Divorce is always on my mind because I got a divorce four years ago. Not that I wanted to. In fact, when I thought we were going to a couples therapist we were actually going to a divorce mediator. And then, when it was clear that we were going to have to get a divorce, and I had all the money to fund it, my lawyer finally said to me, “If you drag your feet any longer, you’re going to have to get a new lawyer because I’m retiring.”
So we got a divorce. I hated it. (And of course, I blogged about it the whole time.) Subsequently I have become a vocal critic of divorce. I think it’s an incredibly lame and selfish route to take. Here are five reasons why:
1. Divorce is a cliche among people in denial.
I see divorce in every story. For example, as soon as I heard about the school shootings in Chardon, OH, I got stuck on the fact that the kid’s parents had just gotten a divorce and left him with his grandparents. I blame the parents.
Armstrong supports her family with her blog, dooce.com, which is about herself, so of course, I watch her really closely. In her post announcing that she had asked her husband to leave, she said the two common, and delusional things we hear from divorced parents all the time:
“I can’t be a good parent if I’m not happy and I’ll never be happy in this marriage.”
“The kids are doing so well. Kids are really resilient.”
I’ve heard those things so many times. From parents who are getting a divorce who are full of shit.
The dad who tells everyone he got a divorce because his wife is crazy and then leaves his kids with the mom. Newsflash: if your wife is really crazy, then you are crazy for leaving your kids alone with her. In fact, you are not crazy, you’re willfully negligent. And if your wife is not really crazy then get your butt back to the house and raise your kids like an adult.
The mom who says the kids are fine. What does that mean? Do you know that if you ask kids who are living with a crack addict mom if they are fine, they’ll say yes. They’ll say they want to stay. Because kids are trying to survive.
2. Divorce is nearly always terrible for kids. Your case is not the exception.
Kids do not break down during a divorce because they see their parents breaking down. The kids see that one parent just abandoned them. Of course the kid is not going to have a compete fit and push another parent away in anger. Read The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce, which is Judith Wallerstein’s 25-year study of children of divorce. It’s the only study that covers such a long period of time, and she concludes that divorce is absolutely terrible for kids over the long-term. And a wide range of studies have concurred.
It’s completely obvious how Wallerstein gets to her conclusion. Think of it this way: Two parents decide they don’t like living together and they want to start over. They can’t meet their needs by simply living together and making the best of it. They want a new chance, in a new household.
Where does this leave the kids? They don’t get a new chance until they grow up. So now they have to shuttle back and forth between two homes so that their parents can get another chance. Meanwhile, the kids don’t get a second chance at their childhood. And the most damaging thing about divorce is that the kids don’t have a home; to say a kid has two homes is the same as saying the kid has no home. Because a home is your basecamp. If you have two basecamps you don’t have a home.
And anyway, if having two homes really worked, then the parents who are so upset about living together can each have a different home during the day, while the kids are at school, and then come back to their other home. But no one would do that, right? Because having two homes sucks.
3. Divorce is for dumb people.
In case you are thinking that divorce is normal among smart, educated parents, you would be wrong. The divorce rate is plummeting among educated women. For example, among Asian women with a college degree the divorce rate is one percent. Divorce is for people who can’t think ahead enough to realize that the cost to the kids is so high that it’s not worth the benefits the parents get.
4. Divorce reflects mental illness.
I have been reading tons of books about borderline personality disorder and parenting, and I’m surprised that no one has pointed out that the decision to divorce is similar to the decision making process that you get with borderline personality disorder.
For example, a parent with BPD is often unable to separate their own wellbeing from their child’s. The person with BPD is afraid of not being loved and makes all their decisions based on that fear.
So, the person decides they are not receiving proper love in their marriage and then decides that the children would be better off if the marriage were over. The marriage being over is not good for the children. But that is not the issue.
Why do we treat people with BPD as mentally ill and people getting a divorce as adults making adult decisions?
5. Divorce is often a career issue. I can help with that.
So many times I have been coaching someone who thought they need a divorce, but really, the marriage has a career issue. So, look, when there are no kids, I don’t think there’s a lot of collateral damage when two people want a divorce. But maybe I can save a few children’s childhoods by telling you some common problems and how to solve them:
The woman is pissed that her husband hasn’t gotten a good paying job in years.
This type of woman feels overly responsible for taking care of the family. And she feels taken advantage of by the guy because she thinks he could get a job if he wanted to. (This is probably where Heather is coming from since her husband, who has been working on her blog for years, announced he is looking for a job.)
The problem, though, is that the woman married a guy who doesn’t want to have a big career. She knew this before they got married, but she chose to ignore it. There was probably something she liked about him, something she needed from him, that he provided. Now she wants something different.
The solution is to stop being angry at the guy for not getting a job. Remember that the kids love him and remind yourself the reasons you loved him when you married him. Those things are still there. If you get a divorce you are not going to be able to miraculously stop working. So bite the bullet and accept where you are and finish raising the kids.
Bonus: If you start loving your husband again you will probably love your job again because you’ll feel good that the job allows you to create a happy family.
The guy who thinks his wife is holding back his career.
Oh, god, I hear this so many times. The guy is not where he wants to be in his career. He has so many ideas, so many dreams, and he is really unhappy where his is.
The answer here is: tough shit. You had kids before you fulfilled all your career dreams. Unless you are independently wealthy, you have to scale back your dreams when you have kids because you can’t take wild financial risks with your family’s wellbeing.
So you have kids and a wife, and you have to get a reality check that you are not going to be Mark Zuckerberg. It’s okay. Just focus on being a good father and a good husband and stay with your wife and kids.
It is incredibly selfish and immature to decide your kids should have to shuttle between two families so you can take another swing at a home run. It’s time for you to be a good dad. That’s your job now. You owe it to your kids.
Bonus: Once you start taking pride in being a good parent and a good husband, you will have better self-esteem and your career will get better as a result of that.
The person who is bored and wants out.
So many people get divorced because they are bored. This blows my mind. Your kids are not bored with your marriage. Your kids need boring at home in order to have the necessary foundation to fly outside the home. If your kids are focused on creating their own stability bouncing between two parents then the kids can’t focus on figuring out who they are while they grow up. They have to spend their time figuring out who their family is. And that’s not fair to your kids.
So instead of messing up your family in order to make yourself happy, keep your family together and use your job to address your boredom problem. A fun job can make your life more interesting. Your spouse is not in your life to make you feel interesting. Your spouse is there to love you and raise your kids with you. Don’t ask for anything else.
If you want to feel more interesting then go do something more interesting. And come home for dinner.
The person who says they are a victim of violence.
Two-thirds of divorces take place in low-conflict homes, and in those cases, the kids are much better off if the parent just stick it out.
So let’s look at high-conflict homes: It takes two people to fight. And there’s great research to show that if you picked an asshole the first time, you’ll pick the same type of asshole the second time. (Which is why divorce rates for second marriages are so much higher than first marriages.) So instead of getting rid of your kids’ parent, figure out why you picked a person like this, and then get good at drawing boundaries.
Really, good boundaries can save even the worse marriages. Taking care of your own contribution to the mess can single-handedly stop the mess.
This is especially true of violence. At this point in the history, where women have so much earning power, women are equally as responsible for men for the violence in a household. In fact, the US Centers for Disease Control reports that most domestic violence today is a 50/50 thing. Both parties are responsible. Which means that even if you have one of the worst marriages, you have the power to fix it.
And if you don’t use that power—if you don’t fundamentally change how you are in the marriage in order to stop the craziness, then you will not only recreate it in your next relationship, but you will continue to model it for your kids.
So look, I don’t see any reason left that makes divorce ok when there are kids. Personal responsibility always trumps running away. And yes, here are the links to my own marital violence and my decison to stay and fix it. I’m practicing what I preach. I’m working really hard at keeping my own marriage together. It’s a cold, lonely place to be in life. But it’s better than the alternative.
Because divorce is the ultimate example of just running away. And, while your kids probably will not pull out a gun in the school cafeteria, long-term sadness and a lingering inability to connect to other people is an irrefutable result of divorce. It’s something that you can prevent.