How to end a marriage with as little devastation as possible...
September 6, 2012 12:54 PM   Subscribe

Question for a friend: How to end a marriage in the "best" way possible? Looking for useful advice from people who have been through it. Many details inside.

I have decided to end my marriage. I know it is going to be very difficult and messy and extremely traumatic for my wife. My question is: what is the best way to go about it? The details are:

- My wife and I have been together for about 5 years and married for 3.

-I no longer love my wife (assuming I ever did, but that's another conversation). About a year into the relationship I started having periods where I didn't feel in love with her, initially they lasted a day or so and were infrequent (eg six months apart), but over the years became
more frequent and lasted longer, and now for the last 9 months or so I have not felt it at all. After it happened the first few times (lasting a day or two) I talked to friends, and it sounded like it was probably normal and nothing to worry about so I stayed with her because although I had a few doubts, the relationship otherwise seemed worth it. We subsequently
got married.

- We have two children, one aged several months and one 2 years. (yes, people have said that children are a great way of removing romance etc from a relationship. This is not it. It has nothing to do with my wife becoming a mother and being less attractive to me, or me getting less attention from her, or anything like that.).

- My feelings about this are not going to change as I can see now that we have irreconcilable differences.

- My wife still loves me.

- We generally have a fairly good companionship kind of relationship at the moment.

- She has noticed my apparent lack of love; we've had conversations where she's explicitly asked me if I still love her. On these occasions I have lied to her or tried to avoid answering out of fear of hurting her, and wanting to avoid devastation. But I have decided I can no longer live inauthentically and need to be straight with her.

- So I decided about 6 months ago that I should end it, but have not wanted to end it while she was pregnant with our second child, or immediately afterwards. I have been waiting until our second child is 3 months old, as things will have settled down somewhat by then, but my wife will still have 2 to 3 months of maternity leave left (giving her some time to get herself together before she goes back to work part-time (of course, more than 2 to 3 months might have been better, but this time seems the least worst in the trade-off between time since birth of second child and end of maternity leave)).

- I suspect she will be very upset and angry.

- I am not leaving her for another woman. I am leaving because I am unhappy.

So far my main thoughts on the best way to go about it are:

- Be honest with how my feelings have changed, ie talk about the intermittent and then extended periods of not feeling (romantic) love, just friendship/companionship. Tell her that I can't continue, and that it wouldn't be fair to her to do so.

- Don't allow room for her to think that my feelings/mind might change.

- Try to be as gentle with the truth as possible (tricky).

- Avoid getting into a discussion of things I dislike about her or our relationship (would be interested in thoughts on this...)

- My intention is to move out of the house we currently own (mortgage), and provide enough financial assistance to allow my wife to continue living there (I'm currently a PhD student on a scholarship but can also work part-time to provide enough income for this).

- At the moment I get up in the mornings to look after both children before going to work then look after both of them again when I get home, and I look after them most of the weekend. I'd like to continue doing this (ie I'd go over in the morning and the afternoon to look after them (and/or take them to my place) and same on the weekends. I can't imagine this happening smoothly immediately as I think my wife will be very upset and angry, but I hope this could start happening a few weeks after I leave.

- I am very upset about how upset I expect she will be, and the possible negative impacts it may have on our children, and just want to do it in the least painful way possible.

If the above dot-points sound a bit detached it's only because I'm trying to stick to the facts and not write long stories.

I'm mostly interested in advice from other people who have been in the same or similar situations:

- What do you think you did right, what do you regret, what would you have done differently in hindsight?

- If you were on the receiving end of such a break-up, what do you wish your partner had done or not done?

I'm not interested in people judging me or telling me how awful I am (I feel awful enough already).

Thanks in advance for any useful advice, it's very much appreciated...
posted by saturn~jupiter to Human Relations (36 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I imagine that if she ever finds out that this was long-planned and you were living a lie, this may prove to be more upsetting in the long run than the initial "I don't love you anymore" discussion.
posted by inturnaround at 1:03 PM on September 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

There is no way to end a marriage well when you are leaving one person in charge of a two year old and three month old. There is no way. If you have any respect for your wife or love for your children, you will tell your wife you need to go to marriage therapy and work on it before bailing. You sound like a person who doesn't like upset and conflict but I am here to tell you that the upset and conflict in a therapist's office pales in comparison to the rage and grief that is coming if you simply tell your wife you don't love her any more and walk out the door.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:10 PM on September 6, 2012 [79 favorites]

I don't think this has anything to do with your feelings for your wife, but rather everything to do with avoiding honesty/intimacy/vulnerability. Honesty makes you vulnerable and creates intimacy. You've gone through this entire relationship so far without talking honestly with your wife. I think you should seek therapy both individually for yourself and in couples counseling for your relationship so that you can understand why you are avoiding intimacy altogether, and learn how to be honest in your relationship. Whether your marriage survives is another question, but it is profoundly wrong of you to leave your family without working as hard as you possibly can to find a way to make it work. You haven't tried anything beyond ... thinking about it. Get outside of your own head and into the real world of working on your marriage. Your children deserve it, your wife deserves it, and you do too.
posted by headnsouth at 1:19 PM on September 6, 2012 [23 favorites]

If you are not sure that you ever loved your wife, but you married her anyway, and fathered two children with her, please consider getting some therapy before you make any definitive moves. Divorce is a giant shitstorm. Add two small children to the equation and you are heading for a massive, massive shitstorm. What troubles me is that you participated in creating this situation but you use a passive tone, as if it is something that just happened to you. I'm trying to interpret that as an effort to be dispassionate, but it comes across as breathtakingly callous.

At a minimum, it would be worthwhile exploring with a therapist how you came to find yourself in this situation, so that you don't repeat it again with someone else.

Solo therapy, couples therapy, perhaps both.
posted by ambrosia at 1:20 PM on September 6, 2012 [34 favorites]

Marriage counseling. This is where you start this process, even if you feel like you have already made a decision. Talk this through together, with professional help. Your decision may not change, but you owe her - and more importantly, your children - the time and work to make sure that splitting up is truly the only viable option.

If you get to that point and pursue the divorce, I would suggest using a mediator in conjunction with lawyers. The mediator will help you hammer out an agreement of how to go forward with two households for your children - because unless you intend to abandon them, that will be your new situation, in one form or another. The lawyers are there to review the agreement that the mediator helps you with, to make sure that one party isn't unfairly favored. But a mediated agreement has a lot more latitude to be creative in its structure than what a court will hand down to you.

And by the way, do remember that she will not be out of your life for a long, long time. You have children. We divorced (my choice, I left, after marriage counseling) when our children were 4 and 6; they are now 15 & 17. I speak to my ex on a weekly basis and when they were younger, it was even more frequent than now. Not sure when, if ever, my contact with him will end.

The one thing I never regretted in the process was to take the high road whenever possible. It was hard, damn hard sometimes, to set aside the anger and grief and be as polite as I could. But it has paid off in a good working relationship, cordial and cooperative, over the long haul. (See above: you will be talking to her for a long, long, long time to come.) Being kind now, hard as it may be, will help with building a cooperative parenting partnership.
posted by agentmitten at 1:23 PM on September 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

I am surprised that you have such certainty about an action that is going to wreak havoc on your entire family. You owe your wife and kids a sincere effort to seek counselling, talk and work things out before you unilaterally decide to walk out the door.

But if you can't (or likely, won't) do that, they are better off without you. Make the break quick, clean, respect her completely justified anger and misery, man up to your financial & parenting responsibilities and let them move on with their lives.
posted by yogalemon at 1:24 PM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

You need to be more than fair in the financial dealings as she made the good faith assumption that you were committed to the financial care of the children when you actually were not. I think it is unrealistic to expect her to go back to work as a single parent of a six month old infant and toddler. I would give her at least until the baby is one or two years old before expecting her to financially contribute to their care and be generous in the alimony as her career is negatively impacted by being the primary caregiver while the children are young. Unless your scholarship is extremely generous you will probably have to put your own goals on hold while you work full-time to support your children and ex-wife.

If you can find a neutral, non-drama person to act as an intermediary it make de-escalate the tensions at first. A therapist would be a good choice. Have you tried marital counselling and had your mental health evaluated? You are trying so hard to sound rational but getting your wife pregnant with her second child while you were "not in love" with her is not a rational act but instead something that someone needing professional help would do.

The lying for years is a problem; I don't see how admitting it will do anything except wound her mortally and bring shame to yourself. Wanting to shame yourself is a pretty classic move to make while depressed. You are very focused on your needs at the moment (wanting to have access on your terms, wanting to control her reactions, making unilateral decisions about joint decisions). If you persist on following through with this decision then I strongly recommend you meet with a therapist to come up with a fair script to follow where you will not be as focused on your needs and will actually be considerate to her.

You do not want to be judged but you need to sit with knowledge that walking out on a newborn child and a wife that loves you because you are unfulfilled IS considered one of the worst and most selfish things you can do, and you will be judged very harshly by many people. You feeling bad does not eliminate the real trauma and harm you are causing other people.
posted by saucysault at 1:31 PM on September 6, 2012 [44 favorites]

Please relay the following to your friend: He needs counseling, stat.

Divorce changes lives, often irrevocably and, as someone who has gone through a divorce, the bit about how he wants to see his kids everyday is shockingly naive and silly. How is he going to feel about that when his ex starts having male friends over? How does he know his STBX is going to want this?

There is no "least painful way possible".

And your friend is right. This IS all about him. He should fix himself and not wreck other people's lives in the process as part of some rationalized collateral damage because he's too damn lazy to do the work to figure out the root cause of his unhappiness.
posted by PsuDab93 at 1:40 PM on September 6, 2012 [6 favorites]

N'thing counseling for your friend before he goes through with this. If he thinks that it's going to work out for him to pop 'round his old house to look after his ex's kids "a few weeks after I leave", then he is completely out of touch with reality. And I don't mean that as a rhetorical way of insulting your friend, I mean that seriously.
posted by facetious at 1:44 PM on September 6, 2012 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: Please note -he obviously has no intention of financially or otherwise abandoning his children.
posted by saturn~jupiter at 1:45 PM on September 6, 2012

Therapy for you. Marriage counseling for both. Love is a verb and the feeling follows, not vice versa. Honestly, you are giving up without even trying first.
posted by peacrow at 1:45 PM on September 6, 2012 [7 favorites]

He lost his chance for an easy, unilateral divorce two kids ago.

The only way forward is marriage counseling, until the marriage is fixed or until the marriage is understood by both him and his wife to be unfixable. Leaving her devastated and blindsided with a toddler and a baby is not something your friend can do.
posted by lydhre at 1:51 PM on September 6, 2012 [13 favorites]

I had an amicable divorce. I have two special needs sons. We hung in there until they were older which, for us, helped make the divorce non-catastrophic.

I was married a long time. I got married at age 19 and we had been married a bit over 22 years when it was finalized. My ex was financially generous and mostly butted out of our lives once he physically moved out. Out of respect for difficult personal circumstances (in addition to the aforementioned kids, I have health issues), the divorce was a long, slow thing. We came to a verbal agreement about a year before the papers were filed. It was about another 10 months before he physically moved out. It was like another 18 months or more before it was all final.

Let me suggest you go the greenmail route. Buy her out, in essence. She needs money to raise the kids. She needs to know this won't plunge her into nightmarish, chronic poverty. Swear (to yourself!) that she will be comfortable financially at your expense, come hell or high water.

Additionally, make sure that your involvement with the kids is 99% about making her life easier and being a good dad and only 1% about whatever you might want emotionally from it. If you can't do that, then don't go. If you expect them to keep meeting your social and emotional needs even though you are bailing, opinion of that is pretty harsh and would likely get my post deleted. Just don't do it that way.

If I were her, I would not wish to remain in the same home where you made love to me, impregnated me, and lyingly told me you loved me. I would wish to move away from the ghosts of the marriage, from a dwelling filled with tainted memories. If you can't help her move, or if she wishes to stay put, at least help her re-do the place so it changes. I moved to a different apartment a month after my ex moved out. I think that was really helpful in moving forward psychologically and emotionally.

My ex is an extremy honorable, duty-bound sort of person. Divorcing him was the best part of the marriage. After years of screaming fights, often about money, he gave me enough money to live on without working as long as he could afford it and otherwise mostly stayed out of my hair. It helped me make peace with the relationship, which had always been stormy. I felt kind of like a "kept" woman, minus the sex. It was a very healing experience. It let me focus on dealing with my health and starting my life over rather than crying in my coffee about the ending of my marriage.

However, I was the person who decided enough was enough and stated I wished to get divorced. The divorce was not thrust upon me. So you probably need to be downright saintly if you don't want ugly drama.
posted by Michele in California at 1:51 PM on September 6, 2012 [8 favorites]

I believe you that your friend has good intentions with regards to his kids. But I think his intentions and expectations are unrealistic, particularly for such young children.

If he really wants for his routine with them to remain the same, then marriage counseling with an eye toward sticking around would be a much more realistic, less chaos-inducing option right now. What does he have to lose by trying? If there's no "other woman" then why rush into this? I know it feels to him that he's been waiting forever, but that's no one's fault but his own. His wife deserves a chance to be a part of this decision, particularly since he's be so dishonest with her for so long.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 1:53 PM on September 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

Why does your friend assume his wife will get the kids? What if she says she can't take care of them and he ends up having to raise two children while getting his PhD? Or (more likely) has to drop out and work full time to take care of them?

Your friend is being shockingly selfish. He wants to leave behind all the difficult parts of having a family - having to take care of them, live in the same house, etc - but keep all the fun stuff. Even a completely levelheaded person would find this arrangement unfair and difficult to swallow. If your friend thinks a spouse that just got dumped will be fine with it, he needs a serious reality check.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 1:53 PM on September 6, 2012 [21 favorites]

First, your friend should know that there is no good way to unilaterally leave a woman with a 3-month-old baby, and that this question is, essentially, "How can I make this easier for myself?" Also that unless his marriage vows read "for better or for worse, unless I stop feeling a romantic spark," he owes a little more not even to his wife, but to his commitment. Also that his wife is probably not going to want to see him four times a day (morning pickup, morning drop-off, afternoon pick-up, afternoon drop-off) a few weeks after this news.

But if he goes ahead with it, he should absolutely not say "that I can't continue, and that it wouldn't be fair to her to do so." It is really not his job here to act like he knows what would or would not be best for her. She might well think that, yes, it would absolutely be fair to her for her husband to stay and continue participating in the marriage, even if he is no longer in love with her. He needs to be honest about the fact that this is about him and his needs/wants.
posted by ostro at 1:58 PM on September 6, 2012 [12 favorites]

Mod note: Folks, just answer the question and don't play out your own dramas here. If you're too angry to answer, wait until you are not.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:01 PM on September 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

If your friend has indeed decided definitively that he is going to leave his wife and does not love her, his #1 priority is to at least begin treating her with respect and honesty, which she deserves. This means being honest about his feelings, initiating divorce proceedings, and negotiating a fair settlement that takes care of both her and their children. There is no "painless" or "easy" way to do this, because divorce at this point is not just about ending the marriage, but also about disrupting the family built on that marriage.
posted by anonnymoose at 2:01 PM on September 6, 2012

Please note -he obviously has no intention of financially or otherwise abandoning his children.

This family currently has one house and one part-time income. He will be moving out so shelter costs will increase significantly if not double, paid help will have to be employed as everyone's schedules change, and his wife will likely have to increase her income as a result. That is affecting his children financially, emotionally, and as regards less time with *both* parents, not just the one that moves out.

If he really wants to not put financial strain on his children, he should quit school and get a full-time job.
posted by headnsouth at 2:01 PM on September 6, 2012 [6 favorites]

Mother of two children here.

My husband and I both work full-time jobs. We barely make ends meets with all the bills and groceries and diapers, and daycare, etc. When my oldest was born, my husband was in a Ph.D. program for which he received a generous fellowship that came close to a liveable salary. We made ends meet even less then than we are now.

Working part-time while in a Ph.D program while the wife only works part-time as well will not pay for, essentially, two households.

Your friend's financial expectations, if nothing else, are unreasonable. He should be prepared to leave his Ph.D. program.

That said, I agree with everyone else that this very much sounds like a crisis of another sort and that he needs to go to counseling both with and without his wife before pursuing the divorce. He owes her that much.
posted by zizzle at 2:07 PM on September 6, 2012 [5 favorites]

Is there another woman in the picture? You wrote: I am not leaving her for another woman. I am leaving her because I am unhappy. You did not state that there was no other woman. My initial thought was that there was, in fact, someone else, and the claim of unhappiness was a red herring in an attempt to justify it.

I hope that I am being overly cynical and wrong in this instance. If I am not and there is someone else, even if no physical contact has occurred, I urge you to take a break from that person while you go through marriage counseling. Infatuation and novelty can easily and powerfully cloud our judgment.
posted by pecanpies at 2:14 PM on September 6, 2012 [11 favorites]

What your friend can do best to make things easiest on his STBX, is to put his financial and care/time offerings down on paper, with witnesses signing... possibly even get this notarized. I've seen divorces, and heard the STBX's tell each other all kinds of things. Then family and friends start offering advice, and suddenly clear words were a misunderstanding, or just plain old dirty lies.
posted by nobeagle at 2:21 PM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think if you've made up your mind then you should act and not draw the thing out. I think expecting little or no drama is unreasonable.

I am divorced. Thankfully my former husband and I DID NOT have children, nor did we own property together, thus things were fast and mostly painless. That said, I was miserable for three years leading up to finally saying "I'm done. I can't do it anymore."

You need to remember that you have an ideal view of how things will go - but that doesn't mean that your view is realistic.

You also owe it to your family to attend counseling together. Not to reconcile per se, but to remain civil, communicative, and essentially remain afloat AS A FAMILY - which you will be for the rest of your life, because you chose to create two new lives with this woman.
posted by rosesnrubies at 2:24 PM on September 6, 2012

I tried to post, but I guess it was too vitriolic, so I'll try again.

Would your friend be amenable to staying in the household with the children, to cut costs and to parent on a full-time basis? If his wife felt the same way, she doesn't love him anymore either, but right now, in their lives they have two small children and not enough income to stretch to having two households, would your friend stay?

I suspect that he doesn't just not love his wife, he doesn't love his life. He built a family, and now he realizes that its not what he wants. If he wants to leave the situation so he can go back to being a grad-student, without ties or concerns, then he needs to seriously consider the reality of the situation.

What will he sacrifice for this end? Will he leave the PhD program and get a full-time job to support his family and himself? Will he take the children as the primary caregiver so his wife can work full-time? If it really is just about not loving his wife any more, either of these options would be fine with him. I doubt either would be.

I suspect that sacrifice isn't really on his mind, based upon how he's decided exactly how and when he wants to be involved with his kids.

Some decisions are irrevokable, bringing two children into the world is one of those decisions. No matter what, he'll never be as free as he once was before he married and had a family. Divorce won't change that.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:31 PM on September 6, 2012 [9 favorites]

Well, I would think that trying counseling would be an important step before divorce for anyone who took their marriage vows seriously and cared at all about their spouse (in the kind of situation where the cause is "I don't love her anymore," I don't mean when there are serious red flags about the person/the relationship.)

But especially in a situation like this where:
1) "We generally have a fairly good companionship kind of relationship at the moment" (i.e. it's not intolerable staying in the relationship while you try to work things out); and
2) You have a 2-year-old and a 3-month old that the two of you need to support emotionally and financially (have you done the math on the daycare costs and how you'll be able to cover that plus the housing costs/etc on your salaries combined? daycare for little kids is really, really expensive... and if you're counting on her willingness to juggle schedules with you on a daily basis "within a few weeks," not to mention the difficulties in finding a part-time job that would allow you to have the exact hours free to balance with her job, it seems pretty unrealistic to me);

... it seems like the obvious next step.

But from what you've said, it mostly sounds like you're not even willing to try. Which really doesn't seem compatible with wanting to do right in this situation. Unless there's something important you're not telling us, counseling seems like your answer for the best way to do this. If there really is no way to fix this, then she'll see that, and she'll know you both gave it the best you could, and that hopefully makes the ultimate breakup easier. (And gives her some time to adjust to it, too, rather than lying to her about your feelings for months and then hitting her with this out of the blue.) And if there is a way to fix this, then everybody wins, right?
posted by EmilyClimbs at 3:02 PM on September 6, 2012 [7 favorites]

To the friend:

You're a PhD student who has two children under the age of two.

Consider for a moment that you may be depressed/burnt out and see both your GP and a therapist. Then see how you feel about your wife and family from there.
posted by heyjude at 3:21 PM on September 6, 2012 [30 favorites]

I know someone on the receiving end of a similar situation, and the main thing they wish their spouse had done differently can be summed up in one word: THERAPY.

Couples, one-on-one, or both -- a professional who knows how emotions work is your best bet for minimizing the damage from the blast zone you've decided to drop your family into.

Also: Be prepared to lose many, if not almost all, disgusted friends and family in the aftermath, which was what happened in this situation.
posted by bunji at 5:34 PM on September 6, 2012

My marriage dissolved after 20 years when my son was 8 years old, after several years of volatile arguments, money problems, sexual problems, disagreements over child-rearing. My ex and I forged a workable way to parent together, shared custody, shared expenses, etc. It's just about the best divorce you could ask for. But, after 10 years apart, I regret terribly that we didn't have marital therapy before separating. At the time divorce seemed the only way out; now, I'm not so sure. You will never regret taking the time to explore your options through therapy, you might always regret throwing away your marriage and your family life without at least giving therapy a try.
posted by SweetTeaAndABiscuit at 5:48 PM on September 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

Absolute honesty with no hostility and a maximum of empathy.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 6:15 PM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

This feeling of love that seems to come and go without any known cause confuses me. Will his friendship for you work the same way? How about his wish to be a father? How can one make any plans in such a situation. Based on the given description, after the divorce he might feel madly in love with her again.

I suspect there's actually a lot missing from the description that could make sense of it. Such as, him having no idea what love is and having no understanding of who he is and what relationships are about. I suggest he find out before making any (additional) radical moves, like divorce. Therapy for him would be a great way to begin. Couples therapy can come after that.
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:24 PM on September 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

If I were him I would be stressed out and depressed- a PhD and 2 small children?! Good god!

I strongly suspect he's looking at divorce as an obvious way to MAKE.IT.STOP!

But it won't. The solution has nothing to do with his wife. It has to do with the stress, and so many changes going on in his life and, very likely, depression and exhaustion.

Therapy yes, of course. And if there is anyway to take the load off for a while, or lessen it, for both of them, that would be good, too. Whatever they have to do. Babysitter. Grandparents. Order meals out. Get a housekeeper. Take a break. This is a huge load on both of of them.
posted by small_ruminant at 6:33 PM on September 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

Avoid getting into a discussion of things I dislike about her or our relationship (would be interested in thoughts on this...)

This seems a bit complicated, because in breaking the news to someone that you've decided to end the marriage, they are naturally going to want to know why.

I had a somewhat amicable divorced the first time around. We separated and agreed on child support. I stayed in the house so we wouldn't be uprooting the kids. It quickly turned into me being a full time single mother, with very little help in raising the kids.

We did go to couples therapy for a while, but he did not want to do the work. Our counselor would give us homework and worksheets to fill out, and he would come up to me and ask me what he was supposed to put down on his.

I eventually sought out my own therapist, and he said, "no one can force you to stay with someone if you don't want to."

And I did get a lot of flack from some people, not outright anger, but disapproval, because from the outside, they thought everything was fine and my husband's little personality quirks were harmless. Then again, they didn't have to live with my husband, and I just couldn't stand it anymore. I'm with the "get some professional help" crowd, because not being able to talk openly with your wife when you've been feeling this way for what, almost a year, means there is a fear of being open with your partner. Whether that's justified or not, only you know (fear of an argument, that she'll guilt you into staying in a situation that makes you unhappy, fear of having your children withheld from you, etc.). Those fears might be best worked out with a personal therapist and also couples therapy so no matter what you ultimately decide to do, your kids will benefit in the long run from having two parents who get along enough and are open and honest enough to communicate in effective ways -- as opposed to arguments and hidden resentments.

I also wonder why you are caring for them full time on weekends, is she really burdened by their care and might have some postpartum depression? Obviously she knows something's up if she's asked you outright about your feelings. It might be best to say you're having a hard time with your feelings right now (true) and be honest without being cruel, and offer to go to a counselor. Due to the small children involved, this is really beyond the scope of random internet people telling you what to do.

I wish you all luck and hope it works out for the best for all involved.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 7:30 PM on September 6, 2012 [6 favorites]

Renowned marriage therapist John Gottman's research has shown that marriages can withstand so-called "irreconcilable differences"; the problem is that many people don't have the skills or determination to make peace with those differences.

I'm also not even sure how your friend can label these differences "irreconcilable" if (it appears) he's made little or no attempt to "reconcile" them in the first place (she's aware that his love is waning, but no mention is made that she has any inkling why!) About the only thing I can think of that would fall into that category would be if your friend has discovered he's gay.

So, I'm jumping on the therapy bandwagon.
posted by drlith at 4:13 AM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I know a guy who made this work. He and his ex wife divorced and they have a happy daughter and a good friendship and parenting relationship. Both are in new relationships and are all ok with it a decade later. They were doing ok a few years in.

I think the perspective here is that you have to make long-long-long term plans to get to an outcome you'd like. As a Ph.D. student, you should know that sometimes outcomes take years of persistence. You would have the best result here if you accepted, internally and mentally, that the process to getting your freedom is one that takes several years. Picture the nice things about being free of your marriage. Then picture that you can have those things in the year 2015, and that really really, you will not have any approximation of them before then.

If your attitude is, "I need to get out now, I'll be a weekend dad within a few months and will soon feel better," then you will have a dramatic shitstorm.

I think you can do this in a way that is not horrifyingly hateful if the whole purpose of your existence for the next 2-3 years is to make this a smooth transition. Honestly, with a 3 month old child? You won't regret giving this process 2-3 years of your best self, over the next 50+ years of your life. You'll sleep better at night for the rest of your life.

Which means: for the next 2-3 years, your money, time, resources, attention, creativity, thoughtfulness, therapist appointments, patience, etc., are all devoted to the happiness of your wife and your kids. You do not spend any of these resources on dating others (except for what's minimally necessary and minimally hurtful to maintain your sanity -- no romances for you, though if you have to engage in casual relationships akin to prostitution to maintain the feeling of being a human, fine). If your wife is angry or throws her shoe, you have the patience of a saint and try again to keep things positive not once, but 100 times. You don't get to check out... you use best communication practices. If you don't know what those are, you use your therapist hour to hash it out until it's resolved. You don't use your therapist hour to talk about yourself. You get advice from your friends as necessary. You don't use your friendship advice requests to ask about your trip or your girlfriend or golf game, you spend those on your wife also. She and the kids get everything you can give without exceptions. Your wife gets to decide basically everything. You go to as much therapy as she'd want and you offer this and do it without complaint. You are preserving your financial stability so that you don't mess things up for all four of you, but otherwise you are her bitch. You quit the Ph.D. if necessary and work to make more money. You don't just get an answer here on Metafilter today -- you use your creativity and idea generation, and trial-and-error (you're a creative person, you're getting a freaking Ph.D.) to come up with ways to improve her and their happiness and lot in life. You repeat until you succeed. This doesn't happen this week. It takes a long, long time. You don't get to write her off at any time, or give up because it feels bad. if you have a caustic argument, you wait a week and try again. if it doesn't work, you wait a month and try again.

The details are to be worked out, but the way to not be a complete and total psycho evil douchebag when leaving a 3 month old infant is to accept that you are devoting the next n years of your life, in entirety, to making good on your commitment and leaving your wife and children in a good place. A place that you in your heart believe is good, and with the greatest honesty, feel good about.

I can picture wanting out of a relationship. I can think of a few relationships in which I know just what that feeling is like. However, I can also picture what it would look like if I knew I had to be tied to that person for a while, making their life as good as I could for n years, before actually getting my freedom. Single people don't have to do that. You unfortunately have this issue you have created / preexisting commitment.

There are lots of deadbeat dads out there, and people who walk out on their families. None of them would do any of the above. My friend R, he has a happy daughter and happy exwife. I remember having conversations with him and him saying, "We don't fight about money. It's easy, she gets all my money." He was kind of joking, but it was true. He's a good dude. Not relevant, but now he's into dating BBWs of another race exclusively, and he's doing his own freewheeling single guy thing, and he makes tons of $$ in finance, and everyone is happy. His exwife is also happy, in her own relationship. They have family outings. It's possible. His entire life was devoted to his wife and daughter for several years after the divorce, and the guy has a good heart and the patience of a saint. He did not get anything approximating freedom or relief for a long time, on the order of years. YMMV.
posted by kellybird at 4:26 PM on September 7, 2012 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: @kellybird - thanks for that amazingly practical, wise & generous response.
posted by saturn~jupiter at 3:17 AM on September 8, 2012

Response by poster: Anonymous friend here. Thank you, @kellybird, for taking the question and details at face value and answering it as such.

Yes, I'm in no way expecting everything (or anything, really) to be easy upon breaking-up/divorce or any time soon after. I'm committed to my children's happiness and well-being, and putting in the time, effort and money over the years to provide for this. I also get that I have an obligation to make this as easy as possible for my wife (over the years to come) and to "leaving my wife and children in a good place". Thanks again.
posted by saturn~jupiter at 5:12 PM on September 10, 2012

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