Who Killed the Marriage?

If you are in the midst of a divorce, contemplating divorce, or have already survived one, this is a question that you may have spent hours discussing with your friends, therapist, divorce attorney, and family. Likely, the culprit or offender is the “ex”. How could it not be? If it wasn’t for XXX or YYY that he/she did, said, failed to do, your marriage would still be intact, right?

Well, not necessarily. Some marriages end because one party has been unfaithful, or totally detached and uninvolved, or is no longer interested in intimacy. Some marriages end because of financial strains, illnesses, or some catastrophic event. Some marriages end because they’ve run their course; the parties have just reached the end of their interest in one another and the union itself. It’s the very rare case where there’s one absolute, undeniable, isolated thing that caused the parties to split up. Even if you can point to a specific event – like an extra-marital affair – nothing is ever that tidy. More likely than not, there was something else and probably several “something elses” going on.

So what do you tell people who ask, “What happened with you two? Why did you divorce?” The first thing to remember before you answer either question is who’s asking and who are you talking to? If it’s your best friend who asks, please feel free to tell her/him anything you wish! If it’s your boss asking, be circumspect when you answer. Your employer doesn’t need to know the nitty gritty of what went on in your marriage. Perhaps the people you must take the most care with when answering the questions are your children. They are the most vulnerable and least likely to understand the myriad of emotions swirling in your heart and mind when you formulate your answers.

Don’t forget that your kids have an image of their family that is different from both your perception and also the truth. Kids want to believe their parents are happy together and will be forever. It’s very hard for most kids to understand why their parents would want to live apart and break up the happy family. Even when your kids are 19, 25, even 40 years old, the idea of splitting time between two homes during the holidays, having to worry about seating of step-parents at a wedding, and how to capture a family portrait after the arrival of the much anticipated grandchildren is all very difficult. Divorce is hard on every kid, and parents need to remember that if you slip and say something awful about your ex, your kid’s parent, you risk starting parental alienation. And, it may backfire on you if you think telling the truth, warts and all, is a good idea because your child may decide to try to “save” your ex and become estranged from you.

You should tell your children the truth about why you and your ex split and divorced, but be careful about what you say and how you say it. Kids are the most vulnerable parties in a divorce, and you need to treat them like fragile glass when explaining what happened. They don’t need to know your version of the truth or your ex’s version either. They don’t need to hear who killed the marriage. They need to know they are well loved by both parents regardless of marital status or living arrangements.

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