As a former divorce mediator and a current marriage conflict specialist, I know that people tend to make a lot of assumptions about how divorce will and won’t change their lives. Here, I’ve presented eight of the most common assumptions that, if you’re considering divorce, you might be making. Yes, they’re blunt. But so is divorce. And if you’re on the brink of divorce, you should challenge these assumptions regardless of whether you proceed with the split or try to reconcile. Few things in life are as life-altering as divorce. You owe it to yourself to think it through, clearly and completely.
So challenge these 8 assumptions before you make any big decisions:
- My kids want me to be happy. Of course they do. But what your kids really want is their mom and dad to get their act together, behave like grown-ups and create a stable, happy home for them. Kids are focused on their own happiness and childhood gives them that privilege.
- My kids will be better off. Maybe, but maybe not. Research shows that children of divorce experience higher rates of emotional and behavioral problems. They are also more likely to experience poverty and mistreatment — whether outright abuse or cruel indifference — from an unrelated adult in the home.
- My next marriage will be better. Again – maybe, but maybe not. Second and subsequent marriages have higher divorce rates than first marriages. Why? Because people rarely change and tend to repeat the same poor behaviors. Plus, subsequent marriages often involve step-kids and blended families, which ramps up the drama and conflict all the more.
- My relationship with my children won’t change. Yes it will. A parent who no longer lives under the same roof as his or her child no longer has the same “presence” in the child’s life. Of course you can still have a good parent-child relationship – but it will be different. Whether it’s a 2 a.m. nightmare or an emergency, you’re simply not there. Regardless of the reason for the divorce, it is possible that at some point your child may resent one or both of you for breaking up the family unit. Your child may also blame himself, rationalizing that he was not “lovable” enough for his bio parents to work through their problems. This isn’t a guilt trip or a scare tactic: it’s a reality for many people and one that you should at least be aware of.
- I won’t have any regrets. You might. Once emotions have cooled and you have your distance, you may indeed look back and wonder whether you should have worked harder to save your marriage. You may have second thoughts when you realize that your subsequent relationships struggle with the same issues, or when you see your ex-spouse with a new partner. This regret may deepen as you move into old age and realize you will never feel the pride that comes with having your children and grandchildren admire you as the family patriarch or matriarch.
- We shouldn’t stay together for the kids. Actually, I can’t think of a better reason to stay and work through your problems with humility and determination. Help is out there for those who have the strength of character to be accountable and ask for it. Remember that “staying together for the kids” doesn’t mean accepting the status quo or living in a miserable home (don’t subject your kids to that!); however, it does mean using your kids as motivation to see whether you can improve your marriage and family life.
- Divorce will solve all my problems. Divorce may solve some of your problems, but if you have kids together, it may also create new ones. You may worry about your ex-husband’s new girlfriend and whether she’ll call you if your child gets sick or scared. You may worry about your ex-wife’s new boyfriend and whether he’s the one giving your child a bath. Don’t fool yourself. It’s unlikely your ex-spouse will remain single for long and once he or she starts dating, you will have to deal with the strangers that may waltz in and out of your child’s life. Moreover, your relationship with you ex-spouse doesn’t end – it just changes. You will continue to see each other as the years go by, navigating how to handle holidays and your child’s major life events well into their adulthood. (As an aside, this is a major reason to strive for an amicable divorce if it does indeed come to that.)
- Kids are resilient and will adapt to the new situation……this won’t affect them in the long-term. Kids don’t adapt, they make do. When you break-up their home or bring your new love interests into their life, they hunker down emotionally and do their best to cope. And like it or not, you have taught them that romantic love is unreliable. As adults, children of divorce are more likely to also be divorced and break-up their own families.
Of course, divorce isn’t always a bad thing.
It’s the best and only course of action in some cases, such as abuse or intimidation, addiction, unmanaged personality disorders, true incompatibility and chronic infidelity, to name a few. There are some cases where one spouse is entirely at fault and where kids are better off having a destructive or dangerous parent out of their home or even out of their life. This article is not geared toward people facing such issues in their relationship or home life. In fact, I applaud people who remove themselves, and their kids, from such situations.
But the fact is, many if not most broken homes are caused by two self-focused, short-sighted adults who wallow in their own misery and rancor for each other instead of keeping their promises to work through their problems. To put their spouse’s needs ahead of their own and to see conflict from his or her point of view. To put their obligations as parents above their own pettiness as partners and to do whatever it takes to bring happiness back into their marriage and home. Frankly, I don’t see a lot of people doing this. They’re quick to anger, quick to blame, quick to bail. They always think the grass will be greener over the next fence.
Personally and professionally, I think it’s time for spouses to put family obligation at the top of the list, far above the shifting sands of personal desires. Why? Because obligation provides staying power. A sense of obligation toward your spouse and children is the glue that keeps the home together through the weak and angry spots, giving strength and love a chance to return. It binds a couple together while they work through their problems and get back to being happy.
A sense of obligation to others is a virtue, but it’s one that our self-focused culture has largely abandoned. The ancient Romans called it pietas. In its loosest sense, it was the highly-esteemed “sacred duty” to one’s family, one that superseded self-interest. It’s an Old World virtue that the New World would be wise to embrace.
So if you’re on the brink of divorce, I encourage you to challenge some of the assumptions you might be making about what life will look like after divorce. In the end, however, you’re the expert in your life and you must keep your own counsel with respect to this life-changing decision.
• Debra Macleod, B.A., LL.B. can help you now, not weeks from now. See her Marriage SOS instant-access marriage recovery programs.