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Things Fall Apart

by The Next Family July 26, 2011

By: Meika Rouda

I didn’t think much about getting older, all the cliches about midlife crises and affairs and sports cars and a deep reflection on how happy one is and whether life would be better if(fill in the blank)… So I was blindsided last weekend when one of my closest friends called me in a state of shock saying her husband just told her he didn’t love her and wanted a divorce. This is a happy couple (at least seemingly on the outside) with two beautiful children. They are fun to be with, tender with one another, and compatible in every way –from liking the same books, to agreeing whole heartedly on decorating styles and destinations for vacation. They are a great couple, one of the best, one of the couples other couples wish they could be. And now that is gone and no one is more surprised than my friend who thought she was in a happy marriage. The problems in their marriage as it turns out are not the typical kind, like the stereotypical affair with a younger woman. It is deep-rooted, and started long ago, and has to do with happiness and commitment. It turns out her husband who is also my friend and is someone I love and adore and think the world of, made a mistake. He apparently feels he married the wrong woman and has been secretly pining for a long ago love. The love affair he had with this other woman, fifteen years ago, was tumultuous and short-lived but the feelings he had of intimacy and happiness have held strong in his heart.

This is not the first time I have seen a good friend go through a divorce. I seem to be living the national average, with at least half of my friends having broken up (some amicably, some contentiously). But this one is in a category of its own because it makes me wonder whether we ever really know someone. It makes me think of the work it takes to keep a relationship happy and healthy, and to stay connected to your partner. And most of all it emphasizes the commitments you make when, believing your love warrants an extension in the form of another person, you decide to become parents: that you will give your kids a wonderful life, that being happy is really about being together through the hard times, through the times when you might want to be somewhere else or with someone else. When I think of the innocence of their kids, and that their world is about to implode over something as intangible as degrees of happiness, I wonder about commitment. Consider a couple who stays together despite unhappiness because they want what’s best for the children. Is it better to stay and be unhappy but maintain your nuclear family or to leave and attempt to find happiness?

And how do I tell my son? This couple has two kids –a girl one year older than Kaden and a boy one year younger. They are the three musketeers, besties. He has been around them his whole life.  Now with the pending divorce, they will move back to New York City and the nights of splashing in the tub and dance parties and bike riding are over.  How do we navigate explaining to our kids that our friends just decided not to be married anymore, that one person still loves the other but the other doesn’t love her back? If this couple stays together, even if they do the work and the counseling to love one another again and recommit, will things ever be the same? When things fall apart in families can they ever really be pieced back together or will the cracks remain?

I already miss this family, the dinners and playtime and parenting together. They were the first couple to show us the “it takes a village” philosophy, where we would all divide and conquer and take care of each other’s kids like they were our own. We had so many good times together, and how quickly it all just goes away. I know Kaden will be okay, that he will miss his friends, but he will move on. I hope my friend can also move on, heal herself and learn to love and trust again. It will be a long road; betrayal is an ugly beast to slay, but she is strong and she knows she has to keep it together for her kids. That because he is their father she can’t hate him; they will be co-parenting and must remain civil. It is fair to say that we are all mourning their marriage and it will take time, lots of time, to make things whole again, cracks and all.

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