But we're all good people, dammit.
July 1, 2006 9:13 PM   Subscribe

SanityFilter: I want out of my marriage. I know it's going to be painful. We have a child, for one thing. What body blows can I expect and prepare for, if any?

Not a pretty story, and not one I'm proud of, either. A five-year marriage, and a three-year-old son we're both madly in love with. After five years, it's become pretty clear that we are not going to be able to reconcile our cultural, religious, and ethical differences. I can only see two options: quit or stay.

Staying would do two things. It would mean committing myself to being an agreeing, nodding, quite possibly pathological shell of a man. It would also rob my son of a happy father. A divorce would give me a shot at being a whole man and father, one day. And I do believe that my son would be happier with healthy divorced parents than with two people who are miserably married.

Here's the thing. My wife is overseas for two months, visiting her family, with our son. I plan to ask for a divorce when she returns. I would like it to be amicable, but want to prepare for the possibility that it won't be.

What can I do to prepare myself (and all three of us) for what's going to go down?
For what it's worth, we're in Canada, our son has Canadian citizenship, and we have no possessions that I couldn't live without (i.e. no house or car).

Helpful answers might include advice related to finances, child custody, mediation, or therapy. But knowing the way MeFites operate, answers might come out of left field too. I hope so, anyway.
posted by YamwotIam to Human Relations (49 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
have a backup place to stay.

get a lawyer.

Before you do this though and with such finality you might want to talk about it to her. It may indeed be over, but you own it to your kid to at least try to work it out and part of that is having a talk with the wife about what you will and won't do.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:22 PM on July 1, 2006

I truly believe that once children are involved, divorce is anything but the right answer. Sure, before you had one, it'd be much easier.

You and your wife might not agree on a single thing, but I believe anybody can work through their differences and at the very least "live" together peacefully. You might not love each other anymore, but it's selfish for you to get out now. Making a child deal with separate christmas and other holidays is brutal and chances are will only hurt, not help.

Have you and your wife been to any sort of marriage counseling? Have you talked to her about what you're actually thinking? You owe it to your son to actually "try" to fix things first.
posted by JPigford at 9:25 PM on July 1, 2006

Response by poster: I know what you're saying, JPigford. I have asked/begged for marriage counselling, and my wife has always refused, on the grounds that it's a "Western" thing. Maybe she's right, maybe she isn't, but the point is that there are not many more avenues to explore.

And I owe it to my son to be a good father, not a miserable husband. Oddly enough, I wish I could be both, but I can't.

But I appreciate your sentiments.
posted by YamwotIam at 9:30 PM on July 1, 2006

You and your wife might not agree on a single thing, but I believe anybody can work through their differences and at the very least "live" together peacefully. You might not love each other anymore, but it's selfish for you to get out now. Making a child deal with separate christmas and other holidays is brutal and chances are will only hurt, not help.

Divorce is tough on kids, but so is having a mom and dad that fight all the time, angry, and hate each other.

Do everything you can to stay together, but if it's not going to work, if you don't love each other, divorce. You can believe anyone can "live" together peacefully, but you're also completely wrong.
posted by justgary at 9:36 PM on July 1, 2006

It looks like your are concerned about her taking your son out of the country? I would talk to a good lawyer about it, one who knows family and international law.
posted by fshgrl at 9:41 PM on July 1, 2006

Tell her now. While she's on another continent. She can't slap you from that far away. By the time you see her in person, she'll have calmed down a bit (hopefully).
posted by ninjew at 9:46 PM on July 1, 2006

I have to think that telling her now would be a huge, stupid mistake. Tell her while your son is in the same country as you, so she has no opportunity to keep him away from you and outside the reach of Canadian authorities.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:48 PM on July 1, 2006

Tell her now. While she's on another continent. She can't slap you from that far away. By the time you see her in person, she'll have calmed down a bit (hopefully).

Do the courageous thing and tell her in person. She may hate you, but that's going to happen anyway. She'll deal with it a lot better if you tell her in person than if you tell her over the phone/internet.
posted by tdreyer1 at 9:50 PM on July 1, 2006

...and what jacquilynne said...
posted by tdreyer1 at 9:50 PM on July 1, 2006

I second what JPigford says.

I am in mid-divorce myself. I know 100% that it is what I had to do to get myself and my daughter out of a relationship with an abusive, controlling, and addicted person, after years of counselling and therapy.

If there are not issues of abuse, addiction, or adultery, I think most marriages CAN be helped through counselling. If you haven't tried it, I would highly suggest it. With a young child in the middle, your concience needs to know you did ABSOLUTELY everything you could before calling it quits. It could be that you just both need to come to a place of mutual acceptance and peace with your differences. Opposites can indeed attract, then we have to learn to live with that opposite person.

But it's also true it's better for a child to come from a broken home than to live in one.

I know that doesn't answer your questions, so here are my answers, if you get to the point that you know you have no choice and are not just quitting because it's hard:

1. Don't count on it being amicable. I REALLY REALLY wanted mine to be, and I am not a fighter, and am very tolerant. I thought it could be. It couldn't. There are too many emotions involved. Betrayal, abandonment, hurt, anger, fury, regret... I hope yours IS amicable, but just brace yourself.

2. Be there for your child, whether or not you have custody. No moving off far away because you found someone else. Your child is first.

3. Regardless of whether you are willing to not fight over possessions, be prepared for a fight. I am not asking for any house equity or possessions, and yet it will be a year before the divorce is final, all because she wants me to pay alimony (even though my daughter lives with me full time). Not sure what your situation will be, but just be prepared that no matter what you are willing to give up, there might be "one more thing" to fight over. It may make as much sense as 2 bald men fighting over a comb, but prepare yourself.

4. IF you go through with it, be prepared for TONS of lonliness, guilt, regret, pain, tears, anger, resentment, and a host of other emotional upheavals you have never in life felt before, and will never want to go through again. No matter how HORRIBLE and BAD your relationship seems, once you are out of it, it's amazing how the GOOD memories come tumbling at you when you are alone.

5. Repeat: make sure you did EVERYTHING you could before you pull the plug. Sometimes working through the hard times can bring you to a place so full of joy, love, and partnership that it would be a shame to miss it. And don't base your decision on how you "feel" about her right now, positive or negative. I had to leave someone I genuinely love, but can not live with. Other people have stayed with people they didn't feel love for, but the feelings rekindled later.

6. Don't beat yourself up. There are plenty of other people around to do that for you.

7. Email me if you want.

8. Yes, you need a lawyer if you go through with it.
posted by The Deej at 9:53 PM on July 1, 2006 [1 favorite]

I have no advice to offer about your marriage, but I can offer this perspective as a counterpoint to JPigford's above: I am a child of divorced parents, along with my brother and sister (both older). While we all have had emotional issues that have had greater and lesser ramifications throughout our lives because of my parents' divorce, I am absolutely certain that my mother (custodial parent) became a more happy, healthy, and whole person after her separation and divorce. My siblings and I have been and continue to be the direct beneficiaries of that.

I do not subscribe to the idea that divorce is never the right answer (nor is it a good answer; but sometimes it's the best answer available). I can only imagine that, were I able to choose, I would choose happy, healthy parents, even if they're apart. I also recommend counseling, at least for you as you work through on this decision, to help you consider not only what's going on, but the emotional ramifications of whatever decision you may make, for all involved.
posted by LooseFilter at 10:04 PM on July 1, 2006

Lawyers, lawyers and more lawyers.

...prepare in advance. I'll spare you the second-hand anecdotes, but this is what lawyers are for. Begin talking to one now.

Also: draw up a mental list of what you're prepared to concede, and what you want to fight over. It would be better if you wrote this down, so that in the ugly future when "one more thing" appears for the umpteenth time, you can just let her have it rather than fighting for the pure sake of fighting.
posted by aramaic at 10:09 PM on July 1, 2006

Being the product of divorce I can tell you that it is less significant than having a hostile and unstable home life, that's what screws people up.
posted by 517 at 10:17 PM on July 1, 2006 [1 favorite]

I truly believe that once children are involved, divorce is anything but the right answer.

When my parents got divorced it was the best thing to happen to my home life when I was growing up.

To reasonably happy parents living apart was much, much better to grow up with then two miserable parents living together.

I can only speak from my experience, but I think for at least some kids (myself included) the idea that divorce is really hard on children is mostly projection on behalf of the parents.

While I'm sure it is hard on some kids, it wasn't hard on me in the least, It was instead a major relief (finally I can have friends over, without the dread of my parents yelling over money rattling through the house!).

Ironically, countless adults kept trying to convince me it was really hard on me, and if I don't start acting like it, it must mean I'm suppressing my feelings. And since kids are more intuitive then adults seem to give them credit for, I quickly learned to fake the emotions that they seemed to demand of me. But it was all a ruse, my life was fractured living in an unhappy home, and it was healed by splitting my time between two happy homes.

My one qualification is that I'm sure it would have been very hard on me if one of my parents had moved away. But my father never moved more then 8 miles from where my mother lived, until all us kids were out of the house. So he was still there, still a part of my life, still accessible if I needed a lift or a favor or just needed to talk and he was happy to take me into his new home if I wasn't getting along with my mum at the time.

So yeah, I think you are on the right track. The best thing you can do for a kid is be happy, and be a part of their life. Miserable parents are bad parents as far as I'm concerned.

Oh, one more thing. My dad wouldn't ever talk shit about my mom in front of us kids, and while he would let me vent if I needed to, he wouldn't let me just bitch about my mom in front of him (even when I knew the things she did that drove me crazy were the same as the things she did that drove him crazy) and he certainly wouldn't join in, which I am sure took a whole lot of self restraint. Instead he would just gently remind me that she was my mother so a certain amount of respect was in order, and she means well, and all that jazz.

My mom, on the other hand, would always bitch about him in front of us, and even try to get us to agree with her, so that she could use it in the fight on down the line.

Her attempts to involve us in her squabbles made me lose as lot of respect for her, and it made my father's decision to abstain from any similar tactics (for our sake) so much more commendable.

So that's my last piece of advice, take the example of my father. You have no right to involve your kids in your shit, and it's your job to teach them to respect and love both their parents.
posted by Jezztek at 10:21 PM on July 1, 2006

Make copies of all important records, papers (taxes, insurance, bank statements, retirement accounts, etc.) and store them someplace outside of the house. The lawyer will probably tell you that, but once the divorce is on those papers sometimes go missing or might be harder to get if you are out of the house.
posted by Miastar at 10:22 PM on July 1, 2006

Say or do NOTHING until you have spoken to a divorce lawyer.


Being unprepared for a divorce will lead to disaster on your end. My college roommate thought it would be easy and ended up losing almost everything including his sons. Men are at a severe disadvantage in divorce proceedings.

See an attorney, understand the ramifications, prepare your finances and other critical legal items before you even hint about a divorce.

You must assume complete bad will and revenge type thinking if you really decide to go through with this. The cliche "Hell hath no fury like a women scorned." is true.

By being very prepared, you may even be able to convince your wife to attend counseling. Once she see's how prepared and ready you are to go through with this, perhaps she may be will to meet you halfway.
posted by Argyle at 10:23 PM on July 1, 2006

In my experience with some very close friends divorce was the best decision for the children. Frankly, if the differences are truly irreconcileable, probably sooner is better, I think younger children are more resilient to this kind of change (up to a point).

It sounds like the gap between you and your wife's attitudes and beliefs could strongly complicate a divorce and the situation afterwards (like in the case of shared custody, your child commuting between very different religious/cultural environments) so though you sound like you really want to get divorce proceedings underway as soon as your wife and son return, my instinct would be to tell you to take things more slowly. And I really think you should seek counselling for yourself before you take action. You describe yourself in what sounds like an emotionally devestated position and you are likely about to start what is going to be a period of severe emotional stress and pain. Getting support may be critical to your having the resilience to deal with the fallout of a divorce. Divorces can take a long time to sort out (everyone I've ever known who's had one didn't realize how long it would take to be final) and that can exert enormous attrition on your emotional health, which of course compounds any problems.

You could consider seeing a counsellor regardless of whether your wife will participate, and making her aware that you are going alone but you think she should be going with you and that you are doing it because you feel your marriage may be unsalvageable. She might reconsider participating in counselling in that context. I can't say this is what you ought to do but if your wife is not truly prepared for your seeking a divorce it could make it more likely that her reaction will be bad - and how she reacts will be the most important determining factor of how difficult the divorce will be if it comes to that.

I say this on the basis of many close friends and a few extended family members (at 35, too many) who have gone through divorce and observing situations in my community growing up in which my father was often intimately involved as a minister. Counselling really helped those who took advantage of it cope, including some where the spouse refused to participate. And as difficult as it was, it seems to me that divorces that proceeded more slowly and openly to that decision (even in cases where the conclusion seemed truly foregone, i.e. infidelity leading to a serious extramarital relationship) went more smoothly, rather than one partner basically saying that's it, it's over without prior discussion of the real possibility of divorce.
posted by nanojath at 10:37 PM on July 1, 2006

Not to belabor the point, but again inspired by a real world experiences, another reason for individual counselling (even if, best case scenario, you both end up in joint marriage counselling and start really working out your differences) is that your personality can really get subsumed in a bad relationship and you may be severely out of touch with things you want as an individual. I can think of two cases where a friend who was in counselling kind of dusted off some old, deferred dreams in the context of a divorce and made serious life changes to attain those dreams as a result. Some guidance could help you draw the positive possibilities out of your situation, regardless of the outcome of your relationship.
posted by nanojath at 10:57 PM on July 1, 2006

Definitely a lawyer, but also counseling before you make any permanent decisions that cannot be taken back. One of your comments struck me:

"A divorce would give me a shot at being a whole man and father, one day."

Just make sure that your issue is with your wife & your marriage, and not something that is missing within yourself.
posted by tastybrains at 11:20 PM on July 1, 2006

You have a golden opportunity, Yam -- one that most people in troubled marriages don't get.

You have two months without your wife and your son.

You have a chance to see how the new life you are proposing to yourself would work. (Remember, unless there is something bad wrong with your wife, she would most likely get primary custody.) You're on your own. Live your ideal life insofar as you can. How does that feel? What do you do to make yourself happy now that you didn't do when your family was home? Sleep in, keep the living room clean, go out with your friends, what? Couldn't you do that if they were there? Why not?

Is there something you could change inside yourself that would allow you to carve out the life you want alongside your wife and son? I'm not assuming you ought to change; I'm just saying you should have whatever you want out of life -- is it really impossible for you to get it while married to your wife?

... And how do you like the empty apartment? How do you like no one caring when you get home? How do you like not seeing your son every night? Not having anything to do with his day-to-day?

I feel for you. It is a hard place to be. Like most adults, I've been there. I wish I had really understood, before my own divorce, that you don't just end the pain, you get a different pain. You end the good stuff also, and get different good stuff. Only you can know whether it's a better deal. And with these two months, you are practicing your new life, so you will be able to make an informed decision.
posted by Methylviolet at 11:43 PM on July 1, 2006

re: my comment above... I'm going through a shitty split right now. So yeah, I guess I'm a tad biased. If you are serious about this, it is best to weigh your options and discuss them with a professional before you make her aware of it.
posted by ninjew at 12:10 AM on July 2, 2006

Firstly, excellent words from Jezztek, I won't repeat what he said, just urge you to read it again. Also Argyle's advice is sound, just make absolutely 100% sure that she doesn't catch wind of you consulting a lawyer before mentioning the divorce, as that is a quick way for it to turn ugly as she will feel betrayed.

Now, my question for you is, will this coem as a total surprise to her, or do you think she sees that divorce is on the cards? If you think it would be a surprise, then there is hope that it doesn't have to end in divorce, she may not have realised how unhappy you are.
posted by Joh at 12:28 AM on July 2, 2006

I truly believe that once children are involved, divorce is anything but the right answer. Sure, before you had one, it'd be much easier.

From my personal experience, this isn't true. When my parents broke up I knew it was the right thing. Did it cause some trauma in my life? Yes. But it was a lot less than watching my father get drunk and argue with my mom every night. I get along with both of my parents really great now, and the fact that they don't live together probably helps.
posted by sophist at 12:39 AM on July 2, 2006

Marriage is a battle, divorce is a war. Marriage can end in divorce, but divorce (especially with kids) is forever.

You're beginning a war of attrition. It will have active, intensely hurtful phases, and quiet phases with deadly little moments. No matter how much you want it to be over, no matter how much you want to compromise and perhaps to give at any point to get it over with a shred of decency and mutual respect left, you'll have to get the irrational, pig headed party on the other side to agree. Don't count on it.

Don't cheap out on lawyers. You need one of your own. She'll have one of her own. Divorce is entirely an adversarial proceeding, and you should frame it that way from Day 1. Her lawyer will "work" you, more than you'll expect, trying to win advantage for your wife. Your wife's lawyer will insinuate that you're a cheap, vindictive, brutish lout who can't be trusted not to molest his own child. You'll be treated as if you should be pleased to rent your child for special occasions, and as if you should be grateful to be considered a parent at all. You'll probably need to find a second job to provide for yourself and pay the lawyers during and perhaps after the divorce, as 60 to 80% of what you earn will go to spousal and child support, lawyers and court costs and taxes, during the divorce. All of this is normal, and you may even think you should be prepared for it, but you won't be. Instead, you'll be seethingly angry, a lot.

What's really hard to prepare yourself for is the realization that your own lawyer is possibly "working" you, too. It's the business of most divorce lawyers to find a compromise position that both their clients can accept, and a court can sanction. One of the ways of doing this is to be a bit tardy and reluctant to advocate for you as vigorously as you'd like, particularly if you aren't actually wealthy, and there isn't a large amount of billing for the lawyer at stake. After all, given enough time, you'll become impatient, and wear yourself down. Understand this up front, and realize that it's likely you'll be fighting your own lawyer, your wife's lawyer, and your wife, quite a bit of the time, even if you are entirely prepared from the git-go to get screwed financially and emotionally. Your own lawyer will also prove to be a lousy source of emotional support or financial advice -- it's not their job, after all. And really, if you did divorce cases for a living, you'd probably learn to minimize your personal exposure to your clients pretty quickly, too, wouldn't you? Divorce lawyers ply a mournful trade, my friend...

Your friends and family will find the whole thing awkward, and will notice you're not much fun. You may need to talk, but there may not be anyone in your circle of family or old friends that will really want to listen to you. You may go through clinical depression, and not feel like or be able to make new friends for a while. Your work performance may suffer. You may have trouble sleeping, or sleep far too much. Your weight may fluctuate up or down, or both. You may lose interest in sex, and you probably will go through some periods of not liking women in general very much. You may be surprised to discover how petty and vengeful you can become. You may surprise yourself with how much you can drink.

It will hurt, but you will wonder, one day, why you didn't do it sooner.
posted by paulsc at 12:44 AM on July 2, 2006 [2 favorites]

paulsc-- good point about your own divorce lawyer working you. I just lost another year of my life trying to unwork an original attorney's mess. so for anyone out there considering divorce; ask around and be very careful-- but hey-- even that's no guarantee.
posted by GoodJob! at 3:19 AM on July 2, 2006

I disagree vehemently with the statements upthread about 'staying together for the children.'

My parents were in an unhappy marriage but stayed together 'for us'. As a result, we never had an example of a successful, loving relationship, and we've all struggled in our adult lives as a result.

I really wish they had divorced.

I'm sorry I don't have any specific advice about the process, but don't buy the 'divorce is bad for the children' argument. If you can find a supportive, loving relationship, that example will do your kid far more good than the temporary harm from the stress of divorce.
posted by Malor at 4:50 AM on July 2, 2006

I am a child of an international divorce. The bottom line is it sucks big time, but if you have to do it then do it. There is no failure here. I just finished reading Marriage, A History, and my basic conclusion is that nobody has any real clues about marriage these days. We are living in a time where all the rules, mores, incentives and intentions about marriage are changing in unclear and dynamic ways. So any vows taken are not "till death do us part", but "unless this doesn't work".

On a practical level you should seek a lawyer immediately. The lawyer will probably file an injunction to keep your wife from taking your son out of the country while the proceedings are going on. If your wife realizes you are seeking a divorce while she is away with your son then she might decide to not return at all and maybe file the divorce there. This is the kind of game my parents ultimately played and it was VERY ugly and traumatic, but unless you are willing to give up your kid, realize that you have to take these types of preventive actions.

You are lucky that son is young, the impact is usually not as bad and chances are he wont remember about the way things were before the divorce.
posted by blueyellow at 5:54 AM on July 2, 2006

Response by poster: That's the AskMetaFilter I've come to know, love, and fear. Lots of best answers. The last two paragraphs from paulsc really stand out as the kind of advice I didn't want to hear, but needed.

Now, my question for you is, will this come as a total surprise to her, or do you think she sees that divorce is on the cards?

Good question, Joh, and complicated. In my wife's culture, divorce is heavily stigmatized, particularly for women. So that's going to make things altogether more difficult, as nanojath says.

On the other hand, we have talked to one another about how painful this marriage is at times. It's come to the point where our son is already telling us to stop fighting. Hearing that from your three-year-old is one of the worst feelings you can have as a so-called responsible parent. So, no, I wouldn't say that it will be a total surprise to my wife.

All your answers have helped clarify my thinking (and in some cases, feelings). Thanks especially to those going through (or recovering from) divorce. It looks I'm going to be spending lots of time over the next year with therapists, lawyers, and mediators. Which will make a refreshing change from my usual circle of friends, I suppose.

posted by YamwotIam at 6:07 AM on July 2, 2006

I know this will be an unpopular post. I just want to share with you how painful my situation has been for me.

I grew up in a similar situation. My parents were divorced when I was three years old. My mother was told by her friends and family that, because she was truly unhappy, she should seek hapiness and a divorce "for jayson's sake".

My parents agreed, mutually, to never argue or bicker during the divorce, around me, and they did a great job, and I thank them for that.

I also knew and understood that the divorce wasn't my fault. But I ALWAYS had a question the question in the back of my mind, "I know it wasn't my fault, but why was I not important enough for you to remain together?"

I don't know what your answer is. I don't know what the solution is. But their divorce and seperation hurt me in a major way. I still feel it to this day and I'm 26 years old. When I was growing up I despised my step father. I hated my step mother. They weren't my real parents. I felt generally unloved by both of my parents in an odd, detached sort of way. I know this sounds melodramatic, but it's true.

I grew up hating divorce. Why? I don't know. It's something you can't really explain. Maybe every child deserves the right to live with both their mother and their father. I'm not sure why it hurt so much. There wasn't abuse, I saw them both regularly, no arguments. Supposedly pain free. They both remarried and are now happy.

I for one, believe, and maybe I'm niave, that unless there is some sort of physical, mental, or emotional abuse going on, I would stick it out with my wife yes, for the sake of our two beautiful daughters. When I married my wife, I made a promise to her that I would love her through thick and thin. There are few times in this world when we are called to be strong to our word. We can break contracts through lawyers and legal proceedings, but I did make a promise to her, and I'm going to keep it.

Good luck.

Good luck.
posted by allthewhile at 7:52 AM on July 2, 2006

Your child will eventually learn that he's not the center of the universe, but three seems a little young to force that lesson on him. Maybe you can wait a little longer?
posted by kindall at 8:02 AM on July 2, 2006

Response by poster: Your child will eventually learn that he's not the center of the universe, but three seems a little young to force that lesson on him. Maybe you can wait a little longer?

Our son will still be the centre of our universe. The universe will be more complicated, but he'll still be the centre.

I also knew and understood that the divorce wasn't my fault. But I ALWAYS had a question the question in the back of my mind, "I know it wasn't my fault, but why was I not important enough for you to remain together?"

I'm glad you wrote this, allthewhile. It reminds me that I'll have a lot of work to do before my son understands that it's because he's so important that this step is necessary.

Whatever happens, the question will always be there: "Would he have been happier if...?" And there's no absolute answer for that. The only "right" thing to do is accept the consequences of what I'm doing.

Believe me, I wish things were otherwise.
posted by YamwotIam at 8:23 AM on July 2, 2006

Best answer: What Deej said. Every bit of it.

FWIW, I divorced my 1st husband when my oldest sons were 1 and 2, they have no memory of us as a family, as likely your son won't. At their ages now (19 and 20) they have a very strained relationship with their father-he's never remarried or had other children, however he rarely sees them and as soon as they turned 18 he stopped sending support. Now they're both struggling to pay college expenses with just mine and my husband's help and they feel a tremendous sense of resentment towards their father. They feel that once they became teenagers and asked tough questions about life and the history of their family breakup he wrote them off.

As much as you believe and want now to have an amicable divorce, it's pretty difficult. If you could agree on things, you wouldn't be getting divorced-no matter what there's going to be a certain degree of animosity on both sides. While you can't imagine ever not being in your son's life, once reality hits, you have to make the effort and make it a priority to be a part of his life, which means if she moves, you move to be near him, if he's playing baseball-you coach, when he's in school-you're in the PTA. It's very easy to go back to being single and a weekend dad, but you have to make the conscious decisions to be more than that.

Otherwise, you could end up with an adult son who has a hard time dealing with the intense feeling of abandonment he feels from an event that happened before he could even remember.
posted by hollygoheavy at 8:28 AM on July 2, 2006

An assumption on my part, but when you said that your wife dimisses couseling as "Western", it made me wonder if she was perhaps Japanese? No need to answer, as that may be more information than it would be wise for you to put online if you are considering divorce. Divorce lawyers use Google!
If she is Japanese, you should absolutely not tell her anything about this until she's back in Canada, as the Japanese government tends to be very uncooperative in recognizing the parental rights of non-Japanese post divorce.

These websites may be of use if your wife is Japanese, and you decide to go ahead with the divorce:



and somewhat more encouragingly: http://www.crnjapan.com/japan_law/en/penalcode226.html

Good luck whatever you decide.
posted by TheOtherWay at 8:54 AM on July 2, 2006

Our son will still be the centre of our universe. The universe will be more complicated, but he'll still be the centre.

How do you know? Did you ask him fifteen years from now whether he always felt he was the center of the universe? It doesn't matter that you think your child is the center of the universe, it matters that he thinks that.

I don't mean to come off as accusatory here, but I can hardly believe you shrugged that off and then responded so thoughtfully to allthewhile in the same message. My message was intended to continue and elaborate upon allthewhile's point; they are variations on the same theme.

Lots of people get divorced and children are resilient, so I don't want to stress this too much. He will probably be fine, even if there is some lingering resentment -- lingering resentment is hardly fatal. But if at all possible, I'd still recommend that you wait until his sense of self has developed a little more. Right now he's just beginning to understand that you and his mother are separate people from him, with your own thoughts and feelings. You can imagine how you might feel if part of yourself were forcibly removed.
posted by kindall at 9:22 AM on July 2, 2006

Personal anecdote, in regards to "staying together for the sake of the kids :"

There are four people who I've been friends with since highschool. They are my closest friends, and know me better than anyone else. We all come from "broken homes." Three are children of divorced parents, one whose father died when she was young, and then there is me. Out of all of us, I am the only one whose parents are both still alive and married to each other. Out of all of us, I am, without a doubt, the least psychologically healthy. I grew up wishing that my parents would get a divorce. Granted, my situation was vastly different from yours - my father stayed married to my (abusive) mother because he cared more about her then he did for my brother and I. However, the fact remains that, for a kid growing up, there are worse things then divorce. Far worse things.
posted by Jake Apathy at 9:37 AM on July 2, 2006

Response by poster: No shrug intended, kindall. I guess my point was that there's no good time for a child to go through his/her parents' divorce. My thinking is that in a home where parents are constantly fighting (or, come to that, where they are living in a state of seething politeness), a child is likely to bear too much of that weight.

That was my experience from my own parents' divorce, anyway.

The reason I found hollygoheavy's advice so helpful was because it addresses exactly what you' re talking about. You're absolutely right to suggest that my son may end up feeling terribly hurt by this, now or fifteen years down the road. I'm taking a terrible risk with his happiness, but staying in the marriage would involve essentially the same risk.
posted by YamwotIam at 9:39 AM on July 2, 2006

With regard to concerns about child-custody arrangements, particularly in terms of location -- the overriding principle in Canadian family law is the "best interests of the child". In other words, when deciding who to grant custody to, or whether to have joint custody, etc, a court will look to various factors but primarily the best interests of the child in question. So if there is a risk of either you or your wife taking the child away from the place s/he lives, the court will not look favourably upon that. The courts do try to grant joint custody where possible, and this is made easier by commitments on the parts of both you and your wife to continue living where you are now. Talk to a lawyer about this -- this is what we're for.

Finally, I agree with the general sentiment that while divorce may indeed be painful for children, living for 18 years in an unhappy and disfunctional home is much, much worse.
posted by modernnomad at 9:46 AM on July 2, 2006

It sounds like there's some cross-cultural issues. What's the cultural background of yourself and your wife? (The henpecked husband is a common stereotype in Chinese culture, for example.)

allthewhile's feelings aren't uncommon. Andrew Hacker:
When couples with children divorce, it is almost always a decision that the adults make by themselves. Hardly ever are the youngsters consulted, let alone allowed a veto. So it is the parents (one or both) who initiate the action because they feel they would be happier living apart or with someone else. This needs emphasis because only in a small fraction of divorces can it honestly be attested that continuing the marriage will be harmful to the children. True, we often hear that youngsters are unsettled by arguments and other signs of tension. Yet most learn to accept such situations as part of an imperfect world. Of course, it is frightful for them if their father assaults their mother; she should leave for their sake as well as her own. Even so, there are not many cases where one parent so degrades the children that a marriage should be ended principally in order to benefit them. Indeed, most youngsters want their parents to stick it out. The Gores cite a study of divorces that found that "while sixty percent of the adults involved said they had been in favor of it, only ten percent of the children were."
posted by russilwvong at 10:23 AM on July 2, 2006

It kind of angers me when I hear people say in an unconditionally manner is that when children are involved in a marriage, divorce isn't possible. It's one of those naive opinions, usually based upon lack of experience, to believe that two distressed, unhappy, frequently quarrelling, often bitter parents are a better example of a home rather than two individuals seeking happy, healthy, satisfying futures on their own.

"Broken home," that's what the ubiquitous "they" call it, consciously stigmatizing the idea in hopes of enforcing that age old notion that marriage is sacred, pure, and not to be trifled with. Well of course marriage is not to be trifled with. Ideally we all will to find loving partners whom we adore, are sexually attracted to, support and enjoy the rest of our lives - for better or for worse. And honestly, it's a totally realistic expectation for most of us in life. Someone who pulls the best out of us, accepts our flaws, and suffers through the worst of hardship. But what happens when the partner we've chosen turns out wrong? What if children are involved?

Children are malleable and learn from what they see and experience. All parents serve as primary examples for their children, and all children deserve to be exposed to what a true healthy relationship is, in or out of wedlock. It's too true today that many people settle unwisely on their partners before truly knowing them, thinking they can change them, desiring sexual pleasure within marriage, or even before growing up enough to know themselves. For whatever reason, when a too often bad marriage happens, children learn by example that pettiness, misery and discontent are the normal ways of relationship instead of what we aspire them to be: temperance, honesty, self-sacrifice and pleasure.

Like the rest, I would urge you to seek counseling, but if your partner is unwilling to seek therapy from a professional or religious counselor, and the relationship is beyond repair, then it's up to you to seek your own happiness and serve as an example to your child what adulthood should be, what they should seek in their own lives - life satisfaction, taking responsibility for mistakes and seeking a partner who can love you in the way you deserve as a friend and support in life. Seek out for yourself what you would aspire for your child, and serve as the example. No one is perfect, no relationship is perfect, but recognize what is broken and fix it ... life shouldn't suck.

If you do come to a decision that a divorce is necessary, the best thing you can do is attempt to make it less hurtful to the child in as friendly a manner as possible. As other have testified, if the breakup is handled in a reasonable, calm, adult manner, with neither party waging war and attempting to stigmatize the other - volleying the child from one side or the other - the child is more likely to feel less hurt by the situation they can't control. Keep your child openly appraised of the situation in words and actions they can understand, assuring them that they are loved by all parents, will always be, and that the situation isn't their fault. If handled reasonably and compassionately, it's very possible that you'll find all parties will be better off to seek their happiness, and no one the martyr.
posted by eatdonuts at 11:01 AM on July 2, 2006

My parents weren't ever married, and I saw my dad not at all growing up. Doesn't bother me. It has been difficult figuring out relationships, but I find that I have very few preconceived notions about how they should work, which is a good thing in and of itself. I'm 25, female. Had a quite nice 3.5 year relationship that ended with far less trauma than it should have, and left me confident I can handle long-ish term relationships. Hope that helps ease your worries. I think it's more important to be a well-adjusted adult and really take care of your son than whether you're married or not.
posted by lorrer at 12:17 PM on July 2, 2006

My parents divorced when I was 12, and I wish it had happened years earlier. My parents fought viciously for all of my life, and I was thrilled when it ended. My father managed to overcome what must have been a strong desire to get as far away as possible from my mother and managed to be everpresent in our lives even after the divorce. I never blamed myself for their divorce; if anything, I feel guilty that I was the chain binding my father to my mother. It also took me many years to realize that every relationship was not brutally confrontational, a lesson that I am still learning and will probly never fully understand. A child trapped in a bad marriage is at least as much a victim as one from a broken home.

My case is probably extreme, but remember that a difficult marriage is very unhealthy for everyone involved. A bit of resentment toward an absent parent may not be worse than years and years of bad memories. If you can separate while still somewhat friendly, it might be good to do it while you still can. It will make paternal visits easier, and help prevent future nasiness as the relationship deteriorates.
posted by tcobretti at 1:29 PM on July 2, 2006

I'm another person in the "I wish they had just divorced" camp. When my parents ask me now what they could have done better, I always tell them that the best thing they could have done for me was done for themselves. I spent my entire childhood trying to "fix" what was broken between them -- something completely out of my power.

It is infinitely more important for a child to grow up in a safe, stable, healthy environment than a house with two miserable parents. Of course living with both parents is ideal, but I would rather my parents have been happy than married. Their unhappiness made me more miserable than a divorce ever could.
posted by ryokoblue at 1:33 PM on July 2, 2006

Staying would do two things. It would mean committing myself to being an agreeing, nodding, quite possibly pathological shell of a man.

I have felt this way at times, and things have gotten better and the feeling has gone away. I'm not saying you should or shouldn't get a divorce, but echo the advice above about feelings and their volatility.
posted by craniac at 1:51 PM on July 2, 2006

I have asked/begged for marriage counselling, and my wife has always refused, on the grounds that it's a "Western" thing.

YamwotIam, I'm so sorry that you're in this situation. I wish I had practical advice to offer you but I don't. The only thing I can do here is chime in, as another child of divorce, and say that my parents' marriage lasted a decade too long and their fighting caused me no end of emotional problems.

I ask those people who urge staying together for the sake of the child to read that above quote. Does this sound like a respectful attitude? The wife appears to want the material prosperity that comes with living in a Western society and then, when asked to work with her husband to save the marriage, scorns the process as "Western."

YamwotIam, I hope this works out OK for everyone involved. Stay strong.
posted by jason's_planet at 1:59 PM on July 2, 2006

Find a way to keep the divorce focused on the needs of your son. That way both of you will compromise wisely. You are aiming for an amicable relationship in the future (not when the lawyers are round). Once the lawyers finish (and be kind and patient - that is a difficult period) you'll have many opportunities to show good will to your son's mother and in turn, pave the way for good co-parenting. Put that in place as soon as possible. Stay away from another romance for at least a year or two. Settle your life - support your co-parent in her's, and it will smooth out. Best of luck - a good divorce is possible.
posted by trii at 4:20 PM on July 2, 2006

Listen to trii.

My parents divorced when I was very young and I had a wonderful childhood. They never shared any resentment towards each other with me. If you'd asked me why they got divorced, I would've had no answer -- it was just how things were.

My mom says she handled it by thinking of my dad as two different people -- her husband, who was lousy, and my father, who loved me. She could speak glowingly about my father and never about her husband. Now that I'm an adult I admire her for that. The other thing that was important was that she kept all her later relationships at arm's length. For her sake, I wish she'd relaxed a little once I got older, but as a child it was nice not having an endless series of "uncles" to deal with.

The thing that sucked the most about having divorced parents was all the well-meaning adults who tried to make me feel bad about it.
posted by nev at 7:26 PM on July 2, 2006 [1 favorite]

My parents divorced when I was one and I kind of don't like either of them as people, but I do love them and don't really mind that they divorced. It gave me more freedom later to disrespect them and the choices they made, and chart my own course.

Just love him and be very good to each other as people. You don't have to love each other, but remember to be friendly. My dad and mom were like junior high enemies when confronted by each other and it was annoying how I had to pledge my allegiance.

Later in life, he'll understand the difference between "healthy" and "unhealthy" relationships.
posted by onepapertiger at 4:00 PM on July 5, 2006

Also, I'm curious, what has gone so wrong that you would prefer to end your marriage?
posted by onepapertiger at 4:01 PM on July 5, 2006

I realize I'm coming to the discussion rather late, but the issue has great resonance for me, as my wife and I are about to file for divorce ourselves. You are not alone.

Mom's House, Dad's House has some excellent advice about how to frame the situation for your kids. There's another book by Ricci for kids, but your 3 year old is too young for that.

Divorce lawyers pay very close attention to the finance, but you yourself will want to look very carefully at the Parenting Plan (i.e., rules on how you share control over the child). Ricci's book has some general suggestions about things to consider there, but watch out for "power issues" like education who gets primary custody if the one of the parents moves away. Standards of Conduct can be extremely helpful, and you may want to have clauses triggering review of the plan periodically or in the event of changing circumstances.

onepapertiger writes "Also, I'm curious, what has gone so wrong that you would prefer to end your marriage?"

In our case, everyone, including ourselves for a long time, looked at the marriage and thought, "How could they be more perfect for each other?". But if you're unhappy and feel yourself dying inside, even after a year or more of counseling, at some point you just have to accept the inevitable and look for an alternative. There are all kinds of causes, but it is so easy to drain the "positive emotion bank balance" into debt before you've realized it, and the interest rates and fees for building it up again are exhorbitant.

Feel free to email me also.
posted by Araucaria at 11:22 AM on July 26, 2006

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