It’s no secret that marriage is difficult. Any relationship is tough to maintain and keep alive. Those in a blended family (in any role) face what can feel like an uphill battle. When I originally began this journey, my message was clear – I wanted to live a genuine life, do it through personal growth and a positive attitude, and of course, beat the odds staring me down, and prove that my marriage could work no matter what was thrown at it.
The reality however, is that people divorce. Relationships end. It takes two to tango; a relationship does not sustain itself.
As I continue to search for my own answers regarding marriage, divorce, parenting, happiness and fulfillment, especially in the face of what most would not deem easy circumstances; I know many of you are as well. I went through a few weeks where nearly EVERYTHING I saw online was about the ending of these relationships. More specifically, when to end them, what ending them did to some of you, how to know what is right, etc.
I reached out to my Facebook following and was overwhelmed by the response. Having never been divorced myself, I can offer no help on the topic. Divorce, especially for the childless stepparent is simple, in theory. No children in a nasty custody battle (sigh – even custodial stepparents usually have no rights) makes it easy, in THEORY to end these relationships.
Emotional ties and processes are a different story. It’s amazing how easy it is to divorce today and how often the decision for many is simply….well…simple. It takes work to stay married. It takes MORE work to stay married in a blended family situation.
I’ve compiled some ideas and offerings I was so graciously given for those who are considering divorce or are simply at their breaking point in any relationship. This is advice from the other side, those who have divorced, their honest stories, and I am so thankful to them for sharing.
Abuse is a deal-breaker. Hit the road.
If your best friend came to you and said they were being abused in any way (yes, verbal abuse is abuse) you would tell them to have enough respect to walk away, right? Yet when we ourselves are in the same situation, we sit and endure, usually for far too long. It’s amazing we often value others far more than ourselves, which ultimately bites us in the ass. There is absolutely no excuse for abusive behavior. No matter how much you think they’ll change, or how hard you feel you must stick to your vows. Get YOURSELF (and your children) safe first. If you believe there is a chance to make it work, in a healthy fashion, by all means, give it a go, but do it when you are safe and healthy enough to know your boundaries. Nothing will be solved until you are both healthy, and abuse tends to get worse before it gets better. There is no shame in knowing your boundaries, enforcing them and saying enough is enough. That doesn’t have to mean divorce off the bat, a separation is a good first step if you choose, but do something, you don’t have to stay in a home like that and you shouldn’t.
Addiction is Not a Deal Breaker Every Time – But a Close Second.
Dealing with someone who is addicted to drugs and alcohol is exhausting. Dealing with someone with ANY addiction is, actually. The same rules apply here as they do to abusive situations (and often go hand in hand). Get yourself healthy FIRST. You will not fix your partner, and if you let it go so far you can’t get out, you are going to be in a world of hurt. Seek professional help, support groups, and talk to people you can trust. You must take care of yourself and your children (if you have them). People DO sometimes overcome addiction, but you must not hold false hope and crush yourself and your children while you wait. If they choose to change, you’ll know it. If not, harming yourself and others in the process is not commitment, it’s stupidity.
Adultery Can Be Overcome, But Not Easily.
This was sadly a very common theme. On the surface, it seems that anyone with the slightest level of self respect would say if they were cheated on that would be it, they would walk, the end, no questions asked. But not one person said cheating alone ended it. It was cheating, cluelessness, addiction to pornography, a blatant lack of remorse or honest attempts to change and repair that did the relationship in. When trust is trashed in any relationship it takes INTENSE work to fix it. There are couples who have made it through an affair, but they don’t do it without soul searching, commitment, bare bones honesty – and it can’t be fixed by one side alone. I recommend Beyond Ordinary (http://beyondordinary.refineus.org/), a book, blog, and insightful journey into one couple who managed to beat adultery and save their marriage.
The Unhappy Factor.
Our society has turned into a self serving group of sheep, desperately seeking advice from the wrong people, endlessly monitoring others’ seemingly perfect lives via social networking sites and forgetting the golden rule to any relationship – the grass is green where you WATER it. If you put your guard down for a minute, you can probably logically grasp the fact that if two people are willing to put effort into making their relationship something great, willing to work on themselves, their faults, their own issues, and come together as a team, almost anything can happen. Relationships will not always be happy, do some soul searching before you throw away a partnership for the wrong reasons – ie: comparing your love story to someone else’s. Try, HARD. Exhaust everything. Take your time and really be honest with yourself. One follower put it this way, “I think it is a difficult time for marriage – our country/culture that is self-focused, impatient, indulged, and insecure and polarized. I don’t think couples give enough thought in their partnering decision and to the true work of marriage. Nothing good ever comes without work.”
The flip side of this coin of course is unhappiness and misery is a HORRIBLE way to live. If you’ve truly tried it all and nothing is changing, do yourself (and the children) a favor, and move toward a happier you. You deserve happiness as much as anyone else, and the children, they don’t need the added pressure and sadness of an unhappy household. It does far more damage than you may even realize including teaching them a poor example of what a relationship is supposed to look like.
This Blended Family is a Bitch.
You know I don’t sugarcoat. I spend a great deal of time promoting positivity, self awareness, HONEST and GENUINE work and growth and finding what it takes to keep these relationships alive when all odds are stacked up against them. There is a secret behind that though. I’m no quitter. Never have been. I ran upon this quote recently and it rings true for me and probably you too:
Sadly, I see more people who say they would NOT remarry again knowing then what they know now, then those that say it was tough, but I’m glad I stuck it out. The secret lies within you. If it feels too hard and insurmountable, I challenge you now, as I always have to learn about yourself. What makes you hurt? What makes you uncomfortable? What makes you angry? Why? Where does that come from? It’s easy to say all would be perfect if BM wasn’t in the picture, or if the kids were more respectful or some other version of this. I said it for years. But I was lying to myself and I would venture to say you are too. I’m not suggesting they aren’t adding stress to an already stressful situation (trying to make a marriage work), but I am suggesting there’s more to it. A lot of marriage trouble has less to do with the ‘blended model’ and more to do with us as individuals and our own baggage. Especially for those of us ‘first timers’ in marriage. I had no idea what I was getting into, NOT signing up for a blended family marriage, but for a MARRIAGE in general.
I recently wrote the following in my personal journal. I had never once thought of it but it poured from my heart effortlessly and I just stared at the words:
“You must be in a good place in your life to choose your life partner”.
We often believe we are at our peak potential when we enter a marriage. We are mature, wise, and successful, we are ADULTS and we are at our best. We’re not. I certainly wasn’t. On paper, I had it all together, but looking back on it nearly 4 years later, I had a lot of growing to do. Turns out families bring out all your shit and blended families…phew…they might open up a whole can of worms you didn’t even know existed. While my chosen life partner had some incredible foundational qualities that I don’t believe you can fake and I’m proud to recognize them in him now, I was not healthy enough to recognize where true cracks could and have formed. He wasn’t either. And I had cracks of my own he could not have predicted. The best time to enter a marriage is when you have done EXTENSIVE work on yourself, you truly KNOW yourself, and you are humble and understand you have much to learn. I am about to embark on a very personal blog detailing what I’m currently in the process of uncovering about myself but the point is, too many people enter marriage without understanding the true vision of it. Its purpose, its value and what it takes to make it REALLY exceptional.
Regrets Are Ugly.
Fortunately most of the people who responded to my questionnaire said they had no regrets. The reason most people were left without soul crushing regrets is because they worked through the entire process. EVERYTHING. From missing their spouse, to what it may do to the children involved, to financial issues, to ACCEPTING a complete change and overhaul in their daily lives and everything they’d come to know and gotten comfortable with. No stone was left unturned. It’s been said the best way out is always through, and I couldn’t believe that more. It’s EASY in the heat of an argument, or another f*** up to toss out divorce, throw in the towel and walk away. But without a seriously dangerous situation where you knew it was life or death that you go, that tends to be the worst method of dissolving a relationship. One follower blatantly admitted she pulled out too early and left me with this, “I would not still choose divorce if I had it to do over again. I would have tried everything I could think of to make it work.” Those with no regrets say they worked it through, they REALLY thought it out and they tried EVERYTHING they could think of before they left. They are at peace with their decision. Some did say they wish they’d left earlier but it was more a matter of listening to their common sense at that point, they chose not to. They wanted it to work so badly they attempted to force it for too long. But even they said they weren’t ready to decide one way or another and if you’re not ready, you should keep working until you are. It’s a balancing act apparently. Being sure you’re ready with all your heart, and not losing your grip on reality in the process and leaving yourself too damaged. Which brings me to the next point..
Stay Together For The Kids.
….is a no no. Kids happen to know when the adults in their lives are miserable. When they fight, it hurts them, it scares them, it crushes their spirit and most importantly, it cements warped views of what relationships are supposed to look like. Don’t get me wrong, it’s one thing to fight, it’s another to be out of control, and dysfunctional tendencies can spread like wildfire when these things are not properly addressed. I was blown away by the amount of people who responded saying their kids were relieved when they finally said they were splitting. It not only often meant less drama in the home for them to endure, but most of them also got to see fully functioning happy parents at some point.
The problem is, it often takes a long time to see the ‘benefits’ of a divorce, and kids are affected negatively by it. Which is why you must be cautious in who you pick, and work to get healthy if you didn’t choose so wisely off the bat. These are steps on top of steps. Be a healthy partner. Pick a healthy partner. Raise healthy children as a team. If this breaks down, be strong and healthy enough to move forward in the best interest of all involved. Sound impossible? Sometimes it is. I am not saying anyone said the kids were happy to have to endure the divorce. But staying in an unhealthy home because the ‘kids need us to’ can do more harm than good.
“I feel I stayed and did give all I had to the marriage, I did have to be a little selfish to do this for me, so that I could be a better mother and person because this marriage was literally eating me alive, I was so busy trying to make all well I forgot who I was and was not being the mother I could be to my children (a happy one).”
To piggyback off the idea of staying together for the kids, just as it’s unhealthy for them, it’s unhealthy for you, and everyone deserves better for their lives. Basically, the message I received was about comfort. Most people simply stay because it’s comfortable. They don’t work toward being better, often times it’s just getting worse, but even more damaging is in EVERY SENSE OF THE WORD – they are already divorced. In fact, this is what helped one person to realize it was time to go, “I realized that I was already ‘divorced’ in many aspects, even before signing the papers. Divorce is simply the legal dissolution of marriage by a COURT. It is simply the act of signing a piece of a paper. However, what matters most to me was: I was already physically ‘divorced’, emotionally ‘divorced’… financially ‘divorced’. The signing just completed the cycle.” Are you feeling this way? You don’t have to stay miserable forever, those are the words of encouragement I want to share, because that’s what I heard in every response. You can choose to kick it up a notch and put in the work, encouraging your spouse along the way, or you can choose to dissolve the relationship. But mediocre will never bring happiness and you should aspire to more. It’s not only deserved by you and your spouse, but it’s also God’s vision for your marriage.
Vows – The Pinky Promise to God?
Which brings me to the biggie. Turns out God hates divorce. Which is what keeps many people trying, and rightfully so. But they sometimes forget that God hates divorce, He doesn’t hate divorced people. He simply wants you to know what you’re doing before you throw His vision away like it’s meaningless. He created marriage to be a beautiful partnership, never to be taken lightly, one that builds each other up and glorifies Him. And He hates divorce. But why? God hates divorce because He hates what divorce does to people. It’s a complete breakdown of His beautiful vision. This is not meant to be a religious debate, but I guarantee someone somewhere will bring this up so I want to address it. God does not hate divorced people. He has specific commands that He wants and expects of you and your spouse. This does not include “I’m not happy, she’s not trying, I’m out”. People throw in the towel like it’s nothing and then justify it by saying that God doesn’t want them to be miserable. True, He doesn’t, but what God wants for your marriage and what you want for your marriage are not always in line. In my OPINION, which is just that, an opinion, it’s up to you to TRULY see what He wants for your marriage, get yourself really in line with what He wants, aspire to it, work at it, and then decide how to proceed. I suggest The Love Dare book ( http://lovedarestories.com/ ). Even if you are livid and believe your spouse doesn’t deserve it, soften your heart, open yourself up to it and then you can really know you tried all you could. If you’re a believer, not making it right with God and doing your best will no doubt bring about regret, whether you choose to stay or not. If you are staying simply because God says you can’t go, you’re missing the point, and you’re missing what He wants for you and your spouse. I have read TONS of Christian material on this topic. What I found was anyone can debate why it’s “ok” to get divorced according to the Bible, but they can’t assess your heart, only He can. Get right with Him whether you choose to stay or not. Then you’ll really know. Don’t ever stay (or go) because of what someone else says you’re ‘supposed’ to do, that leaves gaping holes in your life and soul. Sometimes you have to sit tight, search your own heart and motives, and be honest.
The Answer Lies Within You and No One Else.
This must be the hardest truth of them all. It takes work. It takes work to stay and it takes work to go. If you are considering divorce, no one can tell you what to do. But they can encourage you to slow down, assess, breathe, work, try and be patient. Change doesn’t happen overnight, but you must keep your values in check. If you don’t know what they are, start there. Begin identifying your own boundaries, and seeking guidance from professionals and those you trust. GUIDANCE is a healthy way of growing and finding what’s best for you and yours. No one can make this decision for you.
If you get nothing else out of this blog, hear me right here: if there are stones left unturned, baggage not yet addressed, and you cannot peacefully walk away, you are not ready to go (except in extreme situations). If you’re still shaken by the idea, you’re not ready. If you’re still unsure, at all, you’re not ready. If you don’t have peace in your soul that every possible aspect has been addressed, KEEP WORKING. Of course all splits are hard, and splits with children are devastating, but if you haven’t worked it through, YOU WILL HAVE TO AT SOME POINT. Better to do it now then to have regrets later.
I want to share some of the most powerful responses I was given…
“I would never recommend divorce in a flagrant manner for just anyone who is unhappy with their spouse…we are all unhappy with our spouse at one point or another. Choose what is best for yourself and your family. Will the problems you and your spouse are having spill over into the lives of your children? That is the one question that helped me make my decision in the end.”
“First I want to share my belief that marriage should be entered into as a permanent commitment, not as an easily disposable union when things get tough. With that said, my divorce probably happened many years after it should have. I hung on, trying whatever I could think of to make it work, to keep my “pretty little family” together. Once the light bulb went off in me and I knew it was time, I realized I may have done more damage to my children by hanging on when things were bad. My only regret is not listening to my common sense voice of reason and trying to hold on to a picture instead of opening my eyes to the reality of the relationship. The relationship was a negative for me personally in so many ways and i didn’t realize how my deterioration was affecting my children in an equally negative way. Children learn the best example by living with two happy parents. It is such a myth that they only need 2 parents in the house. If those parents are not happy together, even if they think they are keeping their disputes/fighting hidden from the children, the children know and they are negatively affected. Not only does it affect them at the time, they are also affected by their image of a partnership and how they choose a mate in the future. Now remember i am not a proponent of divorce, but i think if the relationship has reached it’s end in spite of multiple efforts at repair/reconciliation, if it is having a negative effect on the personal well-being of either party or the children, then it’s time to end it and move forward in a positive direction. Once a person allows a bad relationship to damage their self esteem or their belief in themselves, it’s time to move on. We have a tendency to lose sight of ourselves for the sake of the marriage and I believe that will never end well. I tell people/friends to keep themselves in mind and think “is this relationship or this person good for me?” if the answer is no, it may well be time for a change. As for the children, there is way too much truth in the old saying “if mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” I encourage people to remember to take care of themselves first, then you’ll have more positive energy for your children. Even the airlines know, “put your oxygen mask on first before you help others.” Great advice!! (Please note i am talking about deep internal peace/happiness- not whether or not your spouse buys you flowers or a new house when you want it.)”
“I am not an advocate for divorce. I believe in the institution of marriage. I also believe that too many times people go into marriage thinking well if this doesn’t work out we will just get a divorce. This is one of the biggest problems with marriage today. It’s kind of like filing for bankruptcy, some people go about being reckless with money and think well I will just file bankruptcy and all will be okay. There are consequences for both. Ramifications that have rolling effects. Divorce is not the answer for every situation. For mine there was nothing left to do. But I would also say this one of the biggest mistakes men and women make is getting re-married too soon. 2nd and 3rd marriages have even higher rates of divorce because people do not do the work it takes to recover from the failure of their first marriage. I jumped right into a relationship that fortunately did not end in marriage but it ended in heartbreak. After that I was single for 4 years and went to a Divorce Recovery group for almost a year. That was amazing and I learned so much about myself. I am pretty sure that going through that allowed me the freedom to be single a while and when I met my husband I was ready emotionally and psychologically. Marriage is its own organism to help it grow it must be fed with love, affection, understanding, grace, forgiveness, honesty, trust, passion, compassion, willingness, give and take every day. And both parties have to be willing to participate otherwise it is one sided.
If children are involved I hoped that divorce is the very last straw couples are making. Children suffer the most in the case of divorce and if a marriage is salvageable then it should be. But I would also say that if my parents had stayed together it probably would have been worse for me too. They were unhappy and well being apart was better on everyone. I can see that now as an adult as a child it was awful.
Honestly I believe that divorce is a reasonable response if one spouse if abusive verbally, physically, emotionally or psychologically. I also believe that if one is cheating then there are grounds for divorce as well. Any other reason husband and wife should do everything they can to stay together. Maybe that is a very conservative perspective but today Divorce is a word that is too easily thrown around.”
When it’s done, and you’ve really put in the work, I believe you will know. But don’t just call it quits because you’ve hit a rough patch. If you are strong and committed to one another, no rough patch will consume you. If you believe it can’t work, try your HARDEST to take the high road, do NOT threaten, intimidate, or harass your spouse. In fact, when you are truly ready, aside from certain circumstances, you will be at peace with them and wish them well. You will not use the children against them, or make it nasty. You will be confident in yourself, and able to move forward without making a further mess.
For those of you who still believe there’s something worth saving, I leave you with this idea:
Your Marriage Comes First.
Experts say children in blended families need time alone with their biological parent after a divorce to ease into the new family. I don’t disagree. But what I do disagree with is the viewpoint that the universe should revolve around the kids or outside the marriage itself (if no kids are involved).
Let me tell you where that’s led MY marriage……not a good place. We spent so long trying to build what WE thought was best for the child that we forgot to build what was REALLY best for the child – US being a strong married couple. We lost our relationship in the shuffle. Somewhere in the mix we became ships passing in the night. The SOLE focus on Little Bear, every day, all day. No date nights. No intimate conversations. No laughing and enjoying each other. And it’s not a pretty sight today. Can you relate? Of course people must have outside activities, and certainly family time. Being in ONE BOX ALONE is damaging, I speak from experience. We neglected our marriage for far too long and one day woke up wondering why things were so mediocre and what was left of our marriage was in serious trouble. You may find yourself so focused on what the kids need and believe your marriage will get the work LATER, you’ll revisit it LATER. After all it can withstand anything, right? But if you run it out of gas, it won’t last forever.
So if you’re still willing to put in the work, any work, at all, I encourage you to. But make sure it’s for the right reasons. If you’re not willing to give, and your partner isn’t willing to give, what do you have left? You must work to enjoy the benefits of any relationship. For those of you who can honestly say you’ve done all you could and it’s time to call it quits, now work toward a healthier you ‘post divorce’, and move forward ON THE HIGH ROAD as best you can. You are not a failure, you did all you could, and sometimes marriages end and I believe, sometimes they really should and it’s a good thing.
But for those of you who aren’t ready, I leave you with this. A dear friend of mine sent this to me, and I’d like to share it with you. In my opinion it perfectly illustrates the people who give up too quickly. If it’s not working today, they throw it away; a recipe for regrets and hurt. If you have something left to give and are willing to try, what do you have to lose?
“People talk about the reality of their life as if it is important. And we want you to understand, it’s only the temporary indicator. Do you go to the gas station-your gas gauge is on empty-do you go to the gas station and look at your gas gauge in horror? “How did this happen? Why, why, why did this happen to me?” Do you lay your head on the steering wheel and just sob? “Oh, look what it’s come to. I’m finished. I’ve lived all of this life, and look where I am.” Or do you just fill up?” – Esther Abraham-Hicks