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Is There Such A Thing As A Good Divorce?
I've recommended Constance Ahrons' book, The Good Divorce, as a way for divorced or divorcing parents to learn to be "cooperative coparents," but I'm wondering -- beyond that rare exception or two -- is there really any such thing as "a good divorce"? I don't think so, and there's a book that confirms my thinking on that. From an op-ed a few years ago in The Wall Street Journal:

The conventional wisdom on divorce is that while a breakup is hard on children, parents can minimize a lot of the damage with a "good divorce." Or can they? A new book out this month presents compelling evidence that even a relatively amicable divorce cannot spare children from psychological trauma that affects their self-image and shapes their personalities into adulthood.

Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce by Elizabeth Marquardt (Crown), will not come as welcome news to parents who may be seeking a split on the theory that there is nothing worse for children than growing up amid marital discord or unhappiness. The book establishes that the separation of parents bifurcates children's inner lives, forcing them to become navigators, conciliators and emotional caregivers at an early age, all of which leaves them with a sense of tentativeness and isolation even as adults. Most startling of all are the findings suggesting that children whose parents remain in somewhat unhappy, low-conflict marriages (more common than high-conflict unions involving physical fights or other abuse) fare better in certain crucial spheres than do children of divorce.

The book is based on research co-directed by Ms. Marquardt and Prof. Norval Glenn, a family scholar at the University of Texas at Austin. They estimate that one-quarter of Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 are children of divorce. Their study included face-to-face interviews with 71 young adults and a national telephone survey of 1,500 others--half from divorced families and half from intact ones.

Many of the comparisons are stunning. Even after a "good" divorce, 52% of respondents say that family life was stressful (compared with 6% from happy marriages and 35% from unhappy but low-conflict marriages). Half report that even as children they "always felt like an adult" (compared with 36% and 39% in the intact-family groups).

According to the study, children of divorce feel less protected by their parents, less emotionally secure and less safe at home than do other children. Children of divorce are less likely to look to their parents for comfort and more likely to feel obliged to protect their parents emotionally. They tend to see their parents as polar opposites long after marital conflict ends. Twice as many children of divorce agreed that, while growing up, "I felt like a different person with each of my parents."

While I'm not a marriage booster in general, I do think the moment you have a child, that's where your life and your needs have to start coming second. That sort of thing doesn't work for you? Stay "Barren!" like me.

In case you're wondering, I write the word that way because I'm just so darn thrilled not to have children, and all the responsibility and angst that comes with having them. Yes, I understand that you may feel they bring you joy. Lucky for me, I can get my joy jones fulfilled by less physically reproductive means.

Posted by aalkon at November 17, 2007 3:47 PM

Comments

Hey, I came across this from pj network blogs.

It is a nice review of a book about effects of divorce! Well, I am critical in the way you gave your advice. May be if your mama has met her needs first, you would not be writing these advices now..

People have children for their pleasure, that is what, the nature of being humans is, from what I know. ''You are thrilled not to have children''????. I am dismayed and it gets me into thinking, probably you are fearful person, distancing away from the responsibilities that come with it.
If I narrow down, you want to give advice to people to care for themselves, so making them more selfish.This causes more pain than, if they usually divorce without taking your advice.

Couples be AWARE!this poison of words and its network are continually trying to influence the society at large!!

PS: You must experience a marriage, children and divorce and then help your children become successful, without any stress.. You will be the champion and your advice would be selling hot.. now it is JUST bland!!!!!!!!

Posted by: pras at November 17, 2007 2:50 PM

''You are thrilled not to have children''????. I am dismayed

Why? I'm not interested in having children. If only more people would figure that out, and before they have them.

Just wondering, is English a second language for you? And if not, where did you attend school?

Posted by: Amy Alkon at November 17, 2007 2:56 PM

Nobody enters into wedlock just because they are sure of divorce down the lane!Probably you are fearing more for a divorce for the wedding which has not taken place....presumptous to think early like this.

I am sure you got the message right, what is in a language being the second or first.. it proves that.. you wanted to convey me a message that english has been your first lang...may be I can assume there is arrogance..to tell you truth.. Yes, english isn't my mother tongue!!!

my schooling...hahahaha... let us talk to the point!!!!

Posted by: pras at November 17, 2007 3:07 PM

Probably you are fearing more for a divorce for the wedding which has not taken place....presumptous to think early like this.

A great deal of what you've written above is presumptuous. I have no need or desire to be married and it has nothing to do with fear.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at November 17, 2007 3:23 PM

**People have children for their pleasure, that is what, the nature of being humans is, from what I know.**

We should be more matter-of-fact about having kids, neither gushing about how great they are, or being too negative about the burden.

My ex had kids partly because of the attention it brought her: people ooing and ahhing, dragging them everywhere for the show of it, announcing at every greeting how many kids she had (with the occasional exaggeration if a nephew or niece was staying with us.)

When she wanted a divorce, I asked her, "how can you justify putting the kids through this?" She basically said, "I don't care."

Posted by: doombuggy at November 17, 2007 6:31 PM

Yeah, divorce is harsh. My parents apparently stuck out their marriage for us kids, and briefly separated as adults. I was 26, and I felt like I was 10. Part of it was my mom using me a bit to unload and telling me some things I could've done without, but it really messed with my mind, even as an adult. I was a consultant at the time, and had my own office- it had a great, solid cherry desk and a huge floor-ceiling window- best part about that job, really. My mom called me at work to vent something or other, and I was thinking it was a private conversation for work, and that I should try to be quieter, since the walls were rather thin. That's apparently how I found myself, in a $600 suit, sitting in the floor in the little knee-space under that desk. Regression- one of Freud's less silly theories.

Posted by: Allison at November 17, 2007 9:19 PM

As when my brother and I were adults, that is. Sheesh. I guess I chould take some grammar lessons from the previous poster, huh?

Posted by: Allison at November 17, 2007 9:20 PM

Allison, pretty great that you posted that. I guess at any time it's pretty rough on kids. Do you think it's better that they waited or is it six of one/half a dozen of the other?

Posted by: Amy Alkon at November 18, 2007 12:24 AM

People have children for their pleasure I think "pleasure" is not the right word here. There are all sorts of reasons people have kids. Some people have kids without any thought at all. Some have them to save their marriage. Others because they believe the kids will complete their family. Some to spite their relatives. Or to prove their virility/femininity. Or to ensure an heir to the family name or to the throne. The list goes on.

Posted by: Norman at November 18, 2007 2:15 AM

Doombuggy,it is true that people are not committed to certain things in life! Because, the foundation itself is weak for them.Foundation, I mean the values,norms etc..those who adhere to shaky values, certainly run away from committment, restlessly spending life, wasting away their essential worth for how they are made of.

They can live lifelong lying to themselves.

Ravi Zacharias illuminates for us the idea that a philosophy comes to us in three levels. Level one is Theory. This level deals with the foundation of one’s philosophy at the theoretical level.

Second level of philosophy is Arts.The second levele “does not feel the constraint of reason or come under the binding strictures of argument. It finds its refuge in the imagination and feeling.” The arts then become the persuader that attempts to sway people to adopt the philosophy that is being communicated. It illustrates for the audience the philosophy being communicated. Consequently, it is imperative that we must rid ourselves of the idea that movies are simply for entertainment. They are often if not always made to convince viewers to a way of thinking or believing.

To convince is exactly what level three is all about. The third level is practical application. People now apply the theory (level one) to daily life, resulting in the new found theory governing how they view the world.

Amy advising at level three, which really appeals to people..but, the foundation itself goes to level one, going by those theories, which carry different set of values...it is time to think, if that theory itself is true?

Posted by: pras at November 18, 2007 2:29 AM

Pras, that's a lot of words, but I can't get any sense out of it.

Posted by: Norman at November 18, 2007 4:15 AM

Norman, I was talking about, if marriages are not based on strong foundation and committment, most of them will end up in divorces.

I was also telling that, foundation needs to be strong and that foundation is itself has some values.. simply termed as philosophy of life.. which you or me...are guided.

sorry about the words.. those words are meant for AMY and others who take her advice.

Posted by: pras at November 18, 2007 5:12 AM

My parents divorce was rough and had some lasting impact on me, but in my parents' case, I still think it was the better option. I was sad yes, but I also remember being relieved when they told us they were getting divorced. All of those undercurrents of unhappiness that they tried to hide but that we knew were there were finally out in the open.

Even if the parents put on a good face for the kids, kids know when there's a lot of tension in the air. YMMV.

Posted by: deja pseu at November 18, 2007 7:20 AM

It's not just divorce that's a problem... People should be expected to pair with each other well.

Posted by: Crid at November 18, 2007 7:53 AM

far too often (which means NOT ALWAYS), people have children in order to conform; it's what everyone else is doing. it's fashionable. same w/marriage. you do it becuz everyone else is doing it. you don't have to think, you don't have to come up with your own ideas/structure for whatever kind of commitment you want to make with someone and what it really means; you just buy the pre-fab McMarriage. i also think that, far too often but not always, people have children to give them something in common within their marriage, a common project or interest to fill the void... or they think (not consciously) the child will provide them w/an identity as they are realizing their partner isn't.

Posted by: trina lindsey at November 18, 2007 8:13 AM

Pras -

Thanks for translating into your own words, which are a lot more understandable. But how can you tell if a marriage is "based on strong foundation and committment" or not? How can you tell if a foundation is strong and "has some values"? And how do you know that without these, most marriages (I guess you mean over 50%) will end in divorce?

Posted by: Norman at November 18, 2007 8:35 AM

sorry about the words.. those words are meant for AMY and others who take her advice.

They were incomprehensible.

Furthermore, saying "strong foundation" is nebulous.

You really haven't said much of substance whatsoever, although you do so in a whole lot of words!

Posted by: Amy Alkon at November 18, 2007 8:52 AM

Deja, a couple questions if you don't mind:

How old were you, and what was the impact, and why was it a good thing they got divorced?

Posted by: Amy Alkon at November 18, 2007 8:53 AM

I was 14, my sister 11.

The impacts were financial (we had to sell the house, my horse, some furniture, etc. and move into a rental house, we suddenly were living on alimony and child support, which didn't go very far) and emotional (being caught in the middle sometimes, having parents who were primarily focused on putting their own lives back together and weren't really available to parent or offer much guidance, though this had been the case the last few years of their marriage anyway).

It was better because the last few years of their marriage felt like there had been a rubber band of tension though our lives just waiting to snap. Once it did, it was a relief. And the "good from bad" was that I saw how my mother, who had quit working when she got married, was unable to really get back on her feet again financially, and I promised myself that I would always be able to provide for myself financially regardless of marital status, and have. Plus, they were both much happier being out of the marriage, but I never understood how they got together in the first place; they were so different. My dad remarried someone much more compatible, and I got to see a model of marriage that was much more of a partnership than my parents' had ever been.

Posted by: deja pseu at November 18, 2007 9:25 AM

Norman -

I have seen the same trend in America to Europe,except in middle east or India.

It is simple, the foundation is strong if it is built IN christian values.Committment to God comes first and it defines the relationship I must have with my spouse.You may be wondering, I am siding with christian world view..Yes!

When I have beleifs outside of these views, then I would be always, prefer myself to be outside of marriage than, to get into it.I call it as 'Not interested in getting married'

The marriages work in middle east, because, it is just tyranny.. those values I don't subscribe.If it is India, it is more like traditional values..A traditionalist lives for the past, if you know, what I meant!!

Posted by: pras at November 18, 2007 9:53 AM

Committment to God comes first and it defines the relationship I must have with my spouse.

Uh...you have evidence there's a god? I have yet to see any. So...you're committing to somebody based on something that you have no evidence exists? I mean, I understand that you skipped the logical reasoning thing here and just went straight to believing baselessly...think of all the other things you could be convinced of on those terms. Luckily, Christianity doesn't still support the killing of infidels like Islam does. But, Christianity is very much like Islam in that behind it is an irrational belief in something you have no evidence exists, and a behavior system based on that belief...all in support of the gigantic business that is the Church.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at November 18, 2007 10:06 AM

My parents divorced when I was a freshman in college. I don't know that it messed me up; don't know that it didn't mess me up, either. I do OK, and am reasonably happy, and have good relationships with the people in my life. Maybe I would be sparkling with joy at every dawn if they hadn't divorced - but I doubt it. I am glad I was out of the house when it happened. My younger brother dealt with a very messy scene, and I'm sure it did bad things to him. Oh, and the holidays suck now - I don't look forward to going back that time of year; there's no way someone's feelings (mom's or dad's) don't get hurt through some oversight.

Posted by: justin case at November 18, 2007 10:31 AM

Are those of you with divorced parents of the mind that it's better that parents stay together while you're young and living in their house (except, of course, in high conflict situations)?

Posted by: Amy Alkon at November 18, 2007 11:07 AM

I think it's better if mom and dad can behave themselves, do a decent job pretending to enjoy being around each other, and not take out latent frustrations on kids too much. I'd have to say my parents did a good job at these things - up until they separated, I assumed we were the classic American family. Mom cooked good dinner every night, they attending my sporting events, they rarely fought, they didn't frequently get drunk in front of us (occasionally, but hey, we're WASPs, it's an occupational hazard), etc. Yeah, it's probably better like that. Probably sucked for them, though.

Posted by: justin case at November 18, 2007 12:41 PM

I think it's better if mom and dad can behave themselves, do a decent job pretending to enjoy being around each other, and not take out latent frustrations on kids too much

As for it sucking for them, once you have kids, your needs come a distance fifth. At least the way I see it. Want to live the life of Riley (whomever Riley was)? Use a condom.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at November 18, 2007 12:47 PM

My parents are still together, although they've been through some very rough spots that had a pretty strong effect on my brothers and me. Like justin, I grew up in a WASP household, and even though I now follow a much different path, my parents were there for me when I got divorced. (Most of you know the story about that from my other posts here.) I think that even though my parents were close a couple of times to getting divorced, they hung in there because they do really love each other and us kids. Also my mom's faith is exceptionally strong, so I think that may have played a big part in their staying together. Things have eased up a lot since my bros and I were teenagers, and my parents actually seem to enjoy each other and the rest of our extended family, and one reason may be because a lot of financial pressure (at that time) is off of them, now, and things are more stable with the rest of the family. Also, I think that because they weathered a lot of crap in the interim, the life they live now is beneficial to both of them, in a lot of ways. I'm happy for them.

Posted by: Flynne at November 18, 2007 12:58 PM

Hey Amy,
((Do you think it's better that they waited or is it six of one/half a dozen of the other?))

It would have been better for Mom if they'd done at the time, I think. She could have found what she was looking for and been happy, and from my memory, I'd say she wasn't too happy.

I think it would have been rough on me, don't know about my brother. As for the sticking it out part, as an adult, I appreciate that, and also feel terrible for being the reason. They were the loud, noisy fighting type, so the sticking it out was a bit dysfunctional. She had a really sorry mother-in-law who made life miserable when she could. Also, as far as being unhappy, I remember alot of anger from her, towards me it seemed at the time, and in retrospect, I kind of wonder if divorce would have been a better deal, long-run wise. I'm not sure what a low-conflict situation would look like, but it dosen't sound realistic, does it?

Anyway, who knows what's on the other side of the fence, truly? I turned out fine and so did my brother. The effect of it on me as an adult was to go for guys I know are crazy about me, as to me, a successful marriage is one where both parties are concerned for the others' happiness, so compromises aren't like pulling teeth. If that makes any sense. My husband and I discussed alot of the questions people don't before getting married- ran each others' credit reports, even. So we knew what we were getting into. Anything can be a positive experience if you make it be.

They're still married, btw. I don't know if they're that happy, but they've got things worked out to a manageable compromise, I suppose.

Posted by: Allison at November 18, 2007 1:42 PM

Well, I'm thinking of the two rooms, shuttling back and forth, emotional blackmail...etc. Kids do best with routine.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at November 18, 2007 1:48 PM

Uh...you have evidence there's a god? I have yet to see any.

It tells me that you are skeptical.Honest skeptics are open to find out. May be together we can find out, if God exists :)

!So...you're committing to somebody based on something that you have no evidence exists?

If you presume that way, then you must atleast agree there is this 'Évil'that exists in this world.. you see it everyday.If there is Evil, then there must be good, if there is good, we must attribute that good to some person. You decide who that person is? If there is no good, then there is no evil.. if you deny there is no Evil..you are probably lying to yourself.


Christianity doesn't still support the killing of infidels like Islam does.

Christianity is based on LOVE, the highest form of love is 'FREE WILL'. The best definition of love is in Bible.

all in support of the gigantic business that is the Church

Probably you must say, or extend your allegation to every church on every continent. Have you done some research?

If there is business happening with churches, you don't find churches burning or pastors being burnt alive, nor lepers being helped, or mother teresa, would not be getting a nobel peace prize , rather some forbes prize?

what are you thankful for today?

Posted by: pras at November 18, 2007 1:56 PM

I saw an article in some paper recently- sorry, can't quote it, but the parents divorced and left the house to the kids. That is, both parents got their own place and then THEY alternated weeks with the kids, rather than vice-versa. I thought it was brilliant.

Posted by: Allison at November 18, 2007 2:13 PM

It's called "bird's nest custody." I think it's a good idea (if one must divorce). Gives the kids stability of place at least.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at November 18, 2007 2:30 PM

Pras -

I can't help thinking that you are begging the question - though you have not really answered anything yet.

You say "It is simple, the foundation is strong if it is built IN christian values" - but _you_ cannot tell whether a person has christian values or not. When people have tried to do that in the past they have ended up killing one another for not being True Christians. The only way out is to let God be the judge, ie to give up.

So when a marriage fails, I suspect you will say this shows it can't have been based on a strong Christian foundation. You haven't said that yet, because you have not said anything much specific, but that's what I'm expecting, and it's called begging the question.

Unless, of course, _you_ can open a window into men's hearts to see what's there?

As regards evil, why do you assume that it exists as an abstract principle? Why can't it just be a quality, like size? Some things are big. So what? Some things are bad news - it doesn't follow that EVIL exists, any more than BIGNESS exists. They both exist as human abstractions, no more.

Religious people get hung up on EVIL (TM) because they can't bear the thought that the universe might not operate according to their ideas of right and wrong. Unfortunately for them, the universe doesn't give a damn about their ideas. Evidence abounds; else we wouldn't have to explain "the problem of suffering" etc. The only problem is expecting the universe to be any different from what it actually is.

Posted by: Norman at November 18, 2007 2:35 PM

As for it sucking for them, once you have kids, your needs come a distance fifth.

Yup. I give my folks props for doing their damndest to take great care of us, expose us to all kinds of things, and teach us to think, and treat others kindly and with the respect they deserve.

Posted by: justin case at November 18, 2007 6:03 PM

I'm the wrong person to comment on this, since I got super-lucky in the parent lottery -- among their many other virtues, my parents have been married 31 years and counting. More importantly, I think, they genuinely respect each other. Which is the big thing in marriage, in my opinion -- you may disagree with someone all over the place, but if you respect them in the end, it'll be much easier to wake up with them every morning. I suspect that mutual respect is the secret to arranged marriages that work.

Four years ago I was in a relationship with a man that I expected to marry and have children with -- I was positively looking forward to the children part. (I am now too, despite all Amy's warnings.) Then we broke up, and later -- much later -- I realized that I didn't, and don't, respect him. The terrifying thing is that I think I would have lost respect for him even if we'd stayed together, and then I would have been in the position of trying to protect my children from my own contempt. Because you can't train kids to lose respect for their parents, married or not. That's just corrosive. And yet I suspect that shielding my kids from my own (and my family's, and my friends') contempt would have driven me near crazy.

Fortunately I wised up, and by the time I started dating my now-husband I could see what a good, solid person he was -- in his ambitions, in his values (he's an atheist), and in his commitment to his family, most obviously. But I came very close to trapping myself before I wised up. And I don't know how you fix such situations.

Posted by: Jessica at November 19, 2007 7:13 AM

Interesting point, Jessica, echoing what John Gottmann says is the killer of relationships -- contempt -- in The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at November 19, 2007 7:19 AM

I am a participant in a good divorce. I was married for 13 years. It was not working. When we decided it would be better for all involved to go our separate ways, we did. We drew up the paperwork ourselves, agreed to all terms and fild them at the courthouse. It only cost 64$. When we were apart, the bitching stopped. We get along better now and my own children have said to me, "Mom you are so much happier than we ever saw, why didn't you do this sooner?" They have a better relationship with Ex because he is not bringing his relationship with me into his parenting. Same for me. Since Ex is not pissing me off my vibe isn't transferring to the house and kids. It CAN be done, and in more instances than not, it SHOULD be done.

Posted by: Cathleen at November 19, 2007 7:26 AM

I love it. You put the self first until a kid's involved then denigrate other who put special emphasis on kids and seniors. Like you have an 18 year crystal ball when you procreate. Like you forfeit all right to happiness of your own when you have a baby. Like a kid isn't better off with happy parents that happen to be apart than they are with two-fake happy but actually miserable parents living a sham. No don't see no contagious depression there.

Posted by: oh please at November 19, 2007 7:40 AM

One of the most important realizations I've had as I've grown up is that my parents "are people, too." They have their own faults, fears and limitations. Their opinions aren't always right and it's ok to disagree with them, respectfully. And, sometimes, they fuck up and it isn't always fair to blame them. B/c I fuck up too and when I they support me and I should do the same.

What I've seen in my parents' marriage is a slow downward spiral where they lost the all-important respect mentioned above. They stopped thinking about their relationship and the other person's needs and this is how they sound: "I work so hard," "I do this I do that," "I'm not appreciated." They stopped appreciating each other they stopped respecting each other it lead to resentment and...it fell apart. It's crystal clear.

When I look at the family's situation, their marriage, I feel like I'm floating above it (figuratively of course) and can see everything - how it unfolded, what everyone did to contribute. And the most powerful thing I've experienced is not to blame them. To move on we all need to understand what each did.

Everyone reacts differently to stimuli. My reaction to their marriage's degradation and imminent divorce was relief and a weird kind of happiness. This isn't about me. I have two parents and if they can do their job better apart then they should. Call me crazy (crid) but my parents, as I said above, are people who deserve to be happy. Their relationship is bad at best, and toxic a lot of the time. Divorce or not, we're always a family and a team and we trudge onward.

I'm not afraid of making their mistakes b/c I consciously put the needs of my mate before my own. I know what I need to be happy and he knows what he needs. When both partners put each other first it's amazing how easily your own needs are met. It also helps do to like Amy says and find the person who basically acts how you want...b/c as I've discovered people's annoying habits and personality quirks get worse with age.

Posted by: Gretchen at November 19, 2007 8:28 AM

and p.s: I reread all that and I sound like the product of, like, years of shrinkage. I'm a bit entertained b/c I've never been to a psychologist/iatrist.

Posted by: Gretchen at November 19, 2007 8:34 AM

"Most startling of all are the findings suggesting that children whose parents remain in somewhat unhappy, low-conflict marriages (more common than high-conflict unions involving physical fights or other abuse) fare better in certain crucial spheres than do children of divorce."

This echoes Wallerstein's findings exactly. Here is a link to her book which Crid and I have discussed before. http://www.amazon.com/Unexpected-Legacy-Divorce-Landmark-Study/dp/B000FTBP9G/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1195494988&sr=8-1

I agree with Justin that the holidays are the hardest. Especially this year when Christmas is on a Tuesday and I have no more vacation days (I went to Italy, so worth it), so I cannot go visit my father who lives in another state. My mother who also lives in a third state completely understands, especially now that I am an adult. My father will resent it and somehow blame it on my mom, even though I will not be visiting her either. This is something that happens every year. Christmas is the worst holiday for me because of this whole tug of war. I regress back to being 10, just like Allison, whenever I talk to my dad about it. Rationally, I am my own person who is old enough to decide for herself what to do, but my dad can completely reverse everything in seconds.

Posted by: Amy at November 19, 2007 9:59 AM

> people who deserve
> to be happy.

Look, we're all strangers here, I have no particular pony in any particular race. In fact I have a divorce of my own (childless), and I love being divorced more than you could possibly know.

But I don't see why we can't ask people to marry with more competence. The reason "toxic" is such a popular word for these discussions --even from people who never studied chemistry-- is that it describes something really horrible. And if things are that horrible, why can't you see them coming before you put the security and comfort of children at risk? I'm tired of people, usually divorced ones, pretending that this is something that can't be helped, as if threatening and maiming the souls of children is just the price of doing business.

(Saying "But my ex was a real asshole!" doesn't answer this point.)

Posted by: Crid at November 19, 2007 10:01 AM

Amy, I think we might have the same dad. Does he turn everything around so it's all about him even when it's not? Take everything personally? Way to sensitive? Do you feel like the parent who has to assuage a whining child when you're dealing with him?

I'm spending Thanksgiving w/ my boyfriend's family so I can offend everybody in my family equally. That way, no one feels that I hate them more than another.

Posted by: Gretchen at November 19, 2007 11:20 AM

My dad used to be a divorce lawyer. And he'd always piss off the clients who would look to him for sympathy and claim their ex was "The worst person, the biggest asshole in the world." My dad always responded, "He/she can't be the worst person or the biggest asshole in the world, because I've already had 3 people this morning tell me the same thing about their exes."

His lack of sympathy, it would seem, reflects his own stance on divorce--if you have children, it should only happen in the most extreme circumstances. Not liking your spouse is not extreme enough.

I'm still on the fence about that. While I was growing up, it became increasingly obvious that my parents didn't love each other, or like each other for that matter. They loved their kids more than they loved each other. As far back as I can remember, I'd ask my parents, "Why did you get married?" The response was "So we could have kids." Being mature, selfless people, my parents did an EXCELLENT job of raising my sister and I--making us feel loved, special, safe, etc. But I do remember being bothered by the fact that they never spoke more than a few terse sentences to each other in the evenings when they were both home; that, when my mom would collapse on the couch in tears when her sister was hospitalized, my dad would just shut the door to the study to block out the noise; how my mom, when her aunt offered to let her have her cabin for a weekend, declined because she had "no one to stay with her there because the kids were too busy with school"--when I suggested that she ask dad to go with her, she laughed.

But would divorce have been MORE troublesome to me? I'll never know. I no longer live at home. My parents still live like the kind of roommates who only speak to each other when one of them is taking too longer in the shower. They also each got their "own" dog.

Posted by: sofar at November 19, 2007 11:36 AM

Gretchen,

We may indeed have the same father.

Posted by: Amy at November 19, 2007 2:33 PM

OK, everyone, have at me...

I'm seriously considering divorce b/c I don't love my wife anymore. Except as a friend (beats hating her). Sorry if that makes me an asshole, and excuse the cliche. I think I can be a far better parent if I'm happy than I would otherwise be, and I'm not going to fix one mistake (marriage) with another (staying married).

Posted by: DaveG at November 19, 2007 3:29 PM

> have at me...

Kewl!

> I can be a far better
> parent if I'm happy

So you could be a better person if only you could ignore the consequences that choices you've already made continue to have on other people?

I told that to the IRS once. They didn't go for it.

Posted by: Crid at November 19, 2007 5:01 PM

DaveG, I don't think that makes you an asshole, but can I ask if you've (either of you) considered counseling before putting yourselves (and your kids, if you have any) through the trauma of a divorce? I begged my ex to go, because I knew it might save the marriage, but he told me it was a waste of time and money, which I translated as, I was a waste of his time and money, so we divorced. I went to counseling anyway, and turned out better for it. YMMV

Posted by: Flynne at November 19, 2007 5:18 PM

What FLynne said.

Posted by: Crid at November 19, 2007 6:20 PM

All right, Dave, since you asked, I gave your question some thought. Advice is, of course, worth only as much as you paid for it. Other commenters here will sound the "She'll take all your money and your kids too!" alarm bells, so I won't.

Some questions:
1) Does your wife love you? If the answer is no, it might be possible -- not likely, granted, but possible -- that you two can remain in the marriage, treating it as a friendship and a partnership in parenting the children, while getting your romantic and sexual needs met elsewhere.

2) Assuming the answer to (1) is yes, then the question becomes, what led to you falling out of love with her? Was it something that changed from the first years of courtship/marriage -- she gained weight, one or both of you paid more attention to the kids/work than the marriage, some incredibly stressful thing happened and you stopped talking to each other? What I mean is, are you in a situation where you could find your way back to what made you fall in love with her in the first place? Or is it just the infatuation has burned off?

3) Have you talked to her about this already? If you have, and she blows you off or belittles your needs, then you may need to structure something outside the marriage, whether you divorce or not. If not -- let me put it this way: if my husband was unhappy, I would want to know about it long before he was unhappy enough to consider divorce.

4) Do you trust her to do the right thing? If, say, something horrible and traumatic happened to you tomorrow, could you count on her to help you? If you were to divorce, would you both be able to work something out, or do you think she might deny you access to your children or try to bankrupt you (or both)? If you don't trust her, I'm not sure how she could regain that trust.

5) Do you actually like her? Do you enjoy her company? The "beats hating her" comment worries me, as it suggests that you're friendly towards her only because you feel you have to be. Does she like you? Do you have things you can talk about together? Shared hobbies, interests, etc., besides the kids?

6) Do you love your kids? I know that's a very rude question, but "Of course" may not be the right answer. It may be that you are not willing to put your children's safety and stability ahead of your own satisfaction. And if that's the case, admit it to yourself. It's another data point you would need in deciding what to do.

In the end, I would say this: I doubt you're an asshole (though it's hard to tell, based on one paragraph on the Internet). But if you made a commitment to be this woman's partner, you owe it to her that "I want a divorce" should not be your first honest statement in a while. Whether you're willing to try counseling or not, I would say, come clean with her. And do it in a way that's reaching out to her, not shutting her off. Not, "I'm not happy, so I'm leaving." But, "I'm not happy, but I made this marriage with you, and I care about you and our kids and this family that we have created, so I need your help."

Whatever you do, good luck.

Posted by: Jessica at November 20, 2007 6:57 AM

Jessica,

That's an amazingly measured and thoughtful reply.

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at November 20, 2007 7:21 AM

For Pete's sake, people change and since kids take a couple of decades to grow up (and you scantimonious judges of what other people should do which is amazing given what you post about Christians telling other people what's best for them) both mom and dad are going to change over the years. It's a simple fact of life. And often, through no one's fault, they grow apart. Sometimes one or both become better people; sometimes one or both become worse people; most often, just as before they're neither better or worse just different and grown apart. Kids too will grow in change, both before and after they grow up. Yes, a divorce will be traumatic to them. Not as traumatic as if an unhappy mommy or daddy hating their life with someone they no longer love (let's face it how hard does it have to be to live with someone when the love is gone; its' hard enough and takes real effort when the love is there) is driven to suicide, alcoholism or cheating. Let's for the sake of argument even say both mommy and daddy are mature enough (yeah, bloody likely) to not fall prey to the depressing effect of being stuck forever and ever with this person they don't want to be with and act, I don't know, like coworkers or something, do you think kids are dumb? It really pisses me off when people treat kids (most who are surprisingly insightful when you take the trouble to actually converse with them rather than talk at them) as stupid. But let's say kids a tard and doesn't pick up consciously on the disinterest in each other between his parents. Heck with the harm of divorce, let's heap on he's learning that human relations should be cold instead of warm and loving and a good dose of guilt too for sticking mom and dad with each other forever and ever 'til death shall they part. Yes, divorce sucks. Yes, there's thorns on rose bushes. Yes, divorce is a million times worse than thorns. My point is I agree divorce is hard on the offspring. But, news flash, along with the good there's the bad. That's life. And kids, like it or not, have to learn to accept both. Even if you could promise the rose garden (and what we're really debating here is if we should) there's still gonna be the damned thorns.

Posted by: oh please at November 20, 2007 10:18 AM

Everyone, thanks for the comments - esp. Jessica and oh please (btw, op, my views match yours). My wife was terrified of intimacy, adopted a passive hostility as a defense mechanism, and constantly threw roadblocks in front of my sources of joy. Maybe I did some of the same. I got tired of wondering if I'm unreasonably demanding or a doormat. I'm partially responsible, flexible and forgiving, and ready to move on.

P.S. I don't have an afterlife waiting for me so I'm extra motivated.

Posted by: DaveG at November 20, 2007 2:01 PM

Sorry, but I'm impatient, self-absorbed, self-involved, self-indulgent, and probably a few other self-(s) that don't occur to me at the moment. That's why I should never have kids. Once you do have kids, I think you owe it to them to make their happiness come first, and yours a distant fifth. I'm more in line with the French -- get your needs satisfied discreetly, but keep the family together. Do what you do to make it work. That's what you do on the job, right? You're getting paid, so you have to be civil to your coworkers, and act like you don't hate their guts, lest you get fired.

Those of you who want to have the luxury of having alive love in your lives, and a sex partner still that does it for you, etc., etc., ...well, wear a condom.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at November 20, 2007 2:15 PM

> an amazingly measured and
> thoughtful reply.

Good for psychotherapy, but weak as policy.

> Not as traumatic as if an unhappy
> mommy or daddy hating their
> life with someone they no
> longer love

Well, that's our topic, isn't it?

> I'm partially responsible,
> flexible and forgiving, and
> ready to move on.

Are the kids?

> Those of you [etc]

Word.

Posted by: Crid at November 20, 2007 2:53 PM

> I'm partially responsible,
> flexible and forgiving, and
> ready to move on.

Are the kids?

Exactly the question. Unfortunately, they don't get a choice in the matter. Nor did they petition you to have them.

I make mistakes, too -- like buying a Nash Metropolitan after my Rambler was stolen...intending to turn it into an electric car. Ridiculous, since I couldn't point out the carburetor if my life depended on it...and there are much better things to spend money on than impractical forms of transportation.

Well, okay, I'm an idiot, and Gregg sold it for me a few months back. I'm pretty sure it isn't feeling scarred from the experience. Wish we could say the same about kids whose parents made a "mistake" and now would like to have some hot sex, etc.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at November 20, 2007 3:04 PM

Good for psychotherapy, but weak as policy.

Well, Crid, this is why no one's petitioning me to run for office any time soon, DaveG included.

My feeling -- and maybe I didn't make it clear enough above -- was this: if the parents have lost respect for each other, the kids are in trouble whether the parents divorce or not. Divorce, and you're going to have the ugly custody battles. Stay together, and you're going to be constantly poisoning the rapiers against each other. If I had married and had kids with the ex I described earlier, do you think the kids would know when he borrowed money from me and didn't pay it back? They might not be able to articulate it as such, but they would.

If you are in such a situation, as Dave well might be, and you want to follow Amy's advice and put the kids' happiness first -- I don't know how you do it, frankly. I really don't. I wouldn't trust my ex to put any hypothetical kids' happiness first. (He has no children, as best I know. Nor do I remember him expressing an intention to have any beyond the vague and distant future.) If we could figure that out I'd clip this thread and send it to every married couple I know. And by "respect" I don't mean "sexual attraction". I mean when, if you were co-workers instead of life partners, you'd be wondering why the company hasn't fired this worthless idiot by now.

(My husband just came up and said, "Should I not read over your shoulder, babe?")

Dave, if you're still willing to listen -- "flexible" and "ready to move on" do not go together, in this situation. If you've given up on the marriage, you're not being flexible.

Posted by: Jessica at November 21, 2007 6:36 AM

> an amazingly measured and
> thoughtful reply.

Good for psychotherapy, but weak as policy.

Crid,
I was a little nonplussed by your "weak as policy" comment.

I thought Jessica did an amazing job of responding to DaveG's understandably partial description of his situation - and that she talked a great deal of even handed sense.

Amy has an excellent basic point.

It's not difficult to see how "Divorce Helps Kids" has become a self-serving platitude de nos jours.

Divorce leaves many people scrambling for the higher moral ground - and if the battling parties can claim a split actually eases the collateral damage to the innocent sprogs involved - they'll use it as justification after-the-fact. Dear old human nature and all that.

OTOH, there is a ton of the usual anecdotal evidence that it takes maturity and distance to see your own parents as individuals who did their best when the marriage went haywire. And that you can get over the trauma, and even decide the split was the best option.

I suppose I'm not sure what sort of "policy" regarding divorce you would prefer to see? (Unless it's some oddly self-serving "policy" that flatteringly favors only divorcing partners who, for whatever reason, didn't have kids?)

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at November 21, 2007 8:17 AM

it takes maturity and distance to see your own parents as individuals who did their best when the marriage went haywire.

Tell that to a 5-year-old.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at November 21, 2007 8:26 AM

it takes maturity and distance to see your own parents as individuals who did their best when the marriage went haywire.

Tell that to a 5-year-old.

Before or after you break the news about Santa, Amy?
(That's a toughie, too!)

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at November 21, 2007 8:44 AM

> Divorce leaves many people
> scrambling for the higher
> moral ground -

Of course it does. Why shouldn't it?

Marriage is an artificial condition, so there's no reason to place the blame for incompetent play anywhere but with the players. Again, as Commenter Amy (not Blogger Amy) suggests, read the narratives in Wallerstein. (There are probably similar wordings in the book Alkon's blogging about.) Time and again you'll see children describe the brutalizing disintegration of their homes in terms of cataclysmic weather... Tornadoes of argument, the earthquake of paternal deprivation, the withering flood of poverty, etc. But these things weren't done to them by oblivious Mother Nature-- They were done to them by people, the very ones who should have been watching out for their interests.

Marriage is an institution in transition. One reason it's done badly in recent decades is that the popular view sees it mostly as a trivial and private convenience for individuals --a method for saving on taxes and getting discounts at participating Red Lobster® restaurants. I think one way to strengthen and improve marriage is to recognize it as a contract between a couple and the surrounding community. The rest of society has a stake in the enterprise, no matter how much the average couple wants to imagine themselves as daring and autonomous commanders of their own lives.

Well, if society has a piece of this, then we're talking policy and not psychotherapy. This is a redundant thing to say: As a rule, society can't worry about the individual impacts of its policies. (If you have any doubt about this, go watch the nightmares unfold in a family court... Except that you proabably can't, because they happen in camera. Are we then surprised it goes badly?) Society seeks to do what's best for everyone, and can't effectively address individual impulses (e.g. DaveG: "...so I'm extra motivated").

Sincere, intelligent, perceptive, and well-meaning women are fascinated by personal narratives like DaveG's, especially when they're enjoyed at an electronic distance (see also, Diana Spencer). I think women are aroused by discussions of emotional parable in a disproportion similar to that by which men enjoy visual depictions of sex. ("Like sands through the hourglass....") Each gender has its pornography where you pretend to feel what other people feel and it's almost the same.

(And tells are everywhere. See Jessica: "My feeling -- and maybe I didn't make it clear enough above -- was....")

Alkon is an advice columnist. She likes to wear girly clothes in Paris, she has a little faggot dog, and her blog is colored with pink and chartreuse. One shouldn't take offense at finding reflections like Jessica's on a feminine site like this.

But if Amy has muscle as an advice columnist, it comes from not falling into coffee-klatch commiseration with people who whine about bad choices they've made.

Posted by: Crid at November 21, 2007 11:29 AM

I respect everyone's viewpoint, especially those of you telling me what I don't want to hear. If I remember to, I'll post in a year, tell you which path I took and how we're all doing.

Posted by: DaveG at November 21, 2007 11:34 AM

> (That's a toughie, too!)

Tellya what, I'll credit you for trying to make a joke. But it says something twisted about these years that we'd wisecrack about expecting children to take the news of removal of flesh-and-blood intimates with the stoicism expected of those who just learned the truth about an imaginary figure on the North Pole. It's the insanity of our times.

I betcha in the deep south in the early 19th, slave drivers traded one-liners about the character of a certain kind of Negro that you'd sometimes find at the end of the whip. And they probably cracked each other up with that shit.

Posted by: Crid at November 21, 2007 11:35 AM

> (That's a toughie, too!)

Tellya what, I'll credit you for trying to make a joke. But it says something twisted about these years that we'd wisecrack about expecting children to take the news of removal of flesh-and-blood intimates with the stoicism expected of those who just learned the truth about an imaginary figure on the North Pole. It's the insanity of our times.

Thanks -- and before I could even call for "cleanup in aisle four."

Posted by: Amy Alkon at November 21, 2007 11:59 AM

Crid, normally I like your comments, but my sheer girliness seems to have got your dander up. Let me see if I can compose a response more suited to what you're looking for and keep my 2 1/2" slides on at the same time.

I'm not sure why you're suddenly so hung up on a policy solution, even having gone back and read your earlier comment before DaveG asked for advice. (Or why you're hung up on Amy's dog. Or chartreuse. Chartreuse is lovely! I'd pour myself a glass right now, if I didn't have to run errands.) What would you like -- for every girl to receive an IUD at menarche and be ineligible to have it removed before she passes a basic test of some sort? Because that's exactly the amount of government intervention I want.

As for "feeling" -- am I an expert on divorce and the family? No. Have I read Barbara Defoe Whitehead's or Marquardt's work? No. Am I generalizing from a sample of one (my own experience)? Why, yes, which is a pretty crappy basis for policy. I am not stupid enough to think that an observation offered tentatively, and followed by "I really don't know," in a blog comment thread should be a basis for policy-making.

Tell you what: if Amy posts about variable congestion pricing, I will pop back in here and tell you exactly what policies I would recommend, with details and TRB citations. And I will do it with empathy. For you I will even put lip gloss on beforehand. Do you prefer the Burt's Bees guava or shimmer?

Posted by: Jessica at November 21, 2007 12:00 PM

Crid,
I now marvel at the way you can take emphatic agreement with something I've written "Of course it does!" as a rhetorical strike against what I've written: "Why shouldn't it?".

As for: "Marriage is an artificial condition, so there's no reason to place the blame for incompetent play anywhere but with the players."

This could easily stand rewriting as: "Marriage is an artificial condition. No wonder it raises artificial expectations at odds with daily reality."

As for those one liner and whip-cracking slave drivers and Santa and divorce and everything else?

Huh?

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at November 21, 2007 12:12 PM

"But if Amy has muscle as an advice columnist, it comes from not falling into coffee-klatch commiseration with people who whine about bad choices they've made."

Crid,

This is true.

Which is why I wrote - with quite spooky prescience! - before your comment:

"Amy has an excellent basic point. It's not difficult to see how "Divorce Helps Kids" has become a self-serving platitude de nos jours."

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at November 21, 2007 12:23 PM

DaveG might want to read Savage Love, if he doesn't already, by the way.

Posted by: Jessica at November 21, 2007 12:23 PM

Ahem. DaveG might want to read other advice columnists in addition to our most opinionated and bitchy book-authoring hostess.

Overly emotional and tact-free! Go me! I'm going to step away from the Internet now rather than go for the trifecta.

Posted by: Jessica at November 21, 2007 12:59 PM

Ahem. DaveG might want to read other advice columnists in addition to our most opinionated and bitchy book-authoring hostess.

Overly emotional and tact-free! Go me! I'm going to step away from the Internet now rather than go for the trifecta.

Posted by: Jessica at November 21, 2007 1:02 PM

> sheer girliness seems to
> have got your dander up.

It often does. Feminine nature has its problems, which people forget.

> why you're suddenly so
> hung up on a policy
> solution

Because I'm not intimate with these people, policy is the only part I have anything to say about it. Policy and public attitudes are big part of the problems.

> you can take emphatic
> agreement with something
> I've written "Of course
> it does!" as a
> rhetorical strike

You have special gifts! But so often, you use your powers in the service of evil instead of good!

> No wonder it raises artificial
> expectations at odds with
> daily reality."

What's an "artificial expection", how does it compare (badly or better) with a natural one, and what makes it "at odds with daily reality"? Also, how is that different from weekly and monthly realities? And what does this have to do with children?

> Which is why I wrote

We love you for that.

Posted by: Crid at November 21, 2007 7:24 PM

"What's an "artificial expectation"...?"

It's an expectation, Crid, which arises perfectly logically from your very own definition of marriage as an "artificial condition".

If you had said "marriage is a banana-flavored condition", my sentence would then have read "no wonder it raises banana-flavored expectations."

The two things follow, do you see?

(Only doing the fun bits here, by the way!)

As for the last part of: "...and what makes it "at odds with daily reality"? Also, how is that different from weekly and monthly realities?"

I guess "daily reality" comes around rather more frequently than weekly or monthly reality? As a general rule anyway.

But, come to think of it, "daily reality" is a pretty shabby, overused term and probably best avoided. (That's a good point.)

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at November 21, 2007 8:08 PM

> arises perfectly logically
> from your very own definition
> of marriage as an "artificial
> condition".

No it doesn't. You're trying to say something but can't find the words for it, and there's a reason for that. Marriage isn't something people well do naturally, but then neither is airline piloting or neurosurgery. But I think people who want to do all these things should be expected to do them well. And if they try, they shouldn't be permitted to squeal, mid-venture, about how they're not happy.

> (That's a good point.)

I have others. Let's back up.

> I suppose I'm not sure what
> sort of "policy" regarding
> divorce you would prefer to
> see?

I've started typing an answer in this comment about four times, but can't believe this hasn't been covered here and elsewhere.

Posted by: Crid at November 21, 2007 9:42 PM

"You're trying to say something but can't find the words for it, and there's a reason for that. Marriage isn't something people well do naturally, but then neither is airline piloting or neurosurgery."

Crid,
There's no shifting your assumptions about my allegedly tongue-tied stumblings here, but airline piloting and neurosurgery are remarkably silly comparisons to marriage.

As Amy has touched upon here 264 times - there is no training required for being married or having kids, unlike the two careers you mentioned.

You'd be insane to "expect" a pilot to "do well" because that's what she jolly well ought to do in the absence of the sort of proper qualifications and rigorous trainings and tests that would exclude a very large proportion of those who think they'd like to do the job.

So I don't know why you used those examples of proof of anything under discussion.

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at November 22, 2007 5:41 AM

Because the outcomes are important, they should only be undertaken by responsible types

Posted by: Crid at November 22, 2007 6:52 AM

"Because the outcomes are important, they should only be undertaken by responsible types..."

Ideally, sure.

I think you're starting to intone bromides from standard church wedding service here, Crid.

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at November 22, 2007 7:17 AM

What's your point?

Tressider, farting is not argument.

Posted by: Crid at November 22, 2007 7:44 AM

"What's your point?"

No, no - after you, Crid.

Age before beauty (or pearls before swine, if you prefer!)

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at November 22, 2007 7:56 AM

There is no conclusive evidence of the effect of divorce on children, and there never will be. There are waaaay too many factors involved in the study for anything to be conclusive. THAT is a fact that you can pretend to argue with but you would be arguing with emotions rather than anything conclusive.

There has never really been a generation like the idealized "1950's" Leave it Beaver fantasy we are comparing the ideal family to. Every parent will fuck their kid up in some way, shape or form. Daycare is nothing but abondining your kids...that could screw them up. School is abandoning you kids - but it needs to be done. Moving is extremely traumatic for children, but it is done for work all of the time. It will all screw up your kids and cause emotional pain. The whole outlook on divorce is a puritain value that we have carried through the past few decades without realizing that before the 1940s children were often sold to farms or were put to work early in life. Their parents divorced or died early or worked 18 hours a day to make ends meet.

Posted by: me again at November 23, 2007 5:58 PM

Okay then. Whatever.

Posted by: Crid at November 23, 2007 6:35 PM

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