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.

Heather Armstrong is a great blogger who I have followed for years. But I’m really stuck on the news that she just announced a separation from her husband.

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.”

and

“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.

A job absolutely 100% cannot make you happy. A happy family can make you happy and it’s possible that nothing else really even comes close to making a person happy.

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.

725 replies
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  1. Veronica
    Veronica says:

    I have read this post so many times… Every time I think I can’t go on. And it always helps. Thank You so much.

  2. Elena Aleksandra
    Elena Aleksandra says:

    No one wants to divorce at the beginning. It all starts so sweet. It is an art to continue the growth journey together as a couple – really nurture and strengthen your marriage the way you would raise and nurture your children. It is an art that no one teaches anywhere except for our parents. Often though, our parents’ marriages are unhappy too. How in the world are we supposed to learn how to build strong, healthy marriages that will sustain the daily struggles of life? My divorce was the most terrible thing that ever happen to me. And also very odd if everyone would know all the ugly details. I am still recovering. My world turned upside down.

  3. Elena Aleksandra
    Elena Aleksandra says:

    I learned my lessons though: trust myself better, respect myself more, rely on myself better, be independent, listen to your inner voice, never put your happiness into someone else’s hands and always make sure you never sacrifice your life’s important values. In the end – we all get what we treasure and value the most. When nasty things happen in the marriage it is very hard to stay together. Almost impossible and Bible says it is the only way that you can divorce. Sometimes, you just need to let it go – however hard it can be in the short run. For your own sanity, emotional, physical and spiritual well-being you need to focus on the future and rebuild your life and relearn happiness again!Wounds will heal eventually with time.

  4. RS
    RS says:

    I have been weighing these thoughts coming from a divorced family myself and everything that has been said above is true in the minds and the life of the people here. Life is a experience of give and take negative and positive black and white even gray. There is no correct response nor is there a right response just shades of different colors and experiences we are all living in a dualistic world full of color and context. Everyone responds to the world differently! Life is wonderful training ground full of different experiences some good some bad. The most positive thing is to find the positive in the negative and to find the negative in the positive. There is no such thing as positive life experience nor is there a fully negative experience nor is it right or wrong. Just learning loving and hating etc… Life is a process and teaching sharing and fighting grounds for us to explore and tool for learning wisdom and compassion. What ever your response or reaction is correct from your point of view. Its a dualist society flipping from one point of view of perfection or from the view of destruction but to learn and grow. But we need to voice our own experience for others to relate and take sides and not take sides! I am sorry but dualism is the story on the planet earth wrong is in right, right is in wrong.
    Be responsible to your self and voice your experience is the only life we have.

  5. David H
    David H says:

    I divorced my wife when she turned 40. She was getting fat and ugly as a result of not taking care of herself. I found a 21 year old woman and we are having the time of our lives. My ex became a raging alcoholic and I could care less.

  6. DJ
    DJ says:

    So in other words my kids would have been better off living full time with their angry abusive father ruining their lives. I forced him out when the kids were 3 and 7 and even though he’s spent hundreds of thousands of dollars taking me to court in the last 8 years I have no regrets. Before the divorce my kids screamed and cried every day from being shoved, kicked, screamed at and belittled by their angry abusive father. My son’s first phrase was “daddy scary.” And that he was. His favorite game was called “daddy monster” and is was child abuse pure and simple. I took the kids and left repeatedly, I insisted we go to counseling, I threatened him, I tried to reason with him – I did everything I could to ‘save’ our marriage but it turns out that there is one thing you can never know about someone until it’s too late and that is what kind of parent he will be. Before he was forced to leave I saw constant tears and frowns on my kid’s faces. Immediately after he left we had non-stop smiles. We still celebrate the day he was forced out of the house – it was our own independence day. The kids were so happy and thrilled I couldn’t get them to calm down and go to bed – so we stayed up and ate chocolate and had a party. They were jumping up and down, laughing, running around and dancing with happiness. It was an awesome day in our lives. I don’t care what the academics say about the effects of divorce on kids – as far as I’m concerned having my kids smile after years of tears torment and abuse is priceless. The marriage ended 8 years ago and practically the only time I see tears and frowns now is when they’re forced to spend time with him and when they occasionally find me crying over the endless divorce litigation – bc he’s taken me back to court 3 times to get custody, dragged me through 3 custody evals, and all manner of other issues. He is now using the courts to abuse us – something the courts know full well but are too corrupt to do anything about. BTW, I’m an educated professional and not the least bit immature or selfish.

  7. Michele
    Michele says:

    If there is violence, and addiction and only one parent willing to work on things, it doesn’t work. Yes divorce sucks but sometimes your children are better off to shuffle between houses and see what a functional family is. My children can come home and relax because they know that someone isn’t going to come home drunk and angry like Shrek. My kids have experienced watching dad kick mom and spit on her. Although divorce does suck, kids are forced to leave their home to visit another parent, how can that feel normal? All parents, just like all kids are different. Like Dr Phil says I’d rather my kids come from a broken home than live in one.

  8. perdido
    perdido says:

    as a child that grew up in a home with domestic violence (punching, screaming, pushing, throwing and breaking things/furniture, threats) I can tell you that any child that experiences that wants OUT they do not want to live that way – a DIVORCE is absolutely necessary.

  9. Jenny
    Jenny says:

    I think its funny that many children of divorce blame all there problems on there parents getting a divorce, even many years later. The truth about life is we will all struggle at some point in different ways divorce or not, and we will grow out of it hopefully and not get stuck in the blame game. It is not healthy for two people who do not love each other to be married even if they have kids. Kids will pick up on that, and it will also effect there future relationships. My parents did divorce when I was 5 and I thank God for it because it was obvious it was not working. I am glad my mom did not endure him for me. I still saw him and no I did not feel “shuffled” as you say. I actually had more family because of it and a greater support system, I am glad my parents got to be happy. I have seen miserable parents staying together for the kids and it is very sad. I also think its funny you can find research for every position you take. I have also read a study from 2003 saying the damage from children who grew up in unhealthy homes where parents did not divorce were worse off then those who divorced. We do not live in a perfect world and peace can still be found even with divorce. Its a very personal decision that must be made for what will be best in the long run for everyone.

  10. T
    T says:

    I find it almost laughable that people would take advice from somebody that is contradicting herself! People divorce because people either grow together or apart! If you are being physically or verbally abused by your partner and there are children involved GET OUT! You are allowing a cycle to continue. It’s easier said than done if you have been warn down, low confidence, self worth etc. Find the strength you need get your kids out of this environment DIVORCE trust me you can be MUCH BETTER parents apart than living in a war zone with resentment, I only wish id got out sooner

  11. WBOTB
    WBOTB says:

    1) Divorce is a cliche among people in denial. WRONG! But there are people in denial that use certain cliches as an excuse to get a divorce.

    2. Divorce is nearly always terrible for kids. Your case is not the exception. WRONG AGAIN! You claim the legacy of divorce? How about the legacy of bad relationships and marriages? Why let the children continue to be in that environment? This will only help them learn bad relationship habits.

    3. Divorce is for dumb people. REALLY? So if you’re getting abused, sticking around for the abuse while your children watch is smart…rrrrrrrrright?

    4. Divorce reflects mental illness. NO! People who stay together in a hostile environment reflect mental illness.

    5. Divorce is often a career issue. The ONLY point I agree with.

    -The person who is bored and wants out. Is this selfish? ABSOLUTELY

    -AND…FINALLY!
    The person who says they are a victim of violence. Simple. Divorce the asshole and DON’T marry another asshole. Most divorced women with children that I know DO NOT want to remarry. Second of all, you say boundaries??? You mean boundaries like shutting the fuck up so he doesn’t give you another black eye? That’s real cute having your children watch you walk on eggshells and live in fear. If you’re lucky, maybe your abuser won’t look for a reason to bust your lip open in front of the kids and you can all pretend together what a wonderful man he is.

    Well, as you can see, I call bullshit on this article. Claiming to have compassion for children of divorce when you obviously have zero compassion for their parents makes you nothing but a hypocrite!

    • T
      T says:

      Also another point I feel is valid. When your children are trying to maintain a relationship or marriage later in life and they come to you bruised, broken Penelope would you send them back to that environment and possibly your grandchildren with a “Make it work” attitude?! I think you would have to be very uncaring to do this! Please think about this. Because YOU are responsible for YOUR childrens life as well as your own. I really feel this bollocks you have spouted is very very dangerous. It is allowing the cycle to continue. I thought very long and very hard before I chose to end the relationship with my childs father and this was after continual verbal abuse! It was the most MATURE descision I’ve ever had to make! Put these prehistoric ideals behind you. I dont feel they are your words but the words of someone who has WORN YOU DOWN. ONE LIFE! GET OUT!

      • Precious
        Precious says:

        That’s the message I left for this blogger below. The blogger neglected the people who are struggling in abusive marriage. Our divorce is not immature and selfish. It is called self protection!!

  12. Juan Carlos Tapia
    Juan Carlos Tapia says:

    Oh my God, best I´ve ever read about divorce. I guess it just made me feel a little bit better. And worst about the whole thing. Thanks.

  13. Precious
    Precious says:

    I’m in a mental, verbal and emotional abusive marriage for the last 3 years. I’m 3 months and 1 week pregnant.
    I’m considering file for divorce.
    What do you suggest me to do?

    • Keshay
      Keshay says:

      I know you are hurting. I know you or a compassionate person who really loves your husband. That is a true quality you have. I want you to consider looking at things in a different way. Like focusing on you. do things that you love to do. Turn the negative around by choosing to forgiving your husband and loving on you. This way, you dont lose focus on what’s really important. Men have a hard time communicating instead of saying I’m sorry; men like to buy things. So dont give in by given up. LOve and pray for your husband. Try not to say negative things to him, encourage all the way. I have committed to not saying nothing negative but encouraging words. I know this is hard but you can do it. Im praying for you. My husband and I is working on 12yrs of marriage. Its not easy but its possible.

  14. Alone
    Alone says:

    This is the stupidest article I have ever read. My husband has been living with someone he had an affair with for 3 years now. Am I suppose to stay married to a guy who isn’t even there and not move on with my life.

  15. Keshay
    Keshay says:

    THank you for the blog. I only request you do a part 2 of this helping us to stay focus as a wife or a husband. Marriage is hard.

  16. Galaxy Dust
    Galaxy Dust says:

    So my conclusion: Everything happening in our lives ; being born, the place, the people you encounter, the womb that you had to be in, there are reasons for those happening. I’d like to take the Universe as an example to help me prove my point. How big is the Universe that we live in. How hard do you think for us tiny little ‘beings’ to meet each other and do what we do to each other. Would you still think all that’s happening around us, to us, from us to other are merely random and without reeason what so ever?
    Some of us get divorced and some of us don’t for reasons. Some of us get better after and some of us don’t for reasons. But, those are all ‘meant to be’. We should ‘accept’ whatever comes our way and find a better way. We may succeed or fail but should never forget that there are reason(s). Learn from mistake.

  17. Lila
    Lila says:

    Penelope, I’ve been jumping through your blog from article to article today and I see that this is an old one but I’m really really disappointed in it.
    I cannot believe you would suggest that a victim of violence should stay because they’ll just pick someone else violent.
    Staying increases the chances of your children repeating the cycle and then spreading this insidious behaviour to even more families.
    As for boundaries, that’s a wilfully ignorant thing to expect to work on an abuser.
    If I had stayed and attempted to implement boundaries I would undoubtedly be dead right now and I fail to see how that would help my children.
    You seem like an incredibly intelligent woman but your ideas surrounding abuse are upsettingly dangerous to be spreading.

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