What happened when I was busy making other plans.

A marriage not worth saving: Signs that it’s more than a passing pissed-offedness

I ended my nine-year marriage–swiftly and decisively, when the events mentioned earlier led to the brilliant if long overdue aha! moment that, Gadzooks, there was no “we” to us.

Now, when you make the decision to split, especially if there is a child involved (in this case, one daughter, five at the time), it’s kind of big deal telling people about it. But almost uniformly, I was shocked and gratified by all of the support and understanding that came my way. Part of what was so shocking was how obvious the problems in our marriage were to friends and family alike–and how little feedback I received from my circle about this (except from my mother, in many subtle and not-at-all subtle ways. But that’s what Jewish mothers are for.) 

I was also dismayed at how much interest I received about my “aha”  moment from some in my circle (in particular, fellow moms with young kids). My theory on this is that raising young children today can be so stressful, in particular, for moms who are trying to manage so much with the X factor being the kids (seems like every time I thought I understood my daughter’s patterns, she’d switch it up. Just to keep me on my toes!). But more than a few really wanted to know why I did it. How did I know it was a marriage worth ditching?

Truth is, it took me five years to realize how unfulfilled I was, in part because it can be difficult to discern what constitutes fundamental unhappiness vs. just-pissed-off-at-husband-for-his-latest-misguided maneuver. (No offense, guys, but moms with little kids vent a lot, and newsflash! sometimes we complain about you.)  To hopefully allay my friends’ unspoken fears, I offered a few litmus tests, drawn from my own experience: 

1) When you picture yourself in 15 years, with the kids out of the house and it being just the two of you, is that something that: a) you can’t wait for; b) you mostly look forward to; c) you have mixed feelings about; or d) fills you with a sense of unequivocal dread? Hint: Dread is not really where you want to be, but it was clearly where I was.  

2) A smaller, less futuristic version of that: Date nights. Not that everyone always looks forward to them–you may be totally wiped and want to cancel–but your m.o. should not be to avoid them at all costs. Even if, for whatever reason (babysitter issues, financial issues, scheduling issues, guilt about leaving child when they’ve been away from you all day already, etc.) you may not be able to have a date night regularly, this should still fall under the category of something you might want to do before your child is, say, eighteen. If this sounds blasphemous to you, you may very well have a bigger problem.

3) Why do you divide and conquer? This one was hard to read because so many of us do this: Dad takes the kids Saturday mornings so mom can go to yoga class, mom gets them in the afternoon so dad can play in his softball game. This is a great strategy to give both parents a much-needed break and a chance to pursue their interests. But if you find yourself much preferring the company of just you and your kids without him, and, in fact, go out of your way to avoid having your husband with you for outings–this is probably not a good thing. By the last year of my marriage, nary a weekend would go by where we spent a significant portion of it together as a family. And this was how I wanted it to be.

So if your answers mirrored mine, you may, indeed, have a bigger problem. But if there is still that longing to be together, just the two of you, I would suggest you take the time to appreciate what you have right now and nurture it for tomorrow. Because I believe if the love is there, no matter how much stress surrounds it, it’s a marriage worth saving.

2 responses

  1. Matthew B

    Karen, this resonates a great deal with me, not because of my marriage (which is pretty much composed of longing-to-be-together) but because my oldest friend confided two years ago that he had suddenly realized that he dreaded the time when the kids would have grown up and left the house — and had made the decision to file for divorce. After maybe nine months, he decided (against everyone’s advice) to reconcile and create a family dynamic in which 100 percent of the parents’ emotional energy goes to the kids.

    What strikes me, too, is your comment about “how little feedback I received from my circle.” A psychologist friend of mine studies relationships, and his research shows that a person’s friends and colleagues are terrifically accurate predictors of whether a relationship will endure . . . but there’s rarely an appropriate circumstance to volunteer that in your opinion, your friend’s husband is a loser and the marriage doesn’t seem to be going that well. Unless one is a Jewish mother, or a “Sex and the City” protagonist.

    November 28, 2010 at 11:30 pm

    • Matthew:

      I’m sorry to hear about your friend. Maybe it’s my way of justifying, but probably the biggest influencers for me were my conversations with friends who came from “together” families in which the parents should have divorced, but didn’t, or where they waited until the kids were off to college to split. When this happens, I was shocked to learn that almost uniformly, the kids actually wish the parents would have split up sooner instead of spreading their misery to the whole family. From this, and then reflecting on my life as a young kid from a split-up family, I came to realize that staying together for the kids is perhaps one of the worst things you can do for them because your relationship is their model. I wanted E to hopefully have a much better model of what she should go for when she’s grown up–much more the M/Cr story (although few of us are as lucky as you both were to have found each other so young and grow together, as you have). But if I couldn’t give her that, at least I could offer a happier mom.

      As for the little feedback you receive, I realize that friends really want to be supportive of you, and are largely terrified that they will come off as trashing your marriage if they say something critical–and then risk losing you. But after I ended things, the floodgates opened and friends felt freed up to speak their minds–although, in many cases, it was tentatively, because it’s a sensitive area. No one wants to make their friend feel stupid for what seemed so obvious to them for so long. But yes, friends and family are key–they see things you may be blind to–and now I see that sometimes it’s what they don’t say that you should be listening to.

      November 29, 2010 at 7:44 am

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