How long do you keep trying, with kids in the mix?
December 19, 2014 9:20 AM   Subscribe

At what point in the long, slow, steady decline of a marriage with young children does "we should keep trying to work things out, if only for the kids" become "for the kids' sake, we shouldn't be together"?

Assume: two self-employed parents; two children under 5; years of couples counseling already; and a decline beginning with the arrival of kid #1, caused by the combined stress of parenthood, precarious finances, and the resulting pattern of no-deposit-all withdrawal in both relationship and bank account.

No cheating, no abuse, just constantly increasing tension, resentment, anger and sadness with brief but increasingly infrequent periods of peace.
posted by El Curioso to Human Relations (57 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
You've given it your best shot, now go and be happy. Your kids would rather come from two happy households, than from one miserable one.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:23 AM on December 19, 2014 [33 favorites]


If you're genuinely asking yourself the question of when, you've already answered the question of whether. And once you've answered whether, the answer to when is "It's already done." Your marriage is over. Start building your new life, and let your spouse start building theirs.
posted by Etrigan at 9:25 AM on December 19, 2014 [24 favorites]


If finances are an issue, I can tell you that divorce is expensive. Running two households when one is tight, is going to change your living standards.

However, at some point that only you and/or your spouse can know, it is time to toss in the towel. I have seen couples that agree to live together as essentially roommates because of the costs and the kids.
posted by 724A at 9:26 AM on December 19, 2014 [6 favorites]


At the point where you've addressed the "precarious finances" situation thoroughly enough that a split won't leave your kids significantly more impoverished than they are in a two-parent home.

My folks' divorce was civil and healthy and a great model for us kids. The utter poverty it caused...that was NOT so great. We still are suffering those after-effects...in our 30s.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 9:27 AM on December 19, 2014 [34 favorites]


Maybe address the money issues first? While they say money does not equal happiness, in marriage lack of money can definitely equal unhappiness.
posted by Nevin at 9:32 AM on December 19, 2014 [16 favorites]


I need more information, OP, but I tend to think Dear Sugar is right that "wanting to leave is reason enough." So, do you truly want to leave, or what?

a decline beginning with the arrival of kid #1

That's normal (John Gottman's research says about 66% of couples experience a decline in marital satisfaction with the arrival of a new child into their family). But in general, folks tend to get that loving feeling back on track once the youngest kid sleeps through the night, and is potty trained, and is not such an adorable, bottomless pit of need quite as much. YMMV.

If you are fighting in front of the kids, stop it. Make sure you let them see you make up. If you can't knock it off, then it's time to separate because research has shown that watching their parents fight and not make up actively harms children.

Have you been able to spend any significant amount of time alone together, just the two of you? Like a weekend together or a "date night"? Because those types of activities would be "deposits" per your bank account parlance. I'd give some thought to why you personally feel the need to do accounting. Why keep score? Why think of it like a balance sheet? Love does not calculate.

Make yourself a list:
1) Things I need my spouse to START doing.
2) Things I need my souse to STOP doing.
3) Things I need my spouse to CONTINUE doing.

And get thee to a relationship counselor, stat. It is cheaper and less dramatic than divorce. (My bona fides: married 10 years, parent of a 7 and 5-year-old.)
posted by hush at 9:38 AM on December 19, 2014 [4 favorites]


I can remember my parents arguing from as young as about 5 years old. I ALWAYS knew they were unhappy.

They stayed together until I was 15 and it just got worse and worse as I got older.

Sometimes it's better to stay together for the sake of the kids, but in your case, probably not.
posted by JenThePro at 9:40 AM on December 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


I meant to say you should see a NEW relationship counselor.
posted by hush at 9:44 AM on December 19, 2014 [7 favorites]


Your last question was about separating, and it doesn't sound like anything has improved.

Kids pick up on stuff. It sounds like the two of you are beginning to model bad relationship behavior, so ask yourself exactly how long you'd like these lessons to go on for the kids, in front of the kids.
posted by rtha at 9:45 AM on December 19, 2014 [6 favorites]


Similar to JenThePro - the only thing I remember from when my parents were together is them fighting. That and all the tension. I used to wish on stars that they would get divorced so that they could be happy. They split when I was twelve.

Do what you need to do to be happy so that your kids grow up with happiness, not resentment, tension, anger, and sadness - whether that's more/better counseling or divorce.
posted by okayokayigive at 9:45 AM on December 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


More anecdata. My parents stayed together for about 25 years more than they should have, until my dad died. My brother got a divorce when his kids were 5 & 10, and they're all doing great 10 years on.
posted by rhizome at 9:47 AM on December 19, 2014


I remember my parents fighting, and I was *two years old* when they split up. It's basically my first memory.

That said, money and the stress of parenthood can ease up a lot once your children are school-aged. It sounds like a lot of your problems are the life circumstances you've found your family in, and not necessarily your relationship as such. So if you want to give it a timeline: if the kids get to school-age and it doesn't get better, that's when you'll know it's not going to.
posted by Andrhia at 9:48 AM on December 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


I'm in agreement with Etrigan… the way you've phrased the question, there's no other answer aside from 'leave now.'

Your question posits that the decline is slow, steady, and unstoppable with the marriage increasingly becoming more painful and less enjoyable for all parties involved. Why would anyone stay in that situation, even "for the kids"? It's illogical. However, I'm not sure all the details are revealed here.

If you've had years of therapy and exhausted every option there, and the situation's still worsening, I don't see any way around ending it now. Waiting for some pre-determined point where it's "bad enough" is just needless suffering.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 9:48 AM on December 19, 2014


Maybe focus on individual therapy, not just couples counseling. It's a personal decision on how long you should keep trying. It depends on what you value, what's important to you, and how you want to live your life. Only you can know. I've been married for 16 years and my kids are older (11 and 14). When they were younger I focused more on what my partner was doing and not doing. As I've matured, I focus more on what I'm doing and blame less.

In marriage we will not always like our spouse. Because we are human we will irritate our spouses. Our spouses will point out what bothers them and if we are wise, and their complaint is fair, we will work to fix what is irritating. This is how it goes. Listening to our spouse, examining what can be fixed, learning to let go of what cannot be fixed, and staying strong and mature for our kids. Also, having a sense of humor is really helpful. Good luck.
posted by Fairchild at 9:48 AM on December 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


I tend to think Dear Sugar is right that "wanting to leave is reason enough." So, do you truly want to leave, or what?

Hooboy, no, I absolutely disagree with this. Just wanting to leave is a horrible reason to end a relationship, especially if you are married, especially if there are children...and your problems sound like they would be worse, not better, if you separate (parenting is harder, finances are harder). I know you said you have already tried therapy, but I would suggest Emotionally Focused Therapy if you haven't already.

the combined stress of parenthood, precarious finances, and the resulting pattern of no-deposit-all withdrawal in both relationship and bank account.

These things will not go away if you separate.
posted by Violet Hour at 9:49 AM on December 19, 2014 [22 favorites]


Kids deserve a mother and a father. People can say all they want that it's better for the parents not to fight than to leave, but those have always struck me as post-hoc rationalizations or justifications of the parents doing what they want: to a kid, unless one of you is beating or abusing the kids every day, their thought when you leave is not relief that mommy and daddy aren't fighting anymore, but 'why didn't they want to stay with me? was I not worth sticking around for?' Those thoughts are very, very bad for kids.

Work on your finances and work on your marriage. Your kids will be better off for seeing you try and succeed (even if only partially!) at something unimaginably difficult rather than quitting and one of you ditching the kids. If you have to get divorced, do it when the kids are out of the house and are adult enough to understand the incredible complexity and self-sacrifice necessary for even a semi-successful marriage.
posted by resurrexit at 9:49 AM on December 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


their thought when you leave is not relief that mommy and daddy aren't fighting anymore, but 'why didn't they want to stay with me? was I not worth sticking around for?'

Just want to say that no, this is not at all what every kid thinks. I was *absolutely* relieved that my parents weren't fighting anymore. I never for a minute thought they "didn't want to stay with me," because nobody ever actually vanished from my life. LITERALLY the only bad thing about the divorce was that we were poor forever afterwards.

If you are civil to your spouse, OP, and remain a fully-present fixture in your kids' lives, they will probably be just fine. Kids don't feel abandoned unless they actually are abandoned; so don't abandon them.

(I am a little worried that you're assuming somehow it will be easier to single-parent, with less money...you know that will only happen if you really do bail on your responsibilities, right? If you're doing divorce right, your life is about to get 5,000 times HARDER, not easier. That's why you really, really, really have to want it.)
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 9:56 AM on December 19, 2014 [19 favorites]


The picture I got in my mind when more or less the same thing happened to me was like having unwittingly walked out on a compacted snow shelf up in the mountains. At the moment it collapses and you fall, you realise that your progress was doomed from long before, and only chance held up the snow as long as it did.
So there's no "point" where your perspective flips over. There's an overlap, a long stretch where you could see it from both ways (a would-be sturdy surface, but hollowed out from below).
The point of this image is (or has been for me) that as soon as the metaphorical snow between my feet crumbled, there was no way back.
posted by Namlit at 9:59 AM on December 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


My parents divorced when I was 3 and my oldest sibling was 12. I think we're ok. I remember friends in high school talking about how much they wish their parents would separate, because life at home was so bad.

And I don't know if it's just a coincidence, but my parents are friendly enough that we can all celebrate holidays together. Someone close to me had parents that waited until the kids were out of high school to divorce, and nearly 20 years later, they can't be in the same room. It makes every big family event (such as a graduation) either fraught with tension or missing one parent.
posted by amarynth at 10:01 AM on December 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


A friend of mine said when you get to this point, imagine yourself on a Caribbean island with your partner, away from the stress of kids, finances, work and routine. Now would you still want to be with this person?

So that's one way to tell if it's "staying together for the kids" vs "there is still some things worth reclaiming here," and also helps isolate what is the true source of stress in life. Maybe you are just taking it out on each other.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:13 AM on December 19, 2014 [7 favorites]


An amicable divorce seems much better overall than giving your kids the awful soulcrushing realization as young adults that their unhappy parents felt trapped in a miserable marriage for the sake of the kids.
posted by poffin boffin at 10:14 AM on December 19, 2014 [3 favorites]


If this is really about the kids, then to me the question is this: can you be better parents for the kids apart than you are together? Or are you still going to be the same unhappy precarious-financed people you are now, but in two different homes (and even more more precarious in your finances)? Is it the marriage that's the problem or is it other stuff that you could fix without dissolving the marriage? Are you going to be less tense and resentful towards each other when you're separated? Not everyone is.

My parents stayed together until I had graduated college and it wasn't great but I don't think having divorced parents would have been all that great either.
posted by mskyle at 10:15 AM on December 19, 2014 [6 favorites]


I have commented elsewhere that I have been psychology's biggest detractor, but recently mrs. straw and I hit a rough spot and started exploring options.

A few hundred bucks spent with one therapist got us even-keeled. A hundred bucks and six evenings with the Kaiser Couples Communication Class was things that we'd long known, but gave us a chance to explore them again, as long as we could suck it up and take it seriously and get past the "yeah, I know how to use 'I' language" ennui and actually practice it.

We're probably going to go back to the original therapist and continue for a while there.

It reminded us of the reasons we got together in the first place, and with the "hey, I've got nothing to lose here" opened up communication so both of us could ask for what we actually wanted, which started to sound awfully Rupert Holmes pretty quickly.

I can't tell you how long to keep trying, but I'd suggest that getting some external help to help you get to St. Peepsburg's "if I was on a Caribbean Island" state may better inform you on how long to keep trying.
posted by straw at 10:15 AM on December 19, 2014 [5 favorites]


I was *absolutely* relieved that my parents weren't fighting anymore. I never for a minute thought they "didn't want to stay with me," because nobody ever actually vanished from my life.

Likewise. You send messages to your children if you stay together in a bad relationship "for them" about what is important and what you should expect out of life.

I'd try a different counselor and basically have the topic be "Stay together or not?" and try to arrive at some sort of together-plan. You are still co-parents even if you don't live together. Focus on building up a relationship that is all about being the best parents you can be. For some people that means living apart.

There are ways to split up and have it be much better for the kids than staying together. You'll have to decide if that is the scenario you envision.
posted by jessamyn at 10:16 AM on December 19, 2014 [7 favorites]


This is what I wrote in my response to your last question. It addresses the logistics of your situation.

At this point you have to move out. Can you move in with a friend? Can you rent a room somewhere? Can you get a full time job?

Once you start concentrating on the logistics, you'll find that you're actually looking forward to your future. You need more money, so now would be the time to start figuring out how to make that happen.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:19 AM on December 19, 2014


Oh, reading the previous question linked to by Ruthless Bunny, I withdraw my counselling cheerleading and change my suggestion to "it's time, separate for the children, because they'll be better served by happy parents".
posted by straw at 10:22 AM on December 19, 2014


Kids deserve a mother and a father. People can say all they want that it's better for the parents not to fight than to leave, but those have always struck me as post-hoc rationalizations or justifications of the parents doing what they want: to a kid, unless one of you is beating or abusing the kids every day, their thought when you leave is not relief that mommy and daddy aren't fighting anymore, but 'why didn't they want to stay with me? was I not worth sticking around for?' Those thoughts are very, very bad for kids.

In so many ways no. What kids deserve is loving parenting; the gender or number of parents involved doesn't matter. What matters is that the kids are healthy within whatever limits life has dealt, are loved and supported, and have people around them to model adaptive behaviours and relationships.

Parents fighting--even when you think it's hidden from the kids, trust me, it's not--is not modeling adaptive and constructive behaviour.

Kids very rarely do that TV trope of "mommy left because I'm not food enough" if parents explain why they are separating: sometimes grownups don't get along, and that's for us to deal with, we both love you more than anything. (NB: this is incredibly important. The Talk with the kids must come from a united front without rancour.)

So as a kid who went through two divorces--biological parents separated at 4, divorce took several years because my father is an ass; father and stepmother at 12, at least two years too late--it's better to do this sooner rather than later. Inertia is a hell of a thing.

One thing I urge you to work out ahead of time is custody arrangements. My parents had joint custody, which turned into two weeks with one set, two weeks with the other; one would drop us off at school Friday morning and the other would pick us up. We had started with week and week about once my father had a decent place (prior to that was the usual alternating weekends thing--I found out much later that this was to cushion the upheaval), but it wasn't quite long enough. Two weeks worked out perfectly for us. Christmas was relatively simple: Eve and Day with one set, evening of Day and Boxing Day with the other through to NYE, then back to the regular schedule the first Friday in January.

As to timing... back in September, you wrote: "We can be parents or spouses, not both."

Thing is, only one of those roles can be changed. So be parents and work it out civilly for your children.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:25 AM on December 19, 2014 [12 favorites]


the combined stress of parenthood, precarious finances, and the resulting pattern of no-deposit-all withdrawal in both relationship and bank account.

These things will not go away if you separate.


This is 100% true, and it will get worse. There have been a number of times Mr 15L06 and I thougt this is it. However, one of the reasons we did not divorce is that none of the issues we fight over would disappear.
So instead it is definitely worth investing in making it work. Because with or without a divorce you will need to discuss child-rearing, mutual finances, and a host of other issues.

We both have a nasty temper. We fight (real bad sometimes) and make it up. And tell our son we made up.

I can't tell you what you should do, not even if we met IRL. But even if you do divorce, work on a basis for communication, otherwise it wil be for nothing.
posted by 15L06 at 10:33 AM on December 19, 2014 [3 favorites]


Well, sometimes--increasingly often--it feels like the main motivation to stay together is that, as bad as things get, splitting up still seems like the worse option, logistically, emotionally, in almost every way. It's kind of reassuring actually.

Almost every way. Our worst times (the most conflict) are when all four of us are together, when we're trying to be parents at the same time. When we're not all together, in twos or threes, it's fine, or as fine as you'd reasonably expect at this point. It works when we parent separately, now.
posted by El Curioso at 10:34 AM on December 19, 2014


The worst in every way, I assure you, is looking back at lost years.
posted by Namlit at 10:38 AM on December 19, 2014 [7 favorites]


Are you disagreeing on parenting styles? Are some parenting classes in order, maybe?
posted by sutel at 10:46 AM on December 19, 2014 [4 favorites]


There's no going back to being young and not having kids.

You will be pretty undatable for a good long while after the divorce, longer than you think.

You will have even less money. You will be in even worse poverty.

You will be surprised how easily you get lonely. My parents both were, I think.

You will be very, very pressed for time with a full time job, rent, etc. and part time parenting. Essentially you may just stop parenting.

For what it's worth, I don't think you will find much more happiness divorced. What are you picturing? A new better beau? Pretty unlikely. More money? Definitely impossible. Peace and quiet? Nope, now you'll argue with lawyers and via your kids. It won't necessarily stop.

Think long and hard. Maybe take a vacation. Or one of you get a salaried job. Or spend money on babysitting, it's worth it.
posted by quincunx at 10:47 AM on December 19, 2014 [8 favorites]


as bad as things get, splitting up still seems like the worse option, logistically, emotionally, in almost every way.

Despite my initial comment - I think you may well have something worth salvaging based on your statement above.
posted by JenThePro at 10:58 AM on December 19, 2014 [4 favorites]


Almost every way. Our worst times (the most conflict) are when all four of us are together, when we're trying to be parents at the same time. When we're not all together, in twos or threes, it's fine, or as fine as you'd reasonably expect at this point. It works when we parent separately, now.

Do you have any insight into why this is the case? If you have wildly diverging parenting styles, managing to present the absolutely necessary united front to your kids post-divorce is going to be even harder than it usually is. You'd probably want to look into parenting-focused counseling for that either way.

Also I'm unclear on whether "in twos" also includes you + your spouse? And whether "in threes" includes you, your spouse, and one kid? As in, you like your spouse fine except when BOTH of your kids are around? If that's what you mean, then this is a kind of boggling dynamic but it seems like a professional could probably help you unravel it.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 11:02 AM on December 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


Despite my initial comment - I think you may well have something worth salvaging based on your statement above.

I actually agree.

However, to disagree with someone further up thread: I was a cowardly, cringing kid and the one time I remember standing up to my parents ever (before age 17 or whatever) was when they threatened to try to reconcile. I would LEAVE HOME! I would LIVE IN THE WOODS!

They were awful when they were together despite doing their best to never fight in front of us (there was lots of them sitting in the car in the driveway together) and so on. God, the tension was so stressful.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:03 AM on December 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


It sounds like both of you work from home and you have two kids at home. This is a situation that is DESIGNED to break you! One (or both) of you should really, really, look into getting full time salary position(s). Also preschool for the young ones could be a big help. Get everyone out of the house and doing something almost everyday will help. Finally, I think that your marriage issues (money, parenting) will only get worse if you each have to pay for your own household. I think that you guys need help, counseling is good but I think you need real hands on help. Someone to watch the kids every Saturday night. Someone to clean the house every couple of weeks. Given that therapy hasn't been helping maybe use that money to go out with your spouse with out kids?

If your lives will be better apart, go ahead and separate, but honestly I think it will be even harder right now.
posted by saradarlin at 11:15 AM on December 19, 2014 [10 favorites]


To make finances work for separate households, you will both need to lower your standard of living. Have you considered lowering your standard of living now, together, to see whether easing up the financial stress and making a change in scenery improves your relationship?

There may also be ways to draw boundaries and divide labor that allow you to stay together more happily.
posted by metasarah at 11:17 AM on December 19, 2014 [4 favorites]


I got divorced over ten years ago after 17 years of marriage. I've single-handedly raised three kids. I've worked full-time AND part-time jobs and my dating life is non-existent. My social life for years revolved around my kids' needs. And they have needs.

Here's the thing. Yeah, you'll read about lowered income and changes and whatever about what will happen to your life after divorce, but it's really really hard to believe.

After a divorce, you will be SHOCKED at how much your lifestyle changes. You will have to leave work early to pick up a sick child. You will have to take personal days and sick days to stay with your sick kids. You will oversee and orchestrate all doctor, dentist, therapist appointments as well as afterschool classes and weekend classes.

You will also be broke or close to it most of the time.

When you do it alone, the needs of your children will become your #1 priority.

And yes, you say to yourself, "But I already know how hard it is to be a parent." But you cannot possibly conceive the TOTALITY of raising your children alone. Every single decision you make goes through the kidfilter first. From, you need to wake up extra-early at 4:30 just to have one hour's peace to being responsible for bags and lunches and breakfasts and a healthy dinner and helping with homework and limiting screentime and ensuring they stay clean and that you all exercise and that they get that posterboard they need for tomorrow's science presentation...

You have NO IDEA how it completely and utterly becomes your entire life. Movies or coffee with friends? Weekend soccer league? Anything you ever previously had the freedom to do, that's game over.

And it stays that way for a VERY LONG TIME.

So you had better be damned sure you know what you're getting into.

I suggest you try one more therapist together, because the reality of raising kids alone is something that's going to change your life. It's unbelievably hard to do and you need to exhaust all possibilities before you pull the plug. (Also, the process of divorce really sucks, so prepare yourself for that.)
posted by kinetic at 11:34 AM on December 19, 2014 [10 favorites]


Quincunx, good God. I can understand if you're trying to give a well-intentioned warning from seeing your parents be unhappy after their divorce, but everything you've said is so ungenerous and so unkind.

You will be pretty undateable for a good long while after the divorce, longer than you think.

You are 'undateable' now, because you're married to your spouse. If a desire to increase 'dateability' is actually what's driving this (I see no reason to assume it is!) then divorce is the only option. The truth is that many divorced people date, fall in love, and remarry. Others don't. Love is hard to predict. But you are guaranteed never to meet anyone if you stay in a marriage with someone who makes you miserable.

You will have even less money. You will be in even worse poverty.

This is, strictly speaking, true, in the sense that divorce costs money. But your future is long and you have as much freedom as anyone else does to climb your way out of poverty, and to make a life that is economically sustainable. It is not guaranteed, but it is absolutely possible. A better way to frame this question might be: divorce will cost you money. How much money is a divorce worth to you? Once you decide, you are free to make that choice or not - the same as any other economic transaction.

You will be surprised how easily you get lonely.

I bet you won't be surprised. I bet the fear of being lonely is one of the most terrifying aspect of this for you, and that you lie awake at night afraid of how lonely you will be. It is also lonely being married to someone you don't love. The loneliness of being divorced may, or may not, be worse than that. Probably some days will be better and others will be worse.

You will be very, very pressed for time with a full time job...you may just stop parenting.

You may. Or you may not. You never have to choose to stop parenting. Maybe you will be a better parent, because all your emotional energy will no longer be completely drained from fighting.

For what it's worth, I don't think you will find much more happiness divorced. What are you picturing? A new better beau? Pretty unlikely. More money? Definitely impossible. Peace and quiet? Nope, now you'll argue with lawyers and via your kids. It won't necessarily stop.

A new beau - as in, love with someone who loves you back, is not unlikely. Like I said, it is not guaranteed. You shouldn't leave your marriage because it seems like more fun to go date some imaginary perfect person, obviously. But if you stay in your marriage only because you believe (or you let everyone in this thread convince you) that if you get a divorce, you will die alone and unloved, and in poverty and in misery, having failed at parenting your children...my God, I can't think of a worse fate.

In therapy, I used to do this meditation mantra, and the end of it went: whatever it is, it's already here. As in, whatever is scaring you, whatever is making you anxious, whatever is paralyzing you - accept it, look at it, let it in. As awful as it may be, it's probably not as absolute, as all-encompassing, and as terrifying as it is in your head. If you were past the point of decision-making - if the divorce was already here - you would not accept that you would be doomed to live in poverty, alone and miserable, failing to parent your children. You would look around you, acknowledge your circumstances, and try to make them better.

If you get a divorce, you will survive. Your life will not be terrible forever. That's not to say you should divorce. But to set your post-divorce life up as this apocalyptic nightmare scenario of endless misery, and then to stay in your current circumstances only because hey, as bad as it is, it's got to be better than that...that's not right. In a way, it's lazy decision making. It's scaring yourself into submission rather than realistically weighing your options and trying to rationally make the best choice.

I wish you luck, and I have a lot of compassion and admiration for you, whatever you decide.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 11:36 AM on December 19, 2014 [18 favorites]


On a purely mercenary/practical basis, I would strongly suggest you mutually agree to table this discussion until after both children are in school.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:45 AM on December 19, 2014 [4 favorites]


Kids deserve a mother and a father. People can say all they want that it's better for the parents not to fight than to leave, but those have always struck me as post-hoc rationalizations or justifications of the parents doing what they want: to a kid, unless one of you is beating or abusing the kids every day, their thought when you leave is not relief that mommy and daddy aren't fighting anymore, but 'why didn't they want to stay with me? was I not worth sticking around for?'

--Just want to say that no, this is not at all what every kid thinks. I was *absolutely* relieved that my parents weren't fighting anymore. I never for a minute thought they "didn't want to stay with me,"


Same here. I spent years of my childhood wondering why my parents were still together when it was so obvious they shouldn't be, and wondering why they couldn't see how miserable they were making us.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:51 AM on December 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


You will survive. I was you a few years ago (low conflict but marriage slowly falling apart, several shots at counseling, two children) and we divorced.

Yes, on the money stress.
Yes, on the overwhelming-ness of a lot of it.

BUT....here's the thing. We pulled the plug on the marriage before we were too angry to be civil. We co-parent as divorced people way better than we co-parented as married unhappy people.

And the time pressures are different. Sometimes it is very very hard to constantly be the go-to in the house for both kids ALL THE TIME. But when they're with their dad (quite often) I get a kind of freedom for myself that is just amazing.

And it's really noticeable how much more "checked-in" I am with being a parent, and in my work life, now that I'm not spending all this psychic energy on a dying marriage.

Also un-dateable for a good long while? Huh? YMMV, but that's not been my experience. You may well want to wait a decent amount of time (I did) but it's surprisingly easy to find other humans to grab a coffee with or whatever when you're ready.
posted by pantarei70 at 11:54 AM on December 19, 2014 [8 favorites]


Quincunx, good God. I can understand if you're trying to give a well-intentioned warning from seeing your parents be unhappy after their divorce, but everything you've said is so ungenerous and so unkind.

I tend to be a practical type of person and to get to the point. It's well-intentioned. I genuinely believe everything I've written above and don't intend to be dour or unkind. I really and honestly think divorce does not make most people as happy as they think it will, and almost certainly never immediately in the short term. "Undatable" perhaps came across as unkind, but I'm trying to be practical- you know every single metafilter thread where people scream don't date that person until the divorce is finalized? You know how many people click "nope, next" if you put "separated" on online dating, leading to either having to lie or accepting fewer dates? I was one of them. And the trouble with divorcees dating divorcees and how many holidays, stress, blended family stuff that brings?

I'm really not just bitter about my parents. It was hard on them and they both admit it. It was hard on me too, but it was doubly hard seeing them go through it. And they are both happily remarried and I like my stepfamilies. But this is fifteen years later.
posted by quincunx at 1:15 PM on December 19, 2014 [3 favorites]


If there was a question that was more "please just give me permission to do this", I don't think I've seen it. You can't even be around each other. Go. It sounds miserable.

Question: would there be the remotest possibility of pooling resources with e.g. your family of origin, post-divorce?
posted by cotton dress sock at 1:57 PM on December 19, 2014


What does your spouse think?

You don't really mention them. Ever. What's up with that??

It's hard for me to believe you, personally, have given counseling and parenting classes a true try. If ever there was a situation interpersonal skills improvement could fix, your family is it.

Your issues, as described, seem infinitely solvable by counseling.

Is there something you are leaving out?
posted by jbenben at 2:11 PM on December 19, 2014 [7 favorites]


Our worst times (the most conflict) are when all four of us are together, when we're trying to be parents at the same time. When we're not all together, in twos or threes, it's fine

Wait, "threes" are ok? Does this mean your kids are already reacting to their parents' conflict by picking sides or getting drawn in? Or worse, mimicking what's going on between you and your spouse? Jesus. Spare all of you and leave, it sounds like chaos (reading your previous question too).
posted by cotton dress sock at 2:21 PM on December 19, 2014


One or both of you really, really needs to get a more financially stable and remunerative job. This is deadly serious. If one of you moves out your money stress now will seem like a joke.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 2:24 PM on December 19, 2014 [9 favorites]


So my answer to this question is that you're allowed to get a divorce once you can support a stable, reasonably comfortable household alone.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 2:28 PM on December 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


I don't think that divorce per se is bad for kids, so I'm not going to tell you to stay together for their sake; but I am going to add to the "you need to improve your finances" chorus. If you separate, each of you (plus the kids) is going to be living on one shaky income instead of two - not an improvement on your present money woes. So, if you want to separate, you each need to make a plan as to how you will cope financially (a plan that isn't "cross your fingers" or "hope for the best"). Your kids won't benefit from two angry, unhappy parents staying together, but they also won't benefit from having two divorced but dirt-poor parents who struggle to provide the essentials, let alone treats.

Can one or both of you get a salaried job? If you have no choice but to freelance because salaried jobs are scarce in your field and/or area, then can you work to build up your business? If you freelance because you just prefer it, can you (and/or your wife) suck it up and work for a salary for the time being? How about drawing up a budget - seeing where you can economize and how you can start saving?

Your financial stresses are not going to go away with divorce and probably will get worse, so it's imperative to do everything you can to secure your financial life.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 2:45 PM on December 19, 2014 [4 favorites]


OP, I went ahead and read all of your previous relationship and parenting Asks. Which I think is essential to recognizing what's up with you, because your question today really left a lot out. (Um, do you often under-communicate? I think you do.)

Three months ago you said: "At this point the environment at home has become so toxic that its negative effect on the girls has to be outweighing any positive effect of us staying together."

Dude, I fully believe you. Something needs to change, right away.

And: "We've tried everything we can to fix it, including seeing multiple couples' counselors for years"

Ok. You've convinced me a new counselor or third party parenting advice-giver will probably not solve your problem, nor will MOAR time alone with your wife (for reasons I'm getting to) and I hereby retract my prior comments suggesting any of that.

Having read your backstory, your larger problem is you have an untenable work-from-home situation that is making your marriage suck even harder than it already naturally is because you are not getting enough alone time. So you have no energy.

You're clearly an introvert - have you figured out a way to get your desperate and understandable needs for solitude met? Have you figured out how to tell your wife that this is literally what your soul needs to survive?

Because this was you in 2009, asking How Can I Get Time Alone As A (New) Parent?, when your almost-6-year-old daughter was a newborn: "I don't feel like I get enough alone time as it is, partly through my own reluctance to ask for or demand it. (It feels "antisocial" or "selfish," or both.) It's been especially lacking the past nice months of the pregnancy when my wife couldn't do much and we ended up at home, together, a lot."

And here it's almost 6 years later, and you and your wife are STILL at home, together, a lot. Fuuuuck.

Re-arranging your current work situation so that you have real ALONE TIME (like at least 2 hours a day, minimum) is going to be priority #1 for you to work on. I really see this as your keystone problem. Of course you have no more energy! Of course part of you thinks getting the hell away from your wife sounds appealing. Of course your relationship has changed. You need to not be in the same space with her during the work week. Solve that problem and I really think the other stuff can get a bit better, too.
posted by hush at 3:13 PM on December 19, 2014 [24 favorites]


Good lord. I really think you should shelve the divorce idea for now and concentrate on getting an outside-the-house job. Your wife should too. All of you in the house all the time? The damn Brady Bunch couldn't have stayed happy through a scenario like that. Bonus, if you do decide after a year of regular 9-5 jobs that you still want that divorce, you'll be much better set up to handle it economically. But more likely you'll realize that it's NICE to come home to your spouse at the end of the day if you've spent the day away from them.
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:40 PM on December 19, 2014 [13 favorites]


Yeah, as far as I can tell, you're miserable together, but the only way to make you both even more miserable is to be even broker as the both of you try to support a three person household on one tiny income. Table this discussion until you both make more money and can actually afford to not be together.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:56 PM on December 19, 2014 [3 favorites]


My sister and I used to pray our parents would get divorced. Seriously. We were perhaps 5 and 9 or 6 and 10 years old and the tension in the house was so thick it was hard to breathe. No one spoke unless they had to - unless they were in public and putting on a show for someone outside the family. Behind closed doors was very different - and the children were not fooled!

We dreaded having to come in in the evening, always wondering if we could all get through the evening without some sort of explosion. My parents didn't fight - they just didn't speak to each other - but each of them took out their unhappiness on us, the kids who weren't allowed to fight back.

If your marriage is unhappy, your children aren't fooled, but they're uneasy and unhappy and wishing you'd get your stuff figured out and either make a home together or make homes apart but at least do something.

You may have to get two jobs outside the home in order to make enough money to support your family. Or your partner may need to do that. One of you may need to stay home to care for the kids until they're of full-day school age, but if that's the case, the other may need two jobs. Or maybe one of you needs to work days and the other swing shift. I agree that you're spending too much time in the same small space but that just means you need to change things for the better.

I'm sorry - I know this is so damn hard - but time alone won't change this situation for the better.
posted by aryma at 11:41 PM on December 19, 2014 [3 favorites]


Nthing that this is a money and space issue, NOT a relationship issue. Perhaps you have those too, but your huge issues that have been constant for the years you have been asking questions are about space and money. Young kids are SO stressful. I think money issues are even MORE stressful.

My life as a single freelancer making barely enough money to survive was really hard. My life as a married with kids full time out-of-home professional is hard, and young children are unbelievably difficult and hard on marriage, but money smooths a lot. You can buy babysitting. You can buy activities. You can buy housecleaning. You can order food whenever you don't want to cook. And a regular income allows you to budget effectively. A full time job with benefits removes medical bill stress.

One of you out of the house during the day permits you to actually miss each other. Now that I have kids I do not find home at all relaxing, and going to an office to work is actually a good break. Consider it.
posted by rainydayfilms at 7:57 AM on December 20, 2014 [5 favorites]



One of you out of the house during the day permits you to actually miss each other. Now that I have kids I do not find home at all relaxing, and going to an office to work is actually a good break. Consider it.


I think this is the key here. Honestly, if husband, son and I spent all day every day in the same place we would already have physically harmed each other. At one time, when our son was 2 we had three months of that. I was never happier than when this ended!

I enjoy going to the office, and although my husbands frequent business travel is actually more than we would both like it is a saviour for our relationship.

Can you rent a cheap room for office space somewhere, anywhere? even if only a room in some neighbours house in exchange for yardwork? even if it costs money you cannot afford, perhaps just try for a month?
posted by 15L06 at 8:20 AM on December 20, 2014


You kids would be far better off with two reasonably-cooperative parents in separate poverty level homes than they would be in one miserable one. Every day is one more day too many.

And if the other parent decides to flake at some point, regardless of what they intend at this point - let them go. Do NOT try to push or force or guilt them to parent. All it ends up doing is more damage.
posted by stormyteal at 10:04 PM on December 20, 2014


Single (co-parenting) mom here. I encourage you to re-think your notions of both marriage and divorce/separation.

In terms of your marriage, you have some options that do not necessarily have to mean you stay married in a traditional sense. Perhaps you could both agree to take a break from your marriage, abstaining from dating, and focus on getting your finances in order. Perhaps you could redefine what marriage looks like and determine whether you could make do with rotating time with the kids, seeing things as an economic partnership and so on. You could look at getting a part-time job with benefits, hire a house cleaner and so on and see if throwing more money at major stressors helps. You could also trying cutting back to a post-divorce income level and see how that feels. You could even each go away one weekend every month, perhaps to a friend's or family member's home. I had friends whose parents quite happily slept in separate rooms and had very separate social lives.

You can also separate and live in the same home. Or rent an apartment you rotate in and out of, while keeping the kids in one place. This doesn't have to be permanent. It could just be something you try out. You could use your existing home as a base and agree to live together till your kids are older. I knew one couple that agreed that they would be separated until the child was in daycare - they live in separate rooms and found this solution worked much better for childcare.

You can do all this and continue in therapy - alone and together. If you have been with the same therapist for five years and you aren't getting results, it may be time for a new therapist.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 11:18 PM on December 20, 2014


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