Divorce, Tiny Humans, and Judgment
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. ~Mary Oliver
Let’s just get this out in the open: I’ve never been divorced. I’ve never been married. I can’t say with definitive wisdom what either thing is like – then again, no one really can. Because all relationships – all marriages and separations – are different. Why? People are different.
But while I don’t know marriage, I do know relationships. They are always hard work, and they’re never 100% easy. Everyone argues, disagrees, and has unhappy moments. The key is that those unhappy bits are just moments, not the status quo. Also important is that the relationship is healthy. (That goes for any relationship, really.)
Now that’s out of the way, let me get to the point. There seems to be a current opinion going around that divorce is going to ruin your children. It’s backlash to the whole “kids are resilient” statement that I’ve heard, now and then. Today, I was also treated to the notion that a person’s happiness doesn’t really matter – and staying together for the children is exactly what everyone should do.
But I have to wonder, honestly, what that teaches kids – does it tell them not to value themselves and that it’s wise to continue living in misery?
For the record, I’m not talking about a situation in which one’s spouse has run off on a whim. You’re not a magpie chasing a shiny object. You’re a person. For the hypothetical situation, let’s say we’re dealing with a couple who have children, but who are miserable. There’s little common ground. There are lots of arguments. You’ve tried, time and again, to fix things – to do the ‘right’ thing. But nobody’s happy. No one is even close to happy. Happy is another solar system.
Do you stay together for the kids, then? I don’t think kids are a good enough reason. And no, I’m not advocating for abandoning your children. But I am advocating that you don’t use them as glue or logic. They’re tiny humans, not pawns.
Most of the time, I think miserable couples stay together for a few reasons.
- They’re afraid of failing. Because a lot of people look at divorce like a test. But it’s not pass/fail, guys. You don’t fail at marriage or even a relationship. Sometimes, things just don’t work. It can be for a number of reasons. Maybe you didn’t know each other well enough when you got involved. Maybe one or both of you changed. Maybe you don’t love each other. Not loving someone is a valid reason.
- They’re afraid of how it might look. I’ll admit it: divorce probably isn’t for the faint of heart. There are nosy people who will always cast you some epic side eye and gossip about you behind your back. But, newsflash: they’re probably already whispering about your crappy relationship now, so you’re not really saving face. Seriously: life is too short to save face. Your face will be fine.
- Divorce is not easy. You have to reconfigure your life. It’s like a puzzle, but you’re blindfolding, and someone might have gnawed on a few of the pieces. It’s complicated and messy. And, you know, scary. Because things won’t be the same. Your relationships will be different, but different doesn’t inherently mean bad. They might actually be healthier in the long run.
- Money. This one is a kicker. Figuring out financials, and even paying for a divorce, can be pricey. You might have to pay lawyer fees or for mediation. And you have to split assets, determine child support. It’s not easy to suss out. But if money is the only thing holding your marriage together, is it really together at all? No, probably not.
- Fear. This one can be brutal. You might be afraid of being alone, afraid your kids will hate you, or afraid that you’ll never find love. You might even worry that you are unlovable, that you’re responsible for the demise of the relationship, or that you’re not deserving of love. Because, hey, this other person no longer wants to be with you. What I can tell you is this: it takes two people to frak up a relationship, most of the time. But ending a bad marriage is like leaving a job you hate. You’re taking yourself out of a toxic environment. And maybe taking a stand for happiness is teaching your kids something good.
I’ve known a staggering number of people who stay in relationships for these reasons, and 98% of the time, they all truly boil down to fear. And guilt. And shame. I don’t think there should be shame in saying you’re unhappy and don’t want to continue on the path of misery. It doesn’t mean you’re broken. It doesn’t mean the other person is a monster. It just means that things don’t work. You can replace a car’s engine and even rebuild it from scratch, but if the damn thing doesn’t have tires, it’s not going anywhere.
Some relationships don’t have tires.
I know a couple who seemed to get along. They threw parties and had people over. They smiled in all their pictures. But behind the scenes? The parents fought all the time. Constantly. It was an emotional cesspool of NOPE. They were not bad people, and they certainly got married for a reason. But it was wildly apparent to those involved in the situation that no one was happy. And yet, the parents stayed together. Dutifully. Resiliently. Miserably.
You know what happened? One day, their two kids sat them down (high school age and middle school age kids) and told them if they didn’t get a divorce, they were going to live with grandma. Because everyone was miserable. Dad was unhappy. Mom was unhappy. They argued over everything, not just bills and financials. And the kids saw everything that was going on. They were not dumb. Kids are not dumb. And while the parents thought they were doing the ‘right’ thing by sticking it out, it turned out they weren’t. (They divorced shortly after this, and everyone was better off. No one was living in a battlefield.)
Divorce will not ‘ruin’ your children. You know what will? Constant fighting. An absence of love. And no, I’m not just talking about the love a parent has for their child, but the love one spouse has for the other. Love is essential. Yes, friendship/companionship are vital, too. But you have to love the other person for it to work. The same goes for really deep friendship. I am totally in love with all my friends. DIFFERENT kind of love, but still: love. If I don’t love you in some way, I don’t need you. (I’m not talking about the mailman or my obgyn, mind you. But actual relationships.)
The truth is that it’s not enough to just get along. You shouldn’t have to grit your teeth and lie back and think of England. A person should have enough respect for themselves to know when to remove themselves from an unhealthy situation. That is a good example of self-love – not selfishness. It’s often too easy to forget that.
Divorce doesn’t mean you failed. It doesn’t mean your kids are going to be impossibly messed up FOREVER. There are innumerable other ways to do irrevocable harm to your children – ending a miserable situation is not one of them.
Lately, I’ve seen a lot of people judging other people for the audacity to get divorced. I’ve seen parents try to use their kids as pawns, too. I’ve also witnessed one spouse blaming the other for ruining their children – because the initiated a divorce. In all honesty, that is NOT a person you want to be in a relationship with. No relationship should be about belittling the other person. Or winning. Or placing blame. Guilt trips have no place in a healthy, functional, happy relationship. Period. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200. Go directly to HELL NO, and stay there.
Being with the right person matters. Being with someone, through the ups and downs, who makes you happy? It matters. No relationship is smooth sailing all of the time, but there’s a difference between arguments and battlefields. In the end, you deserve to be happy. Screw anyone who tries to tell you differently.