| Family Reflections |

Escape Fantasies

Closing the escape hatch can make your marriage flourish


When the going gets tough, you may want to flee. But closing the escape hatch can make your marriage flourish

Yossi didn’t understand his wife. “She accuses me of intentionally doing things the wrong way just to annoy her! She thinks I don’t care about her. She tells me that straight out! If it wasn’t for the kids, I’d be out of here.”

Yossi is in good company. Many people are so frustrated with their spouse’s behavior that they wish they could just get up and leave. Blimi, mother of four, also wants out: “Yonason thinks he’s single. Good. Let him be single! He comes and goes as he pleases, and I’m stuck here with the children, trapped in the house. So you know what? I’d rather be on my own. If it wasn’t for the children, I’d leave him in a heartbeat.”

If It Wasn’t for the Kids

Many people have moments — or longer — when they want out. They’re angry, hurting, disappointed, and depressed about the quality of their marriage. They want a fresh start with someone new — someone more normal and kind, someone more “right” for them.

But then there are the kids. What would divorce do to them? Some have seen divorce up close: Maybe they went through it as children and never, ever want their own kids to experience the pain and struggle that they did. Some have siblings or friends who’ve ended marriages; they’ve seen youngsters who’ve “fallen between the cracks,” who got derailed when the marriage got derailed.

Others have learned from books, therapists, or other sources that while some children may turn out just fine post-divorce, others may develop social, academic, or mental health problems. Many people who worry about the effect of divorce on their children just can’t see taking a chance no matter how unhappy they feel in their marriage.

This fear for the children’s welfare isn’t necessarily a bad thing. When people lose this concern, coming to believe that divorce will be as good for the kids as it will be for the adults involved, more families split up. Indeed, the high divorce rate in the world at large could only have happened in a culture that wanted to believe that a happily divorced parent was sure to produce happier, more well-adjusted children than a miserably married one.

Unfortunately, research still shows — after decades of high divorce rates — that children of divorce are more likely to experience psychological, behavioral, academic, and social problems than children from intact households. People who worry about these consequences often stay married “for the sake of the children.” But how can this be a good thing?

No Escape

Adults who feel they need to stay married don’t usually feel they need to stay miserable. In fact, because they’ve closed the escape hatch, they’re often intensely motivated to improve the marriage. Although they may still end up with a less-than-perfect relationship after years of counseling and/or conscious effort, they gain far more than just an intact family life (which, on its own, brings many benefits to both them and their children).

Negotiating the challenges, disappointments, and victories of a committed marriage contributes to maturity, personal growth, and personal satisfaction. Although the divorce journey can yield these latter benefits as well, it often does so with the cost of greater pain and risk.

In the Midst of the Storm

During a marital crisis, it’s hard to keep these facts in mind. A painful argument injures the heart and clouds the brain. At such times, the escape fantasy comes to the rescue again: “Why do I need to put up with this? Look at my friend Shira who remarried a wonderful man after leaving her husband. She and her kids are thriving! That could be us!”

Yes, except that Shira’s ex-husband was an abusive man who abandoned his family after the divorce. She and her kids were free from fear and suffering with no need to have further contact with a disturbed man. Divorce in such a situation brings health and well-being to survivors, with or without remarriage.

People in normal marriages (with normal types and frequency of misunderstandings, conflicts, losses, upsets, and pain) aren’t facing the same divorce as those whose marital situation is untenable.

Instead of fantasizing about divorce, this latter group would do better to strengthen and encourage themselves with the reminder that they can recover from this particular conflict, continue to improve themselves and the marriage, and go on to build the holy edifice that they signed on for: the bayis ne’eman b’Yisrael.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 751)

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