The elephant in the room
By mutual agreement, my wife and I are getting a divorce—the issue is timing. Our youngest child will graduate from high school this year and heads to college out-of-state in August. My wife wants to file for divorce after our daughter goes away and is preoccupied with her new life. I want to end the charade we’ve been living in for the last three years and tell our daughter about the divorce sooner rather than later. My preference is to tell her right after her graduation festivities are complete. What do you think?
You’ve made peace with the death of your marriage, but you’re wondering about your daughter’s mourning process? If she’s like most teens, she can see that the thinning thread of an old love is all that holds you and your wife together. The right moment for the conversation depends on your daughter’s maturity. If she is primarily selfish, all she will care about is how the dissolution affects her. If she has been raised to take care of either or both of her parent’s emotional lives, she will mother either or both. If she has been permitted to become her own person, taught to speak respectfully but honestly to adults and raised to understand that relationships are richly complex, living entities, she will experience a mixture of grief, relief, curiosity and hope.
Your daughter’s grief will be the natural response to a loss. Her relief will be a healthy response to the end of the game of pretend. Here’s why: An unhappy marriage in which parents have already secretly opted for divorce evokes the proverbial elephant in the room, and the mutual denial of that elephant. When you clue her in to the divorce, she will be free of pretending that romantic love is alive between you and your wife. She will have permission to see and live the reality that relationships change as we do. Your daughter’s curiosity about what comes next—for herself, for each of you—will be the sign that deep healing is underway. She will understand that she is stepping into a new experience of family that will look and feel substantially different than what she has known. She will view this with a willingness to live in the present while leaning into a future she cannot quite see but welcomes nonetheless. And your honesty about the divorce, with an age-appropriate, drama-free explanation of why the marriage fell apart, will give her hope that her romantic choices need not mimic yours.
One last thing: I’m grateful that you didn’t insist that you and your wife have remained together for your daughter’s sake. The martyr marriage, popularized in the 20th century, is rarely a wise choice today.
I’m sick of my wife’s pessimism. I avoid her by working a lot and playing golf. It feels like I’m protecting myself from a virus. I’ve tried talking to her but it doesn’t help. She wants to have kids but I don’t until she changes. Any suggestions?
Depression, burnout, perfectionism—these are a few of the spiritual crossroads that inspire symptoms like a pessimistic attitude. Avoiding your wife won’t solve the problem. The old adage “What you resist, persists” can be true for individuals as well as for those committed by vows. Encourage your wife to seek spiritual direction or to see a competent health practitioner to explore the obstacles to her true happiness.