Wednesday, 5 August 2009

When Marriages Break Down

The parents of a person about whom I care have just split up. I don’t consider it my place to lecture her and offering anything other than straightforward sympathy is probably of dubious value when the wound is so fresh. But it did make me want to express my views on the subject generally – so here they are.

Firstly, I don’t believe couples should stay together simply because of their marriage vows. The promise to love someone until death do you part is really a rather silly one. I cannot accept that people can promise to love and show fond affection for their partner if their partner behaves in ways that make living with them unbearable. People change. People are sometimes not what we think. Love can go as quickly as it came. I do believe that generally speaking one should stay together through the bad times caused by outside agencies like sickness and poverty and not use those as an excuse to jump ship but how can one make a promise about an emotion like love which is so strong and yet so fickle.

Secondly, I believe that staying together for the sake of the children in a marriage can be a disastrous thing to do. Few couples can hide their feelings from their children and to bring up a child in what is at best an ‘atmosphere’ and at worst verbal or physical abuse is not a good thing. Far better that the child should enjoy the atmosphere of two separate loving homes.

Thirdly, if at all possible, I believe the children should be kept in their usual environment at a time like this. It is bad enough coping with parental break-up without having to endure a change of school, friendships and, in extreme cases, country. Any such extreme change seems to me to be failing to take the children adequately into account though I accept there may be cases where it is unavoidable and that all marriage break-downs are unique.

Fourthly, I don’t believe either parent should say a single word against the other in the presence of the children when they are young. Nor should any outsider. No one outside of the two participants will ever know all the reasons for the breakdown of a marriage and to denigrate one parent in front of the children is both unfair and potentially damaging for the child’s whole life. I know of one person who didn’t find out the truth behind her parents’ split until her mother had died. All along she had blamed her mother because her father said it was the mother’s fault. The mother refused to lay blame anywhere. Only when sorting through her mother’s effects did she find out some of the ways in which her father had contributed to the break up.

Fifthly, unless a parent has been abusing the children I don’t believe any attempt should be made to deprive a parent of the opportunity in sharing in the child’s upbringing.

Sixthly, the parent with the job / money should support the children to the absolute best of their ability. Commitments taken on in the future should not be allowed to interfere with the obligation to contribute to their upbringing.

And lastly, I think the parents should maintain a civilized attitude towards each other in public and when exchanging the children. If they cannot do that then they are better arranging not to have any contact until such time as they are able to do so. Calling for the children can be done with a minimum of contact and where possible a third party can be used to make arrangements.

Some of these views are controversial but my objective is not necessarily to start a debate. I simply wanted to use my blog to express my feelings on the subject at a time when it has such relevance for a young friend. Nevertheless, comments are welcome as always.

I have been party to a marriage break-up and done my best to see my children brought up suffering as little as possible from it. Whether they did so only they can tell but at least their mother and I can both put hand on heart and say that generally we did the best we could. (And we are certainly proud of the outcome!)



  1. What a good thoughtful essay on the subject of divorce. I think one of the saddest parts of divorce is the death of the ideal of eternal love, but perhaps only a mother's love can be considered eternal. A friend's daughter is going through a divorce now. She didn't want one, but one day her husband just decided he didn't want to be hemmed in by a wife and child, so he moved out. Since both parties must be willing to compromise and he's not, no reconciliation is possible. And as you say, their five- year-old son is the one who will be affected most, in spite of the good will of the parents. Thanks for writing.
    Canadian chickadee

  2. "......and offering anything other than straightforward sympathy is probably of dubious value when the wound is so fresh." Well that's me told! Not sure, however, that I necessarily agree.

  3. You are a very smart man, SS. Having gone through a couple of divorces myself, the truth of what you say absolutely strikes home.
    Part of me would love to think that commitment is forever, but that just wasn't my reality. Certainly, the kids are first, no matter what. If there is no respect, that is not a lesson to be passed on to our children.
    A big hug for your friend. I'm sure it's a difficult time. Only when you've gone through some tough life experiences yourself, can you realize that parents are just people too.

  4. Wasn't directed at you GB - I thought your comments to the person perfectly appropriate! But a long diatribe like my posting turned out to be would not have been!

  5. Oops - I accidentally rejected a comment from Honey.

    Fortunately it was in my e-mails and read as follows:-
    I've only just discovered your blog today and have enjoyed browsing editions past, your sound insights and delightful whimsseys.

    While I have suffered the death of a spouse, which I dealt with poorly, I have always thought that divorce would be even more painful because of the sense of betrayal and deliberate abandonment involved.

    While your comments sound wise to me, I sincerely hope that I never have to personally draw upon them.


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