced into that situation one way or the other -- or they will just not respect one of you, which is nearly as bad.

The reason that children won't save the relationship is that the only thing that can save the relationship is you or your wife changing religious beliefs such that your beliefs are compatible. Children are not going to miraculously bring you back to the church. It's not inconceivable that you could return to belief one day. But it's not a bet that you should force your wife to take.

Now, the following is said only with the assumption that you're the person I know (and you're probably not), and is based on the religious beliefs of that person (which probably weren't yours, but maybe): The sort of commitment that you made in marrying your wife in the religious context of your marriage consists of specific representations regarding faith and commitment thereto. You are in the process of breaching that commitment. You very well might not believe that the entity (or deity) to whom you made that commitment exists anymore, and that is certainly a deeply personal thing that only you can decide upon. Nevertheless, that commitment was not just between you and a god in whom you no longer believe. It was between you, that god, and your wife. Think about the specific commitments - the explicit commitments - that your marriage included when it came into being. Consider whether or not you remain committed to each and every one of those commitments, including the ones that depend on your belief in that god and your participation and, possibly, leadership in a religious role in your family. Are you still committed to those things? Are you keeping those commitments? Are you prepared to do so on an ongoing basis, with genuine conviction?

The answer is: No. You are not.

End the marriage. Do it now. Do not, under any circumstances, bring children into it. You will be betraying your wife if you do.
posted by The World Famous at 5:27 PM on March 2, 2010

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