Carolyn Hax: Their marriage is ‘a B.’ Do they stay in it for the kids?

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Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: If I had to rate my marriage, I would give it a B. I don’t want to have a B marriage, but I have toddler kids. The thought of putting them through a divorce is like a punch to the gut. I’m a child of divorced parents, and it exploded my childhood. If I would jump in front of a bullet for my kids, then why shouldn’t I stay in a B marriage for them? It’s a happy home; their dad is a wonderful man and father, he’s just not my wonderful man. Help me see through this.

B.: This is a lot of what with not a lot of why.

Were there some A feelings before the toddlers? Might they return when you stop having toddlers (which is just really hard)? Are there obstacles that therapy could clear? And … well, I’m not comfortable with the whole “stay in a marriage for the kids” thing, though the potential trauma for your kids obviously factors into any decisions.

I don’t have enough even to guess whether this is a wait-it-out or get-out moment, so I’ll say therapy, solo, to help you with your vision.

Carolyn: The “why” mostly relates to the relationship conveyor belt of dating for X years, getting engaged, getting married … and my feeling throughout like “this isn’t the one, but it’s not not the one either.” I love him, he loves me, but we don’t have that little spark.

Ignoring that doubt now seems foolish, although I’ll never regret our marriage, both from what I learned throughout it and for my children, who are sparkly and wonderful and who amaze me every day. We are in marriage counseling, and I’m still in individual counseling. What I don’t think counseling can heal is that little voice in my head saying, “Not your person, not your person, not your person.”

B again: Helpful, thanks.

Maybe you aren’t right for each other — again, I can’t know. But I hope you’ll also consider: Maybe there is no “your person” for any of us. Maybe it’s on each of us alone to make our lives “ours,” and not scan the room for better offers. Maybe your framing is out of date, and it’s time for new expectations.

Clearly this runs counter to other advice I’ve given. However, if things aren’t working as-is and the idea of leaving doesn’t work, either, then break the framework. Decide he is your person as much as anyone can be anyone’s, then live all-in.

· What is a B marriage, anyway? What’s missing and what doesn’t work? Be careful not to judge your marriage by a fantasy-view of what marriage should be.

· My husband is absolutely MY person. But still, in 20 years, our grades have ranged from an A-plus-plus-plus to a total F-minus. Marriage and raising a family are super hard.

· I was in a B relationship for years and am now in an A marriage. But I’ve realized it was not the other person that made it a B, but the choices I made about the relationship. I decided I would make this marriage be the one I wanted. And looking back, I think I could have done that with the B girlfriend. As long as you respect each other and the other person is kind, generous and committed to you, I think you can go a long way toward an A by deciding that person is “right” for you.

Long way, not all the way, yes. Thanks.



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