When most people ask why my marriage ended, I usually reply that we were never doing the same dance. It was much more complicated than that, of course, but this describes the gist of it. I needed a tango and he needed a line dance–two very different things.
I stayed a lot longer than I should have for a variety of reasons, one of which was that I did not want to be divorced. I did not want my kids to be from a “broken home”.
But since we weren’t doing the same dance, there was no love connection. Even though we were living under the same roof, in a sense we were already separated. The “home” was already broken.
In Grounded Spirituality, Jeff Brown writes:
..many seemingly intact families are deeply broken…a home is not broken when parents are separated or divorced. A home is broken when there is an absence of love.”
Admitting there is an absence of love between parents can be a bitter pill to swallow. The two may care about each other, but real love involves taking care of each other–through words and actions. Caring for someone results from the love and trust created through the connection of a common dance. Without a love connection, there is tension, frustration and unhappiness. Being truthful about love’s absence is one of the most difficult things to admit.
After I moved out, my boys and I had many open and honest conversations and I learned some interesting things. They told me they could see there wasn’t a love connection. I’d heard how important it is to pay attention to what you do because “you’re kids are watching everything you do”. I’d always understood that meant to model good behavior–share your things, help others, write thank you notes, chew with your mouth closed–never truly realizing the phrase meant EVERYTHING you do, including how your marriage looks. They knew it was broken long before I was willing to admit it. They saw it–they just didn’t articulate it. They were following along with what I was modeling, which was to ignore it.
Recently, I’ve been getting to know a new friend who feels he is a much better parent after his divorce. There’s now room for him to breathe. He can concentrate on loving his kids and being the best dad he can rather than expending all his energy on trying to mend something that was clearly broken.
When I asked another friend about his parent’s divorce he shared these words:
“When I reflect on their relationship now…I knew they were surrendering to a level of toleration that just barely maintained the status quo. The bottom line is that we all need to be happy because when we are mired in the muck of conflict, we can’t be who we really are.”
I agree with the insights both friends shared. And while I certainly do not advocate for divorce, I do advocate for considering what we are modeling for our kids. Parents set the tone for the family and when they are happy, everyone can relax and be themselves.
And when parents are happy, they are more able to love and support their kids, which is the most important thing a parent can do. Kids need happy, loving parents. This is what creates an sense of “home”, not where each parent actually lives.
Jeff Brown goes on to write:
If there is love, then nothing is broken.”
And when I really think about it, without a love connection between parents, it’s the marriage that is broken, not the home.
And if the marriage is broken, sometimes the most loving choice parents can make for their kids is to no longer be together. They may truly be happiest living apart and in doing so are better able to love their kids. Living with tension and conflict for the sake of maintaining a common residence isn’t good for anyone involved.
And if parents decide to stay in a broken marriage, then the most loving choice they can make is to do whatever it takes to fix it. Work will need to be done to re-grow a love connection. To do this, both parents have to be all in. Otherwise, it’s like rowing a boat with one oar. You can’t get anywhere.
As Parker Palmer says, “If you can’t get out of it, get into it.”
Either way, embrace the choice made.
Be open with efforts made so the kids learn the best ways to work though strife.
Honest communication is vital through this process.
Our kids are watching EVERYTHING we do.