Divorce hurts but it doesn’t mean you’ve failed at life
Of the many things to boggle at in the extraordinary email one “bitterly, bitterly disappointed” father sent his three adult children this week, the thing that stood out as the most bizarre to me was that if you get a divorce, you should consider yourself a loser.
Top of the list among the many ways in which retired submarine commander Nick Crews felt his kids had let him and his wife down was that they had four failed marriages.
“It makes us weak that so many of these events are copulation-driven and then to see these lovely little people being so woefully let down by you,’’ wrote Crews, in the email he later published.
“I for one have had enough of being forced to live through the never-ending bad dream of our children’s domestic ineptitudes.”
After the email went public, Crews said he had other parents congratulating him. Apparently other boomer parents think their kids have failed at life if they can’t keep a marriage together.
Apart from Crews’ hectoring, unsympathetic tone striking me as authoritarian, patriarchal and a possible explanation for the claim by one of his sons that he’s had low self-esteem since childhood, I was amazed he drew a line between your success as a person and the longevity of your marriage.
I’m all for marital longevity; for the kids, and the parents.
Divorce is painful, costly and a massive upheaval. It involves breaking promises you most likely made in front of the people who mean most to you, and ones you intended to keep.
No one I know who has gone through divorce did it lightly, or gave in to it easily, or got through that ordeal without a lot of suffering.
Any kid will tell you one of their worst nightmares is that their parents will split up, and parents know this. People who were kids of divorce themselves dearly want to avoid ‘doing’ that to their own kids.
But should they always stay in a marriage that makes them utterly miserable and role-models that as the benchmark for kids? And if they don’t, should they be judged?
According to Commander Crews and others, yes, they should. As times get tough and anxiety increases, it seems the old stigma around divorce is returning, to point where some people say they not only feel judged, but socially ostracised after a divorce.
In her divorce memoir, author Stacy Morrison wrote “one of the hardest things about divorce today is that you feel like you have to explain or apologise for it. The notion of divorce has become one of failure again”.
She described “the two-second blink” other parents in her conservative neighbourhood did when she said things like “Zack is with his father today”.
I have a dear friend who, after years of desolation in a dead-end marriage, late last year decided to separate. She’s intelligent, a devoted mother, and still suffering badly with the idea she is failure because she broke her commitment.
Their marriage was 20-plus years and she has made a massive amount of effort trying to keep it together. In the end, she and her partner wanted such diametrically opposed lifestyles that it just wasn’t possible.
I know another woman who only narrowly managed to keep hers together, despite a long time of feeling lonely and invisible in that marriage. As a kid of divorce, I’m right behind her huge efforts to keep it alive, for herself, her husband, and her kids.
“The thing is,” she told me once, “as they get older, the kids can sense your desperation”. I would never judge her—or him—if that marriage went belly up. Even so, it seems she may get a nasty email from ex-Commander Nick Crews.
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