What’s the difference between a dead marriage and a divorce?

A curious week. I’ve been ill and off work, leaving me too much damn time to contemplate and unmotivated to post here until feeling better.

My last post a week ago discussed my new resolution to remain single for the foreseeable. A couple of days after that, I had a remarkably vivid dream which basically was the story of a divorce. Curiously, the woman in the dream bore no resemblance to either of my ex-wives, nor anyone I have ever met. I woke with a deep sadness that I had lost something.

I strongly suspect that my new attitude and the dream are not unconnected, and this has triggered all manner of thoughts.

I have two young children from my second marriage. They stay with me one weekend every fortnight, I continue to contribute financially and am involved with their lives in other broader ways.

Question: What would happen if their mother got run over by a bus? On a personal level, I would not register an emotional flicker, no more than if I read of a death of a stranger in an obituary column. I no longer feel anything, there. However, there would be huge practical implications. Ultimately, the lives of my children would be diminished. Their standard of living would drop. They would have to deal with the death of their mother. My own quality of life would fall too.

Day to day, it’s also still important that she doesn’t self-destruct, keeps on doing her part of the child-rearing of course. The quid pro quo, that it is relevant to her that I stay alive and contributing in various ways, is also true.

In other words, even though we have no emotional connection any more, until our children are independent it remains true that our continuing mutual well-being is of vital importance to each of us. Significant ill-health, other negative life events or in the worst case, death, of either of us would have a bigger impact on the other than such events happening to other people. In practical terms, she remains the most significant person in my life, when you consider the impact her absence would have on me and on my children. Once you have kids, this doesn’t change until they are grown up.

And yet, this person who retains such practical significance, I have no personal investment in any more. I barely see or speak to her these days.

Most of us know of “dead” marriages where a couple stays together “for the kids”. Stripped of emotion, all that is left is the mundane and practical inter-dependence. The thing is, divorce doesn’t really change very much about that, or not if the parent with whom the children do not live continues to contribute to their upbringing and support. My answer to my question in the title is “not a fat lot”. You just don’t live together any more, and both of you are worse off financially. That’s about it. In reality, I’m still in a dead marriage, and the corpse still hangs around, even if we have a different word for it.

I have an extraordinarily low opinion of divorcees who abandon their parental responsibilities. It’s unforgivable. However, I understand why they do it. On forms, it moves the “tick” from the divorced box to the single box. It stops them having any continuing practical significance to their ex-spouse, and for them avoids the conflict of the emotional and the pragmatic. I can see how that is much, much easier, especially if they have a mind to hook up with a new partner (or already have done so). Because the alternative, what I do, is harder. I’m not complaining about that, and won’t change it – just making the observation. Yes, the bottom line is the welfare of your children, but all I am doing there is picking the most important thing and choosing to ignore the other conflicting issues. It is a fool that tries to argue that there is no conflict to ignore.

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2 thoughts on “What’s the difference between a dead marriage and a divorce?

  1. i think when you have kids with someone, you are always a little ‘tied’ to that person because of the kids. so no matter what your feelings, he/she is in your life, an important part because of the kids you share. somehow you gotta try make the ‘changed circumstances’ – friendship – work.

    Liked by 1 person

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