I’ve been sitting on this post for a long time. Then a few months ago, I saw a post on Facebook from Kristina Kuzmic that convinced me it was time to share it.
I stayed in a miserable marriage far longer than I should have. And I stayed because I, like so many others, felt getting divorced meant I was breaking up my family. That I was making my children grow up in a broken home.
When I finally reached my breaking point and decided divorce was the only option, I still struggled. I knew it was the right thing for myself and my children (and in reality, for my ex-husband too), but it still felt like admitting failure. Like I was destroying something my children needed and deserved. It felt like I was saying that I didn’t believe marriage mattered, that marriage wasn’t forever, and that my vows on my wedding day had meant nothing.
But that couldn’t be further from the truth. The problem is, it often takes getting to the other side of divorce to see the truth.
Divorce isn’t what’s breaking up your family
It’s been ingrained in us that divorce is breaking up a family. By splitting up as a couple, you’re breaking up the family unit — and in a purely physical sense, that’s true. Since you and your ex are no longer living in the same home, you’re no longer a family unit in that sense.
But the divorce isn’t what’s breaking up your family. It may be relocating a few members to a different residence, but what’s breaking up your family is the reason(s) behind the divorce.
It’s rare that someone, particularly someone with kids, just wakes up one morning and decides they’re going to get a divorce just because. Most of the time, the reasons for divorce are significant and they’ve often existed for a long time before the divorce.
In my case, the reasons were that my ex-husband was consistently cheating on me and had also become abusive. He also wasn’t a connected or involved father.
So despite the fact that we were still living in the same house, our family was already broken. He and I were always arguing and sometimes he was laying hands on me in front of my son. Though my son was not even three-years-old, I knew that one day he’d be old enough to remember everything he was seeing. And it wasn’t what I wanted him to remember — or to think it was acceptable behavior from a man.
He wouldn’t spend time with my son unless forced and then he would just annoy him to the point that my son didn’t want to spend time with him anyway.
We were dysfunctional and it wasn’t healthy for any of us.
Whether your situation is abuse, infidelity, or something else, the reality is that is what broke your family. It’s already broken — you wouldn’t be considering divorce (or already divorced) if it wasn’t.
Divorce fixes what’s already broken
When my divorce was finalized, I felt a huge mixture of emotions: happiness, sadness, rage, confusion, doubt, uncertainty, anxiety, fear, and relief.
These were all the same emotions I’d felt throughout my marriage — also usually mixed together. But this time it was different.
Where before my sadness, rage, doubt and fear had been directed at my ex-husband because of his behaviors, now they were directed toward my future. I was sad that my future no longer included a lifelong marriage to my first husband and my rage was because I could no longer be the stay-at-home mom I wanted to be (although eventually I did get to come back around to that). I was doubtful and afraid because I didn’t know what was ahead of me as a single parent and I wasn’t sure I could handle it.
Yet the happiness was much stronger than the other emotions now. Where before all the negative emotions had nearly engulfed the happiness, the happiness had now swelled to be so much bigger than anything else. And my relief was constant now.
I no longer dreaded the end of the workday when my ex would come home, or the weekends when I never knew when he might leave. I no longer worried that my doctor would tell me my ex had given me an STD or spent hours weighing one story against another to decide which would best explain a mark.
I felt whole again, despite losing a chunk of my identity. I was no longer his wife, but I felt more myself than I had in longer than I could remember. I was no longer on eggshells, living in fear, and wishing my life were different.
I was a better mother to my sons (by the time the divorce was final, I’d had my second son). I was more patient and playful. Without their father around to undermine me, I could set firm boundaries and limits and my kids would respect them.
You might not see it until you’re on the other side
It wasn’t until after my divorce had been finalized and the dust had settled that I was able to see that getting divorced had fixed everything that was wrong. I’m talking years here.
All the problems that had existed, all the things that were seriously screwing up my family and making us dysfunctional as hell, were resolved by divorce. My sons and I were able to begin healing and finding a new healthy family dynamic with just the three of us.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that divorce didn’t bring its own problems, because it did. I was a single mom now, with no income and no child support coming in. I had to figure out how to get an income going again and how to go back to school as a young mother with two young children. I had to rely on my parents for help financially and in other ways.
My ex-husband and I didn’t have a better relationship. Instead, after a few months, he walked away from my kids and that means they’ve never known their father. You might argue that I shouldn’t have gotten divorced for that reason but he was never very involved even when he lived in the same house. At least with the divorce, he didn’t have to pretend and my kids were able to have a clean break without the confusion of wondering when or if they’d see him.
But those problems were much more bearable than the ones I’d been living with in my marriage. The problems that came after divorce were more easily resolved.
Staying in an unhappy marriage will break your family
When you’ve exhausted all the options, when you’ve read all the books, watched all the videos, worked with all the coaches and counselors and therapists, and you’re still in a miserable, dysfunctional marriage, it’s time to go.
When you’ve done everything you can do and it’s clear your marriage isn’t going to get better, staying in that marriage is what will break your family. It will destroy everyone’s spirit, make everyone unhappy and frustrated, and teach your kids that this is what they can expect from their own marriage someday.
Don’t walk away before you know you’ve done everything you can. But when you know there’s nothing left to try and the marriage won’t change, walk away with a clear heart knowing that you’re not breaking your family.
You’re fixing it.
Wendy Miller is a Post-Divorce Coach & writer. After years of settling for abusive and otherwise toxic relationships, she got fed up. Using meditation and other tools, she got to work on healing herself, setting boundaries, and only engaging in relationships (romantic and otherwise) that bring her joy. She wants to help other single parents find the love & happiness they seek, including and going beyond romantic love. She lives in Florida with her two sons, where she homeschools while solo parenting, while surrounded by what feels like a zooful of animals.
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