It was a typical Saturday afternoon running errands with both kiddos in the back seat when my 7-year-old, who had been uncharacteristically quiet, asked something that I was totally unprepared for: “Mommy, will you ever get divorced?” I immediately replied, “Of course not, baby! Mommy and Daddy love each other very much. Why would you ask that?” He said some of his school friends’ parents had/were getting divorced, and that he didn’t want that to happen to us. He was scared that we would stop loving each other, and that he would have to move and wouldn’t get to see both of us every day.
I tried to give him an age-appropriate (and brief) explanation of why people get divorced while reassuring him that it would never happen to his daddy and I. He was satisfied with that and moved on to the next topic, but ever since, this conversation has weighed heavy on me. The reason I have been struggling with it is because while what I told him was the truth right now, but it may not be our truth in the future.
Marriage and divorce are extremely complicated concepts that I am intimately acquainted with. I practiced family law for seven years in a prior life and have witnessed the breakdown of many marriages. The causes varied widely, and in many instances, one or both parties still very much loved the other. Love doesn’t always equate to staying married. When people get divorced, the outside world is looking for fault. What caused this? Was he running around? Did she ignore his needs? Did they have money problems? These are all symptoms of a broken marriage, but they are not the absolute causes of divorce.
People would often joke with my husband and ask if he was worried that I would divorce him and take everything. His response was something along the lines of, “You should see the people she deals with on a regular basis. Next to them, I am the perfect spouse.” To some degree, he was right. I bore witness to people who did horrible things to their spouses, and others who walked away from their marriage because they were simply bored of it. I had clients who may have been legally married but never had a “marriage.” It gave me a great deal of perspective and insight into my own relationship, as well as what I needed to do to make it work.
While I have a great respect for the institution of marriage and choose to commit myself to staying married for my lifetime, there are things to me that would be absolute deal-breakers. My marriage isn’t perfect; in fact, I think its pretty normal. We have fights, we have problems, and there are external factors that cause marital strife; however, we work through it. Marriage very much requires that both parties choose to stay committed to one another. Couples are faced with situations every day that can lead them apart or bring them together. Dishonesty, disrespect, infidelity, anger, ambivalence, and abuse will erode away at any marriage. Alternately, honesty, respect, fidelity, laughter, attention, and kindness will build it up. Right now, my husband and I both make the conscious effort to do all of the things to make our marriage strong, and as long as that continues, I see no reason why we would get divorced.
Obviously, this explanation is a bit lengthy for a 7-year-old and most likely beyond his comprehension, but it is the most honest answer I can give him. I cannot promise that his father and I will never get divorced; I can only promise that I will continue to try to build our marriage up as much as I possibly can. No matter what happens to us as a couple has nothing to do with them, and we will both love them immensely no matter what.
At some point, I will have this more high-level conversation with my children so that they understand that marriage isn’t as simple as just loving each other, but for now, I will continue to try to demonstrate what a happy marriage looks like, so they have one less thing to worry about.