What do you do when the love you once shared with your mate disappears — with no apparent possibility of revival — but you adore your children and can’t imagine spending even one day apart from them?
Admittedly, there are no good or easy choices when your marriage as you knew it is over. There are just less bad options.
- Staying miserable in your marriage in the hopes of giving your kids a stable home.
- Working “harder” on the marriage in therapy and convincing yourself that, if you can somehow see your spouse differently, or tap into the part of you that fell in love with him or her, you’ll be fine.
- Having an illicit affair that makes being home seem more tolerable.
- Divorcing and just accepting that, while you can’t see your kids every day, talking to them on a daily basis will be enough.
How Couples End Up At This Crossroads
Maintaining a romantic bond for years on end is challenging. Adding kids to the mix and keeping a romantic connection for the entire length of the relationship is extremely challenging, if not impossible—even with all the great advice books and support resources out there on the topic.
One of the most painful clichés (but, unfortunately, quite common) is that of the spouses who grow apart after having kids. He wants sex, she’s too exhausted; he feels rejected, she’s resentful.
These couples either stick it out and suffer with their pain, or one spouse (or both) decides they don’t want to “do this anymore,” so they split.
But there’s another option that more and more couples are discovering. It’s called a Parenting Marriage and it is pretty much what it sounds like: A non-romantic union centered around raising healthy kids.
Some of you might think, “That’s not what marriage is supposed to be about.” Others might think, “That’s what we already do. How is this different from traditional marriage?”
A Parenting Marriage is different in some significant ways, not the least of which is that it’s a conscious choice the couple makes to stay together to raise healthy kids, not just a holding pattern they fall into.
3 Good Reasons Couples Stay and Suffer in Their Marriages
- They want to avoid having a difficult conversation about their marital blahs for fear of hurting their spouse. Yet, the hurt and devastation caused by not talking (and having the cliché nightmare ending instead) is far worse.
- It’s not socially acceptable to stray from the model of love that lasts forever. In fact, we deem a marriage “successful” by how long it lasts. How ironic that we hold those who have unhappy and unconscious marriages as acceptable or even normal, but would ostracize those who create conscious agreements to change the purpose of their marriage.
- There has never been a map or language to help people stay without shame or feeling like they are not being true to themselves. Until now.
Creating a Parenting Marriage by design rather than by default is like the difference between having your GPS guide you on where to take the next turn so you can focus on the road, versus not having a map and not knowing where you’re headed.
Couples might eventually find a place that feels right in their marriage, but it will be much harder to get there. With this model, spouses can see exactly where they want to go and how to get there.
Is It Really OK to Change Our Marital Terms?
Marriage is changing in so many ways, and the rigid paradigm of Ozzie and Harriet is falling by the wayside at breakneck speed. People are beginning to realize that they have the option to stay single or to get divorced without shame; they have the option to marry later, or marry several times—also without shame. Now, couples are starting to see that they can renegotiate the terms of their marriage—without shame.
While a Parenting Marriage isn’t right for every couple, it’s certainly worth looking into and having a conversation about.
Here are the key elements:
- Both spouses agree and accept—this acceptance is crucial—that the marriage they used to have is over. That is, the love-based relationship has ended.
- Both spouses agree that the primary purpose of their marriage now is to be good co-parents and raise healthy kids in as stable an environment as possible.
- Together, both spouses will tell the kids honestly and openly about the changing nature of the marriage so that they don’t have to wonder. (Note that some couples need a temporary break before implementing the Parenting Marriage—a time-out, if you will. One couple lived apart for 18 months, then came back together with their new agreements in place.)
- Both spouses agree on the terms of their new marriage. Examples include one sleeping upstairs, the other downstairs; agreeing on a schedule of time with the kids; agreeing to separate financial obligations other than those that impact the family (mortgage, insurance payments, etc.); both commit to put the needs of the kids above their own for a finite or infinite amount of time (it’s up to the couple to decide).
For more information on how to consciously convert your Traditional Marriage into a Parenting Marriage, pick up a copy of The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists, and Rebels or visit the website ParentingMarriage.com