When it comes to the "D" word (divorce), the first question that usually spews out of the mouths of concerned friends and families is: "Can't you just stop fighting and stay together?"
Good question — in a simple world. But life on the not-so-perfect family front is complicated. Just ask the 120-plus readers who weighed in — emotionally and passionately — on the question: "Is it better for a husband and wife who are fighting to stay together or be apart?"
Christine F., who grew up in a family she describes as a war zone, is one member with an unequivocal reaction: "No!"
Consider her rationale:
"I was the child of divorced parents and I must say that my mom tried hard to hold the family together, but I was truly happier when they split. There was a sense of peace in the house and we were all happier. I had the same experience (sadly) in my own marriage, and my daughters (now 11 and 13) have said that they felt that they noticed a distinct sense of happiness and calm in our house after their dad left. Too often we try to hold a family together because we know how hard and sad it will be, but it is to the detriment of our children. We must remember that children thrive in an environment of love and peace — not just one [with] two parents."
Not exactly the answer most would like to hear to the question, especially the moms who have tried everything to stop the fighting.
But, like many of the 120-plus moms who responded to this question, I, too, have learned the "you can lead a horse to water lesson." That is, sometimes no matter how hard you work at a ceasefire, there are more complicated factors at play. Sometimes, despite your best efforts to reconcile and keep peace, you have to wave the white flag of surrender, admit defeat, and exit.
The "Three A's" and Other Reasons to Split
"I agonized over this for years and years," said Suzanne T. "I fought hard to make my marriage work and be happy. We had a perfect-seeming family. But we put up with things no one should ever put up with — my ex's alcohol and drug abuse, violence, and inability to hold a job. It has taken a long time for my children and me to recover from our fantasy about what a happy family we were — our memories are very affected by my attempts to suck it up and put on a good face. Someone once told me that there are three "A's" you cannot ignore in a marriage: addiction, adultery and abuse. I wish I had listened sooner."
Ultimately, said Amy G., "putting aside your own happiness for the sake of the children is just unhealthy." In stark contrast to the conventional wisdom that parents should stay together for their children's sake, she believes that a mom should put herself before the children: "You have to do what is best for you, not for the kids. If the marriage is toxic for you it will be for the kids . . . kids can feel it."
Should You Stay or Should You Go?
Should you stay or should you go? It's a tough question. But I think moms facing this dilemma should be pondering a different question. If you stay, forcing your children to duck in the shadows of parents who are constantly sniping and inflicting hurt on one another, doesn't that send your kids a terribly harmful message? If we moms are role models for our children, shouldn't our ultimate guideline be: do unto others, and make sure they treat you with respect, too.
I've been the recipient of "the question" way too many times. And I have learned to reply in a way that many moms who are under constant siege can relate to: "Yes, I could have stayed, but it was too painful to do so."
Sure, it would be great if the fighting would stop. But sometimes, the only way to end the battle — and hold on to your self-esteem — is to draw a line in the sand; say this is unacceptable, and walk away toward a new future. Maybe the best answer is to leave so that you can create a safe home for your children, one where peace reigns.
Would you stay or go if you and your partner were constantly fighting?