Marriage, Divorce and Everything In Between

A wise couples’ therapist once said: No matter who you marry, you wind up with someone else.  People change; for that, we should be thankful.  I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t wish my twenty-something self on anyone (including ME).  OK, so we could do without the snoring and lax personal hygiene, but would we really want to be with a partner who believes that he or she is going to live forever or that talking about a problem until 3 in the morning is productive??


I was taken aback when an acquaintance matter-of-factly stated that she was no longer emotionally connected to her husband of four decades.  I was NOT surprised that this happens, but I was surprised that someone I barely knew would disclose this rather casually.  Atypically, I didn’t probe further by asking, what do you mean by that?  I was a bit flabbergasted. To me, not being emotionally connected to your partner is a big deal, an affront to the institution of coupling.

I mentioned this to my husband.  It worried him.  So, one evening at dinner (at a reasonable hour, not 3 am!), he asked if I thought we were emotionally connected. Just the inquiry, connected us emotionally.  We had a thoughtful exchange about what-the heck being emotionally connected means.

Here’s what I came away thinking:  Emotional connection is caring about whether someone is having a good day, feels well enough to perform daily functions, drives on the right side of the road, and is lucid enough to get from point A to point B. 

Maybe you have a higher bar for emotional connection; but, at this stage of life with way more yesterdays than tomorrows (as Bill Clinton is known to say), that is what being connected to my 70-year-old partner boils down to for me.  Perhaps you want to make your own list.

The D-Word

I reckon if you come up empty-handed on the emotional-connection ledger, you might consider the D-word.  Or divorce may not be an option. People marry and divorce for all kinds of reasons.  It seemed like a good idea at the time is the reason I give for just about all my decisions.  Knowing when to hang in and when to bail out is tricky.  The I’m outta here list for some could read: abuse, addiction, infidelity, cluelessness.  For others, the list is longer.  For others, it’s shorter. 

I bailed out of a marriage when I was 40.  Would I have bailed out of that same marriage at age 60?  Can’t say.  Our hard and fast rules (and lists) became fuzzier with the passing years and upon our circumstances.  The cynic in me believes that the tolerance for dissatisfaction is directly related to financial dependence.  The more financially dependent one is on a partner, the higher one’s tolerance for dissatisfaction in a partnership.  This is a general observation; exceptions exist.

Many people stay in a marriage because of kids.  Not a bad idea.  But it may not be a good idea either.  It so depends.  Don’t let anyone tell you differently.  I remember being very concerned about my young adolescent daughter when I was contemplating separating from my then-husband.  I recall trying to sort this out with my therapist and her asking me what kind of role model I wanted to be for my daughter. Did I want to send the message that staying in an unhappy marriage is a good thing?  I took that as permission to leave the marriage.  Now, almost 30 years later, I think that’s B.S. 

Perhaps breaking up our family (regardless of how dysfunctional it was) caused her more pain than having a poor role model.  And who’s to say, I didn’t blow the role model thing in many other ways??  In any case, my point is, looking for someone else to justify your decisions is not wise. 

Do I have regrets for deciding to divorce? Not particularly. Do I wish I had done things differently? You bet. But I did the best I could with the emotional resources and skills I had at the time.  Perhaps the takeaway is grab all the emotional resources you can and hone the skills for some bumpy roads ahead.