It’s not rare that I talk to couples whose emptiness and fear have led to their being in a constant state of battle. Although they alternately attack and withdraw without end, they really don’t want to live that way. They simply don’t know another way to live.
Marcia, for example, called me one day and described the battlefield of her marriage, adding, “I don’t want a divorce. I don’t want to live with him anymore, but I think we should stay together for the kids.”
“Staying together for the kids” sounds like a noble sentiment, but the truth is that children are injured more by the ongoing tension of an unhappy marriage than they are by divorce—a conclusion reached by recent psychological studies as well. “Imagine that your entire family is together in a moving car,” I suggested to Marcia. “You might conclude that if the family is to move forward, staying together would be the best outcome, but in your case the car is on fire, so staying together would not be beneficial. You can all get out of the car and discontinue traveling together, or you can learn to put out the fire.”
Divorce is a serious matter, to be carefully avoided wherever possible, but in some cases the couple simply cannot put out the fire consuming the car in which they are traveling. They cannot imagine getting help, or they cannot imagine a marriage based on the love they need. On those occasions, abandoning the car can sometimes be the best course for everyone involved.