KJ asked me this, and I have to admit that of all people, she is the last one I expected to here this question from. I have a mind to flip this right back at her. Go and read her blog and you'll see the irony. I rather like irony, which is why I read her fairly regularly.
There are so many ways to answer this question. I'll start with the first and most obvious; the children. Despite a wide array of disagreement in many areas, we seem to both agree being together for the children is best. I'm going to qualify that in a minute, though, so don't get your panties in a twist. I've already heard so many of the counter-arguments, which I will address.
E Mavis Heatherington, John Gottman and Josh Coleman are 3 researchers who have done a ton of research on family discord, conflict, divorce and the effect on child behavioral, cognitive and emotional development. I've read the research, myself and it is widely available off of any university database. These researchers also have written a ton of popular books on the subject, if you care to read them. But the universal truth is that when it comes to the emotional, cognitive and socio-behavioral functioning of children, divorce is bad. The opposite is not universal, which means that staying together is not always good. But these instances where some sort of abuse is taking place is the exception rather than the norm. With Arwyn and I, the kids definitely benefit by having both of us being with them. We are loving but firm. Neither of us is abusive and we are generally good and competent parents. We do not expose them to the conflicts that we have. At least overtly. Arwyn and I both have weaknesses that the other compliments and compensates for. There is no one else the other would entrust our children with.
In Josh Coleman's book, Imperfect Harmony, he concludes the book by describing types of relationships that are beyond revitalization yet not worth breaking the family up over. That would be the "Co-parenting Friend" relationship and the "Parenting Roommate" relationship. Co-parenting friends show some hope of revitalization sometimes, but often there are some insurmountable hurdles, like one being gay or one or both getting married for reasons other that romantic intimacy. In any case, they can enjoy spending time as a family and share some superficial likes, but the deep intimacy just isn't there. With Roommates, the situation is even more removed with limited time spent together as a couple outside parental duties and events. There is limited gift giving or sharing of interests outside of involvement with the children.
Arwyn and I are definitely on the roommate track. Our interests have drifted in different directions and expressions even in areas of commonality. For instance we both have a keen interest in autism and developmental disabilities, but we have diverged in how we express that. I'm into the research, the academics, the scientific aspects of it. Arwyn is totally into the parent networking and connecting on the emotional level with others. The facts matter less to her than how she feels about it. The strength of her convictions is independent of any facts or reality. If I'm less than 100% supportive of some myth or whim (which abound in autism) I am cold, uncaring and not empathetic enough.
THE major area that we had the greatest bit in common, prior to marriage, was the area of our Christian faith. Again, there has been a divergence between us on that score. I think Arwyn really wanted to have a strong a vibrant faith, but I was not very good at nurturing that. I have a deep and rich Christian history with a fairly strong personal theology. Hers is much more recent, and again, it is based almost entirely on feelings and emotion and circumstances.
Another reason for me staying is, and how about this for irony, is because I do love my wife. I do love and care for Arwyn in my inner heart of hearts, with a strength that surpasses understanding, reason, circumstance or emotion. Sometimes I dislike her actions, words and so many things about her. Sometimes I think she is being stupid. Sometimes unreasonable. Sometimes cruel and uncaring. Sometimes she is selfish and demanding.
But if I were to leave, I worry about what would become of her. Would she end up destitute and in public housing, like her mother? Would she be able to take care of herself, much less the boys? I am concerned about her and her health.
In a way, it is more like loving a sibling or a parent or grandparent than a real reciprocal relationship one would expect of a spouse. We do sort of take care of each other. If one or the other has car trouble, gets stranded or has a major health crisis, we are the other's best source of support.
Sex simply does not enter into all this, does it?
There is some conjecture as to whether I would jump on any opportunity for sex from Arwyn. Yes, she is quite attractive. I might, but not under any 'ole circumstance. The "let's hurry up and get this over with so I can get back to doing laundry" sex ain't going to cut it. If I asked for a handjob, I would probably get one. She hasn't often denied a request to use her hands on me, as long as I promise not to take too long. How enjoyable does that sound to you?
So by not asking for it, I AM sacrificing an opportunity for sex, as loosely and broadly defined by many. Why am I sacrificing it? Because by indulging, or expecting or demanding it, I look and feel like a lecherous pervert. There is no way to take possession of my OR my wife's sexuality that does not make me look like a sick sex maniac. I can jack off, but I'm going to catch hell for that by a few of my hypocritical evangelical bretheren. They are hypocritical because they piss and moan about going more than a week without marital sex, and then go on to extol the virtues of giving it all over to God and how they bask in the Heavenly blessings by not masturbating. Go celibate 4-5 months (outside of health concerns) and then we'll talk about "blessings."
If you think I'm talking about you, I'm not. I just don't want risk offending anyone who might think they have to defend themselves by naming names. But if they do, they can defend themselves on their own blog and take offense in their own space.
Okay, let's address some counter-arguments:
What are your children learning about having a loving relationship? Aren't you teaching your boys to have dysfunctional relationships just like yours?
Let's see; my parents have been together for 43 years. They had rough spots and stuck with it. Arwyn's parents divorced after 15 years, and her dad just got divorced a second time while her mother never remarried. The question is; what did Arwyn and I learn about relationships from OUR parents? And how strongly does that carry over? Fact is, it doesn't hold much water unless there is some serious abuse going on. Apply your own dysfunctions to your own parents and what you learned. Either your parents fucked you up or they didn't. That
You only live once. Don't you owe it to yourself to live it happily rather than being miserable?
There is some truth to that, but not where you think. Happiness is less about circumstances than about a state of mind. That's not to say environment doesn't play a part. It does. And it really is up to me to somehow carve out an environment where joy is a part of it. But I'm not ready to visit misery on my children for it.
So why the hell don't you DO something about it, instead of avoiding or sitting around and just tolerating?
This blog is that story of doing stuff. It's not a very fast story, unfortunately, but it is a REAL story. Things move when they move and sometimes when I feel like moving them. If things are moving too slow, check in less often.
What if you just separated for awhile? Wouldn't that help gain some perspective?
Funnily enough, I sort of got a taste of that 6 years ago due to job related stuff more than actual relationship turmoil. I'll have to write about that sometime. If I move out, I want to be close to the boys and it also will be deliberate with certain conditions.
Any other arguments, I may entertain and address later. I hope this satisfies for the time being.