ASK EMORY • BY EMORY LUCE BALDWIN
I’ve been married for 7 years, and now I’m thinking about getting out. I don’t like the idea of divorcing, but I don’t see much hope for my marriage. It’s not good for our 5-year-old son old to grow up this way, either. My husband and I don’t yell or hit, but we snap at each other or silently seethe and keep our distance. I’m feeling like giving up since I can’t fix this on my own. The thought of leaving is scary, but I want to be happy again. What should I do?
Suffering on Spruce
I’m really sorry to hear how unhappy you are. And I appreciate that you don’t want to resign yourself or your family to a life of unhappiness. Of course you want things to get better, and figuring out how to do that is important.
If misery really does love company, Suffering, you have lots of people facing this dilemma with you. Americans have one of the highest rates of marriage in the world and one of the highest divorce rates, too. We are a nation of optimists, and tend to overly romanticize how happy we’ll be if we marry and how happy we’ll be if we divorce.
Asking the hard questions before you take your next step, as you are doing now, is the best way I know to help yourself base your decisions on reality, not fantasy. Doing your homework will help you make your decision well, and make the choices that will lead to a better life for you and your family.
No one expects divorce will be easy. But few are prepared for just how hard the experience will be and how long it can take to recover—especially when you have children.
Most people anticipate that the hardest part will be telling their partner it’s over and then leaving. What surprises many is how much harder life can get after that crucial point, and how long it takes before things eventually get better. Here are some of the reasons why:
First, it can be very expensive to divorce. Your savings, your finances, and therefore your lifestyle, will likely suffer when you split into two households. Many people, especially women, have to file for bankruptcy after divorce.
Your relationships with your family, your partner’s family, and your friends will be affected when you split up. Loneliness and isolation are common complaints after divorce, and you may find you have to rebuild many friendships from scratch.
As much as your life will change, your son’s life will change even more. Children almost universally hate their parents’ divorce, even when it’s what both adults want.
Divorce can complicate the logistics of parenting in every possible way, and you will need to work closely with your son’s father to coordinate his care. Expect to share custody 50/50, since courts tend to award custody equally to both parents now, except in rare cases. Even if you have been your children’s primary caregiver so far, your parenting role will likely shrink in the future. You may not like what your son’s father feeds him for breakfast or the videos he watches there, but you’ll have little to say about that and vice versa.
You will likely have to help your son adapt to a new life of shuttling back and forth between two different households, with all that that entails. When adults shed their “married” selves, they resume an “unmarried” identity that is very familiar to them. In contrast, kids have to learn an entirely new way of life. Children can and do get used to this, but their transition is usually longer and more difficult than parents expect.
Finally, Suffering, are you emotionally ready to go through this? Are you completely ready to let go of your spouse and your marriage? Will you be able to handle it if he is not ready to let go of you? Divorcing is the hardest and most expensive way to work out unresolved problems in your relationship with each other.
The happiest post-divorce relationships are amicable, cooperative, and mutually respectful for everyone involved, including the children. Not surprisingly, that type of relationship also sounds like a pretty good marriage. As you can see, Suffering, either your marriage or your divorce will lead to more happiness if your relationship with your partner improves. When it’s hard to do that on your own, you can connect with a couples counselor to help you. Not every therapist has that specialized training, but to help you choose, go to the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists website.