Post-Divorce Balance

Welcome to the "On Balance" guest blog. Every Tuesday, "On Balance" features the views of a guest writer. It could be your neighbor, your boss, your most loved or hated poster from the blog, or you! Send me your original, unpublished entry (300 words or fewer) for consideration. Writers need to use their full names. Obviously, the topic should be something related to balancing your life.

By Page Evans

Driving from the airport to his family's lake house, the panic set in. Racing heart, sweaty palms, shortness of breath.

"I don't think you understand," I told the man I'd been dating for a year. "I'm afraid of your children. You're gonna have to take me back to the airport."

Obviously, I'm not the first person to date someone with kids. We're both divorced with children from our previous marriages, so meeting and spending time with each other's families is a logical step in the relationship. I'm 41 with two daughters, aged ten and under. He's 54 with three older kids; his youngest is 13 and the only child still at home. But we hadn't done the total full-family blending thing yet, mainly because, with five children and two ex-spouses, there were multiple schedules in play and it was rare to find everyone in the same vicinity.

That's why it was important for me to spend a weekend with his entire family. My first time alone with them. His parents would be there, too. No pressure or anything.

"Should we pick up some wine?" I asked, still in the car. "I need to give your parents a present. What kind do they like, white or red?"

He fidgeted nervously. "Um...Actually, they don't drink."

This was going to be worse than I thought.

Then it hit me. I shouldn't have been going to the family lake house for a weekend with his kids. I mean, I should have, because I was dating their father. But being there was unnatural--for all of us. And once I realized it was okay to feel unnatural and awkward, the weekend started feeling more normal. Why had I thought it would be comfortable? My boyfriend's children and parents had memories to go with their weekend house that didn't include me. His kids certainly didn't need another mother-figure; they've got a great mom. As for my role, I had no desire to act like a mother toward any children other than my own.

That's when I decided to go with the flow--however unnatural it may have felt. I tried to be my natural self in an unnatural situation. All of us probably felt a little abnormal. And that's normal.

In the absence of a manual for dating after divorce, I'll take what I can get. Besides, when I returned home, exhausted after waterskiing, tennis, tubing, roasting marshmallows and yes, having fun (turns out my boyfriend had been joking about his parents not drinking), I had my own children to worry about. The first thing my 10-year-old told me when I picked her up from her father's was:

"Mommy, it's fine if you want to date him, but you know I don't want you to marry anyone with children."

That's my story of how I'm trying to find love -- and balance -- after divorce. What's yours?

Page Evans lives in Washington, D.C. Her work has been published in The Washington Post and Washingtonian Magazine. You can read her essay, "Shark and Jets," in Mommy Wars.

By Leslie Morgan Steiner |  January 29, 2008; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Guest Blogs
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Comments

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"That's my story of how I'm trying to find love -- and balance -- after divorce"

I found love after I was widowed, but I did not try the "blended family " thing. You might want to check the stats on blended families.

Posted by: chittybangbang | January 29, 2008 8:02 AM

Some of us mate for life, period! Chomp!

Posted by: nonamehere | January 29, 2008 8:03 AM

OT:

Saw a story today that Meg Whitman (Mom / Chairwoman of eBay / Billionaire) was retiring and lurked on by to see if Leslie wrote on it. Nope. Speculation is that she might run for Governor of California. If you guys are interested here are a couple of links on one of the 2-3 top women in all of Technology:

http://www.latimes.com/news/local/politics/cal/la-me-whitman25jan25,0,7858915.story

http://www.answers.com/topic/meg-whitman?cat=biz-fin

Posted by: ProudPapa15 | January 29, 2008 8:27 AM

I don't have a lot of direct experience to share but I did want to say that your realization sounds just right to me. I have a family member who has blended her 3 kids with her boyfriend's 2 and they went to route of each trying to parent everyone and to build the "dream instant family" and it has been a rough road.

Posted by: shandra_lemarath | January 29, 2008 8:46 AM

When I divorced I had one rule for myself with regard to dating: no guys with kids. Maybe for a quick drink or whatever but I never would have allowed myself to become emotionally involved with someone who had kids because I knew without a doubt that I wouldn't have been up to the task of being "dad's girlfriend," let alone anyone's step-mom. This is not to say there's anything wrong with dating or marrying a guy with kids--I just knew I could never do it. I also felt it was the very least I could do for my kids after having to deal with the divorce and its life-long ramifications--I couldn't give them an intact home but I could commit to making sure they were the only kids in any future home we would have together.

Don't ask me how I lucked into finding a 38 year old man who had been married--so he wasn't a serial killer or whatever else people assume a man of a certain age is if he's never been married--but had never had kids. (who, incidentally, also cooks, cleans, fixes stuff, washes cars, etc..) But by the grace of something I did. Just as I wanted a man without kids, he had always wanted kids and was grateful to finally have a chance to be part of a "real" family, or at least that's how he sees it.

It's hard enough becoming a blended family with just my kids; I can't imagine dealing with the added stress of folding another set of kids into the mix. More power to anyone who has the strength and patience to do it.

Posted by: maggielmcg | January 29, 2008 9:12 AM

I was 21, and the youngest of three, when my parents divorced. Mom got together with someone with three kids (he was older, so his kids were older), and my mom wanted to pretend that all was okay. That we were going to be one big happy family. Well, we weren't, which was fine, but I think it upset my mom some. My oldest sister was downright obnoxious about it (we're not the brady bunch) - so much so that she couldn't even stop by when my mom was hosting thanksgiving.

It was strange, and stranger that my mom wanted all of us to get along - I mean, we were all grown adults, it was okay if we all didn't get along...

Posted by: atlmom1234 | January 29, 2008 9:29 AM

Hey Proud Papa -- The Meg Whitman news really caught my attention too. Maybe she'll write a Guest Blog for us about what it's like finding balance as a gazillionaire. Thanks.

I have a distant relative who married a man with teenage kids. She constantly asked him (and all of us) who came first -- her or the kids -- which I thought was terrible. The final answer was: neither. A nasty divorce ensued and the kids of course suffered even more. There are so many ways to be a terrible parent and stepparent.

So bravo to Page Evans and others who try it -- and admit how hard it is.

Posted by: leslie4 | January 29, 2008 9:45 AM

One more reason to AVOID divorce with your current spouse. Why can't people work and get along and avoid these split family situations. Certainly, before I get bashed, I understand there are HORRIBLE spouses out there and divorce is justified. I just think that the 50% divorce rate could be < 25% divorce rate and we wouldn't have to worry about making blended families work. There are too many broken marriages where things could have been "fixed" if BOTH husband and wife were willing to make it work. Marriage is WORK. And it is a lot MORE work in a marriage with a blended family. And, yes, I am divorced and I absolutely hate living in a broken family situation. I seem to be old fashioned in this mentality as most folks think it is perfectly acceptable. I think that is sad.

Posted by: cyntiastmancom | January 29, 2008 9:52 AM

cyntiastmancom: I agree with you, but plenty of people just want to be married and overlook all sorts of stuff. It's amazing to me how much in denial people can be (certainly not ALL divorce happens because of this, but...).

Posted by: atlmom1234 | January 29, 2008 9:57 AM

"Should we pick up some wine?" I asked, still in the car. "I need to give your parents a present. What kind do they like, white or red?" / He fidgeted nervously. "Um...Actually, they don't drink."

Oh, please. Count your blessings that you have sober parents-in-law, because alcohol doesn't necessarily improve such situations, but rather can just give people license to behave badly.

I speak from experience: my future husband's then-stepfather drank pretty much whenever he wasn't at work (weekends, holidays, vacation), and was such a nasty drunk that if we hadn't lived far away from them -- i.e., if we'd had to interact with him more than once every couple years -- I wouldn't have married my future DH (or at least not as long as his mother was still married to the lush). Not that DH could stand to be around the guy either, but during that period we lived far enough away that we could pretty much write the stepfather out of our lives -- and then, thank goodness, my MIL finally came to her senses and got a divorce (despite believing that divorce was shameful, but she couldn't take the marital abuse any more).

And to answer the obvious question: when he was courting my widowed MIL he was on the wagon, so she gave him the not entirely unreasonable benefit of the doubt that he would remain sober.

Posted by: mehitabel | January 29, 2008 10:01 AM

I'm not divorced, but I think the message in Page's guest blog transcends divorce. It's OK for uncomfortable situations to feel ... uncomfortable.

All parents -- all people for that matter -- encounter situations where they don't feel at ease. I'm encouraged by the writer's conclusion that it's OK to feel something isn't feeling normal but work through it anyway. It's awkward sometimes for me with my husband's extended family, and I'm sure it is for my husband with mine. So what.

Being a grown up is dealing with the difficult with grace. Kudos to Page for getting that.

Posted by: gchen | January 29, 2008 10:03 AM

cyntiastmancom - i think the key to your statement is both parties be willing to work on their issues. I think more often than not there is one party who doesn't want to work on whatever problem(s) they have (excluding abusive situations and infidelity).

Posted by: noname1 | January 29, 2008 10:03 AM

leslie4

"The Meg Whitman news really caught my attention too. Maybe she'll write a Guest Blog for us about what it's like finding balance as a gazillionaire."

Maybe she will finally get a makeover!! With her power & money, why has she been fugly for so long?

Posted by: chittybangbang | January 29, 2008 10:08 AM

It does take both people to make the marriage work. sometimes one person has to work harder than the other to make it work. That isn't fair; but that is reality. Ever had someone complain to you about their spouse and you believe everything they say? (aka, my spouse is mad at me because I didn't take the trash out). Would your reaction be "well, she is a controlling woman" or "well, you should do your part around the house and take pressure off your wife". She probably is upset that she has to nag and almost feel like "a mother figure" to her spouse and he hates being nagged, yet doesn't avoid it by helping out. Yes, let's be honest by how many divorces happen over petty little things like this. Our kids deserve better than this. WE as adults deserve better than this. Too many people put themselves in bad situations and want to blame the other spouse.

How many people get divorced because their intimacy declines after the birth of children. Wives are frazzled; husbands are frustrated. WELL, this takes WORK to keep romance in a marriage in this scenario. Husbands instead of thinking wives are ignoring or "denying" them should be stepping up to help out (and this could be vice versa) instead of moaning and groaning. Find solutions to problems. Life gets out of balance - both spouses have to work together to balance.

I have learned from experience - the hard way. I truly hope people going thru a difficult time in their marriage chose to hang in there for themselves as well as their kids. It can get BETTER - IF both of you let it. We as a SOCIETY need to promote this.

AGAIN - on the flip side - abuse of any sort is not acceptable. Substance abuse is not acceptable. There are very valid reasons for divorcing someone. Petty reasons are not good reasons to divorce.

Posted by: cyntiastmancom | January 29, 2008 10:13 AM

"I seem to be old fashioned in this mentality as most folks think it is perfectly acceptable. I think that is sad."

I don't know that people think divorce is good. "Perfectly acceptable" in terms of "not socially stigmatized for the rest of your life," yes. "Perfectly acceptable" as "this is easy and no one will be hurt," absolutely not.

Maybe it looks like people take it less seriously because the folks going through it don't spill all the details. But that doesn't mean the justification wasn't there. Unless it's my marriage, I can't possibly understand, and so I don't have the right to judge.

I come at this from the opposite angle, of having a mom who divorced back in @ 1970, when being divorced was a stigma that "good" people had no qualms about throwing in her face (and mine -- the pity I got for being in a "broken home" was just unreal, like people were amazed I wasn't an axe murderer). I'm glad we've moved away from that. And I'm glad my mom and dad got divorced. I wasn't at the time, of course. But looking at them now, well, as my husband said, it's amazing they managed to stay in the same room together long enough even to get pregnant. :-) If they hadn't split up, my vision of marriage would have been misery, fighting, and depression; but because they did split up, I got to see, up close and personal, what a solid, happy marriage is between my mom and stepfather. I got to see my mom struggle and work hard and follow her dream and stand on her own two feet. Not to mention that if they hadn't split up, I would never have had step- and half-siblings, who enrich my life tremendously.

Look, I agree that divorce is an evil -- but sometimes it's the lesser of two evils. And I sincerely doubt that the vast majority of people who have faced that choice see it as anything else.

Posted by: laura33 | January 29, 2008 10:18 AM

gchen - yes, agreed, it is such good advice: just accept that sometimes you are uncomfortable and unbalanced. others are too!

good idea, chitty. let's ask meg to write about that for her Guest Blog. and then the following week Britney can weigh on why she is so deranged. and then Jamie Lynn Spears can write about whether she's giving her baby up for adoption. and her mom can tell us how to be a good parent. ah, the questions celebrities never answer!

Posted by: leslie4 | January 29, 2008 10:26 AM

Having been divorced myself, I can attest to the fact that it forms its own circle of hell. The only reason people get divorced is that it is better than staying married. Don't judge someone else's motives or marriage.

This doesn't mean that divorce is not hard on children -- of course it is. But the silver lining, for some kids, is that they see what serious business marriage is, and they develop a healthy respect for making that commitment. We learn as much from our parent's mistakes as we do from the stuff they get right.

Posted by: leslie4 | January 29, 2008 10:28 AM

Or we could have a guest blog from a real person seeking balance who isn't a personal friend of Leslie's or who wasn't published in Mommy Wars (although I think in most cases those people are one and the same.)

Posted by: fake99 | January 29, 2008 10:30 AM

Oops! I just read the end of Page's guest blog, where she says her parents-in-law DO drink alcohol. Well, maybe by talking Page out of bringing along another bottle of wine, their son just didn't want to encourage his folks to drink more than they otherwise would have. Drunkenness tends to reduce inhibitions, and sometimes (especially in a delicate situation like the one described in the guest-blog) that's not such a great idea.

On another aspect of the guest blog: I wonder if a better venue could have been chosen for the meet-up, since everyone but Page was on their own turf. E.g., one couple I knew had their meet-the-kids get-together at a picnic in a nearby state park, i.e., on comparatively neutral territory. FWIW, that marriage lasted over 40 years (till death did them part), and the step-"kids" (now so-called "young-elderly" themselves) are devoted to their elderly stepmother -- not that they don't still miss their late mother, who died young, but they love their stepmother and cherish her for her love for them and their late father.

Posted by: mehitabel | January 29, 2008 10:31 AM

leslie4

"good idea, chitty. let's ask meg to write about that for her Guest Blog"

From YOUR 1/18/08 topic on aging:

"It makes me look kindly on exercise, up-to-date haircuts and even cosmetic surgery as helpful tools -- what seems to matter is how young you look and sound, not necessarily your actual age."

Posted by: chittybangbang | January 29, 2008 10:38 AM

leslie4

"This doesn't mean that divorce is not hard on children -- of course it is. But the silver lining, for some kids, is that they see what serious business marriage is, and they develop a healthy respect for making that commitment. We learn as much from our parent's mistakes as we do from the stuff they get right."

Huh? Any stats on this? Did you learn anything from your parents' divorce and mistakes?

Posted by: chittybangbang | January 29, 2008 10:43 AM

mehitabel -- or maybe the boyfriend was just yanking her chain (at least that's what my DH would have done). :-)

I do like the idea of neutral turf. Meeting the whole fam-damily at once is a lot by itself; meeting them on their turf, and especially at a fairly remote location, is pretty close to my version of hell.

Posted by: laura33 | January 29, 2008 10:43 AM

Yeah, Laura, mine too, because it'd be hard to escape.

Posted by: mehitabel | January 29, 2008 10:50 AM

"Substance abuse is not acceptable"

for richer or poorer, in sickness, in health, till death do you part, unless one of you catches a buzz and this stuff will be all null and void!

Consult cyntiastmancom for exactly what is acceptable or unacceptable in a marriage!

And why Page thought a bottle of wine for geezers pushing 80 would make a decent gift is way beyond me, not to mention how she could be disappointed when she found out they didn't drink. And then to have her boyfriend lie to her and pass it off as a joke...

I think the relationship should remain as friends with benefits to avoid more dtragedy than what's already happened.

Of course, if the geezers have a smoking habit, and they flat out own the lake property, a marriage to Mr Liar could have some financial benefits. :-)

Posted by: GutlessCoward | January 29, 2008 10:57 AM

I learned so much from my parents' 32 year marriage (the happy and sad parts) and their divorce it's hard to measure. Both of my parents continue to teach me -- about what I want and do not want from life.

In terms of stats, a therapist named Elisabeth LaMotte is coming out with a book about divorce and the "silver lining" of witnessing the end of your parents' marriage. The book includes a survey and other research. I'm sure there are more good divorce books too -- but most of what I've read has been doom and gloom about how kids of divorce are screwed up forever. A far too simplistic view that doesn't jive with what I see in my life and others.

LaMotte's book is called The Divorce Dividend and it's coming out this fall. http://www.elisabethlamotte.com/

Posted by: leslie4 | January 29, 2008 11:02 AM

My point is that too many marriages breakdown over resolvable issues. They usually aren't resolved because one spouse doesn't step up to let it get resolved. They'd rather think the other spouse is a martyr than identify with their reasonable issues and work to resolve them. Or when they finally do "step up"; the other spouse has built up so much resentment - it makes it difficult to get resolved. The premise of marriage success is actually quite simple. The execution tends to be made over complicated. I think there are a lot of folks in unhappy marriages and folks unhappily divorced that do not/did not need to be in that scenario with the right type of attitude adjustment by both spouses, proper mentoring, proper re-balancing. Why can't our society work harder to emphasize relationship conflict resolutions? Why can't husband and wives commit to each other and work to make their relationships happy and fulfilling? The main reason for subsequent marriage dissolutions is the failure to successfully achieve a blended family. So what is really achieved by not working at the initial marriage? It is much harder the next time around especially dealing with ex's and step-kids, etc. I've love to see the divorce rate decline in this country. I'd love to see marriage held as sacred.

Posted by: cyntiastmancom | January 29, 2008 11:03 AM

GutlessCoward wrote: "Substance abuse is not acceptable" / for richer or poorer, in sickness, in health, till death do you part, unless one of you catches a buzz and this stuff will be all null and void!

Sorry, but those vows cut two ways, ya know! So it's not just up to the clean-and-sober spouse to have to put up with whatever substance abuse the partner dishes out. The substance-abusing partner's side of the deal is equally to honor the marriage vows, including to quit using (with spouse's moral support). If s/he won't make sufficient effort, that's a form of marital abuse too.

Posted by: mehitabel | January 29, 2008 11:04 AM

Leslie, the word is "gibe," not "jive."

Posted by: mehitabel | January 29, 2008 11:06 AM

Cynthia -- A good point, hypothetically. But sometimes it is naive to stand on the sidelines, not knowing what goes on behind closed doors, and judge someone else's relationship. My question is why do you care whether other people stay married or not? I don't think it's up to you or anyone else to judge what's "resolvable." Live and let live!

This issue hits really close to home because of my own divorce in my 20s. Few people knew that behind closed doors my smart, handsome, Ivy League educated husband was beating me up, holding a gun to my head, threatening to kill our dog, etc. This is an extreme example -- but it galls me that you or someone else might have judged, from outside appearances, that my marriage was "sacred" and worth preserving, when in fact it was life threatening. A few judgmental words from someone on the outside can pressure a person to stay in a relationship that is destructive and dangerous.

Only the two people in the marriage can decide what they will put up with, and when/how to resolve their issues.

Posted by: leslie4 | January 29, 2008 11:09 AM

Oh Mehitabel, thank you! Gibe is a sailing term? Jive is dancing/music? I can never remember the difference. Gotta go check Dictionary.com.

Posted by: leslie4 | January 29, 2008 11:11 AM

"Petty reasons are not good reasons to divorce."

Ditto what Leslie said--it's not for anyone else to say or judge what the "right" versus "wrong" reasons for divorce are. Nobody but the two people involved in a relationship know what's actually going on in that relationship and it's not for anyone else to decide they should have "tried harder." I have had MANY people say to me "Oh, (your ex) is such a great guy and such a great father..." not understanding how I could have walked away from such a prize. Funny, though, I don't see anyone else lining up to claim him despite him being such a great guy.

fake99--I am a regular person who has never laid eyes on Leslie nor been published in her book or anywhere else and she has run my guest blogs 3 times. Apparently many "regular people" aren't willing to write something under their own names. Isn't it then on them to get over it more than it's on Leslie to widen her net?

Posted by: maggielmcg | January 29, 2008 11:11 AM

Substance abuse is not just "getting a buzz" or drinking too much on occassion. It is when it is so serious that it conflicts majorly with the household in a negative manner. Especially over a long period of time. There is a close relative that recently lost their house to foreclosure because their spouse used the money to pay off the drug dealers. The kids are taken around drug dealing people by this spouse. There has been associated physical abuse related to this substance abuse. This spouse does not contribute financially to the raising of the kids and barely gives the children emotional time. Marriage is for "better or worse" and that is why this relative has stayed as long as they have in the marriage... unfortunately there reaches a point where it is detrimental for the children. If this spouse with the drug issues were to reform - that marriage could be revived and even could flourish. Should one stand by and let their children be exposed to danger such as drug dealers, etc. Plus continued to be exposed to unsettled housing conditions due to theft of "family income"? This person did not display this behavior until after marriage and children were born. This is sad. This relative would love the marriage to stay intact especially for the sake of the family.

Posted by: cyntiastmancom | January 29, 2008 11:11 AM

Fred -- Need an update on Frieda. How is she How are you?

Posted by: leslie4 | January 29, 2008 11:12 AM

cyntiastmancom asked: "If this spouse with the drug issues were to reform - that marriage could be revived and even could flourish."

Alas, even if that happens, it can still be too late, if the trust in the marriage has been irreparably destroyed.

Posted by: mehitabel | January 29, 2008 11:24 AM

cyntiastmancom asked: "If this spouse with the drug issues were to reform - that marriage could be revived and even could flourish."

Or the reformed druggie spouse could relapse and OD. Darwinism takes its course.

Posted by: chittybangbang | January 29, 2008 11:31 AM

I really can't imagine getting divorced or raising my daughter with a step parent but all these step family stories are one sided. I actually had a wonderful step father. I truly loved and respected him. Although he never replaced my real father (and never tried), he was definitely a father figure. He developed helped guide me into adulthood. I truly believe kids benefit from having multiple people love and care for them; regardless of blood lines or legal classifications. DH's parents both divorced and remarried. In fact, FIL is set to marry for a third time. My parents both divorced and remarried. So my daughter is blessed to have 9 grandparents. 4 on my side and 5 on his side. Having so many wonderful people to love and watch my daughter grow is a blessing. My father's wife, who is technically my stepmother, has never been a mother type figure. But I can appreciate that she makes my father happy, will take care of him in his old, and is basically friendly to us. Again, I don't think step families are always destined to be bad. There are a lot of variables in the equation. The biggest is probably how the adults handle the relationship and how they expect their children to behave. Just the other side of the story.

Posted by: foamgnome | January 29, 2008 11:41 AM

I meant definitely not developed.

Posted by: foamgnome | January 29, 2008 11:42 AM

I'm glad my mom and dad got divorced. I wasn't at the time, of course... If they hadn't split up, my vision of marriage would have been misery, fighting, and depression; but because they did split up, I got to see, up close and personal, what a solid, happy marriage is between my mom and stepfather. I got to see my mom struggle and work hard and follow her dream and stand on her own two feet.

Posted by: laura | January 29, 2008 10:18 AM

Well said! I consider it a great blessing that my parents divorced AND that I have 4 older siblings whose marriages I got to observe.

My dad's wife #2 was DISASTROUS--she was honestly just a hateful, spiteful, awful person leading a wretched existence, and she impacted everyone around her in significant negative ways. Wife #3 has been such a peacemaker and such a blessing for everyone involved.

My mom has never even dated since the divorce 10 years ago, but she's built herself a strong, independent, happy, fulfilling life without companionship. It's been good for us to see that that's possible.

One of my sisters married a gay guy after dating him for 5 years. 2 years later, (after SEVEN years together, he admitted he was having an affair with a man and they divorced in a traumatic, heart-rending way. She really believed they were soulmates and perfect for each other in every way.

So when I met my husband a year later, and he seemed perfect in every way, I knew time wouldn't really give me any answers. We got engaged after 3 weeks and married 5 months after meeting for the first time. A lot of people thought I was out of my mind, esp given that I was only 22 and he was only 25, but it was perfect for us. 5 blissful years later, we're one of the happiest couples anybody knows.

I guess the point is, you have to marry the right person, and the circumstances don't honestly matter that much. If you marry the wrong person, no amount of effort on your part can fix it, and no number of good circumstances can make it bearable. And I got to observe these things numerous times within my own family, and I'm really grateful.

Posted by: newslinks1 | January 29, 2008 11:51 AM

Hey y'all

Frieda is much better this am! I was up at 5 a.m. playing nurse and then off to work for the first time in 8 days. (the days I wasn't sick or nursing, I did telecommute.)

Not meaning to disrespect anyone writing here today but this week is our 32nd wedding anniversary! Seems like it was only 32 seconds ago (or 32 centuries, I forget which one.)

Posted by: Fred | January 29, 2008 11:56 AM

Congrats, Frieda and Fred! And I'm glad to read that Frieda's already doing well enough that she can stay home without your (ahem!) skilled nursing attentions.

Posted by: mehitabel | January 29, 2008 11:59 AM

Gee, newslinks, from the wisdom of your 27 years on this planet and 5 spare years of marriage, you think you can preach to people? Get over yourself!!

Posted by: wtf | January 29, 2008 12:00 PM

woo hoo Fred and Frieda! 32 years..woo hoo! I've been thinking of both of you at odd times. Of course, there is happiness to hear Frieda is doing better. And Fred, I bet you didn't 'play' nurse. Indeed, I expect you were awesome!

On today's topic: my husband encouraged his parents to divorce after 49 years of marriage. Yep, 49 years of misery for the entire family. The only time I ever saw them happy together was at our wedding. One was a martyr and the other was fooling around to beat the band. Now, they are both happier, though one is still a martyr and the other is happily married again. They never should have married, though they claim that is what people did in 1950: get married right away with whomever was at hand. As a couple, they never even considered the concept of balance in any life decision. It was always what was expected, not what they truly wanted or desired in find in life.

Posted by: dotted_1 | January 29, 2008 12:32 PM

Clearly my point was that I was learning from the MANY marriages I've observed, NOT preaching about my own. The point was that lots of people are happy or miserable in lots of different circumstances, and good for them!

as a side note, I think the vast majority of both unhappy marriages AND divorces could be prevented by premarital counseling.

Posted by: newslinks1 | January 29, 2008 12:44 PM

dotted: yeah, I see that happening - I see my sister who says things like: well, that's what you do (when she said she wanted kids...). You're just supposed to get married, buy a house in the suburbs and have kids. All of which is making her miserable since she married whoever was available at the time (I think she thought she was getting older, she wanted kids, etc).

It's terrible to see and horrible to watch three innocent kids grow up like that. But it's her life and what she is choosing. Many family members keep saying how tough a time she's having - and I know it *is* tough, but she is choosing that life every day.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | January 29, 2008 12:53 PM

newslinks1

"as a side note, I think the vast majority of both unhappy marriages AND divorces could be prevented by premarital counseling.


Do the stats support this opinion?

Posted by: chittybangbang | January 29, 2008 12:54 PM

Wrong again newslinks.

Married With Problems? Therapy May Not Help

By Susan Gilbert
Published: April 19, 2005 (NYT)

Each year, hundreds of thousands of couples go into counseling in an effort to save their troubled relationships.

But does marital therapy work? Not nearly as well as it should, researchers say. Two years after ending counseling, studies find, 25 percent of couples are worse off than they were when they started, and after four years, up to 38 percent are divorced.

Posted by: wtf | January 29, 2008 1:03 PM

as a side note, I think the vast majority of both unhappy marriages AND divorces could be prevented by offering couples a learner's permit. They do that with driver's licenses, why not marriage licenses?

Or maybe better yet, do it like fishing licenses and just renew it every year.

Or perhaps we could offer 15, 20, and 30 year plans like the mortgage companies do. After all, a marriage isn't anything more than a contract, so let's just treat it like one.

Posted by: GutlessCoward | January 29, 2008 1:05 PM

pre-marital counseling stats:

http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/opre/strengthen/serv_delivery/reports/systematic_rev/sys_toc.html

limited stats available. the above study conducted by U.S. Dept of Health and Human Services claims that "relationship programs", pre-marital programs included among others, reduce divorce rates by 30%.

http://www.aamft.org/Press_Room/Press_releases/marriages.asp

the above press release from the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (obviously NOT an unbiased source)
includes the following:
Recently, clergy of diverse faiths joined civil servants and community groups in many cities to form community marriage policies or covenants. Under these collaborative plans, clergy, magistrates, judges, etc. agree that couples seeking to be married must complete some sort of premarital education program before the ceremony. Distraught with the number of divorces in his town--68 for every 100 marriages--District Court Judge James Sheridan of Lenawee County, Michigan worked hard to institute the first community marriage policy in the U.S. Without marriage preparation classes, couples in Lenawee can get a marriage license, but they'll be hard-pressed to find someone to marry them. Mike McManus, a syndicated columnist and founder of Marriage Savers, has been a crusader of sorts for community marriage covenants. He believes that many churches have not used the access they have to couples to prepare them for marriage, saying some are just "blessing machines or wedding factories." So he has convinced clergy in 64 cities to sign pledges calling for marriage preparation involving premarital assessment inventories and the use of trained "mentor" couples to work with engaged or newlywed couples.

According to McManus, the results of community marriage policies are "extraordinary." In Modesto, California, the divorce rate dropped 40 percent between 1986 and 1996. Other cities cite reductions in the number of divorces as well. Peoria, Illinois experienced a 18.6 percent drop in the divorce rate from 1991-1995; Montgomery, Alabama's divorces dropped by 12 percent from 1993 to 1995; and Albany, Georgia had similar reductions of 11.5 percent from 1993 to 1995. Although these statistics are promising, they account for divorce rates and population growth, but not the number of marriages.

Posted by: newslinks1 | January 29, 2008 1:08 PM

"Married With Problems? Therapy May Not Help"

That was EXACTLY my point! If you marry the wrong person, I think mostly you're just screwed. which is why you go for PRE-MARITAL counseling, then you call off the wedding if you're clearly unsuited for each other!

Posted by: newslinks1 | January 29, 2008 1:10 PM

Most marriage counselors just teach couples a bunch of psyco-babble, take your money, and ask you to come back next week. After you've been milked, they will offer you the business card of their favorite lawyer where they receive commissions from each reference.

The best counselors work for free - family, friends, and even people you meet over the internet.

Posted by: GutlessCoward | January 29, 2008 1:14 PM

Marriage Therapy is an issue. Excellent point! There are plenty of counselors around... but there aren't many of the mentality for working to SAVE your marriage. They are just there to listen and provide a forum for communication. While that may be better than no counseling - a lot of time it does not help get the root problems resolved. The good counselors will dig into what the real marriage problems are and help get them resolved. Marriage mentors holding wifes and husbands accountable for their behavior would help. Marriage Savers is a great group (please google for one in your area). Marriage takes work and nurturing and a great attitude and sometimes a great sense of humor. It takes empathy. It takes compassion. It takes putting someone elses needs above your own. It also takes balance - where both spouses give to each other. It is surprising how many people take unresolve CHILDHOOD issues into their marriages and they come out clear and ugly (these issues) after many years of marriage.

Pre-marriage counseling (proper and extensive) can absolutely help identify the compability of two people plus help the two realize what is involved in sustaining a lasting relationship.

I'd love to be in Fred's shoes and celebrating 32 years of overall happy marriage. I'm jealous. God Bless you Fred.

Posted by: cyntiastmancom | January 29, 2008 1:16 PM

newslinks1

"That was EXACTLY my point! If you marry the wrong person, I think mostly you're just screwed. which is why you go for PRE-MARITAL counseling, then you call off the wedding if you're clearly unsuited for each other!"

How many weddings are called off because of pre-marital counseling?

Does it make any difference if the counseling is "mandatory"?

Posted by: chittybangbang | January 29, 2008 1:17 PM

Gutless Coward

"as a side note, I think the vast majority of both unhappy marriages AND divorces could be prevented by offering couples a learner's permit. They do that with driver's licenses, why not marriage licenses?

Or maybe better yet, do it like fishing licenses and just renew it every year."

The yearly renewal routine (dinner & gift & sex) would help would stimulate the economy!

Posted by: chittybangbang | January 29, 2008 1:21 PM

Leslie4 posted:

This issue hits really close to home because of my own divorce in my 20s. Few people knew that behind closed doors my smart, handsome, Ivy League educated husband was beating me up, holding a gun to my head, threatening to kill our dog, etc. This is an extreme example -- but it galls me that you or someone else might have judged, from outside appearances, that my marriage was "sacred" and worth preserving, when in fact it was life threatening. A few judgmental words from someone on the outside can pressure a person to stay in a relationship that is destructive and dangerous.


Leslie - SURELY - if your life was in danger - NO ONE would pursuade you to stay in the marriage. NEVER!! I am so sorry you were exposed to such abuse.

My points are related to PETTY things. Your marriage issues were NOT PETTY.
PETTY is not helping to clean the house or being upset with your wife because she is tired from being up with the baby all night... too many divorces happen over these kinds of petty issues.

Posted by: cyntiastmancom | January 29, 2008 1:26 PM

I think it would be pretty great if couples about to marry had to get a license, were read a miranda-type warning about how awful divorce is, and were forced to sign a prenup so neither party could hold the other hostage.

But in this country we let adults, male and female, make our own mistakes. This is the good news and the bad news.

In lots of ways I think it is just luck if you marry someone you are compatible to. So Newslinks, you may live happily every after (I sure hope so) but it might be pure chance.

Congrats Fred and Frieda! 32 years. Woo hoo!

Posted by: leslie4 | January 29, 2008 1:28 PM

off topic to Fred:

Fred, sometimes you misspell Frieda as "Fredia" and I think it's SO incredibly cute. :)

Best wishes for a speedy recovery for Frieda!

Posted by: newslinks1 | January 29, 2008 1:35 PM

Even cleaning the house can be a pretty big issue, when it is a symptom of something bigger, like chronic inconsideration or selfishness. If a married couple cannot find a way to work out the daily trivial things, like housework, childcare, etc. in a manner that is livable to both of them, then these trivial things quickly morph into life altering problems that may, indeed, end in divorce. I see the trivial things not as the cause of divorce, but rather as symptoms of more serious problems. I don't think I could be married to a man who day after day, let me do the bulk of the housework or who did not participate in the child care, or who ignored me or the kids, or who chronically put his needs above those of the family. To me, these things are not trivial at all.

Posted by: emily111 | January 29, 2008 1:38 PM

Fred: Glad Frieda is doing better. Congrats on your anniversary. Wow, 32 years!

Posted by: foamgnome | January 29, 2008 1:43 PM

cyntia -- thanks for the clarification. i agree with you totally about the petty things. but unfortunately, when you or anyone else makes a statement that "marriage is sacred" some people, particularly those trapped or pressured in a bad marriage, might misinterpret them.

our country is so pro-marriage that believe it or not lots and lots of people told me -- and still tell me -- that the problems were my fault and that i should have fixed them because marriage is "sacred" and divorce is evil.

Posted by: leslie4 | January 29, 2008 1:53 PM

Thanks for the good wishes.

I attribute our 32 years of uninterruped martial bliss to a lot of tolerance on the part of my beautiful wife and the fact that I regularly clean the toilets--without being asked!

Posted by: Fred | January 29, 2008 2:05 PM

Fred, it's amazing how much a little good-natured toilet-cleaning helps, isn't it? :-) Congratulations!

Posted by: laura33 | January 29, 2008 2:15 PM

Congrats Fred and Frieda,
32 years of relative happiness is quite an accomplishment. Kudos to you.

Leslie,
I am appalled that people would blame you for leaving your first marriage. Having been divorced myself, I would never judge anyone, but I especially think that you and people in your situation have a responsibility to save themselves and should indeed jump ship when there is abuse.

I really think divorce is a wonderful thing in our society. It allows people a second change at happiness, or at least, an exit from a bad marriage. Even if the reasons are not as compelling as abuse, divorce is sometimes necessary. As much as I abhor the idea of people staying in a dangerous situation, I also abhor the idea of condeming yourself to years of quiet desperation in a marriage that is not quite awful, but less than happy. Especially if no children are involved. In the case of children, I can see why people make the choice to stay in marriage purgatory for some years, until the kids grow up. But if no kids are involved, I don't get it. Maybe it's because I am not religious. Plus, to me, a marriage is not sacred unless both parties make a concerted effort to behave in a way that makes it sacred. If not, then all bets are off to me.

Posted by: emily111 | January 29, 2008 2:19 PM

Emily - I agree, and it's refreshing to hear you say "divorce is a wonderful thing." we hear so much negative, shaming kind of things about divorce, and it can get to you.

Whenever someone tells me they are getting divorced, I quietly say "Congratulations." Because I figure if they've gotten to that stage, that's what they need to hear.

One of the best things anyone ever said to me when I was getting divorced was, "In a year, you won't believe how much better you'll feel." It was like a lifeline to the future. And she was right.

Posted by: leslie4 | January 29, 2008 3:41 PM

I don't have a lot to add to this since my parents have been married for 43 years and mine is still going strong. I will say, that I once worked with a woman who was divorced and had a son who was 10. She was comitted to not dating until her son was out of the house. I thought that was pretty decent and amazing of her. While it is not true of everyone who is divorced and dating, I do think it can be difficult to bring other adults into and out of a child's life at that kind of intimate "dating" family level. It is different than a family friend who moves or with whom you have a falling out. I wonder what children of divorce have to say about "dating" step parents?

Posted by: moxiemom1 | January 29, 2008 4:28 PM

"My points are related to PETTY things. Your marriage issues were NOT PETTY"

Right, but isn't the point that as an outsider, you don't know what is really going on? You may condemn someone for getting divorced because you think it's over something petty, and meanwhile there may be very serious problems that you simply are not privy to. It's fine to generalize about how marriages can be saved, but when it comes down to it none of us knows what is going on in someone elses' marriage, and those generalizations lose their meaning pretty quickly.

Posted by: LizaBean | January 29, 2008 5:32 PM

Fred & Frieda - congratulations on both peices of news!! Thinking lots of warm thoughts for you both.

On marriage counseling - I've seen some couples get some pretty crappy counseling, so I am not surprised by the stats quoted earlier. However, my hsuband and I went for counseling a year ago when we were both struggling with things and had begun to feel distanced from each other and it did wonders for us both. Our counselor did not just listen, nor did he take sides and act like a referree - which I think can just perpetuate the conflicts and resentments. Our counselor helped us both see how our own thoughts and reactions affected our happiness and helped us both work on taking responsibility for ourselves and our marriage. If you can find somebody good, it can be a wonderful thing.

Posted by: LizaBean | January 29, 2008 5:43 PM

Posted by Leslie for Page Evans (who experienced technical problems:

"Reading all these comments has been very interesting and enlightening.

I am not a proponent of divorce, but those of us who have been through it know it was necessary and not based on "petty issues." I honestly believe that a happy, fulfilled parent is a better parent. Of course I thought about staying in the unhappy marriage for the sake of the kids. But in the end, children in unhappy marriages also suffer. That said, children of unhappy divorces suffer even more than those from unhappy marriages. For my former husband and me, it was important to have a "good divorce." And I believe we have that. We respect each other as co-parents and we respect each other's choices in significant others.

But we also know it's important not to let our children become attached to someone we're not serious about. That's why my children did not meet DB until we'd been seeing each other for six months. And even now, after a year and a half of being together, we would never sleep over at the other's house when children are there.

One comment I read congratulated a mother for her commitment not to date until her children were grown. I don't think this would be in anyone's best interest. Everyone deserves to be happy and loved. And children, in my opinion, are be better off witnessing (after an appropriate amount of time) a happy and healthy adult relationship.

Staying in such a relationship takes work--and love. And I agree with the comments on pre-marital counseling. Given the statistics on second marriages, one would not want to make the same mistake twice. But I think truly loving and respecting your partner provides a solid foundation for a lasting relationship, however complicated it may be. A sense of humor also helps!"

Posted by: leslie4 | January 29, 2008 7:06 PM

"One of the best things anyone ever said to me when I was getting divorced was, "In a year, you won't believe how much better you'll feel." It was like a lifeline to the future. And she was right."

So true. The year I got divorced from my first husband felt pretty dismal, and I too, felt very ashamed of it, even though it was clearly the right thing to do. Luckily, my mother was very supportive. I have a friend from high school who also got a divorced when she was pretty young. She told me later that she felt very embarrassed when she told my mother about it (they were our neighbors for years, so the family connection is strong), but that she immediately felt better when my mother told her something to the effect "Good for you, you're young and deserve to be happy, so best to get this over with and get on with living a good life." In a way, it's kind of strange, because we are hispanic, and I have seen myriad family and friends stay in bad marriages for years because divorce is so taboo in our culture. Some of these marriages have mellowed over the years, and seem to have gotten better in old age. Others are marriages in name only, where one spouse (the husbands) have pretty much abandoned their wives in every way except legally. And some marriages remain cesspools of resentment and bitterness, even now. To me, divorce seems great in comparison to some of these situations. So divorce, to me, does not always seem like such a bad thing. In fact, I am very grateful for it, because without it, I might today be in the same cesspool of bitterness that I deplore in some marriages that I have seen. Thank goodness that we have choices in our society, and that divorce is readily available to those who want it.

Posted by: emily111 | January 29, 2008 8:27 PM

Both my DH and I entered into our first marriages in good faith and with all intents of being with our spouse forever. Unfortunately, neither of us picked mates who were a good match, for a variety of reasons, some "petty," some not. We were both looking for security and thought we needed a partner to acheive that.

The only difference in our stories is that he has a child from that union, and I do not. Now we have a DD together, and are working on our "blended" family. It's not easy, and I guess most folks would say it's not ideal. But it's life, and we're both grateful we found a second chance at marital happiness. It isn't all negative...for example, his DD would never have had a sibling but for our marriage (yes I know they're technically only half-siblings but we don't make such a distinction). His DD doesn't have to grow up in a home with roommates for parents.

I'd classify our story as a positive one for the fact that not all divorce situations end in misery. I'm not one to quite Dr. Phil, but I do think the idea that "it's better to be FROM a broken home, than IN one" has merit.

It's easy to sit back and armchair quarterback the relationships of others. But I don't have to live their lives, so I will never presume to tell them who they should and shouldn't spend time with, regardless of whether kids are involved or not. I do think divorce should be a last resort though.

Posted by: hockeyfan1 | January 30, 2008 11:05 AM

So sorry I missed the discussion, I was away from the computer yesterday.
Especially if you marry young (as I did - I was 24), you and your partner can grow in different directions and, all of a sudden, the marriage stopped making sense for a long while and you find yourself still aboard. There is no abuse, no fighting, no big issues, really. You still care about the other person, there is some tenderness, but that's it. It's perhaps the most difficult situation to break, because you don't have any strong reason to present to your close ones or even to your partner - except that you're slowly giving up on yourself and you feel that life is draining from you and you're not even thirty.
Though I considered staying for the sake of my 3 YO, I just couldn't. Eight years after, I'm so glad I didn't. I remarried, my ex remarried, we get along just fine, our son has new siblings (half-brothers & sisters and step-brothers) and has grown into a much more relaxed and self-confident kid than he was before. Our kinds have a way of reading our souls, they see right through us no matter how little they are. I believe in teaching them by example that there is a balance to strike between avoiding hurting other people's feelings and pursuing our vital need to be happy.
BTW, blended families just require a higher degree of balance. Just because some folks are not up to the task (were they up to it in the original, no-blended family?), let's not assume it's mission impossible or, as Leslie said, that "kids of divorce are screwed up forever". I live with three blossoming examples that they are not indeed.

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