‘I Need Help. My Marriage is in Real Trouble!’
This mom gets a wake-up call when her daughter calls her out
I’ve watched parents raise children for 30 years (and raised four of my own), so I know how hard it is.
Here, I share a question that came to me as a pediatrician — as well as my answer to this parent.
Dear Dr. Meg,
I sent my 12-year-old daughter off to school in tears this morning. Her last words to me were, “It’s not that easy seeing the two people you love the most in the world talking to each other with hate.”
That stopped me dead in my tracks. I need help!
I knew our marriage was struggling and was far less than what I believe it should look like, but I never knew it was affecting the children so much. I have thought about divorce many times, but always decide to stay because I don’t want our children to get hurt. I now realize they’re hurting anyway.
Also, I struggle with divorce because of my faith. My husband definitely does not want divorce, and refuses any suggestions that I make about counseling, time apart, etc. To him, the only problems we have are mine. He says if I want to go, then I can; however the kids are staying with him. I feel like I’m a toy of his. I feel heavy when he’s around and I also feel trapped and squashed. I really don’t know what to do! Can you suggest some resources?
You are gaining very important wisdom — marital problems do hurt children — BUT nowhere near as severely as divorce does. You and your husband are the center of your children’s worlds and when you crack, their worlds fall apart. You and your husband are far more important to your children’s mental, physical, and emotional health than they are to yours (and think how important your kids are to you).
You’ve gotten a serious wake-up call and I’m glad. Your daughter gave you a great gift that came in the form of a slap in the face when she left in tears. I know it’s painful, but pain becomes the instigator of transition and learning. Here’s what I encourage you to do.
First, don’t leave your husband. I know you want to, but if you think your daughter is sad now, you can multiply her sadness tenfold if you get divorced. If you doubt me, talk to some adults who lived through divorce — it changes their whole lives. So hang on. Get through this terrible period of marriage. It will get better, but you have some work to do.
Now, to you. You need some help. You say you feel trapped and you can get over these feelings. The best way to begin getting past them is to change the way you see yourself and the way you allow people to treat you. Most women who feel trapped really aren’t. There are exceptions, however, and these should never be tolerated.
These exceptions are: frank physical, mental or sexual abuse from your husband or threats to you or your children. If your husband is fundamentally a good guy but you feel trapped by marriage (or other things — kids, etc.), these are issues that you can change.
Many women feel trapped because they don’t value themselves highly enough and allow others (children and husbands) to treat them poorly. They get into a vicious cycle. They don’t demand respect from loved ones or friends; then those people stomp on them. Then they get mad at those who stomp on them. If this describes you, know this: You can change this and you should. You say you have a faith — good. God does not want you to be stomped on.
For the next two months, try a few things. First, take the focus off your husband as the problem. Think about what you can do to change. Find a good counselor who will give you sound, reasonable advice that lines up with your life philosophy. If you have a strong faith, ask your pastor who he/she recommends you see.
Then, ask that counselor to help you change the way you see yourself. A good counselor will help you be happier in the midst of your troubles. You can feel better and you can have a happier life while you are married.
The truth is most couples bail on marriage (particularly at this stage) because they really believe that life will get better if they leave their spouse. However, problems usually get bigger and follow them wherever they go. What no one tells women is that if you can weather a troubled marriage, work on your own emotional health, you will come through on the other side ten times happier than if you threw the marriage away.
Finally, there is a great marriage program called SYMBIS. It's short for "saving your marriage before it starts." It is actually for married couples. It is by Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott and I encourage you to take a look at it. But first, please focus on the issues that you alone must face in order to get as strong as you can.
I know that you can get through this. You sound like a tough woman.
Dr. Meg Meeker has practiced pediatrics and adolescent medicine for 30 years. She is the author of the online course, "The 12 Principles of Raising Great Kids," part of The Strong Parent Project.