THE BLOG

Hell At Home

11/17/2011 09:02 am ET
  • Susan Madrak An ex-journalist keeps a jaundiced eye on the media.

This Sonny Landreth song reminds me of something that's been on my mind lately - couples staying together "for the children."

I'm not even talking about the ones who seem to get along on the surface but live in such quiet desperation and resignation; there's too many of those to count. No, I'm thinking about a handful of friends and acquaintances who stay in openly toxic situations to maintain a certain lifestyle. And you know what? If I'd been able to rationalize it, I'd still be one of them. As it is, I stayed married years longer than I should, just to keep my washer and dryer.

I wonder if this "sacrifice" is really such a good deal for the kids, though. Some of these couples barely even speak to each other, and then only with contempt; one husband I know isn't allowed to watch TV in the same room with his wife.

The thing that finally pried me loose from the washer and dryer was when my therapist said to me, "The most important task you have as a parent is to show your kids what a healthy male-female relationship looks like. Do you think you're doing that?" Well, I couldn't say yes, and once I admitted it, there was no going back. It took me a while longer to work up my courage, but finally we split up and went our separate ways.

I'll never know exactly what the divorce did to my grown kids, or how it still affects them. (They don't talk about it, so that tells me a lot.) But I know how it felt from my end. Telling your kids you're getting a divorce is like strapping the people you love most in the world into their seat belts and then driving the car into a brick wall on purpose. There's no life experience that really compares.

And while I think ultimately the divorce was best, the resulting financial insecurity has deeply scarred both my sons. I still believe children can adapt to a somewhat scaled-down lifestyle more easily than parents think, but the other extreme isn't good, either. Having the utilities shut off on a regular basis can be pretty stressful. Divorces probably work better for the kids when the parents soon remarry - especially women, whose financial status often plummets after divorce. God knows, mine did.

I didn't get married again, and I don't expect I ever will. The odds against a woman as strong-willed as me finding someone I can successfully live with are nigh on astronomical. That used to bother me, but now it doesn't - because I finally admitted to myself that, all things considered, I'd rather have absolute independence and autonomy. Maybe that makes me selfish - or, as one friend joked, "Maybe that just makes you a guy."

It comes down to the different life paths we choose, and there's no way of knowing which one's best. My in-laws were consistently mean and nasty to each other, but when they both grew old and feeble, they finally surprised everyone by becoming kind and considerate. (Hey, if you want to wait until your eighties, maybe that'll happen with your rotten marriage, too.)

These sad marriages remind me of this Bruce Robison song, "Angry All The Time":

You ain't the only one/ Who feels like this world left you far behind/ I don't know why you gotta be/Angry all the time.

Despite my independent ways, I'm still a romantic at heart. That's why I'd rather be alone than live with someone without love.

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