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Why You Might Want To Stay Married

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MIGHT WANT TO STAY MARRIED
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At a restaurant recently, I couldn't help but overhear a conversation between two women sitting at the neighboring table. One was uncertain and disillusioned in her marriage of 20-plus years. She had a lot of complaints about her husband. He wasn't there to defend himself but it seemed as if he couldn't do much of anything the right way. He didn't do his fair share around the house, didn't do enough with the kids, knew exactly when his favorite baseball team was on TV but was clueless when it was Back to School night, and on and on. Her friend, divorced and actively dating, was sympathetic.

It brought me back to a moment seared in my mind: My then-husband and I were in the couples therapist's office trying to understand why our marriage imploded. Suddenly, he glared at me angrily and, pointing his finger, accused me of having to have the bed pillows placed a certain way.

Pillows? We were spending $125 an hour to talk to a therapist about pillows when we clearly had so many other things to talk about -- like his longtime affair?

That was a big "aha" moment. First, I realized our therapist was pretty crappy (she was promptly replaced) and, second, it illuminated how the daily annoyances of living with someone can add up to a lot of anger and resentment and lead you straight to divorce court. Having kids doesn't help the situation, either.

I have no idea if men complain about their wives the way wives complain about their husbands. My guess is that unless she's a total nag or control freak, they don't, especially if she's still relatively fit and attractive, knows how to cook, handles all the kid stuff and still wants to have sex. But the conversation I overheard is a familiar one; in fact, I've heard some variation of it expressed by almost every married woman I know. And it's not that I hang around with a bunch of complainers, either; a few years ago Parenting magazine ran an article by Martha Brockenbrough based on the results of a survey of more than 1,000 moms that detailed just how many of them were ticked off at their husbands. It was called, appropriately, "Mad at Dad." Why are women so angry? Writes Brockenbrough:

"We spend more mental energy on the details of parenting. We're mad that having children has turned our lives upside down much more than theirs. We're mad that these guys, who can manage businesses or keep track of thousands of pieces of sports trivia, can be clueless when it comes to what our kids are eating and what supplies they need for school. And more than anything else, we're mad that they get more time to themselves than we do."

It isn't a happy situation being married and feeling like you don't have an equal partner. But disgruntled spouses need to realize what it's like to not have a partner at all, and getting sympathetic support from friends isn't necessarily helping them see the big picture.

And the big picture looks like this: get divorced and you'll probably still be "mad at dad" while also taking care of everything by yourself -- even the tasks your ex did "wrong." Yes, you'll have everything just the way you want it and be able to call the shots, but you'll also be poorer and a lot more exhausted, mentally and physically. You'll find yourself pondering "lonely" versus "alone." And while there may indeed be someone better "out there" for you, you aren't going to have all that much time to find him, depending on your custody arrangement.

If I sound like a bitter divorcee, well, I'm not. My former husband and I had an amicable divorce, we co-parent well and we're both happier solo. I even found someone better "out there." While I'm certainly not against divorce -- especially since I've done it twice -- it should only be considered if you've exhausted all other ways to keep your marriage together, especially if you have kids.

Instead of sympathy, the disgruntled wife I overheard needed a friend to challenge her -- is her relationship more important than all the niggling things her hubby does to annoy her? "Every annoyance in a relationship is really a two-way street. Partners focus on what they're getting, not on what they're giving," writes Jay Dixit in Psychology Today. "But no matter how frustrating a partner's behavior, your interpretation is the greater part of it. What matters is the meaning you attach to it.

"If you want to stay in a relationship, something needs to change. In all likelihood, it's you."

And it's funny how easily people do change -- after they divorce. Nowadays I often don't even make my bed, let alone put the pillows on it.

A version of this article ran on Mommy Tracked: Managing the Chaos of Modern Motherhood