Dear Thelma,

I have been married for 12 years and have two children, aged 10 and 12.

During the early years of our marriage, everything was fine. We were a happy family. We had no in-law problems.

The problem started when I set up my own business a couple of years ago.

I hired a few staff to help out in my business. I chatted freely with both male and female workers, and cracked jokes too. I explained to my wife that I believe in treating my staff like friends rather than subordinates.

She did not agree with my policy, and suspected that I was having an affair with my female staff. She rang up my office many times a day.

I assured my wife of my loyalty to her but she was not convinced. I shared everything with her – my daily activities, problems and business plans – because I believe in being a buddy to my wife.

My wife is the reticent type and does not open up to me. She just keeps to herself.

We have been fighting a lot and I have moved to another room in the house.

We have talked about divorce but we do not want our children to grow up in a broken home. We still live under the same roof but there is no more love between us. We are just fulfilling our responsibilities as parents. We do not wish to hurt our kids.

I am not happy with my life now. I have to compromise my personal happiness for the children’s sake. They are only 10 and 12 years old. How long do I have to live under such conditions?

My wife is very unhappy too. I have thought of starting afresh with her, but the battle wounds run deep. What should I do? – Hurt To The Core

Dear Hurt To The Core,

Perhaps your wife is feeling insecure about your relationship with your staff. Maybe she has conservative ideas about how employers should treat their workers. Only your wife can explain to you what exactly the problem is.

With regard to your current situation, you have to consider the kind of life you want to provide for your children. You say you do not want your children to grow up in a divorced family. You do not want to hurt them. Have you considered how your current living arrangement is affecting them?

When parents sleep in separate rooms, children know that things are not all right at home. When parents do not love each other anymore, children pick up on that too. Things like this leave an imprint on children. You are setting for them a model of life as adults. Your life with your wife is their model of a relationship and marriage.

Take a good look at the life you are leading with your wife. What kind of example do you think you are setting for your children? Would you have wanted that kind of example from your parents?

You say you and your wife do not want to hurt the children with a divorce. Do you think what you are doing now is not hurting them?

You are not happy with the compromise you are making for the sake of your children. That can easily turn to resentment. You will begin to resent not only your wife but also your children for the choices that you have made for your life. Resentment hurts. It will hurt not only you, but also your children. In time, it will make you view your children as a burden. This will affect your relationship with the children.

Is that what you want for your children? Is that the legacy you want to leave your children?

If you really want to protect your children from the harshness of divorce, you will have to work on your marriage. It is not enough to be together. You have to live together. There is a difference between the two.

To work on your marriage, both of you must be committed to saving it first. Is that what you want? Is that what your wife wants?

You will have to revisit past wounds not to cause more hurt, but to heal them. You will have to understand that things said in arguments are harsh words that need to be forgiven. Both of you have to do this.

To help you with this process, both of you will have to talk to each other. Your wife will have to open up. This is not easy to do and a professional will definitely help the process. Engage a marriage counsellor and be committed to the process.

Reconciliation is not something you do because of the past. It is a conscious decision to work on a relationship despite what happened in the past. When you reconcile, the relationship will not go back to what it was before. It will be something new and different. This can be frightening for some people. So you and your wife have to be ready and prepared for this. The process will not happen overnight. It will take time, hence the two of you must be committed to it.

If, however, the two of you decide that there is no going back, then you will have to seriously think about what each of you want. It is not just about you, it is also about the children. Divorce is difficult, but it does not have to be acrimonious. That is a choice that you make. Just like living together – you choose whether you want it to be a happy situation or not.

While it may seem like a fairy tale, it is possible to make it easier for children in a divorce. The parents have to deal with the issue as adults, and not use the children as pawns. There will have to be compromise. It should not be viewed as a zero-sum game where there is a winner and a loser. Instead, you have to see it as a legal process that benefits all parties involved, even the children.

In any relationship, disagreements and conflicts will arise. The mark of a strong relationship is not the absence of these, but how they are managed and overcome. There will have to be forgiveness, compromise and kindness. There must be openness, communication and honesty. Where one of these is not possible, then the relationship is in trouble.

You are not being honest with yourself. You are not happy because of the choices that you are making. It is not because of the children that you are in this arrangement. It is because you want to make yourself feel better.

Think about this, and why you are making the current decisions. Sit down with your wife. This is inevitable; you cannot escape it. Go away for a few days if you need to, so that you can have the discussion without interruptions. And if the two of you need to fight, it will not be in the presence of the children. Take as much time as you need because this decision cannot be made lightly.

Find out all the information you need – what a divorce would cost, what it entails, how long the process will take. Find out also what is involved in marriage counselling and how much it costs. All this information will help in your decision-making.

There is no shame in divorce. It is hard. But as you can see, so is building a good life with your family. The most important thing is that you and your wife make the best decision for the both of you. The only way you can know if it is the best is if you have all the information and know what you are getting yourselves into. – Thelma

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