When do you say when?

Being a divorce/custody lawyer certainly opens one’s eyes to the possibilities and depths of despair in the world of relationships.

Once people commit to each other, they form a whole lot of ties that while easy to break in one way, as in, “Get your lame ass out of here,” they’re much harder to break in other ways.

For example, the woman I met last night who hates winter, hates snow, but her child’s father is entrenched here, and she can’t move (with the child) more than 25 miles away from him, thanks to their court order. Or the joint credit card that now has a balance of $20K that you had so much fun running up together, but neither of you can afford to pay it off. Or the mortgage on a house that you just can’t allow to foreclose because you need your credit rating for the next job you want to apply for. These days, a lot of couples are staying together because they can’t afford to live separately in this economy, especially if they have children.

Even women in abusive relationships find it difficult to leave, for many reasons that the average person doesn’t always understand. It’s hard to say “when.” Or in the words of Neil Sedaka, Breaking Up is Hard to Do.

A column at Discovery Health by Coulson Duerksen lists 10 things to consider when you’re trying to make that decision, including the existence of mutual benefit, avoidance and an imbalance of participation/contribution.

Even Oprah.com weighs in on this subject.

This being said, anyone who believes that a relationship will always be happy and unstressed is on better drugs than the rest of us. Ups and downs are a natural part of any relationship, and many factors play into that roller coaster, including seasonal affect problems, past baggage, holiday expectations and the effect of family members on the needs and demands of the relationship.

Those of my readers who have children on the autism spectrum know the demands that special need places on their families. One author says that “Oprah, Jenny McCarthy, and many others cite enormously high divorce rates among parents with autism. Those rates seem to range from 80-90%…” She goes on, as Missy points out, to show that figure to be some mystical number from who knows where–but the fact remains that among the parents of autistic children that I have spoken with in the western PA area and also online, the divorce rate is better than 50%.

That’s huge, my friends.

Considering how much more those children need the support and commitment of their parents, you’d think that would hold the families together. Sadly, the opposite seems to be true.

So many people inch along the border of saying “when,” sublimating their unhappiness for these and other reasons. My nurse-practitioner friend of many years would scold them if she could, sharing one of her favorite sayings, “Life is not a dress rehearsal.” True enough. How much time are these adults willing to waste before moving on, if it’s really time? A month? Six months? A year? Six years?

I’ve had clients dribble away years, waiting. Waiting till the car’s paid off. Waiting till the kids are grown and out of school (which might actually be worse on the children: see here). Waiting until…sometimes until their partner dies. Are their own lives really that unimportant that they can afford to choose not to live them?

When do you say when?

10 thoughts on “When do you say when?

  1. Pingback: When do you say when? »coolweather

  2. You may want to qualify that link to the “Oprah, Jenny Mc,” thing, since the post you’re linking to says she can’t find any actual evidence to back up those claims. (My first reaction: “Bwuh?” I can’t think of anyone I know with diagnosed kids who’s gotten a divorce, except for your situation, which has its own unique backstory attached.)

    More on topic, I think people always balance “How unhappy am I in this marriage?” with “How miserable will I be with the accompanying hassles after a divorce?” A friend who recently divorced her husband has been considering it long before we met, but stayed for financial and social reasons (no job, too poor to find her own place with her child, has to move in with her parents) until the first criterion finally outweighed the second. With an unsteady economy, it’s harder to look at options after a divorce for many people.

    So, yeah.

    • Actually an awful lot of the parents of dxed kids in the western PA area are divorced. Maybe it’s in the water. 🙂 but yeah, I’ll check that. THanks.

  3. clearly, this is going to vary widely. one thing to think about: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

    so long as the lower two levels (physiological and safety) are met? i can see that it gets murky very fast… factor in children, and special needs children? there is no black/white. just 256 shades of grey.

    i knew i’d be separating from my husband, somewhere around the 15 year point in our relationship. but it was only for that highest level “self-actualization”. he was/is a good human, we shared values, and were both devoted to raising our two offspring. so i stayed another 10 years before we worked the paperwork (separated the last 5 or so…). economics were never a factor, because we were both well employed.

    when to say when? tough to say…

  4. Waiting until I can support myself. One very important thing was left out in this post… Those who gave up their career to raise their autistic children. My hand is up!

    My marriage failed (I don’t talk too much about that on my blog) but we are living in the same household for the sake of our son (PDD-Nos) since my daughter went off to residential school (profound autism), but getting back into work after almost 15 years out, is a tough thing, especially in a tough market. I’m starting over at 43… but happy about it!

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  6. That’s a really good point, and one I’ve found often. Hard enough for some parents to admit that their child has issues, but when the balance of power between the parents isn’t equal, then there’s a much harder path to the truth. Thanks for your comment!

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