In Short: Decisions Have Consequences.
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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