DivorceFilter: Stay for the kids?
May 14, 2005 6:24 PM   Subscribe

DivorceFilter: Is it worth it to stay together "for the kid"? My marriage is crumbling quickly and most likely would have been over long ago, except that I cannot bear to part with our three year old. [more]

We're currently in marriage counseling, but it's not going terribly well. I'm the one that's unhappy, but have remained utterly faithful to the marriage and will until it ends. I don't smoke, drink, run around, or whatnot, and have a great relationship with my daughter. The divorce would lead to joint custody, since I'm confident we can resolve it quickly. I plan on living close by, to better keep contact.

However, I myself come from divorce and really, really hoped to avoid doing this to my children. I am willing to reconcile with my wife, if I think that it would be in my daughter's best interests.

Is it worth sticking it out until she is 5-6 and enters school?
Until she is 18?
Should we get divorced now?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (63 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
While I have don't have first-hand experience with this, a few of my friends do. For them it boils down to can the two of you be happy together? My best friend's parents stayed together for the exact reasons you stated above, and she thinks it was the absolute worst decision her parents could have made and things got much better when they finally divorced. Basically, her parents were not happy in their relationship which caused a huge problem because the unhappiness seeped into the kid's lives. Her dad sleeping on the couch for 5 years made it kind of obvious. Can the two of you remain happy around eachother and still be loving? If not, then the unhappiness will be easily recognized by the kids and can bring them down, too.
posted by jmd82 at 6:29 PM on May 14, 2005

She's three? My unprofessional opinion is that you should get it over with as soon as possible. This way, the kiddo probably won't even remember you guys being together.
posted by Eamon at 6:32 PM on May 14, 2005

My nephew just survived a divorce that raged on through from his age 2 to 3. He seems to be quite intact, though of course the custody arrangement will affect him as he grows.

People will debate whether 2 or 3 year olds are less sensitive than 5 or 6 year olds until the cows come home, but the basic fact is that the longer you stay in this marriage, the more invested she will be in it, and the more difficult the breakup.

I'm no expert, having no kids and not coming from divorce, but I don't think you're doing her any favors by waiting till she's 5.
posted by scarabic at 6:34 PM on May 14, 2005

To a child, Happy Single Parents > Unhappy Married Parents.

This should be a no brainer. Do the right thing.
posted by Jairus at 6:41 PM on May 14, 2005 [1 favorite]

To a child, Happy Single Parents > Unhappy Married Parents.

That sums it up nicely.
posted by cmonkey at 6:52 PM on May 14, 2005

Forgive your wife. Try to remember why you first fell in love with her. Try to fall in love with her again. If you love your daughter you'll stay married. Learn some humility. Go to church or something. Don't do this to that poor kid.
posted by Faze at 6:59 PM on May 14, 2005

I divorced when my kids were two and three. As it turned out I ended up spending more quality time with my children than I think I would have had we remained an intact family. When the kids were with me it was "kid time" rather than just day to day family life. If there is a negative it may be that I've ended up being a little more of a friend to my two sons that I might have been otherwise. I mean that in the context of friend as opposed to parent.

Best case is happy intact family unit but my guess is that apart and relatively happy is better than together and miserable. My advice would be that whatever you do make the child the first priority (sounds like you are).

It's a tough place to be.
posted by Carbolic at 7:04 PM on May 14, 2005

Forgive your wife. Try to remember why you first fell in love with her. Try to fall in love with her again. If you love your daughter you'll stay married. Learn some humility. Go to church or something. Don't do this to that poor kid.

Sorry to dog you, Faze, as I'm sure your experiences must have been pretty bad, but this is the worst bit of advice ever. How can you possibly imagine that breaking up could be worse for that kid than staying together? If you've got some magical insight into these people's relationship, please share it. I don't. But my parents split up when I was 10 and my brother and I sure would have been happier had it been a couple of years earlier. They are both far happier apart, and we were much happier kids living with parents - in separate houses - who were not at war with each other in one.

Adults who are happy and content have time for their kids. Two people who are hurting each other or hurt by each other so much that they need all of their energy to heal/hurt have none left over for their kids. Period.
posted by luriete at 7:05 PM on May 14, 2005

Speaking from personal experience as the kid in such a situation, it's much better if you get a divorce now. My parents trying to stick it out for my sake did me no favors.

posted by absalom at 7:08 PM on May 14, 2005

My parents split up just before I was three. Do it now. Everyone I know whose parents split up later was much more scarred than young-split contingent. You can't miss what you don't remember, and (what others consider) a wacked-out family life seems normal when it has been yours "forever."

Just remember that joint custody means you and your ex-wife, have to be capable of civilty. If not, one of you really ought to not be terribly involved, as difficult as that would be. I don't miss not having a dad, but the kids who had to watch their parents fight for years on end even if they weren't still together were really hurt.
posted by dame at 7:12 PM on May 14, 2005

Popping in again. I think I would give more weight to the opinions of those who were on the kid end of the experience. They seem to be pretty consistent with the "do it now" vote.
posted by Carbolic at 7:24 PM on May 14, 2005

Remember, too, that you and your wife are the model your daughter is going to use for her future relationships, good or bad. You might want to think about whether you'd want your daughter to the same kind of relationship with a future partner as her mom currently has with you, for example.
posted by occhiblu at 7:29 PM on May 14, 2005

(Sorry, that should be "whether you'd want your daughter to have the same kind of relationship...")
posted by occhiblu at 7:30 PM on May 14, 2005

Everyone else -- luriete, absalom, dame, occhiblu, especially Jairus, but definitely NOT Faze -- has got it. I don't remember my parents being together, but I do remember their little fights as I was growing up, most of which involved sniping at each other to me, and which was really crappy. It sounds like you think you can pull it off without that element, so it seems clear that you, your wife, and the child will all be happier with a healthy relationship in place between you & your wife. That healthy relationship may need to be a friendship rather than a marriage. That is totally OK.

And Jairus' comment bears repeating.
Happy Single Parents > Unhappy Married Parents.
posted by librarina at 7:43 PM on May 14, 2005 [1 favorite]

I think 5 or 6 would be a much worse age than 2 or 3 for the kid. I'm sure there's research on this, though, that you can find.
posted by alms at 8:03 PM on May 14, 2005

Jesus Christ, Faze. I suppose abortion isn't an option for unwed, poor, pregnant 14 year-olds, either. Ditch the sanctimonious crap. This is a real person with real problems. "Just go to church" is some piss-poor advice.

Given the evidence here from people who have been on both sides of divorce (child/parent), I think the OP should do some soul-searching: if you really don't think things will ever get better, it's time you went your separate ways.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:03 PM on May 14, 2005

My folks split when I was seven and my brother was two. I can't speak for him, but as for me...well, being aware of what's happening at a time when you really can't understand the why of it is hellish indeed. "Why isn't Dad home? When's he coming back? Where is he now?"

My gut tells me that no matter how--and when--this falls out there will be some kind of unexpected consequences for your daughter, so don't second-guess your decision based on that alone. And as a daughter, I guess I'd advise "sooner rather than later", if it comes to it. But if it does come to it...just be there, be there as much as you can. She will need you.
posted by Vervain at 8:04 PM on May 14, 2005

Allow me to dissent. Kids are selfish. They don't care if their parents are happy -- they care how their parents act towards each other and towards them. And they want their parents together, almost always and without any regard for the costs it imposes upon their parents.

Parents who truly care for their kids suck it up. They may not love one another, but they recognize that they are not only obliged to stay together, but obliged to avoid big dramatic fights, emotional tantrums, and self-pity.

Obviously, it takes two to play this game. If you're stuck with someone who cheats, indulges their emotions to the point of overt displays, or can't handle their drinking or gambling, divorce is probably the only option.
posted by MattD at 8:09 PM on May 14, 2005

Depends, but only slightly. My parents split up when I was 11 and probably should have split up when I was much much younger. I grew up in a household where my parents didn't hug or kiss each other, didn't sleep in the same room, and were either barely civil to each other or yelling at each other. We almost never went on vacations, they didn't do much together. By the time they moved apart, my Dad was getting involved with someone from work and my Mom was too jaded to form normal relationships with other men and was a basket case through my high school years which is really when I could have used a Mom. I formed better relationships [after the initial hellish times] with both my parents once they weren't yelling at each other all the time and I felt like I had to take sides.

You're a good guy to be faithful to the marriage, but you will be teaching your kid bad things about what a real loving relationship looks like. Stay close to your daughter [and your ex-wife if possible] but move on from that marriage, don't stick with it out of principle if it's not working.
posted by jessamyn at 8:14 PM on May 14, 2005

My fiance's parents divorced when he was about 6. Without getting into the details, he has a fair amount of resentment over the way custody, etc., were handled. He's never really gotten along with his mom and blames her for the divorce.

His younger brothers (both still in high school), however, seem to be completely content with being swapped between parents and deal much better with the family politics (read: they'll make Mom feel like she's the favorite if it makes her chill out).

You know, if a case study matters at all.
posted by katieinshoes at 8:25 PM on May 14, 2005

Kids are selfish. They don't care if their parents are happy -- they care how their parents act towards each other and towards them.

Well, yes, but you're saying the same thing I am, MattD. I'm just positing (from experience -- my parents have had a total of nine marriages between them) that maybe the parents can't act like they should towards each other and towards the children if they are trying to force themselves to tolerate a miserable marriage.

I strongly disagree that they are required to stay together, though. I think it's harder for everyone to "avoid big dramatic fights, emotional tantrums, and self-pity" when unhappy; separated and friendly (or even civil) IS better than together and fighting.
posted by librarina at 8:25 PM on May 14, 2005

MattD, you are so wrong. Beyond wrong. Kids are smarter than you think they are and they know when their parents are unhappy. No matter how good you think you are at hiding it--they know. And they don't like it. I remember all those kids whose parents broke up while they were in college, and to a person they expected it and wished it had happened sooner.

What I don't know about kids could fill an excyclopedia, but there is one thing I'm sure of: they are so much smarter than you could ever guess. They may not have the experience to articulate what they know, but they know it.

separated and friendly (or even civil) IS better than together and fighting.

Separated and civil is even better than together and civil, really.

I'm kinda passionate on this topic, I must admit. Basically, I've seen too many people made miserable by doing what other people tell them is best, despite those other people having no real experience to back them up, only ideology. But I do sympathize with the difficulty here, anon.
posted by dame at 8:34 PM on May 14, 2005

This is a REALLY hard decision.

On the kid's point of view: I was three, my brother was six when our parents separated. I had NO trauma, he had a fair bit (mostly from witnessing violent fights). Earlier is better than later for the children, if a divorce is inevitable, and young children (like I was) just think having separated parents is normal.

The difficult part is whether divorce is inevitable (or near to it), which only you and your wife could know. For my parents it was - things were getting worse, and they were beginning to fight violently. My mom now says she should have left a year earlier. Her parents also had a very bad marriage, which should have broken up 15 years before it did.

For my father's grandparents, it wasn't. They came very close to divorce, but then began to work things out. I never really knew this as a kid, but I think they are happier together than they would be apart. I don't know the details, but there must have been some way they realised to work through the problems.

Children from divorced families do face challenges - money is always tighter, because two households just cost more. But it is true that it is much healthier to grow up as I did in a happy single parent home than as my mother did in a house of resentment and constant fighting.

I guess, if you know you are going to do it, do it now. But I would never encourage anyone to divorce unless they were sure that this really was the best thing (for their own sake - it would be terrible to divorce and then realise you really still loved the other person and wanted to be with them.)
posted by jb at 8:46 PM on May 14, 2005

My parents at one point "stuck it out for the kids". They got past that rocky point in their relationship, and are now more in love then ever. They've been married 45 years.
posted by Manjusri at 8:47 PM on May 14, 2005

My parents got divorced this month, after a horrible 26 year marriage. I'm 25, and I can't tell you the hell I've gone through.

Staying together "for the kids" is the perfect way to ruin your kids' lives.
posted by exhilaration at 8:50 PM on May 14, 2005 [1 favorite]

I pretty strenuously disagree with Faze and MattD. My parents were barely able to manage to be civil to each other even after divorce. Love was long gone; forcing my parents to stay together would have meant that my siblings and I would have grown up in a pretty hellish household. I'm very sure we wouldn't have had as much time with my father, who would have used his job as an excuse to travel and stay away from the situation at home. How on earth is a loveless marriage composed of two people who can't get along and no longer like - let alone love - each other supposed to be a 'good' situation for kids to grow up in? How is letting kids grow up in separate but peaceful and happy houses worse than letting them grow up in a household full of tension, unhappiness, and possibly even downright hatred between the parents?

My siblings were just starting school when the divorce happened. They can barely remember it, but I was old enough that it's still pretty vivid to me. Although my parents can still barely get along, something like a decade later [my siblings still live at home], at least the fights are confined to disagreements over scheduling of visits, rather than the kind of awful affairs they had before the divorce - terrible things that would cast a pall over the house for days and leave me and my siblings miserable. Children do not always prefer that their parents remain together. While dealing with divorce wasn't fun, particularly for me, as I was old enough to understand a lot of what was going on, my siblings and I are all very sure that divorce was the right choice in our parents' case. Miserable parents don't make happy children [particularly when they're school-age or older, they are very much aware of how unhappy their parents are], and heck, they don't make very good parents, either - it's far too easy to unintentionally take out some of the anger and frustration on the kids.

Consider - if things are this bad now, are they going to be better in five years? ten? The older your kid gets, the more she'll be able to remember a divorce, and the harder it will be for her to adapt to it. If you decide to stick together 'for the kid' but then can't manage see things through for the next 15 or so years, a later divorce will almost certainly be much harder for her to deal with. If reconciliation honestly has a chance, that's better, of course. But if it's not possible to restablish a happy and loving relationship with your wife, better to end it with a civil divorce now [not an acrimonious divorce later] and let your daughter grow up in two separate but happy households.
posted by ubersturm at 8:50 PM on May 14, 2005

Response by poster: I don't have any experience with divorce or marriage, so take this with a grain of salt. But if you break up earlier, is it possible your relationship with your wife will be better because you didn't hurt each other more through the "stick it out" period? Divorced parents who can remain civil to one another are probably a lot better than divorced parents who hate each other's guts.
posted by Anonymous at 9:01 PM on May 14, 2005

Divorce doesn't solve anything if parents lack self-control. Parents who can't behave in a civil fashion continue to make their kids' lives terrible after the divorce.

The bottom line it that you either decide to put your kids first, and not behave like a child yourself, or you don't. If you can make that decision before, and in lieu, of divorcing, you are doing a tremendous service to your children.

20-somethings who "wish" that their parents had gotten divorced earlier are either dealing with parents who couldn't control themselves and their emotional displays, or else are engaging in a highly selective bit of sentimentality. "Oh I wish Mom and Dad had been happy" ... while not really factoring all of the objective misery that would have accompanied the divorce.
posted by MattD at 9:04 PM on May 14, 2005

Everyone here seems to assume that your marriage is doomed. If that is true, breaking up now will probably be easier on your child than breaking up later. However, it can be easy to write off a relationship when it hits a rocky spot.

If this one isn't helping, try a different marriage counselor. It may sound funny, but the best way to patch-up a relationship is sometimes to concentrate on what your partner wants, give them the benefit of the doubt at every turn, ignore the hurt they give you, etc. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in whether we are being treated fairly that we forget how we got there. When someone feels unconditional acceptance those turf battles seem to melt away. That may not be your problem, but it is quite common.
posted by caddis at 9:07 PM on May 14, 2005

Not much to add, except to agree with the majority. The goal here is to make your child's home atmosphere as non-miserable as possible, whatever that takes.

In my experience, it's not the divorce itself that's traumatic-- it's the door-slamming fights and icy silences which lead up to it. Try not to drag out that stage any longer than necessary.
posted by 4easypayments at 9:08 PM on May 14, 2005 [1 favorite]

MattD - are you the child of divorced parents? Then I would respectfully say that you really don't know what you are talking about. People are people - they are not perfect, they cannot command their emotions like robots, and children know when there is sadness, upset or hostility. Just about every person here with experience has said that it is better to have two happy single parents than unhappy together ones. Personally, I didn't even fantasise about my parents getting back together, because I never knew what it was like, and it would mean losing my step-mother (whose own leaving was more tramatic). I did want a younger sibling though.
posted by jb at 9:17 PM on May 14, 2005

My parents divorced when I was two, and the only thing I regret is that I didn't even meet my father until I was 8 because of the contentiousness of the divorce, which was apparently as ugly as it gets. My mother was seriously ill for most of my life and I was in a very tough situation as a result. Because of this illness, I came to live with him at 14, after only a couple of meetings -- moving from city to country, family I knew to one I didn't at all, people that I loved to ones I'd been taught from my earliest memories to despise. It took a long time to sort it all out, and the effects still linger.

The point of my story: after knowing both my parents in this strange way, I know it would have been no easier had they stayed together. I've learned to love my father, but I've also learned that he's very, very bad at dealing with the unpleasant side of life -- my mother's illness was the catalyst for divorce. If we'd all lived together, it would have been a different kind of hell, not a better one.

My other point: you know best whether you've exhausted all your efforts and the marriage is really over. What's more important is that you've said you intend on resolving things quickly and staying close to your daughter. As a child, this would have been the best solution for me. If my parents and extended families had been able to avoid the terrible bitterness, the accusations of betrayal and bad faith (and please, let me emphasize this -- whether true or not), I could have avoided the feeling of abandonment, and later, torn loyalties. That's what destroys children's happiness. Parents hating each other, tearing one another to bits, using their children as little heat-seeking missles against each other: that can happen whether they occupy the same home or ones thousands of miles apart. If you can both divorce and conduct your parenting with mutual respect, and you can remain an active, loving part of your daughter's life, you will be doing her a far greater service than if you stay together despite feeling resentment and hate. Yes, you can stay together, with your best intentions to be civil and self-sacrificing -- but those dark emotions have a nasty and unerring way of seeping out and poisioning your lives if you live with them long enough. That's what your daughter needs protection from, and she won't get it from a fictional perfect home that's occupied by your bodies but not your hearts.
posted by melissa may at 9:21 PM on May 14, 2005

I have to agree with the side that says if you're going to do it, do it NOW. My parents separated when I was 4, and officially divorced when I was 9 (by the time that happened it was a mere formality and didn't bother me in the least). I have very few memories of my parents together, and the few I do have are terrible.

20-somethings who "wish" that their parents had gotten divorced earlier are either dealing with parents who couldn't control themselves and their emotional displays,

It's very easy to say control your emotions, and very hard to do. And on top of that, a happy marriage isn't supposed to be about "control of emotional displays". It's supposed to be open, natural, and kids can tell when it's not.

Like others have said, kids are smart. They work off instict, and can tell when things are tense within the home. Don't rush into this, by any means. Make sure a divorce is reall the last option, but staying together for the kids is a bad decision.
posted by aclevername at 9:21 PM on May 14, 2005

Been on several ends of the divorce spectrum, my parents divorced when I was 15, and it long since been violent by then, so the divorce was a relief really.

16 years later, I found myself with a 1 and a 3 year old contemplating a divorce. Everyone is kind of glossing over MattD's point. Children want continuity, children want their parents to remain together (I'm generalizing about young children here). Do what you can to try and make the marriage work, absolutely.

Also ask yourself, can I be without my child for a week at a time? What will my child think when daddy/mommy, leaves for a week? Really think about what kind of custody arrangement you would have with your spouse.

As for me, I couldn't do it, I couldn't stay married. We divorced, and I have my kids about 1/2 time with ex having residential custody. Not seeing my children every night is the hardest thing in the world. I've lost so much of my children's life, just the coming home and hearing my children excitedly calling my name. Now it's all when's the pickup? Who's doing the drop-off, can I have the kids for a birthday party next saturday?

Was it worth it, leaving a loveless marriage? I don't know. My house is cold and empty without my children.
posted by patrickje at 9:37 PM on May 14, 2005

patrickje - We're not glossing over MattD's point - it's just that as a child of divorced parents, I think he's completely wrong. It is certainly not an easy decision, and never ideal, but it really is better for the children. Some children may think they want their parents together, but what I know is that I'm much healthier and happier than my brother because I was younger when my parents separated. If there is a chance of being happy together - not incredibly in love, but at least happy and friendly - then stay; if not, don't drag it out.

patrickje - I am sorry for your loneliness - I lived with my niece for the first 4 years of her life, and it was hard leaving, though I am sure nothing like what you have experienced. But your children will care most that you are there for them, that you take them out and are happy to be with them. When they are older, they may act like they don't want to be with you, but they are just being difficult pre-teens and teenagers - then the most important thing will be finding out what they are into. Be there for them, even if it's just on the phone, and they will know.
posted by jb at 9:51 PM on May 14, 2005

20-somethings who "wish" that their parents had gotten divorced earlier are either dealing with parents who couldn't control themselves and their emotional displays, or else are engaging in a highly selective bit of sentimentality. "Oh I wish Mom and Dad had been happy" ... while not really factoring all of the objective misery that would have accompanied the divorce.

Oh bloody hell, MattD, you've stepped in it now.

Look: The same selfish people who would scream and yell in front of their children are the same people who would throw lawyers at each other in an effort to get that extra day of custody. It's all an ownership game: I deserve this, I deserve that. There's no clear line between marriage and divorce with these people. The entire thing is adversarial.

The child needs certainty; a resolution. If half-and-half custody is the deal, so be it. But the child should never have to be a part of the quest for more, more, more. Put her above that.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 10:00 PM on May 14, 2005

he divorce would lead to joint custody, since I'm confident we can resolve it quickly. I plan on living close by, to better keep contact.

I just want to add that, no matter how confident you are before you take that step, weird things can happen afterwards.

I have friends who split up about a year ago with a daughter about your age. We were all sure that they would be able to do the 50/50 custody thing without a problem (especially as the daughter has some special needs, and the mom is a childcare professional trained specifically to deal with those needs). Turns out we were all wrong -- the mom didn't really want the divorce and is currently using access to the daughter as a club with which to beat the dad into agreeing to basically whatever the mom wants. Her behavior has been so bad that it has completely eroded any goodwill that remained between these two people, and its possible that the court will finally decide to give the dad sole custody.

If you truly feel that you can't stay with your wife, then take the steps you need to take. But please don't think that the custody agreement will be a given. Strange things happen to people who suffer from the loss of love.

I hope that you do give the therapy a chance, and perhaps pursue some individual counseling as well. You don't mention what it is that has driven you to this point, but if your wife still loves you and still wants this relationship to work, then please don't bail out until you both understand that you have no other choices.
posted by anastasiav at 10:02 PM on May 14, 2005

Think about what you want to model for her, since that's essentially what you're doing. If it were me, I wouldn't want to show her that you should stay in a relationship that makes you miserable. On the other hand, I also wouldn't want to show her that you should abandon people you care about when the going gets tough or things aren't exciting anymore. I have no way of knowing whether that last part is applicable to you or not, just a consideration.

Don't divorce lightly. Do every. single. thing. you can do to make it work. If there's nothing that's terribly and immediately destructive going on (e.g. abuse), stick it out for 6 months and see if it gets better. If you can make your marriage work, make it work. It will be better for your child, and certainly better for you. Show her that sticking it out through some tough times is a part of life, and highly rewarding. Show her how to value people you love.

BUT. If it's irrevocably over, get out. Don't show her that relationships are about quiet resentment and unhappiness. It will make its mark on her as well as the two of you. Don't let her believe that staying in relationships that make you miserable is the right thing to do. It's not what you'd want for her, I'd imagine.

FWIW, My parents were able to be much better parents apart than they were when they were married. Both of them were always deeply committed to being the best parents they could be, but they just couldn't do that together. Some people are just not meant to be married to each other. Good luck.
posted by LittleMissCranky at 10:42 PM on May 14, 2005

I knew when I was about ten that my parents were miserable together. The strained, tense atmosphere made the house extremely uncomfortable. They stuck it out for another five, hellish years and when they finally split it was a relief for everyone involved, including me.

A few years later my father informed me that even though he had wanted to leave years before, he stuck it out because of me. He thought it was a compliment, I guess. Made me feel like complete shit. All three of us were needlessly miserable because of me.

20-somethings who "wish" that their parents had gotten divorced earlier are either dealing with parents who couldn't control themselves and their emotional displays, or else are engaging in a highly selective bit of sentimentality. "Oh I wish Mom and Dad had been happy" ... while not really factoring all of the objective misery that would have accompanied the divorce.

I don't know very many people who can control their "emotional displays" every minute of every day throughout years of misery. And frankly, I wouldn't want someone I loved to grit their teeth and smile through the pain just to keep me happy.
posted by LeeJay at 11:27 PM on May 14, 2005

Here's how to make tough decisions like this:

Flip a coin. If there are more than two options, roll a die or something. Ignore the result of the toss. Pick the option you were jonesing for while it was in the air.

As for marriage advice, It really depends on how adversarial you are towards each other. Go for an option that minimizes the feeling that you are competitors.
posted by blasdelf at 12:04 AM on May 15, 2005

My professional opinion (as an ex-divorce lawyer) is that it is almost always a bad idea to stay together 'for the sake of the children'. In my experience, children are very adaptable, and a three-year-old will adapt to a parental break-up much quicker than, say, a 13-year-old.

From a practical point of view, you seem to have thought things through. Amongst my old clients, the ones whose divorces worked best (if that's the right way to describe it) are the ones who lived close to one another and were able to offer one another a lot of day-to-day support in terms of childcare.

And my personal opinion? Don't be a martyr. My parents 'stayed together for the sake of the children' and their joint unhappiness permeated the household and has affected every relationship I have ever tried to make in my adult life.

If the marriage is, as you say,"crumbling quickly" then the day will come, in spite of any vows you and your wife make never to argue in front of her, when your daughter will witness the screaming rows, the recriminations and will hear that Mom and Dad are only together beause of her.

Or, if the rows are kept until after she's in bed, she'll still know because the dynamics in an unhappy household are almost visible. Especially to a three-year-old.

Do you really want to live another fifteen years in a loveless marriage?
posted by essexjan at 12:33 AM on May 15, 2005

My parents got divorced when I was about 15, and they should have done it much earlier. They always fought, and I really hated that atmosphere growing up. Plus, when they were pissed off at each other, they really weren't in the mood to do anything with me. My mom would try to hide their problems from me, but it never worked.

When my parents finally decided to get divorced, I really hated the idea. But, when it actually happened, it worked out much better than I could have ever imagined. They both became happier, and they both started paying more attention to me, as they were no longer always angry. Things got even better when they both found new partners.

In the end, to echo what others have said, what matters most to kids is having happy parents rather than parents who live in the same house.
posted by epimorph at 12:37 AM on May 15, 2005

If you must divorce, do it as soon as possible but make sure your joint custody arrangement is going to work really well over time; e,g, you've thought ahead to either or both of you dating, eventually having new partners, etc., and that you're prepared as to what will change your relationship with your child's mother and hers with you. Lots of other variables. Like, what happens if one of you has to transfer to another place for work due to factors beyond your or her control? Etc?

Consider these questions before punching the button:
What are you unhappy about in your marriage?
What are you not getting from your relationship with your wife?
What about counseling is not going well? How long have you been at counseling? Have you or your wife confided in friends/family?

You say you're the one who's unhappy. Your wife is happy in the marriage? Maybe you are saying that she wants to stay together. Difficult for me to believe she's happy if you aren't.

IMHO, recommend you don't divorce before you are certain that you've both made every effort to save your marriage. Post divorce, if it goes that way, you both will want to be certain you made the right decision for the grown-ups too.

You also might have a crap counselor.

Given no anonymous responses, etc., feel free to email. I've got four kids, have been divorced, did not stay together for the sake of the children but stayed close. Everyone's the better and happier for it, all in. But your mileage etc.

Good luck. You have your priorities clear about your daughter, but I am not so sure about your own or your wife's, judging from your post, and these will have an impact on you and your family whether you divorce or reconcile and stay together.
posted by nj_subgenius at 5:26 AM on May 15, 2005

Go back and re-read the original question. I'm the one that's unhappy, but have remained utterly faithful to the marriage and will until it ends. I don't smoke, drink, run around, or whatnot, and have a great relationship with my daughter. The man's a saint! Scott Peterson would probably have portrayed his marriage in the same light. In truth, the guy's relationship isn't working because he doesn't want it to work. He wants OUT. He's got some kind of selfish agenda -- probably involving another woman -- and he's going to sacrifice his wife and his child's happiness to get it. He just wants us to salve his bad conscience.
posted by Faze at 6:05 AM on May 15, 2005

Happy parents are better parents. Regardless of the advice that you can and should just subjugate your misery, the bottom line is that deep unhappiness affects your entire life, whether you go to church, worship Cthulhu or just really REALLY wish it didn't, and that misery won't be invisible, especially not to your kids. It's not selfish to want to be happy, it's normal, and you cannot care for your kids well if you don't care for yourself well. It's better to come from a broken home than a breaking one, and better to split up (if you're sure that's what you must do) while you can still maintain a civil relationship with your spouse. For your kids' sake. Staying together for the sake of the kids (when that is the only reason) has to be one of the most perniciously evil ideas ever, and is not at all an idea which truly has the kids' best interests at heart, but rather one which has the "traditional family ideal" at heart, often at the expense of the well-being of everyone in that family. That so-called "ideal" just doesn't work for everyone, and we shouldn't keep trying to pretend that it does. A "family" isn't about who lives where and a "parent" isn't about who has what kind of custody of whom, it's about who is truly involved, unconditionally loving, responsible and supportive.
posted by biscotti at 6:05 AM on May 15, 2005

Having been through three divorces in my childhood, I'd like to weigh in. I don't at all blame my biological parents for splitting up when I was 18mos old. That didn't have much of an effect on me at all and it never bothered me much growing up that mommy and daddy lived in different places and I lived with my mother and saw my father on the weekends.

However, when my mother divorced my first stepfather when I was nine, that was one of the hardest parts of my childhood. It was rough and I remember it as being really really painful and wishing my parents would stay together and not really understanding what was going on. (They divorced amicably because my stepfather had problems with addiction, they had never fought much when I was around and so it seemed very very sudden to me.)

The younger, the better. If you wait until she's older, it will be much much harder for her to adjust to the new arrangement. Also : if you ever let it slip that you stayed together for her, she may resent you for it if the strain on the marriage was hitting her as well.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 6:17 AM on May 15, 2005

Faze, you do not impress. Decaffeinate or stick to your fertilizer posts.
Biscotti, what you said. But the OP doesn't tell me what's going to make him and his wife happy with the outcome, either together or apart. A kid can't benefit from having unhappy parents. And divorce doesn't make people happy per se. If the guy's so unhappy, why? Cos it may not just be the marriage. I think we are all in violent agreement about one facet of this - staying together for the sake of the kids is a shit idea - but just going for a divorce without having an idea of how one's life will change or how one's ex-spouse's life will change is almost as shit an idea because it could work against the basic good, which you eloquently put in the last sentence.
posted by nj_subgenius at 6:32 AM on May 15, 2005

...and Faze, yeah, I too surmise there's an agenda here, but go to the bottom of your wittle grey window before you post and re-read:
Please limit comments to answers or help in finding an answer.
posted by nj_subgenius at 6:40 AM on May 15, 2005

Good luck with whatever you do here, anonymous. You have only bad choices.

My parents separated when I was 12 or so, it was a great relief to my younger sister and I who had grown up in a tension-filled household that was sometimes a war zone. They should have done it years before.

My wife's ex took off when their kids were 3 and 5. I married her when they were 9 and 11. Today they are 20 and 22 and charming, well-adjusted young people. I give part of the credit here to the ex, who, though a totally irresponsible person in a thousand ways, never, ever used the kids to play games and never ever spoke ill of his ex in their presence.

MattD (and to a lesser extent Faze) are absolutely right in the abstract about kids and continuity. But is there any real chance of that happening? No, is there a provability of that happening? If not, make the break now.
posted by LarryC at 7:15 AM on May 15, 2005

Faze, it's not particularly our job to make judgements [on the basis of a few sentences] as to whether or not anonymous has an agenda. He asked whether or not it was a good idea to stick together for the children, and a lot of us answered, saying that no, on the basis of our own experiences, if the marriage is really over, the quicker you end it the better. Keeping it going in the name of your child will probably damage her more. Perhaps the marital problems are anonymous' fault. We don't know. Even if they are, why support keeping anonymous' daughter in an unhappy marriage where the father desperately wants out, for whatever reason? Divorce is a decision that's not to be made lightly. I'd hope that it's truly the last resort for anonymous and his wife. However, if the daughter is the only thing holding them together, better a relatively civil divorce now, while the kid's young, than years and years in a very unhappy household, and perhaps a more traumatizing divorce later, when the child's old enough to get hurt by it.
posted by ubersturm at 7:33 AM on May 15, 2005

Do I wish I had parents who had stayed married and modeled what loving, committed relationships were all about? Yes, with all of my heart.

Do I wish my parents had stayed together in an attempt to model this relationship? Hell no.

I applaud your efforts to maintain close contact with your daughter. For me personally it wasn't so much the divorce as the aftermath (bi-weekly visitation of a non-custodial child was apparently more of a hassle than my father could bear) that caused problems for me. So divorce if you must, and do it sooner rather than later so you still have energy to put into the difficulties of a joint custodial relationship. Your marriage might be a lost cause but your relationship with your child will never be -- channel your energy there instead of into a marriage you don't feel passionately about anymore.
posted by jennyb at 8:25 AM on May 15, 2005

In truth, the guy's relationship isn't working because he doesn't want it to work. He wants OUT. He's got some kind of selfish agenda -- probably involving another woman -- and he's going to sacrifice his wife and his child's happiness to get it.

This is egregious. Making suppositions completely out of the blue about the poster and offering "advice" on this basis. This is absolutely not what the green is for. The only "truth" in this instance is that the poster knows that marriage counseling is not going well, and sees the writing on the wall. Keep your tabloid insights to yourself.
posted by psmealey at 8:39 AM on May 15, 2005

Is it worth it to stay together "for the kid"? My marriage is crumbling quickly and most likely would have been over long ago, except that I cannot bear to part with our three year old.

After my parents finally divorced, years after they should have, my father confided to me that he had stayed married because he "couldn't stand the thought of some other guy raising you kids." My thought at the time (my judgment has been considerably tempered since) was, "You selfish bastard. We all had to live through years of hell because of that?"

In truth, though, I think that that is often the real reason when people stay together "for the kids." It isn't because of a concern for the kids' welfare, although that may be how they explain it to themselves; it's because one or both can't stand the thought of alienating the children.

The best thing for any child is a harmonious home in which storms are not forever brewing. The particular makeup of the home—one parent, two parents—is important, but not nearly as important as that basic sense of wellness and security, which cannot be provided by two people who can't stand each other, (note to ideologues:) no matter how hard they try.

Assuming that you could and would, in the event of a divorce, maintain contact with your daughter and in every way continue to act as her father, my two cents is: If you're quite, quite sure that, for whatever reason, you can't love your wife and be happy with her, you should get divorced. You would not be doing your best by your daughter by raising her in an atmosphere of, at best, lies and, at worst, constant rancor.
posted by bricoleur at 8:47 AM on May 15, 2005

He just wants us to salve his bad conscience.

I just knew you were a religious ass-patter. Go congradulate yourself on your excellent choice of deity someplace else. Your tired words of wisdom only further reveal what a hypocrite you are.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:47 AM on May 15, 2005

My parents came close to divorce a few times. They stuck it out. I fully expected them to split once my sister and I had left home. They didn't. And nowadays, they're retired and seem to be pretty happy being together.

Takes all kinds, eh?

Mind, they didn't go at each other like cat and dog at any time. Be a different story if they'd be fighters.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:56 AM on May 15, 2005

This is probably too late to post for anyone to read, but I feel I must weigh in. Everyone feels the same way in this post and it breaks my heart. I live in desperate housewife land where everyone is divorcing and I personally know lots of the kids, many are teenagers now. To say that it does not affect them is a lie. It does.
My husband and I came to the brink of divorce, had all the screaming fits, etc. I grew up in a family that stayed together and shouldn't have and didn't want to repeat that. But your marriage vows say for better or WORSE, till DEATH do you part or do vows mean nothing anymore. We took another option that no else in this long thread has mentioned. We worked it out. We went through tons of counseling, buckled down, both made sacrifices, and worked like dogs on our marriage. We both made it our top priority. And now we have a great marriage. Isn't that what you would dream.

My advice to you: Grow up. It's not all about you. Don't stay together for the child. Stay together because you made a commitment to love and cherish your wife forever. Bring her home some flowers, take her to dinner, take classes on how to argue effectively (They are offered. We took them.)
You say you were a child of divorce so you did not have a successful marriage modeled for you. Find one that is successful and seek their advice. There is no greater joy than to be madly in love with your spouse.

Love is a choice.
posted by davenportmom at 10:11 AM on May 15, 2005

For those who missed it: anon is trying to work it out.

Anon, if you feel you cannot have a happy and loving relationship, you need to get the hell out for you and your daughter. Please don't fool yourself and think she doesn't know what's going on. There doesn't have to be loud arguments, etc. for kids to be aware of what's going on.

Anon, you have some tough decisions ahead of you and you and your family have my best wishes.
posted by deborah at 11:54 AM on May 15, 2005

My parents are still together, still unhappy. It wasn't only for us kids that they stayed married, I don't think, but it certainly wasn't because they were happy in the marriage.

Now they don't fight much, but from when I was about seven til I was maybe sixteen it was non-stop.
And it was terrible.

I wished all the time, from about age eight or nine, that they'd just get divorced. All the fighting in my home was incredibly hurtful and upsetting even though it didn't involve me directly, and it stunted both of my parents emotionally in such a way that I didn't feel I could depend on them for emotional support.

In short, finding happiness for yourself is the best way to model happiness for your kid.
posted by mai at 3:22 PM on May 15, 2005

My kids were 10 and 3 when we divorced. The three-year-old had a much easier time of it, but I wouldn't say it was easy for either of them, though that may have been in part because the divorce was so very vicious.

Go see a lawyer NOW. I thought that my ex-wife and I would settle into joint custody pretty easily, but I was wrong, and she got very vindictive very quickly. I eventually ended up with joint custody, but it took over $120,000 in legal fees between the two of us (including over $30,000 for me) to get there. If I had seen a good lawyer right away, that might not have happened.

Your kids will be better off in the long run if both parents are happy. But you also need to protect yourself.
posted by anapestic at 5:38 AM on May 16, 2005

Hmm. I'm not entirely sure where I stand on this issue, since none of us are close enough to the situation to say for sure, but I have a desire to play devil's advocate, so here goes:

To every "parents should have divorced earlier" example, how are you so sure that isn't just "grass is greener"? People who fight horribly when they're married aren't going to suddenly develop a great relationshop once they're divorced. There are a lot of problems to consider here:

Joint custody is tough, because it just becomes a power struggle, and when the kid realizes this, she'll feel like it invalidates a lot of things -- like you didn't REALLY want to spend any time with her, you just used her to get back at your ex-spouse.

I don't see an indication of your sex in your post, but if you're male be aware that you have a major disadvantage in all custody cases. If your wife decides she wants full (or nearly full) custody, chances are she'll get it. I don't know whether your wife would do this, and it also varies based on what judge handles your case, but this is a real problem.

Also, two seperate parents is not a problem. Two seperate parents with ideal new spouses is also not a problem. But know that from this point forward, you'll have a whole new dimension to your dating decisions. Choosing the wrong partner can be very harmful to the kid. The ups and downs of dating can be harmful to the kid as she sees herself spending time with you when your single and taking a backseat to your new partner when you have one. And if your partner moves in, this is magnified, because the new partner will have their own rules and ways of doing things that will be disruptive. And even if you think you can handle this, remember two people have to do this independently. It's a lot like trying to handle a relationship with multiple partners, and you can't count on all of them being totally mature, because one of them's three years old.

(BTW: my parents are divorced, so I am speaking partly from that experience and partly from other couples I have seen)
posted by dagnyscott at 6:41 AM on May 16, 2005

Before I was two, my Mom & Dad divorced. There was definately some adjustment time (crying for mommy or daddy when they weren't there), but generally there were no ill effects. I think the biggest reason for this is because my parents took huge pains to have a fairly amicable divorce - went to a lot of counselling, both separately & together, worked stuff out between themselves when I wasn't there, didn't bad mouth the other parent to me, etc. I have no memories of them as a couple, and all the memories I do have of them interacting with each other or talking about each other are positive or neutral. They had joint custody and still found ways to parent as a team - like going to parent teacher interviews together, both came to all my plays and concerts, all that. They discussed things, and could come to agreements on holidays & stuff without involving lawyers. They often asked what I wanted, and took it into consideration but I didn't always get my way. They'd call the other and tell them what was going on at the other house. They'd back each other up on discipline issues.

Something like a year after that divorce, my Dad married my Step-Mom. I was barely 3. I can't remember a time before her, so I basically just got a bonus parent. Dad & Step-Mom divorced when I was 15. This divorce affected me & my life much more. They tried not to fight around me - and mostly managed to keep that committment, but to this day (nearly 8 years later), everytime I mention one around the other, they bristle and make faces and make me really uncomfortable. They understood that I would maintain relationships with both of them (my lucky kid has lots of loving grandparents) but it was like Dad dropped me off a block from Step-Mom's house when I went to visit her - I guess he was afraid to see her?

I agree with the people who say you should try and work it out, too many people abandon imperfect relationships too easily. No relationship will be forever perfect and easy. But if you've given an honest effort, please know that if you do the divorce well, and don't drag your kid through hell, that they can live through it just fine. I never ever not even once wished that either set hadn't divorced. Mom & Dad divorcing well & when I was so young has never caused me problems. The uglier divorce though, and when I was older, I wished it didn't happen. Not that they had stayed together, but that I didn't have to live through all the upheaval and messiness and emotional YUCK when I was busy being a self-absorbed teenager goddamnit!

No matter what you choose to do, THINK OF THE KID IN EVERY CHOICE, and AT ALL TIMES. Don't make it about what you can get, or how to make you life better. Think about the examples you're making for your kid.
posted by raedyn at 12:28 PM on May 16, 2005

Got here late but just in case anyone is still reading... From my experience with divorce I would say that age 2-3 is a really bad time to do the deed. These are crucial years in the formation of your child's personality. Of course, there is no good age or time for you to get a divorce. Maybe I'm way off track, yet it seems that at age 5-6 that child may remember more, as opposed to 2-3, but the child will also be better equipped to deal with it.

By all means, if you can make a last ditch attempt at saving your marriage without making your child miserable in the process, you should definitely give it your best effort. And by avoiding making the child miserable I mean that the child should not even be aware of any negativity at all between you and your wife. Suck it up. Yes, I know that children aren't stupid and can "sense" when things aren't right, but I think avoiding all visible and verbal displays of animosity is key. Take a good look at yourself. And your spouse. How have you changed since your wedding? Is it for the better or worse?

If you do get divorced, I really hope you stay on good terms with your ex. Talking bad about your ex in front of the child will put your child in a hell that you cannot even begin to imagine.
posted by crapulent at 1:53 PM on May 16, 2005

I was in 5th grade when my mother woke us four kids up at 3am to tell us she caught dad with another woman. We were all stunned. I was confused and just wanted things "back to normal." That never happened. The fighting and the throwing of things and yelling really got in the way of feeling good while sitting in the TV room - until dad left. I remember being surprised at how I started to find myself getting in trouble at school. I was one of those "gifted" kids that always refused to go the "special class" yet, found my grades beginning to suffer and my desire dissipating after my dad left.

I did not, at the time, make any connection between that and what was going on at home. Mom was back to work and I only saw dad on weekends, which hurt really bad since we used to play catch in the backyard a lot when he lived at home and went on vacations, etc. None of that happened after he left...we had no money. 5th grade was also the first time I got drunk. The last time I got drunk (and used drugs) was when I was 30 years old when the FBI were standing in front of me confronting me about the method I was using to obtain my drugs.

Did my parents' divorce affect me negatively? Gee, let me think...
posted by SparkyPine at 12:06 PM on May 19, 2005

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