In Short: Decisions Have Consequences.
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Every marriage has good times and worse times, which is why the traditional vows include the phrase “for better or worse.” Many people choose to separate when worse times arrive, and while it’s a decision that often results in a happier state for the partners, any children tend to experience mostly negative consequences.
When my own marriage began to sour, I was faced with this dilemma. My own father abandoned us when my sisters and I were very young, so I had direct experience with the difficulties faced by the children of divorce. Even after fifty years, emotional and mental scars remain.
I’ve heard the assertion that it’s better for children to have happy divorced parents rather than unhappy married parents, but my life and observations don’t support that. Scientific research also demonstrates that children have a better quality of life physically and mentally when they live with parents who remain married.
This is not to say that all marriages should or can be salvaged. I would never encourage remaining in an abusive relationship for any reason, but simply not being “in love” anymore is not a good reason in my opinion to subject children to the extreme trauma that divorce brings.
So I resolved to stay despite the weakening and eventual death of any sort of marital feelings. My wife and I became little more than roommates who barely tolerated each other for more than a decade, and while I know the situation was not always easy on my children, they knew that they had two parents who loved and supported them in every way possible.
I began to think about separating after the children were out of the house. I realized that it still would not be easy for them, but my rationale was that they would not feel like I had ever left them personally, so the effects would be softened somewhat.
Then my wife got a cancer diagnosis.
She had had a large tumor removed several years earlier with a clean bill of health afterward, but shortly before I planned to begin any separation, the cancer returned. Surgery followed, and although the doctors were optimistic, I knew that a divorce would be damaging to her recovery. I scrapped my plans and we continued to see doctors regularly.
Sure enough, it quickly metastasized throughout her whole body. Treatments at our local cancer center proved ineffective, and the oncologist told us that nothing more could be done.
Just as she was about to go into hospice, we got word that she had been accepted for treatment by one of the top melanoma specialists in the United States. Far from “nothing can be done,” this wonderful physician promised to “lift her up out of the grave,” a promise he kept by introducing a treatment course that had only been approved six months earlier. The recovery was so rapid that she was back on her feet within a month.
We thanked God for this medical miracle, but of course it was only a temporary reprieve. My wife died a year later, but I was there to provide care because I had made the decision not to leave. I still think that it was the best decision, not only for my children and my wife, but for myself as well.
Although I may have sacrificed some conjectural personal happiness, I don’t believe it would have offset the guilt of having left my family. I won’t presume to make that decision for anyone else, but for me it was the right path, and one I will always be glad I took.
Nick Contor is a former founding editor at Shock Totem magazine, a drummer and a singer. He currently does none of those things.
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15 thoughts on “Stay Together For the Children”
Such hard decisions for everyone. It’s easy to forget how many lives our choices affect. Thanks for sharing.
That said, we had a friend who married and divorced his 3rd wife twice. They loved each other but couldn’t stand living in the same house. But when she faced cancer, he moved back in and cared for her until she died. She left everything to him, and her grown children (already gone when they first got together) supported that decision.
A bittersweet story! -rc
My condolences to your friend.
Leading with the assertion “any children tend to experience mostly negative consequences” at least tells us right away which side of the argument this author chose.
It’s important to note that — at least as of 2021 — there is no single “right” answer here.
This is still very much undecided, there’s no clear consensus in the research — everyone has to choose which they believe based on their moral framework and their experiences: either children are harmed far more by living in a dysfunctional family setting, or, children are harmed far more by a divorce.
Again, there is no clear consensus which viewpoint is correct. More precisely, *both* viewpoints are correct; if you’re trying to decide, children are already being harmed to some degree. The debate is only over which is better & which is worse.
If you find yourself with children in a disintegrating relationship, of course you [should] try to do what’s best for them. As of today, *what’s* best is still a personal judgement call.
If it’s a choice between leaving your family & children, versus committing suicide, stop worrying about the choice and just go get help NOW. You can’t make the right decision for the children if you’re not still here to make it!
I knew that would be a somewhat controversial statement, which is why I was careful to allow for situations where splitting up is the best choice for all involved. Research has consistently shown that children of divorce suffer grave consequences from divorce, but there are circumstances that warrant making that decision.
I’ve had somewhat similar experiences. This June, my husband and I will have been married for 50 years, and probably 20-30 of them have been happy. Over the years, I have fallen out of love about 6 times, and fallen back in love 5. Now, although I am not “in love,” I keep my vows. We’ve been through a lot of illness, and we’re both convinced that he would not have survived without me. Now he is unable to care for himself, and out of the promise I made and the love developed over the years, I’m still here to care for him. Sometimes I wish I had left when he could have managed without me, but I can’t now. It does feel “Responsible,” as the tag to this story says. I made a promise, and I’m keeping it.
I understand this well. I had envisioned a life where we both lived long, healthy lives, but considering how the dice fell, I’m glad I kept my word.
The idea of divorcing because you’re no longer in love is, I believe, an American concept and probably quite recent, at least in the last 30 years or so. It’s also completely ridiculous. A relationship should move from being ‘in love’ to ‘loving’. The feeling of being in love is simply a temporary state of insanity that usually won’t last. The state of loving is a mature relationship that gets stronger over time.
I agree, Philip, and Tony. Though not “in love,” I’m staying and doing my best. I think my husband has overheard my telling my support group that it’s difficult, because lately he’s been working harder at being helpful, to the extent that he can. He can’t be a true partner, but it helps if I feel he’s at least on my side, as I am on his.
Foe better, for worse.
Abusive relationships apart, what happened to working at it?
I remember hearing a sermon in which the preacher said “You fall in love, you fall out of love; you fall in a mud puddle, you fall out of a mud puddle.” I’ve never forgotten that.
According to my father, who was a sociologist and a counselor, the “in love” feeling of infatuation, tingles, excitement, etc., lasts from 6 months to 2 years. He said this is why so many marriages break up at the two year time frame — one or both of the couple have “fallen out of love,” before they really learn to love. And they don’t have the commitment to the relationship, so they split up. I have talked to people who had long term marriages, and almost all of them said that at one point or another they felt like they no longer were “in love” with their spouse, but they were committed to the relationship. Many of them said that as their love for each other grew through their commitment and work on the relationship, the “in love” came back. My own marriage ended, not my choice, after 12 years. We did go to a counselor, and one of the things he asked my ex if he was willing to commit to the relationship. He wasn’t. And yes, it was hard on the kids.
Nick: I am sorry for your loss.
Yes, the decision whether to stay together or not has to be done on a case by case basis. For me, I think if my mom and dad had stayed together, I would have come from a dysfunctional home. Instead, they got divorced then married other people about a year later.
My dad and step-mother left my small town shortly after, so they were never really a part of my life. I refer to my mom and step-father as my parents. And I am very glad he was my step-father — and I think I came from a better home because he was there.
My mom and dad were married for about 11 years; my mom and step-dad were married for about 41 years, and my dad and step-mom were married for about 43 years. In both cases, the marriages ended with death; both of my step-parents have passed away.
Now, if you ask my siblings or step-siblings about the situation, they may have different opinions on whether the divorces were the right decision.
There are more examples of untenable than “abusive.” My Dad was not abusive so far as I know, and his alcoholism became untenable. I do not blame my mother for divorcing him when I was 7, and for putting us all in foster homes. I believe that was the right choice for her. Foster home life wasn’t ideal, and was probably better than if my parents had stayed married.
As others said, there is no single “right” answer, it is not one size fits all.
I applaud you. My husband and father were both badly damaged by the divorce of their respective parents. “Children are resilient” is just a justification for adults that don’t have self control or self discipline. YES there are valid reasons for divorce but most divorces are due to pure self-centeredness.
Well, there’s a fair amount of air between “not in love anymore” and “open state of warfare exists”, but….
Thank you for sharing your journey, Nick ~ your courage comes from daily decisions to continue to be responsible towards all involved, however difficult. This is soul growing.