The room was crowded. We’d never met before, but when she learned about my work with divorcing couples, she made her way to where I stood, and after a brief introduction, in a derisive tone she said: I think divorce is far too easy these days. People are so self-centered they don’t even give a second thought to destroying a family.
Her words suggested a bitter personal history. I opted not to respond to the challenge and moved off, ending a conversation that had hardly begun. Perhaps I should have stayed to talk, for my experience belies her remark. I know well that the decision to end an intimate relationship is always complex and emotionally wrenching, especially when children will have their lives turned upside down.
Many ponder, sometimes for years, whether they should stay together for the sake of their children. Some, of course, do, and may successfully weather a difficult time, or simply accept a life lived without a loving intimate relationship. Others, often after seeking professional help, reach a different conclusion.
A question, usually asked by the partner for whom the decision has already been made, is: what example am I setting for my children if they rarely witness any expression of love or affection between parents living in a sea of unhappiness? Or worse, living with pervasive conflict, a child’s loyalty repeatedly, if tacitly, sought.
I recently completed mediation sessions with an emotionally mature couple who, after counseling and much thought, decided to end their marriage. It was a melancholy time, particularly for the partner less ready to move on and away, but both struggled to keep their focus on the stability they hoped to provide for their children amidst the sea change in their lives. As they negotiated, they compromised on some significant financial issues, avoiding what might otherwise have taken months, or even years, to resolve at the courthouse.
They were still living under the same roof, and tension had been high in their home, with none of the mending moments of intimacy enjoyed in the past. Yet, most of the time they managed to maintain civility and respect, particularly in the presence of their children. Early on in the mediation process, they’d consulted with a psychologist to devise the best plan for telling the children about their decision, and devise ways to help them adjust to the changes to come.
As we prepared to part at the end of their final hour with me, I commended them for their efforts and said: In today’s world, the likelihood is great that when your children are older, they’ll engage in a number of loving committed relationships before they decide to marry, perhaps some of lengthy duration. A marriage may later fail. You have modeled for them how an intimate partnership can end with caring and dignity, and how parents can continue to provide loving protection for their children. One day yours will be able to bond with another with added courage to be true to themselves, with security born of knowing that their parents worked through the most difficult time of their lives taking good care of the ones they continued to love, and even each other. Saddened, but not destroyed. What a wonderful, if bittersweet, gift you’ve given them.
They left with somber smiles and tears in their eyes.