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Must You Really Get Divorced?

By Jed Abraham

You're stuck in a traffic jam on the way to work, trying to focus on the details of an upcoming project. As your stomach churns at the delay, the thought pops into your mind: "Why did she do that last night?" You fume, and you don't get back to thinking about the project until you plunge into the office 15 minutes late for a meeting.

Your two-week vacation time is looming, but you don't feel like going anywhere. Not anywhere with your wife, that is. You hate yourself for feeling that way.

You worry about your household budget. Your wife is spending way too much, and she doesn't care that things are tight. She digs you for not doing better. All your friends seem to be thriving, but you're stuck.

You've lost your edge. You don't take risks anymore. Your humor is hollow, you tire easily, you feel like a little boy who's lost in the woods.

Your kids act up a lot and your wife has no patience. She whacks them now and then, and she blames you for not spending more time with them.

Your marriage is breaking down, and you're not sure you want it to go any other way.

Even when you were dating your wife, there were times when you didn't feel comfortable with her, when you weren't interested in what she was saying, when you didn't want to do what she wanted to do. But you faked it, you made as if you were paying close attention, as if you were happy to be with her. You faked it because you liked her looks and her verve and overall you thought she was right for you.

Now, you can't fake it anymore. The things you didn't like then, you still don't like, only more so.

You think you've made a big mistake. The biggest mistake of your life.

Some of your friends are divorced. You used to feel sorry for them. You used to feel superior. You thought they failed. You never thought it could happen to you.

Stop right there. It doesn't have to happen to you.

Divorce is a disease. It starts with an infection, an irritation in your mate's personality. You actually catch it before you marry, but then your immune system is at full strength and it suppresses the symptoms. The things that irk you now about your wife irked you then too, but then you were able to overlook them. Now, your immune system is tired, and the infection has broken through.

So, the first thing you have to understand about divorce is that she may not have changed; but you have. It follows, therefore, that, whether she has changed or not, the problem, at least partially, is yours. The problem is that you have forgotten-or perhaps you never really knew-why you married. When you dated, you focused on the usual points: good looks, personality, sex. You pictured the two of you together and you seemed to match. You felt she complemented you, she showed the world who you were.

The problem is you were focused almost entirely on you. You started off as the center of your circle. And you stayed there. You didn't realize that when you marry, you must vacate the center of your circle. When you marry, you must become, perhaps for the first time in your life, a provider for others-for your wife, for the children, and ultimately for the ideals that, deep down within, you stand for. Your ambition can no longer be solely to make yourself great; it must be, first and foremost, to provide for the welfare of your family and to be an ethical model for them. You can be the nicest guy in town, but if you don't understand that in marriage you work for others, your marriage will fail, even if it doesn't formally end in divorce.

Working for your family is not limited to making money. It includes mentoring and making time for them. It's for this reason that the family is the cornerstone of society. It is from living in a family that a man learns to care for others and to invest in the future of his folk.

So if you're not getting along with your wife, ask yourself: for whom am I working. If it's first and foremost for you, then you still have time to change. Even if your wife is self-centered, too, your change may yet effect her change. Divorce, however, will just deprive you of precisely the kind of chance to grow that you so desperately need.

But if you're already doing the right thing, if you've got your priorities straight but your wife is ungrateful and unkind, you're still not necessarily a candidate for divorce. Remember your kids. Even if you're a prince and she's a toad, to your kids she's still their mom. In divorce, they will almost certainly lose one of you. Don't think they'll appreciate your very adult reasons for doing that to them.

But you will protest: should I have to endure a less-than-thrilling marriage, should I have to give up my personal fulfillment just so my kids can live in a house with two incompatible parents?

The answer is: yes, if you can thereby work for them better. So, unless your wife has so upended you that you can no longer function optimally as a provider and mentor, and your divisions are destabilizing your children, try to see it through until the kids are out of the house. You may want to keep in mind that second marriages are even less stable than first ones, and if your wife is at least doing her share as a mother and still needs you in bed once in a while, you're probably ahead of the game.

Of course, your wife will likely file first and relieve you of all responsibility. Then, lucky man, you'll face the joys of alimony, child support and noncustodial parenthood.

Then the court will tell you for whom you are working.

Jed Abraham is a lawyer in Evanston, IL and the author of:
From Courtship to Courtroom.

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