Divorce is a sensitive subject. Those of us who have been through it might be reluctant to discuss its lingering problems, because it might lead to an impossible “what if?” game: “What if I hadn’t gotten divorced? Would I have more or less stress today? Could things have been worked out? Would my children be better or worse off now?” There’s just no way to know for sure, and especially for those of us who have moved on to new marriages and more children, such debating can only cause unproductive pain.
What’s done is done, and we need to go forward making the best lives we can for all of our families, but for those who might be in a troubled marriage and are contemplating divorce, I want to share a few things from my experience that it might help you to know. At the very least, these are things that you will have to deal with if you do get divorced, and it’s better to know in advance what you’re getting into. Frankly, if these thoughts give some couples pause for second thoughts, the world might be a little bit better off.
1. If you get divorced, your ability to raise your children the way you want to will be severely reduced. Marriage makes partners tolerate differences in parenting philosophies by forcing compromises and encouraging partners to support each other. After a divorce, however, no such support system exists, and especially if your ex has a very different philosophy of parenting than yours, you can kiss your plans for your children goodbye. You might still get to raise them, but the atmosphere will never be the same.
2. If you get divorced, you will have more financial problems than if you hadn’t gotten divorced. It’s ironic that money is a major root cause of so many divorces, since divorce is itself one of the leading causes of poverty in America. Paying child support, not getting paid child support, ongoing legal costs, and a small army of related satellite expenses virtually guarantee that children of divorce will have a lower standard of living.
3. If you get divorced, you will still be intimately connected to your ex-spouse for life. You’ll still have children to raise, and these days “childhood” may not end until people are close to 30. After divorce, you’ll still have the same communication problems with each other, and you’ll still have to conduct the business of raising the kids, but you won’t have the softening, conditioning environment of marriage. At the very least, get some counseling on co-parenting after divorce and be ready for to swallow a lot of pride as you do the work of co-parenting, but in many cases divorce just may not solve the problems it’s meant to solve; in fact, it may only make them worse.
4. If you get divorced and then remarry, your new spouse will also have to deal with your ex-spouse. This is a weird one to consider in the midst of a disintegrating marriage, but consider that if you do get divorced, at some point you will probably remarry. This new spouse–someone you would love–will not only have a blended family to deal with, but will most likely have tension with your ex, especially when it comes to parenting. That’s a lot of stress for someone to put up with, and all because they fell for you. I’m not saying it’s necessarily better to not marry that person–or get the divorce that might open the door for it–but again, it’s something you will need to consider and prepare for if you do get divorced. It will be hard. Whether or not it’s worth it or the right thing is up to you.
5. It’s a cliche because it’s true: children of divorce have more problems. We could trot out the statistics, but we all know this one is true: it’s common knowledge by now. Yes, lots of children of divorce do just fine, and yes, many children of divorce get to escape hostile situations, but those are still the minority. After a decade of working with youth, and seeing the trials in my own and extended families, I have no interest in preserving my own pride by denying that divorce hurts kids. As much as our society has scorned it, “staying together for the kids” may very well be a great reason for more couples to stick it out. Bottom line, calling it quits drastically raises the odds that your kids will have major problems that they otherwise wouldn’t have had. It’s not fair to us as parents, perhaps, but we have to know what we’re doing.
I’ve worked on this post longer than any other so far. I’ve revised it many more times than any other, and I’m still not happy with it. I’m sure that there are still things here that will offend or hurt people, but when I realized that there will always be that possibility, and that I feel that this is an important subject that needs to be broached more often, I decided to stop putting it off. If anyone feels that I’ve written something amiss, please give me the benefit of the doubt and take it with a grain of salt.
When The Simpsons wants to make fun of social conservatives, they have a woman come on screen and shriek, “Won’t somebody please think about the children?” After seeing such a scene recently, I thought, What’s so bad about that?