When Le Music Stops
It can happen in many ways. Sometimes, suddenly, out of the blue, with no warning whatsoever. Other times, the music slowly, gradually, fades to a deafening silence.
Divorce is the great plague on American families today. More than 40% of adults under 40 are children of divorced parents. The U.S. now has the highest divorce rate (roughly 44%) of the Western nations, though it's slightly declining. Avoiding it, preparing for it and dealing with the consequences of when the music stops involve millions of us every day.
Here in France, where the "use" of a lover is accepted and frequent, the current divorce rate is around 39%, having more than tripled since 1970. The trend is alarming. Even the French find their own institution of marriage moins formidable than before.
Sitting in this near-empty café, I'm struck how the odds those lovers smooching on the Seine might marry, but then divorce, has shot up like my blood pressure now, thanks to my less-than-attentive waiter.
Infidelity, financial strains, sexual problems, parenting differences, poor anger management, career incompatibility and, of course, the catch-all "irreconcilable differences," cause marriages to dissolve and families to suffer.
Perhaps the pain becomes too great. Or the notion things are hopeless and won't change, or it will take too long and be too much work cause couples to pull the plug, give up. Hopelessness is a powerful force, robbing us of energy and initiative.
Of course, the stressful consequences of divorce can be devastating emotionally, financially and on any children. How parents inform their children and negotiate future parenting responsibilities affect how children will react to the news.
It's best to tell your children together, simply, honestly and directly. Don't go into detail about why or bash your spouse. It's okay to reveal your sadness, while allowing them to also show their feelings. If you're separating and not sure about divorce, don't make predictions or promises you can't keep. Try to keep things as consistent as possible.
Let your children know they're not responsible, that nothing they've done is causing the separation, and they can't do anything to make you get back together. Do not use your children as communication go-betweens. Assure them you both love them and will continue to take care of them.
Most people entering marriage expect it to last. Success worth having is worth fighting for...through both the exhilarating highs and mind-numbing lows.
Barring physical abuse, couples can repair and improve their marriages. I've seen 'em do it countless times. Sometimes it's quicker and easier than expected. Sometimes it takes time.
Well, the music between my now-empty café waiter and me has dropped to one decibel. Clearly, he has more important things to do than attend to beaucoup-francs-paying little ol' me. I consider divorcing him (C'est la vie, c'est la guerre), but decide to give it another shot. Monsieur!...pardon, monsieur!
Okay, I've had enough. The music's died. I'm leaving. Hey, bud, Happy Bastille Day!
Wait! Mon Dieu, he's coming over! I hear music.
Before you bid adieu to your duet, consider the assistance of a marriage counselor.
Marshall Colt, Ph.D., is a California licensed marriage and family therapist. His private practice in San Diego,
Advance Counseling, has been helping people advance through life's challenges since 1994.