Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Staying together for the Kids' sake

If you do an Internet search on "Kids and Divorce" or "Staying Together for the Kids" or any other combination of 'kids and divorce' you'll get about 96,000 results.

Each of those 96,000 web pages undoubtedly contain more expertise on the subject than anything I can muster; I don't have much personal experience with the subject since I am neither divorced myself nor are my parents.

Yet, I feel compelled to write about kids and divorce because more than one gay married man has told me that the reason he remains married is for his kids' sake.

I can relate to that inclination!

As I read through a number of web pages on the topic, it's clear that there is no professional agreement on what is best. Some psychiatrists say research proves that two-parent families consistently raise happier, more successful kids. Others say that divorce can be a very good thing because it spares the children from being stuck in the middle of a dysfunctional or poisonous relationship.

Forgetting the experts, what do children of divorced parents say?

They are also divided on the question. However, those who think their parents' divorce was for the better seem to significantly out-number those who do not.

Because there is no clear consensus among the experts or the children, I think it's safe to say that there is no universal 'best' answer.

Should you or I stay in our marriages for the sake of our kids? It all depends...

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My marriage turned rocky when my wife decided that taking care of the kids was unfulfilling. In her search for fun and excitement she started going out to bars with girlfriends.

That was four years ago and a lot has happened since then.

The situation has evolved to a point where I think my wife would have left me to be single and free by now, but she stays because of the children. Knowing that she has decided to compromise her desires and keep the family together, how do you think I feel?

Pretty shitty.

I feel like I'm the after thought. Kids first, her desires second, Cameron...who's Cameron??

That's a great way to live your life, don't you think? A compromise. An after thought.

Fuck that.

You will all be thrilled to read that I have no intention of remaining a doormat for much longer. I have a plan. A plan that I will share with you all in the not-so-distant future.

For now, I want to write about how it feels to be the compromise.

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Most of the time, my wife Gabbie is nice to me. I get occasional compliments and sometimes she even tells me that she loves me! I enjoy spending time with her so the biggest unhappiness I face on a day-to-day basis is feeling lonely when she's out, which is very often. Still, I don't feel like I have a bad life. Having the kids to provide for and to keep me company makes a big difference.

Because daily life is tolerable, it's taken me a long time to realize that Gabbie's motivation to stay with me for the kids' sake is cruel.

It's cruel because it gives me hope for 'us' when there probably is no hope. It's cruel because every day I get older and less attractive. It's cruel because, if Gabbie truly loved me, she'd be honest with me and let me determine my own future. Instead, I'm stuck in a relationship with a clock that's slowly ticking off time. My youngest will graduate from high school in June of 2018. That's a lot of years to waste, hoping that Gabbie will change her attitude.

Because of my situation, I have come to believe that staying in a marriage for the sake of the kids is mostly a cruel way to torture the rejected spouse. It's the wrong thing to do if you have every intention of leaving at some point in the future.

For a lot of guys, I think 'staying for the sake of the kids' is nothing more than an excuse to have their cake and eat it too. Wanting to have that luxury is understandable; why blow up everyone's life if you can have sex with men on the side and still stay married?

The reason to do so is out of love and respect for your wife. Maybe she'd prefer to be 39 when she's single, not 55. Or older. Maybe she'd like to have the chance to find someone who really wants to be with her, but because of your selfishness, she will never have the opportunity to meet the right guy.

Think about it. If the situation was reversed, what would you want?

There are plenty of married guys out there who stay married because they honestly believe doing so is best for the kids. They believe staying is a sacrifice; they're putting their kids' happiness ahead of their own.

I imagine there are many situations where staying together for the kids really is the best option. But, in my view, a generic fear that the kids will suffer is not justification enough. The reason is, there are ways to split up a family without creating a lot of turmoil.

A terrific example of how a gay man can respect his wife, not scar his kids, and still start a new life is Jim at Conflicting Clarity. Jim and his wife have been breaking up in slow motion for more than two years.

It hasn't always been easy but overall it appears that Jim, his wife and every one of his four kids are doing very well. Jim has his boyfriend, his wife has her boyfriend, the kids know their parents are divorcing and yet no one seems to be particularly stressed or unhappy.

Not every man and woman can have the patience necessary to break up over a period of years. You have to have a good relationship in the first place because there will certainly be times when it's awkward, or worse.

The good thing about a gay man/straight woman break up is that the incompatibility is not personal. Once the woman understands and accepts that the marriage inherently cannot work, then she may be able to move forward without anger. It might take some convincing, but she should eventually realize that having the freedom to make her own future is so much better than living many years as an afterthought or a compromise.

A corollary to the 'staying for the kids' sake' is 'staying because I fear (or know) that my wife will keep the kids from me.' I'm no expert on custody agreements and divorce law, but it seems to me that there's no jurisdiction, even in rural Alabama or Mississippi, where at least a minimum visitation right isn't awarded. So legally, I don't think it's permitted that a woman keep her children away from her ex, only because he is gay. As a practical matter, I'm sure it happens. If that is a real possibility for you, then by all means stay. Leaving sooner is mostly a kindness for your wife. If she doesn't see it that way, then stay as long as you like.

There are a multitude of other circumstances where staying for the kids' sake may be the best decision. What if your wife or child is ill or has special needs? What if you cannot financially support two households and she would never agree to a slow-split-up arrangement? What if your wife is so old or unattractive that she has no chance of finding someone else?

The list of 'good' reasons to stay may be lengthy. The difficult part is to honestly assess whether your good reason is legitimate or whether it's just an excuse. That's only something you can do.

If you can't dispute the fact that you'd be happier if you were single, and you think your wife would have a better chance of finding a partner who wants to be with her sooner rather than later, then you need to face your fears and take the plunge. Almost every guy who has done so, as Jim has, feels that they made the best decision because everyone is happier in the long run.

I realize that for many guys this is a difficult, emotional subject. I expect that some of you may vehemently disagree that sooner is better than later. Regardless of how you feel, please post your story or comments. Sharing our experiences and opinions is what makes blogging worth the time and effort.

4 comments:

  1. We all have ideas, thoughts and "plans". The scary part is what if the plan doesn't work? What have I done? What have I sacrificed?

    Am I better off in a marriage, albeit, one that is dysfunctional? Sometimes, I think the confusing or scary part is that the decision you make may be the wrong one.

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  2. Kids usually would rather come from a broken home than live in one.

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  3. BLM - Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

    As I think about your question, it occurs to me that thinking about a plan is different than executing one. You can devise a plan with your head and heart full of doubt. But you probably won't execute any plan unless and until you feel confident that the outcome will be positive.

    If you worry that a plan may be wrong, my guess is that it's either not the right time or it's not the right plan, or both.

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  4. Thanks for stopping by Adon!

    Well said.

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