When Divorce Is RightMay 16, 2013 • By Lynn Somerstein, PhD, RYT, Object Relations Topic Expert Contributor
By the time she was 30 years old, “Roberta” was the mother of a beautiful baby boy she was crazy about—but about her husband “Harry,” the baby’s father, not so much; Roberta had more than enough of Harry. They fought all the time, and Harry was about done with Roberta, too. Their fights started getting physical; once, Harry threw a wooden salad bowl at Roberta, striking her in the chest, but this was an isolated case. Neither of their families provided help of any kind.
She felt like a beast of burden—like those donkeys you see in pictures, little burros carrying packages bigger than they are. Caring for her child was one thing, but her husband, who was supposed to help carry the family load, had climbed on her back, too. He was a lot different than he had been when they first got married. Now she couldn’t do anything right. Harry told her that her cooking was lousy (it was). But Harry never made dinner; he wouldn’t even help carry the groceries from the store. He said shopping was a waste of his time. It’s true that he washed the dishes after she cooked, but he often didn’t get around to it until the next day, which was OK before they had the baby, but now it seemed gross. Harry told her that she needed to relax and learn to be less controlling about the baby. He felt trapped with all the new chores that had sprung up like toadstools after a rainy day.
They never went out. After she had the baby, Roberta got fat; she felt ashamed of herself, and she thought Harry was embarrassed to be seen with her. Roberta was scared to leave the baby alone with a hired sitter and they couldn’t afford to pay anybody anyway, so mostly Harry went out by himself.
They were both very young and didn’t understand that Harry was reacting to his feelings about himself and to his new role as father, just as Roberta was learning how to be a mother. Maybe if they had gone to therapy together, this might have been straightened out, but they were both too scared. They never discussed it.
Harry felt like Roberta was turning into his mother, who was overbearing and demanding. He fought with Roberta, and he fought with his mother, too. In fact, he carried on long and loud phone arguments with his mother almost every day, which turned Roberta off. She had a new office mate at work, and their friendship was getting romantic.
Roberta had been married for only a few years, but she was afraid that marriage would be the death of her. She found a lawyer and started divorce proceedings. She also started therapy so she could make sure she never made such a serious mistake again. It’s interesting that she was able to find low-cost treatment for herself without too much of a problem, but that she and Harry never looked for a marital therapist. They didn’t even think of it. They both gave up on their marriage—perhaps it just wasn’t right for either of them.
Roberta felt guilty about wanting to get divorced when she had a young child, but she told herself that someday her son would grow up, and if by any chance he found himself in a similar horrible situation she would want him to get divorced, too. So she was a role model for how to live through a certain kind of tragedy.
She felt terrible when she turned 30—what had she come to? But her friends got together and threw her a 30th birthday party, featuring a spectacular chocolate cake covered with flower blossoms in many colors, like a fancy lady’s garden party hat. Roberta licked her wounds and made her life over. She worked hard and long hours, but she felt empowered by her discovery that she was very capable. Life was easier without Harry around.
Meanwhile, Harry had thought things over, wanted to get back together, and was crushed when Roberta said no. He loved Roberta and his young son, so for his son’s sake he started working on himself so he could be a good father. His own parents had not provided decent examples for him, but he was learning.
Years later, both Harry and Roberta found other partners and made good marriages. Perhaps they had been too young the first time around; their second partners were easier to get along with, and they were, too. Now they were determined to make good.
Despite the many conflicting feelings that go along with divorce, sometimes it really is the right choice. Was divorce right for Harry and Roberta? They thought so. What do you think?
© Copyright 2013 by Lynn Somerstein, PhD, E-RYT, therapist in New York City, New York. All Rights Reserved.
Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org. The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. The view and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.
JosieMay 16th, 2013 at 11:15 AM
I was raised in a home where divorce was looked down upon. I was always told that marriage was for better or for worse and that the people who got a divorce were just giving up too soon, looking for the easy way out when marriage is never easy. That was what I always thought too until I got married. I don’t think that my parents really ever prepared me for how difficult marriage can be and when I came to the decision that I couldn’t live like that anymore it not only was hard on me but my parents too. I actually was afraid that they wouldn’t love me anymore because I was getting a divorce. I know in my heart that I made the right decision but I still can’t sometimes help but feel like I have let the whole family down by maybe not trying a little harder to keep the marriage together.
Lynn SomersteinMay 16th, 2013 at 12:08 PM
Thanks so much for writing about your experience getting divorced. It sounds like you were afraid your parents might divorce you for deciding to get a divorce, but you knew in your heart that your decision was the right one, and you honored that knowledge. Maybe your family let you down by not preparing you for the difficulty of marriage and by not respecting your decision, which I’m sure was not an easy one.
JaredMay 16th, 2013 at 9:32 PM
Work is required to sustain any relationship,marriage included.But when it doesn’t pay off,when things get too bad it’s far better to let go than to hurt yourself and your partner in a forced union.
MaceyMay 17th, 2013 at 3:50 AM
I would much rather see a couple make the right decision and get a divorce than do the old staying in it for the children routine and end up ruining their lives too.
I am never sure exactly what parents think that kids get from seeing their parents live together miserably for years on end. If you ask me the only thing that this teaches them is that it is okay to live in a marriage that does nothing to fulfill them.
Sorry but this is not the meaage about relationships that I want my kids to develop.
Lynn SomersteinMay 17th, 2013 at 10:50 AM
Jared, you’re so right, staying in a relationship or marriage that clearly doesn’t work hurts everybody.
Lynn SomersteinMay 17th, 2013 at 10:51 AM
Macey, I agree, you want kids to get the message that marriage is positive; they won’t get that from parents who are miserable together.
leighMay 18th, 2013 at 5:32 AM
The one thing that I hate about divorce is how much it can hurt the children. I think that children who come from broken homes have this tendency to grow up feeling that nothing lasts, that they are destined to be in a relationship that ends badly too. And then I think that as they get older some of them start thinking that if something goes wrong in their own marruage it is okay for them to divorce and leave it behind. In my mind though there is so much more to divorce than just moving on and leaving it all behind because it is rare that you can cut those ties and then pretend like it didn’t happen. Divorce leaves a lasting impact on everyone ut touches, and while I am not saying that it is wrong, because I definitely think that there are cases when it is necessary, I am saying that I wish some couples whould give it just a little more thought and effort before they decide to end the marriage.
DianaMay 18th, 2013 at 8:02 AM
My feelings of failing were similar with my divorce. That was decades ago now and I’ve learned a lot since then. I think I was raised to understand it would be hard work to sustain a marriage, but not enough about choosing the right partner. Did we have enough in common, did we have similar life goals? I was fortunate there was not an unexpected baby in the mix.
josieMay 19th, 2013 at 12:16 AM
problem is there is no ‘fixed point’ beyond which divorce is the right option.you could keep trying and working in a marriage that will not resurrect or call it quits in a marriage that could be fixed.
how to recognize the tipping point?have an open discussion.knowing what’s in your partners mind and also in your own mind is essential to this.when there is conflict this may be even tougher but something that needs doing.
Dr. Lynn SomersteinMay 19th, 2013 at 3:46 PM
Divorce leaves its traces, just as you say, and especially effects children. Neither marriage nor divorce should be taken lightly. Sometimes premarital counseling can save people from truckloads of heartache, as can marriage counseling.
But people do often get over it. Plenty of kids from divorced families go on to have long successful marriages of their own–they can learn from their parents’ mistakes.
Thanks very much for writing.
Dr. Lynn SomersteinMay 19th, 2013 at 3:48 PM
You sure were lucky, indeed.
And I wish you continued luck and happiness.
Thanks for sharing your experience,
Dr. Lynn SomersteinMay 19th, 2013 at 3:50 PM
That is great advice, Josie–open communication. That works to find the tipping point, and also sometimes to tip things back into a good balance. Tough, as you say, but a life saver.
natalieMay 20th, 2013 at 4:45 AM
I don’t think that many people enter into marriage with the end goal being divorce. However, I don’t think that it is the worst thing in the world to recognize that this at least could be an option and that you don’t necessarily have to stay in a loveless marriage just because this is what you think is expected of you. This is an option that was not available to women for a long time so I think that in some ways there are segments of society who find this kind of liberating. It gives them a choice that they may not have had before.
Lynn SomersteinMay 20th, 2013 at 9:43 AM
Nice point, Natalie, and well said.
LindaOctober 14th, 2013 at 7:19 PM
My parents were married until “death do us part” over 50 years when my mom passed away. Divorce isn’t something I am okay with. So I get that. But here I am conteplating the end of my 13 year marriage. I think the only reason I am holding on is because of my sons (10/6). My husband isn’t a bad guy and he loves our sons to death! He will always be there for them, but I feel that an intact family is so important, however If I am being honest I simply do not love him they way I should. Maybe it’s because I feel a lack of respect from him. Maybe it’s because I am so isolated from friends/family. Maybe it’s because we want such different things in life. The bottom line is I am getting to a point where I feel that it is unfair to pretend and he isn’t someone I can even have this conversation with. I dream about leaving all of the time. I research how difficult it is, the effects on children, how to cope….I just can’t figure out what I want w/o worring about everyone else.
Lynn SomersteinOctober 19th, 2013 at 12:18 PM
Your letter is moving, and sometimes divorce is necessary, but I worry about what you describe as isolation from friends and family. Maybe you could look into understanding what that is about.
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