should you get a divorce if you have kids

Is Divorce the Best Decision for You? What About Your Kids?

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My recollection of my divorce, now 12 years later, is that my ex was exhibiting signs of crisis for a good year before she chose to exit. She was angry just about all the time. It seemed that her *reason* for being angry was me. Now, 12 years later, she’s still angry. My new answer: it’s probably not about me.

How Do You Decide To Get a Divorce?

If you don’t have kids the divorce decision and discussion is pretty straightforward. With kids, even the most cooperative partnership can turn dark and angry in the course of figuring out how to split up with “the best interests of the kids” in mind. In our case, I was the one fighting to keep the marriage. Sure, I was unhappy too, but I was fairly certain my then-wife’s anger was about her own internal struggle. It still is.

The decision was made against my arguments. But here’s the part that really troubles me about the way the initial divorce conversation happened.

  1. My then-wife was in couples therapy with me, YET forgot to bring up the idea of her divorce planning.
  2. She accidentally let it slip that she’d been to see a lawyer.
  3. She wanted me to move out of the house immediately.

The kids were two months away from finishing 3rd and 5th grade. How would my exit, and the “divorce” announcement impact them? My then-wife was in such a crisis that she just needed out. She wanted me out. She wanted some peace and quiet. She needed relief.

Only the school counselor convinced her to wait until the summer so our two kids could deal with the emotional impact away from school. I stayed in the home for the next two months. I was resigned to moving forward with the divorce planning. I was also hopeful that my then-wife would wake up and realize parenting without me was going to be a loss for everyone involved. She didn’t agree. She probably still doesn’t.

A recent post from Divorced Moms spells out 10 questions to ask yourself about getting a divorce. Here are the questions. I’ll address them on the flip side.

  1. Do I feel constantly criticized and put down by my partner?
  2. Do I feel disrespected by my spouse?
  3. Does my partner engage in a pattern of chronic, overt, destructive behavior?
  4. Is my marriage characterized by persistent high conflict?
  5. Do I experience emotional, physical, or financial abuse?
  6. Have we fallen into the trap of blaming each other?
  7. Do we rarely have sex or spend time together?
  8. Is one of you involved in an ongoing affair?
  9. Does your partner refuse to talk at all when you have a dispute?
  10. Does your partner refuse to work on the relationship?

Here are a couple of big observations.

These are about “me” and “my experience” of the marriage or relationship. There’s no “we” in this language. A few of them fall in the bucket of self-care and work that an individual needs to work on in their own therapy and not always in the “marriage.” Partners do not make good therapists.

Let’s see. I’ll answer the questions about my experience first.

  1. Criticized? Yes.
  2. Disrespected? Yes.
  3. Destructive behavior? No.
  4. High conflict? Yes, but…
  5. Abuse? No.
  6. Blaming? Yes, and one of us wanted to work to resolve this.
  7. Sex? Rarely.
  8. Affair. No.
  9. Refuse to talk? Not me. It took therapy to get her to open up.
  10. Refuse to work on the relationship? Well, she was going to therapy with me, but she was also seeking the “divorce package” information from an attorney.

I’d guess my ex-wife’s answers would mirror mine, with a lack of self-awareness that would’ve been required for her to consider several really important parts.

  1. Sadness, depression, and lack of sex may be signs of an internal struggle.
  2. Your partner is not the problem.
  3. You can’t be working on the relationship and seeking information about divorce at the same time.
  4. Not everything falls into a YES/NO answer.

The question that is missing here is “What is best for the kids?”

What’s Best for the Kids?

Deciding whether to divorce is a tough, complex, and controversial subject. There are no right or wrong answers, nor are there any simplistic solutions. However, if a couple has the maturity and fortitude to reconnect and work on their marriage, it may give them the chance to heal and improve over time. – from Should I Get a Divorce? – Divorced Moms

Not much time is spent on this question in the DM article. Two opinions are given, but only as anecdotes from the writing, such as the one above. The subject of KIDS is not the focus of the article, and that’s fine, but it also points out the miss in the overall article. If you have kids, everything about the relationship changes. Your priorities as an individual change and your goals are sublimated to the needs and goals of your kids. Becoming a parent is a process of learning selfless love. The love of my children supersedes my own happiness and my own goals.

Sure, I was unhappy that my then-wife was freezing me out in the bedroom as well as in the emotional viability of our marriage. Yes, I was aware that her anger and attention on me as the problem was actually her problem. And I knew, I could not fix my wife. I could not make my wife happy. I tried. I compromised, I changed, I was patient, I was forgiving, and I was doing my best to support her and the kids in every action I took.

Somewhere along the journey, my then-wife’s own internal crisis got louder than her concerns for our kids’ loving home. I became the problem, in her mind. I was the reason she was unhappy.

The Cooperative Divorce Dance

Cooperative or collaborative divorce, whatever you call it, is when both parents agree to mediate the divorce without going to the family court for a decision. This is how things started once I agreed to break up the family.

As soon as we got to the parenting schedule things got rough. She renigged on the deal. She wanted the divorce package. She wanted it all. It was not about what was best for the kids, at this point, it was about what was best for her. What would soothe her scarred and angry soul? She wanted everything. And she wanted the kids to be with her 70% of the time, leaving me with the non-custodial deficit.

In the end, my divorce was about my ex-wife and her growing crisis of anger, despair, and hopelessness. I had exhausted all of my options. I tried all of the suggestions of the therapists. I had fought to get her back into couples therapy. Obviously, she was not taking that process too seriously if she was also going to consult with a divorce lawyer.

Should You Get a Divorce?

Perhaps the answer for my wife, difficult as it might have been, was yes. If she stayed her own health was at risk. I’m not sure she understood, or understands, that her rage and depressions are INTERNAL PROBLEMS. I no longer have to worry about that or work on the recovery and repair.


John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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a good dad's guide to divorce

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