Here’s what I know about you: you are thinking about a divorce or have at least considered the idea. There’s no issue that affects men more deeply than their relationship with their woman. Apart from our children, our wives and girlfriends are the people in our lives that brings the highest highs and the lowest lows. And some of you are too familiar with the lows.
Some of you are on the verge of filing for divorce. You’ve told yourself that you’ll wait until the first of the year, but you’re gonna do it. Others of you haven’t made up your minds, but you’re thinking seriously about it. And the rest of us have at least thought about it at some point in our relationship, if only along the lines of “I wonder what life would be like”.
So let’s talk about it. In my years as an attorney and a married man, I’ve spent a good bit of time talking through marriage issues with people who weren’t happy. There’s an old joke among divorce attorneys that men shouldn’t get married, they should “just find a woman they don’t like and buy her a house”. And there’s while there’s a huge financial component to whether you should leave, that’s not what I want to talk about.
In my experience, there are three things men fail to adequately consider when deciding whether to leave their marriage. That’s not to say that these are the most important things to consider. In fact, I’ll come right out and say they probably are not the most important considerations. Instead, I’ll say they’re the most overlooked important considerations.
THE CALIPARI EFFECT
I want to talk about what life will really be like if you leave. Every one has heard of the Grass-Is-Greener Phenomenon, the idea that changing your circumstances will be better and will make you happier. What we often find out is that, no, the grass was not really greener on the other side of the fence. Instead, we simply didn’t take the time to evaluate it.
Here’s what I mean. I’m a University of Kentucky basketball fan. Our coach, John Calipari, is a Hall of Fame coach. Since he’s been at Kentucky, he’s won more games and had more tournament success than basically any other coach in the country. But there are plenty of fans who don’t like him, that constantly criticize his coaching, or that openly wish they had a different coach.
How can that be? It’s because they conduct a thorough evaluation of Coach Calipari and make themselves keenly aware of all of his faults, while failing to conduct a similar evaluation of other coaches. They notice every time Coach Cal makes a poor decision or loses a game. They either don’t notice or simply ignore when other coaches do the same. As a result, when they think of Coach Cal, they think of his faults. When they think of other coaches, they only think of their positive attributes. And they rotate through other coaches, such that Coach Cal isn’t consistently measured against one particular other coach, he gets measured against whatever other coach is currently having the most success. No one can survive such an evaluation.
Men tend to do the same thing with their wives and girlfriends. They compare their wife to women that they work with or wives of their friends. Those other women seem so much better than their own wife. Those women are always smiling, beautiful, and happy. Those women seem fun because they’re a change of pace. Their wives are often stressed, angry, moody, unreasonable, and not as attractive. Why? Often, it’s simply because we see our wives on a much more intimate level than we see those other women. Our wives are comfortable around us and have let their guard down. They let us see them stressed, moody, and mad. We see them without makeup, when they’re sick, and when they’re tired. The other women don’t let us see that side. We get their best look and their best mood. The result is that our wives suffer by comparison.
But here’s the fact: if you were to leave your wife and spend significant time with that other woman, you’d see her ugly side pretty quickly. And you’d likely wonder just what the hell you’d gotten yourself into. How many men have left one unhappy situation and walked directly into another one simply because they magnified their wife’s faults and didn’t see or refused to acknowledge the faults of the other woman?
What’s more, we sometimes compare our wife to some conglomeration of a Superwife that we’ve imagined some other woman to be. She has the beauty of Salma Hayek, the class of Audrey Hepburn, the grace of Jacqueline Kennedy, the patience of June Cleaver, and the homemaking skills of Martha Stewart, with the libido and sexual skills of a porn star.
We mix all the best attributes we see in other women and assume some wonderful woman out there is perfect, with all of those attributes, then we compare our wives to that mythical creature. I have news for your gentlemen: she doesn’t exist. We do a disservice to our wives when we concoct such a person in our imagination, even though we often do it unwittingly.
So, the first question to consider when thinking about a divorce is this: am I honestly viewing my wife and giving her a fair evaluation? Wait, what? “Why are you taking up for my wife?” I’m not. I just want to make sure you’re making a decision based upon facts, rather than on a skewed perception of reality.
One other thing on this topic: there’s almost no way that you can objectively and fairly evaluate your wife on your own. You’re biased. You’re likely a bit hurt and angry. You’re almost certainly frustrated. If you’re going to fairly evaluate your wife, your friends will need to help. They are the ones who can see the situation a bit more objectively and without emotion. So pull them in. They won’t have all the information, but they will have a perspective that you need to hear. This is your life and your decision, so don’t let them make your decision for you, just let them give their honest perspective. And if you don’t have friends who you can talk to about these things, that’s a problem that needs fixing. Fast. And Internet friends won’t suffice.
IS IT YOUR FAULT?
The second question worth considering when thinking about a divorce is a helluva tough one: Would my marriage be better if I was a better man? It’s worth considering whether your wife seems cold, distant, stressed, or unreasonable because you’re not fulfilling your role. Did she sign on to follow your lead only to find that you don’t carry your weight? That you’re weak, either mentally or emotionally or both? That you’re fearful? That you’ve given up on the dreams you had in favor of watching sports and playing video games? That you’ve spent your virility on porn? That you spend all your money without regard to her and the kids? That you have no friends? That you spend way too much time drunk? That she’s left trying to juggle most of the responsibilities of the family?
If that’s the case, it may explain why your wife doesn’t seem to be who you thought/hoped she was. And it’s not her fault if that’s the case. What’s more, and perhaps even worse, it means that your next relationship will likely be no better. A good relationship requires two healthy people. If you’re not the man you should be, you’ll be hard pressed to find a woman who is what she should be.
So here’s an experiment to find out: get better as a man. Reclaim your strength and courage. Lead your family. Lead her. Don’t back down from her. if there’s a vice that’s gotten out of control, eliminate it. Be a man that she has little choice but to respect. Set a direction for your family and take them there. Get strong. Lose the fat. Have a purpose and go after it, including her and the kids in it. After that, if she’s still a distant, miserable woman, it’s not on you.
MEN WITH CHILDREN
The remaining issue to consider involves your children. Here’s what many fathers with children fail to understand: your relationship with your children is deeply connected to your relationship with your wife and her presence in your home. Once you get a divorce and your wife is gone from the picture, your relationships with your children will change, and it’s rarely for the better when in the case of divorce. Your wife will no longer be there to buffer your relationship with your children, to soften your rough edges, and to fill in your weak areas.
It will just be you and them. And things will be different. They won’t look at you the same. Your traditions will be different. Your interactions will be different. Will things get better with time? Maybe, maybe not. But things will never be the same, and that’s rarely an improvement in these cases.
Beyond that, are you prepared to see them 50% less than you do right now? Are you prepared for them to spend many (if not most) of their nights away from your home? Are you prepared to spend certain holidays without them or to share them?
Are you prepared for your wife to start dating and bringing other men around them? Are you prepared for those other men to spend significant time with your children and make significant decisions about their day-to-day lives?
We’re digging pretty deep right now, and I haven’t even mentioned three of the most important considerations regarding your children and divorce:
- how your relationship with your children may change based on their anger or bitterness over your leaving;
- how your relationship with them will change when you try to bring another woman into their lives, and
- the impact of your leaving upon their hearts and development.
These are all realities that are entailed in a divorce when children are involved, so they need to be considered as you made decisions about your relationship and your future.
Ultimately, you’re the one that has to live with your decision, so you are the one that must make it. While you should listen to outside perspectives, ultimately no one can tell you what to do. As I’ve pointed out, this is certainly is not an exhaustive list of the issues to consider when thinking about leaving your woman. Not even close. But, if you’ll consider the issues that I’ve raised above, you’ll be in a much better place to make your decision. What’s more, you may even end up with a happy marriage.
These are difficult issues, and I recognize the pain and frustration of a strained marriage. I wish you the best as you sort through these issues. Feel free to reach out with specific questions. All the best as we bring 2019 to a close. Godspeed.
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