Even when I was a teenager, I felt that couples should not stay married for the sake of their children. I don’t really know what formed that opinion – my parents’ marriage had its ups and downs but nothing dramatic. I do remember a schoolfriend whose parents got divorced – I was never privy to any of the details. My parents discussed it in hushed whispers. My gut just told me that to be a child within an unhappy marriage was not good. Even now, some thirty-five years later many people still struggle with the question of staying together for the sake of the children.
Before Nancy B made her decision to end her marriage she too grappled with the issue and then she grappled with the aftermath. Here’s Nancy B:
Deciding to end my marriage wasn’t like a big a-ha moment or a big turning point. I just knew I wanted it. I met with a psychologist my daughter had seen and told her that I wanted to get out of the marriage. I asked her opinion on what I could do for my daughter to make it easier on her.
My neighbor had just left her husband, and she’d waited till her last kid had gotten out of high school. That’s kind of the old way of thinking, and that’s what this psychologist said,
“That’s really the old way of thinking, because then your kid’s going to get off to college and here’s all this chaos happening at home. It’s really better to do it earlier so they can see that you’re okay and that you’re going to be alright. Don’t get hung up on that ‘oh I have to wait until they’re out of high school.’ It’s really the old way of thinking about it and you’re not really doing her this big favor.”
So after I told my husband I wanted a divorce, I stayed in the house for six weeks and I couldn’t take it another day. My daughter was totally traumatized because he would just go from room to room ranting and raving. It was really lunatic-type behavior, because he was so threatened and he was going to be by himself . Basically, his family said, “You can’t come and live with us, sorry, but you’re a grown man and you’re over sixty years old. Get over your fear.”
At first, he told me I’d have to go, that he wouldn’t. Then over the six weeks he changed his mind like ten times…he’d come home and say, “You can have the house, I don’t want it, I’m going to go kill myself today.” And then he’d start crying, Troubled histrionics and screaming at me and threatening. Just horrible, horrible.
It was just the worst. I think I blocked a lot of it. I wrote down a lot of stuff and I was really honestly afraid. He’d say, “Well, I don’t have anything to live for and you don’t really have anything to live for either, I would say.” I was sleeping in the other room and I would pile things in front of my door, so he couldn’t get in.
After about three weeks of this, and I wrote a long letter. I sent it to my sister for safekeeping and said, “Keep this, in case anything happens to me.” I had two friends witness me sign it.
He really didn’t get physical with me, he would get really close into my face, but he never physically harmed me, but just the emotional harm…
Then when I moved, he would come over and pace in the yard. I didn’t have much of a yard, it was like a townhouse, but he’d pace outside and yell…it was just humiliating. Horrible. I was scared.
The Divorce Coach Says
When I was considering divorce, I asked my children’s psychologist for her opinion on staying together for the sake of the children. She shared with me that that was what her parents had done. Once she and her sibling were off at college, the parents announced they were getting divorced and that the marriage had been difficult for some time. She said she felt very angry with them, that they had lied to her … pretending that they were a happy family.
Evvy had a similar experience. She’d been married for 42 years when she divorced and when she told her adult children she said it made them question the reality, the truth of all the family vacations and holidays. Had it all been fake?
As Nancy B shares above, children need time to adjust and rearrange and don’t think there’s less impact with adult children. There may be less practical impact but emotionally it’s just as difficult and sometimes more so. If the children are out of the home, living away then it’s definitely harder for them to renegotiate the parental relationships.
That being said, I do think it’s important to consider the timing of your announcement carefully: avoiding birthdays and holidays is generally considered smart.
The other point I want to make here is that if you are concerned about how your spouse is going to react, then you must think through your safety ahead of time and discuss your concerns with your attorney. You should seriously consider having a safe place already lined up but again, make sure your attorney knows about this so he/she can meet any legal requirements to avoid potential custody complications.
There are lots of options for staying safe, including having your spouse served while you’re out of town, telling your spouse in a public place or having a friend close by. If you’re concerned about possible suicidal threats, then be prepared to call your spouse’s doctor but if your spouse truly is suicidal then you must get emergency medical assistance.
Nancy B knew her husband wouldn’t react well – that’s one of the reasons she delayed for so long. I’m not going to sugar-coat it or downplay how ugly this can be. Being willing to face this is a large piece in being ready to initiate your divorce.
How did your spouse react when you told him/her you wanted a divorce? Was it what you expected? What should others expect?