Question: Dear Luise: I have been married for 16 years and am at the point where I need to decide whether to accept the flawed marriage I have to save my child further hurt or move on so I can finally feel alive. There are good memories and grateful feelings for helping to create such a beautiful child but that isn’t enough to save the marriage I feel. I want to set a good example for our 9 year-old daughter and show her that she does not need to put up with being married to an unsupportive husband who withholds affection and is still afraid of his controlling 73 year-old mother. Ultimately, my question is…how do I exit a soul-stifling marriage gracefully and avoid causing further pain to my child? She knows I am not happy but she also loves her father dearly and I want to do the right thing for both of us. L.
Answer: Dear L.: My experience with kids old enough to realize what divorce is all about, is that no matter what they say, most of them couldn’t care less whether their parents are happy or not. They just want them to stay together.
However, your daughter could adapt well and be all the better for it, if you found your life to be greatly improved and felt better yourself. Dads can still be seen and enjoyed but it’s a huge adjustment for everyone concerned.
There isn’t any way to exit gracefully that I know of. It’s a sticky, messy, uncomfortable and heartbreaking experience for most of us…at least it was for me. No matter how lofty our goals, we have to face failure. There can be all kinds of rewards on the other side but we still have to slog through the mire of disillusion and dissolution to get there.
You are the one who wants and probably needs change. Be careful not to rationalize that you are doing it to set your daughter a good example because that could bring her feelings of guilt and you don’t want that.
Lots of children make it through divorce fairly well when they are given unbiased support and understanding by both parents to help them over the rough spots. However, sometimes that’s hard to do when you are in the process of going your separate ways.
You might want to find her a good counselor, so she has an advocate outside the family. It’s sometimes very helpful to be able to work with a skilled and impartial third party who understands and who knows how to offer the opportunity to safely express grief, fear and anger.
My youngest son was your daughter’s age when I divorced his father. He clearly remembers thinking the world was coming to an end. In truth, the world, as he knew it, did. Now, still loving us both dearly, he says he can’t imagine whatever held us together for 18 years, or for that matter, how we ever got together in the first place. In retrospect, he sees surviving divorce as helping him to learn the much-needed lessons of adaptation, trust and self-reliance…to name a few. He is now quite a lot older than you are and we remain great friends. A picture of us together is in my bio on this website. He’s my Webmaster. Blessings, Luise