Asking yourself if you should stay married for the sake of your children is typical for anyone whose marriage is faltering. It’s certainly a question about which most people have an opinion.
Today, I’d like to introduce you to Sandy Weiner who was married for twenty-three years. Three of those years were spent getting divorced (!) and seven of them were spent tolerating the marriage for their three children who were aged 18, 16, and 13 when the divorce was final. Sandy was following the advice of an attorney friend, advice she now says was bad. Here’s Sandy:
We began our marriage as a Sabbath Observant Jewish Orthodox couple who agreed to raise our kids in a Sabbath Observant Orthodox home.
Within a few years of our marriage, he gave it all up. Our first born child was born with a genetic disease and his response to my son’s disease was anger at God, anger at me, trying to put the blame on me.
My response was, “What can I do to advocate for this child? How can I learn much about his disease as much as possible and be his best advocate.” I see now that my ex-husband really fell into a low level depression. He was stuck in a very angry and depressed place for a very long time and he kind of retreated into himself.
So, the script changed.
We were no longer raising our kids in the same way on pretty much any level. Not only did we not raise them to be religiously the same, which is very confusing, but there was a lot of anger. So it wasn’t just, “I’m not going to observe.” It was, “I’m going to show you how angry I am at God all the time. And I’m going to take my yarmulke and throw it on the ground and I’m going to do all these things,” where he wasn’t coming to the table on Friday night. It was very difficult.
I was working at an Orthodox camp during the summers and he would come up on the Sabbath to visit and hated it. I went to work there primarily because I wanted my kids to have a happy environment where Judaism was being observed instead of home which was this angry, confusing environment. I wanted support for what I was doing. He would just be walking around scowling. He couldn’t stand the social scene either and I had developed some really nice friendships with people there. So, he didn’t want to come to the table. He didn’t want to hang out with people and he’d undermine my parenting, which was a huge part of the reasons for our divorce.
My son who was then eight years old. He really was too young to be in a bunk, but they didn’t have another option for him. He’d come to my door everyday and knock on my door and he’d ask to be let in. I was not allowed to let him in. It was against camp rules. My husband would come up on the weekend and say, “Come on in,” and he was putting my job at risk and he was undoing all the discipline and limits that I had set during the week.
It was just the most frustrating, frustrating thing and I had to start over again, from square one. It was really screwing up my son, it was making me angry and those differences were huge.
I actually went to a divorce lawyer right after my first summer there. She was my neighbor. We used to walk together and I said, “I can’t be with my husband anymore.”
I had known that for a long time.
She said, “Listen, I’m a divorce lawyer. If you can stay in your marriage until your youngest graduates high school, it will be the best thing you can do for your kids, because no matter what problems you have right now, they’re going to get worse. So, I advise you to just stay.”
It was probably the worst advice I ever got in my life. I told her that afterwards when I finally realized, “I cannot wait for my daughter to graduate high school. I’ll be dead by then. I’ll be like an emotional wreck.”
There was too much at stake and so I said to her, “That was bad advice. Please don’t give that to people. It’s not a blanket thing to say to people. ‘Stay for your kids.’”
My parents did that for us and it was a bad idea.
One of my divorce lawyers said, which I think is so true and it’s such an important thing to remember, “Kids are like the doormen of your building. They hear and see everything.”
You think that they’re not hearing that you’re fighting. You think that they’re not seeing that you have this horrible relationship and even if you’re trying to hide it, they sense it.
In a perfect world, staying married for the sake of the kids would be an open, honest discussion between both spouses during which the terms of the marriage such as sleeping arrangements, finances and family commitments are renegotiated.
I suspect that doesn’t happen very often and instead it’s a decision made privately by one spouse until like Sandy, they realize that they’re no longer willing to pay the price.
I’ve never cared for the phrase ‘for the sake of the kids.’ It never made any sense to me even as a teenager. Now it comes across as a cliche and somehow smacks of a lack of courage or an absence of conscious, intentional decision-making. There’s also an implication that anything other than staying married is harmful and clearly that’s not a viewpoint I support.
The framework I prefer is taking everything into consideration and making the best decision you can at the time. You may decide that now is not the right time to end your marriage and that’s a perfectly acceptable decision. You have your reasons. It doesn’t mean you can’t revisit the decision later when your circumstances may have changed. Equally, you may decide that now is the time to end your marriage and that’s OK too. You have your reasons.
Sandy Weiner is a dating coach at Last First Date where she blogs about dating and offers coaching services for completing your online dating profile. You can also sign up for her free report: Top 3 Mistakes Midlife Daters Make.
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