It’s not your BFF’s Divorce

 In Divorce

We’re all familiar with the cliché—divorcing couples who have come to hate each other so much they fight for things in the divorce decree more to hurt the other party than for any rational reason.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

The end of a marriage is never going to be a bright and cheerful transition, but that doesn’t mean that it has to be World War III. I read a New York Times article recently about divorced couples that decided to live in separate homes quite close to each other so they could share parenting duties while living their separate lives. It got me thinking about divorce and how important it is to do what’s right for you and your family rather than what someone expects of you.

Some marriages end with the cliché and people who have lived through it can’t be blamed if their experience colors whatever conversations they have with others who are getting a divorce, but there is no more reason to believe your divorce has to be the same as someone else’s than there is to believe your marriage has to be the same as someone else’s.

Here are seven divorce cliche questions and how to deal with them:

1) It’s your life. Live it to your expectations.

The comments on the article mentioned above were surprising, and — well, they were comments on an article on the internet –  but it’s easy to imagine the same arguments coming from friends or family and I thought it would be worth taking the time to address some of the arguments made in them.

There’s a group of article comments—disguised as questions—that serve no other purpose than to make people ashamed of getting a divorce. I think these are a particularly nasty form of victim blaming and I thought the best way to fight them was to pretend the questions were serious and answer them.

2) If you like each other so much, why not stay married?

Marriage isn’t just about liking someone. I like a lot of people. I couldn’t be married to most of them. Marriage is twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, not for just a year or two. It’s not just dinners at nice restaurants and someone to take vacations with. Over time reasons to separate, such as emotional and physical abuse, destructive addictions, and other serious issues can do their damage. Many issues aren’t “fixable.” For most couples, divorce is an excruciatingly painful decision that isn’t undertaken lightly. In the best divorces couples can feel thankful for what they had, and learned, in their relationship.

3) Why didn’t you think of this (divorce) before you got married?

Who does that? Who thinks about divorce when they’re getting married? There are a handful of people who have the forethought to prepare prenuptial agreements but otherwise….virtually no one thinks about divorce when they’re getting married. This question pretends that people are supposed to know every single step their lives are going to take before they get married and that’s just nonsense. People change. Is it really reasonable to expect that people can fall in love but that falling out of love, or one spouse changing in a way that’s unhealthy or dangerous, is impossible?

4) Isn’t living close by an expensive way to live?

The parents in the article live in New York City in the same building or close by. That the article talks about the rents they pay is unfortunate because it’s irrelevant. Wherever people live, people getting a divorce have to live separate lives and that’s more expensive than living one life together.

5) Isn’t living close by confusing for the kids?

The kids might get confused, they might get angry, they might get a lot of things. Good parents help them through that the same way good parents help the kids get through bullies on the playground, school dances, and puberty. Choosing to live near your former spouse for the benefit of the kids is choosing to be an active parent.

Choosing to move far away might make things easier for the children to understand. It might be simpler, but is it better? Not usually. Children are better off when they have two parents who—no matter how much they disagree over any number of things—both clearly love and are involved with their kids.

For that matter, the question presumes that a couple staying married isn’t confusing for the kids and that’s an assumption that is unwarranted. Children aren’t stupid. Once they’re old enough to understand what marriage really is, they’re likely going to realize that their parents aren’t modeling a loving relationship their kids can aspire to and that’s confusing in itself and does the children a disservice in the long run.

6) Won’t living close by make any new relationships look like someone’s having an affair?

Children know the difference between lying and telling the truth. They know the difference between being open about something and keeping a secret. They know the difference between right and wrong. They might not like it when Dad gets a new girlfriend, but that’s yet another instance where having both parents involved is important. Hopefully the parents can model open communication (at the child’s intellectual and emotional level) as well as a new, healthy, loving relationship.

7) How do these parents deal with children moving out at 18?

I am simultaneously struck by two questions. What makes you think the children are moving out at 18 (covered by another New York Times article) and oh, by the way, how do any parents, married or divorced, deal with children moving out? Whether divorced parents live near or far from each other they inevitably have to deal with the idea that their child will move out. Is the questioner implying that parents should go AWOL during a divorce so they don’t later have to deal with the sadness they may experience when their child moves out as a young adult?

Summary

Every marriage is different. Every divorce is different. Every couple is different. Every child is different. And yet, there always seem to be some people—no matter how well meaning—who think they have a right and a responsibility to tell other people how to live their lives. They may love you and they may mean well, but you don’t have to listen to them. You owe it to your family to listen to your heart.

If you were strong enough to make the decision to get married, if you were strong enough to think you could raise a child, if you were strong enough to realize it was time for your marriage to end, you’re strong enough to do it on your terms. You don’t have to think of it as the end of a family, you can think of it as the restructuring of a family. It’s the 21st century. If we haven’t realized by now that we’re not all going to have white picket fences, 2.4 kids, and a dog in the back yard, we’re never going to realize it.

It’s your family and you know what’s right for your family better than anyone else. Consider mediating your divorce so that you can have your divorce your way.

 

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