April 20th, 2003.


When people get married they make a promise to stay together, only to be parted by death. They're in love, that's why they get married in the first place. But making a promise if often far easier than keeping one, and when you're talking about the rest of your life is it wise or even realistic to make promises at all?

When and if I ever get married, I would like to think that it really would last forever. But then doesn't everyone who gets married think like that? Maybe that's the problem, maybe people look at marriage more as a 'here and now' situation these days rather than a 'till death' promise.

Divorce is seen, from the outside at least, to be so easy now that if your marriage does start to go wrong you could easily just walk away from it, no harm done. But rarely has a lie ever been so well disguised. Out of all the divorces there have been, surely only the smallest fraction would have been as simple and painless as the parties involved might have hoped.

In the past few weeks, one of my closest friends has decided to leave his wife. I'm not about to write about his reasons for this, that stuff is of course deeply personal. But as his friend, I felt completely unqualified to help him deal with what must have been the hardest most painful decision of his life. He is the second of my friends to go through a marriage breakdown, but the first I'm significantly close to.

We chatted quite a bit before he made his decision. I knew there had been rough patches before but nothing ever seemed this serious. His tone was different, I could hear that this was putting him under severe stress. There were children involved, children he loves dearly, and fears that he may lose touch with. There were feelings of failure, and also a real loathing to break the heart of the woman he had promised the rest of his life to. It was a dark place for anyone to be.

The weight of his decision played on my mind. I can't even begin to imagine how hard that must be. There are so many considerations, and not too many rosy outcomes either. Just how do you face a decision like that? I know when he got married he was completely serious about it, and now after 8 years or so he has to decide whether to end it or not, to break the promise I know he meant to keep.

In all honesty, his story scares me a little. I simply wouldn't want to go through what he's going through. Divorce isn't like a simple break up, and it gets even more complex when children are involved.

We've talked about how he might feel when and if his wife gets into a new relationship and also how she might react if he did. You stand the risk of being at battle for the rest of your life with your ex. Of becoming one of those bitter people who never seem to let go or get passed the anger and disappointment of divorce.

The effect on children is well documented of course, so that is another consideration. You'll both have every intention of keeping them out of it, but surely that is impossible, they're your children, they're involved by default. They'll be hurt like victims of friendly fire, and no matter what you do there is nothing you can do to prevent that.

Of course, at this point, my friend and his wife are still only separated so perhaps all is not lost. But should he even look at it in terms like that? Is it right to consider this a 'loss' as such? They had a relationship and it didn't work out, they've had happy times and now have children that they love too. So maybe thinking of this as a loss or failure is an entirely wrong approach to the situation from the start?

What is the answer? I just don't know. If my friend had stayed around longer would that have helped? If he had tried harder would that have helped? If he had just settled back and accepted his lot in life would that have helped? People change, maybe more time would have seen more change, maybe things could have turned around? In reality, you're ill-equipped to make that decision for the rest of your lives in the first place, so what makes you better equipped to make another decision like that again?

In the situation of my friend I have little influence, and to be honest, I prefer it that way. I feel quite cowardly though. These are such huge decisions he is making that I almost want nothing to do with them so that I can't be blamed by anyone down the road when something doesn't work out. Is this wrong? Am I being a bad friend? I just don't know. Our lives are entirely different and as much as I can listen to him, I can't really offer him any decent advice because I have no experiences of similar magnitude to draw upon.

Usually, I'd wrap up now with a final paragraph tying up the loose ends and coming to some kind of conclusion. But as I sit here staring out of the window at the new green leaves on the tree outside I realize that in this particular story of my friend, there is no conclusion yet, and maybe there never will be.