As a former divorce mediator and current couples and family mediator, I have heard every excuse that parents use to feel better about breaking up their family. Here are eight of the most common lies that, if you're considering divorce, you might be telling yourself:
1. My kids want me to be happy. No, your kids want their biological mom and dad to get their act together, behave like grown-ups and create a stable, happy home for them. Kids are focused on their own happiness and childhood gives them that privilege.
2. My kids will be better off. Probably not. Research shows that children of divorce experience higher rates of emotional and behavioural problems. They are also more likely to experience poverty and mistreatment -- whether outright abuse or cruel indifference -- from an unrelated adult in the home.
3. My next marriage will be better. That's unlikely. Second and subsequent marriages have higher divorce rates than first marriages. Why? Because people rarely change and tend to repeat the same poor behaviours. Plus, subsequent marriages often involve step-kids and blended families, which ramps up the drama and conflict all the more.
4. My relationship with my children won't change. Yes it will. A parent who does not live under the same roof as his or her child cannot have the same stature or influence in that child's life as a parent who does. Whether it's a 2 a.m. nightmare or a house fire, you're simply not there to do your job. Regardless of the reason for the divorce, chances are good that at some point your child will resent you for breaking up the family unit. Even worse, your child will likely blame himself, rationalizing that he was not "lovable" enough for his bio parents to work through their problems.
5. I won't have any regrets. You probably will. Once emotions have cooled and you have your distance, chances are good that you'll look back and wonder whether you should have worked harder to save your marriage and family. This regret will deepen as you move into old age and realize you will never feel the pride that comes with having your children and grandchildren admire you as the family patriarch or matriarch.
6. We shouldn't stay together for the kids. Actually, I can't think of a better reason to stay and work through your problems with humility and determination. Help is out there for those who have the strength of character to be accountable and ask for it.
7. Divorce will solve my problems. If you have kids together, divorce won't solve your problems -- it will only create a new set of problems. You will worry about your ex-husband's new girlfirend and whether she'll call you if your child gets sick or scared. You will worry about your ex-wife's new boyfriend and whether he's the one giving your child a bath. Don't fool yourself. It's unlikely your ex-spouse will remain single for long and once he or she starts dating, you will have no control over the strangers that waltz in and out of your child's life.
8. Kids are resilient and will adapt to the new situation......this won't affect them in the long-term. Kids don't adapt, they make do. When you break-up their home or bring your new love interests into their life, they hunker down emotionally and do their best to cope. And like it or not, you have taught them that love is unreliable. As adults, children of divorce are more likely to also be divorced and break-up their own families.
Of course, divorce isn't always a bad thing. It's the best course of action in some cases, such as abuse, unmanaged personality disorders and infidelity, to name a few. There are rare cases where one spouse is entirely at fault and where kids are better off having a destructive or dangerous parent out of their home or even out of their life.
But the fact is, most broken homes are caused by two self-focused, short-sighted adults who wallow in their own misery and rancor for each other instead of keeping their promises to work through their problems. To put their spouse's needs ahead of their own and to see conflict from his or her point of view. To put their obligations as parents above their own pettiness as partners and to do whatever it takes to bring happiness back into their marriage and home. Frankly, I don't see a lot of people doing this. They're quick to anger, quick to blame, quick to bail. They always think the grass will be greener over the next fence.
Personally and professionally, I think it's time for spouses to put family obligation at the top of the list, far above the shifting sands of personal desires. Why? Because obligation provides staying power. A sense of obligation toward your spouse and children is the glue that keeps the home together through the weak and angry spots, giving strength and love a chance to return. It binds a couple together while they work through their problems.
A sense of obligation to others is a virtue, but it's one that our self-focused culture has largely abandoned. The ancient Romans called it pietas. In its loosest sense, it was the highly-esteemed "sacred duty" to one's biological family, one that superseded self-interest. It's an Old World virtue that the New World would be wise to embrace.
Check out Debra's book, The New Vesta Home: How a Renewed Tradition Can Keep Your Marriage & Family Together