Promoted from the Ricochet Member Feed by Editors Created with Sketch. Is Divorce Bad for Children?

 

In 1999, my children’s world crumbled. After 11 years of marriage, my husband and I divorced. The security my children had always known disappeared—their childhood marred, and their teenaged years scarred with wounds that reopen at every holiday, every sports banquet, every graduation.

The guilt is a burden I have lived with for years. I’m reminded of it every day as I look into my children’s eyes and see a hardness and pain that I never had as a child. I lived carefree in the comfort of my parents’ love. This is a gift I never gave my children. Instead, I showered them with the curses of a divorced life, the mixed loyalties of remarriage, and the travails of a blended family that never really blends.

So when I opened the pages of Scientific American and read an article titled, “Is Divorce Bad for Children?—The breakup may be painful, but most kids adjust well over time,” I couldn’t help but instinctively grasp for relief from my guilt—guilt that is particularly poignant for a conservative who knows full well that one of the great plagues on our nation is the decline of the family.

From the Scientific American:

Parents who split have reasons for hope. Researchers have found that only a relatively small percentage of children experience serious problems in the wake of divorce or, later, as adults. In this column, we discuss these findings as well as factors that may protect children from the potentially harmful effects of divorce.

Divorce affects most children in the short run, but research suggests that kids recover rapidly after the initial blow. In a 2002 study psychologist E. Mavis Hetherington of the University of Virginia and her then graduate student Anne Mitchell Elmore found that many children experience short-term negative effects from divorce, especially anxiety, anger, shock and disbelief. These reactions typically diminish or disappear by the end of the second year. Only a minority of kids suffer longer.

Most children of divorce also do well in the longer term. In a quantitative review of the literature in 2001, sociologist Paul R. Amato, then at Pennsylvania State University, examined the possible effects on children several years after a divorce. The studies compared children of married parents with those who experienced divorce at different ages. The investigators followed these kids into later childhood, adolescence or the teenage years, assessing their academic achievement, emotional and behavior problems, delinquency, self-concept and social relationships. On average, the studies found only very small differences on all these measures between children of divorced parents and those from intact families, suggesting that the vast majority of children endure divorce well.

I have to admit that after reading the article, I didn’t feel any hope. That’s because I didn’t believe it. No matter what Scientific American says, I knew that divorce is bad for children. I knew it because I’ve seen it, I’ve lived it. 

I was never one who could deny the anxiety and heartache that plagued my children as I pulled up to their father’s house or met him at the local McDonald’s for the transfer of the children as if we were trading goods at the market. I remember too well phone calls in the middle of the night from my daughter telling me her stomach ached and she wanted to come home but that she didn’t want to hurt daddy’s feelings. Or when I’d hear her whispering on the phone in her bedroom at my house talking to her dad so I wouldn’t hear (even though I didn’t mind).

I remember my son’s anger, the shaking of his normally gentle voice, when I told him I was getting remarried. Or the tears in his eyes when after one of his soccer games, he told me he wanted to go get pizza with his dad and not me but that he didn’t want to upset me. I can still feel the coldness of my daughter when she said she didn’t care anymore who came to her musicals— she was tired of worrying about whether her dad and I might end up sitting too close to each other. At that moment, I longed for the tears I once hated to return to my daughter’s cheeks and wash away the bitter cold.

I could go on and on: the anger, the outbursts, the fear, the once generous love a child has for his parents that has turned inward to protect and guard itself like a wounded animal. These are the realities of divorce that articles like the one in Scientific American fail to consider. 

To say there’s hope because of a few statistics is meaningless. To say kids get over it is shallow at best. Yes, they learn to cope, they grow up, they have good times in the midst of the bad, but they’re scarred, and they’ve been scarred by those who were supposed to protect them. How sadly ironic that the mother (or the father) who protects her children from so many dangers—be careful climbing that tree, don’t swim too far beyond the waves, watch out for cars when you’re riding your bike, be careful, be safe!—how ironic that she has inflicted more pain on her children than any childhood tumble ever could.

Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m just too Irish and prone to guilt anyway. Maybe the article is right. Maybe kids don’t suffer so much. But I just don’t see it because I know the truth, at least in my own life.

Divorce is bad for children. It’s a pain that never ends. It can’t be fixed. Like death, it can’t be undone. It can only be forgiven. The denial mentality of superficial studies will not lift my spirits or give me hope; it will not heal my children’s wounds; it will not fix what is forever broken. That power belongs to Grace alone.

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  1. Merina Smith Inactive

    I love your honesty, Denise. Your kids are lucky to have such a mother. I think you’re right that divorce causes kids great pain and parents should try to spare them that, but at the same time they have parents who love them and are both involved with their lives, so they are lucky in that way. I guess guilt is both a blessing and a curse.

    I was discussing this subject with my husband yesterday because we were talking about a divorcing couple we know with grown kids. Of course it hurts kids less when they are grown, but I think it takes a big toll even then, because something they trusted as a bedrock in their lives is gone. He was expressing lawyerly skepticism, but I’m pretty sure I’m right. ;-)

    Still like the rest of us, kids learn things from the trials in their lives. And the grace of God is there for them, along with good parents. My worry about such studies is that it prevents parents from doing all they can to save a marriage, even if they just do it for the sake of the children. 

    • #1
    • March 26, 2013, at 11:21 AM PDT
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  2. D.C. McAllister Inactive
    D.C. McAllister
    Merina Smith: 

    Still like the rest of us, kids learn things from the trials in their lives. And the grace of God is there for them, along with good parents. My worry about such studies is that it prevents parents from doing all they can to save a marriage, even if they just do it for the sake of the children.

    That’s my worry too. (Though in cases of abuse and such, that’s a whole different situation (I’m not an absolutist).) I just don’t think the very real issues kids face in divorce should be cast off as being “not that bad.” If we deny the painful consequences, it will be too easy to perpetuate the problem.

    • #2
    • March 26, 2013, at 11:29 AM PDT
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  3. D.C. McAllister Inactive
    D.C. McAllister
    Merina Smith: Your kids are lucky to have such a mother.

    No, I don’t think so.

    • #3
    • March 26, 2013, at 11:30 AM PDT
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  4. Amy Schley, Longcat Shrinker Moderator
    Merina Smith:

    I was discussing this subject with my husband yesterday because we were talking about a divorcing couple we know with grown kids. Of course it hurts kids less when they are grown, but I think it takes a big toll even then, because something they trusted as a bedrock in their lives is gone. He was expressing lawyerly skepticism, but I’m pretty sure I’m right. ;-)

    I can say that it does … my mom’s parents divorced when she was an adult and my in-laws divorced just a couple years after my husband’s and my wedding. It really tore at my husband, as he felt incredible guilt — theirs had been a shotgun wedding, and had he not be around, his parents would never had married. Both of us had seen that his parents were essentially strangers living in the same house anyway, but it still hurt him.

    And now he has the challenge of having been an only child dealing with four step-siblings.

    • #4
    • March 26, 2013, at 11:46 AM PDT
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  5. Gretchen Inactive

    Wow.

    • #5
    • March 26, 2013, at 11:47 AM PDT
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  6. The Dowager Jojo Inactive

    Parents who don’t divorce can manage to fail their children in other ways, Denise. Plenty of need for God’s grace going around. 

     

    • #6
    • March 26, 2013, at 11:49 AM PDT
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  7. Tommy De Seno Contributor

    You can’t put a universal good or bad label on these things. Too many variables. Too many outcomes.

    How the parents act – the constitution of the children, etc.

    Do your best. No one can ask you for more.

    • #7
    • March 26, 2013, at 11:53 AM PDT
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  8. D.C. McAllister Inactive
    D.C. McAllister

    DJS/Tommy—thank you, I did not mean to degenerate into whining. (My Marine Corps father would not approve. :)

    • #8
    • March 27, 2013, at 1:00 AM PDT
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  9. Profile Photo Member

    Denise,

    This helps me. I try to remember to treat myself as kindly as I treat others. For some reason it is easier to forgive others than to forgive myself. Humility also helps in that I am imperfect and need to deal with it by accepting grace as well as giving it.

    Reading between the lines of this post I feel you are sharing your regrets and mistakes. You seem to be in the process of resolving things. I pray that some time in the near future these wounds can finally heal.

    • #9
    • March 27, 2013, at 1:06 AM PDT
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  10. tabula rasa Member
    tabula rasaJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member
    Denise McAllister: 

    Divorce is bad for children. It’s a pain that never ends. It can’t be fixed. Like death, it can’t be undone. It can only be forgiven. The denial mentality of superficial studies will not lift my spirits or give me hope; it will not heal my children’s wounds; it will not fix what is forever broken. That power belongs to Grace alone. 

    Denise: I’ve not experienced divorce in my family, but I spent five years counselling teen-agers. I think your last paragraph says it all. Divorce is wrenching for kids, and the social science shows that it can inhibit their chances of avoiding negative (sometimes devastating) life results.

    My experience is that parents who, though divorced, try to comfort and love their kids instead of trying to win little fights against the former spouse have better luck and happier kids than those who crank up the drama and snipe at the former spouse. Supportive friends and family help too.

    Your last point is critical, though I would add a bit: “The power belongs to grace,” and the power of grace almost always comes through the kindly acts of good-hearted people.

    • #10
    • March 27, 2013, at 1:10 AM PDT
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  11. DocJay Inactive
    Cornelius Julius Sebastian
    Denise McAllister
    Merina Smith: Your kids are lucky to have such a mother.

    No, I don’t think so. · 1 hour ago

    You should not say such a thing, Denise. They are lucky. Thank you for writing what is clearly a very emotionally charged and dfficult piece. This needs to be on the Main Feed. I’ve had soem real struggles in my marriage. Many times considered chucking it. Have not done so for the reasons stated herein. Thanks for reminding me of what I already knew. Hang in there. You are a gem. · 12 minutes ago

    I still don’t really know how well prayers work regarding micromanagement ( a different topic) but I’ve said some for you. At least they make me feel better :) Good luck cowboy.

    • #11
    • March 27, 2013, at 1:10 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  12. Frozen Chosen Inactive

    Divorce is usually bad for the children – sometimes very bad.

    That being said, those who have gone through divorce should move forward and do the best they can to repair the damage. Beating yourself up is tempting but rarely productive.

    For those who are married with children who may be considering divorce please do all you can to make your marriage successful. Stop the selfishness, the bickering about money, the flirting with other people, etc. Talk to your spouse, go on a date once a week, engage each other in meaningful ways.

    I know my advice may sound trite to some but the fact remains that there are hundreds of reasons to get divorced and only 1 to stay married – because you will not allow anything to come between you and your spouse.

    Over 27 years of marriage my wife and I have both had reasons to pack it in – but we simply refuse to do so.

    • #12
    • March 27, 2013, at 1:11 AM PDT
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  13. tabula rasa Member
    tabula rasaJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    One more comment.

    Denise, I think your children are lucky to have you as a mother. Life is messy, and you seem to be hitting it head-on. Your children will be blessed by “the grace” you bring into their lives.

    • #13
    • March 27, 2013, at 1:15 AM PDT
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  14. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHillJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    What parent among us, given a choice, would not step into the path of an oncoming car to save your child? So, please explain the reasoning that says, “I would risk death or a lifetime of pain for my child but I will not work on my marriage for the sake of that child.” Obviously, I sound judgmental. But too many of us think its a situation that doesn’t effect me… Until your child gets involved with a child of divorce and only one of them thinks marriage is sacred.

    • #14
    • March 27, 2013, at 1:18 AM PDT
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  15. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron MillerJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member
    EJHill: Divorce teaches children that promises don’t matter and all relationships are disposable. ….

    Agreed. Marriage is commonly understood as the pinnacle of all human relationships. So to abandon such a relationship teaches kids that nothing is permanent or unconditional. 

    A contract says, “I will do for you if you do for me.” A promise says simply, “I will do for you.” It’s tragic that so many people believe themselves incapable of this greatest promise.

    A widely known precept of military strategy is to always leave the enemy a way out, because a cornered man fights with all his strength. The Devil uses this trick to great advantage.

    • #15
    • March 27, 2013, at 1:21 AM PDT
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  16. D.C. McAllister Inactive
    D.C. McAllister
    DocJay
    Cornelius Julius Sebastian
    Denise McAllister
    Merina Smith: Your kids are lucky to have such a mother.

    No, I don’t think so. · 1 hour ago

    You should not say such a thing, Denise. They are lucky. Thank you for writing what is clearly a very emotionally charged and dfficult piece. This needs to be on the Main Feed. I’ve had soem real struggles in my marriage. Many times considered chucking it. Have not done so for the reasons stated herein. Thanks for reminding me of what I already knew. Hang in there. You are a gem. · 12 minutes ago

    I still don’t really know how well prayers work regarding micromanagement ( a different topic) but I’ve said some for you. At least they make me feel better :) Good luck cowboy. · 12 minutes ago

    Thank you DJ, truly. (btw, you remind me so much of my dad! that’s a good thing. :)

    • #16
    • March 27, 2013, at 1:24 AM PDT
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  17. Frozen Chosen Inactive
    Denise McAllister
    Tommy De Seno

    don’t dwell on the right and wrongness of the split because it is over.

    The right and wrongness you have to worry about now is the kids and damn well better see to it. 

    But don’t beat yourself up. 

    You’re right about getting past it. The thing is, when you have done something wrong, you can’t ever really get past it without the forgiveness and grace I spoke of—and these can’t be presumed upon or demanded. You can ask. You can plead. But they have to be given. Healing can’t come without them. Do you know what it is like to thirst for grace? There is no longing in the human soul like it. · 26 minutes ago

    Oftentimes God has forgiven us long before we’ve forgiven ourselves. Perhaps you need to take that last – and sometimes most difficult – step.

    • #17
    • March 27, 2013, at 1:25 AM PDT
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  18. Karen Inactive

    My parents had a terrible marriage and an equally bad divorce after I graduated college. I was already planning my exit strategy from Crazytown in high school. They were both stupid to marry each other and selfish to force my sisters and I to keep up the facade of a happy family, after all my dad was a minister and Bible professor. Now, almost 15 years later, despite living in the same town, they haven’t spoken a word to each other. In fact, my father didn’t attend my wedding, because my mother was coming. My dad has the lion’s share of the blame for the bad marriage, but they both put their needs and desires ahead of their children’s. That’s what irks me, not that they divorced, but because they couldn’t behave like adults – ever – for the sake of their children. I don’t know why they hated each other so much, but I will never burden my children with the role of surrogate spouse. Never. Whether you decide to work it out or divorce, whatever you do, don’t be a**holes.

    • #18
    • March 27, 2013, at 1:32 AM PDT
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  19. Amy Schley, Longcat Shrinker Moderator
    Frozen Chosen
    Denise McAllister
    Tommy De Seno

    don’t dwell on the right and wrongness of the split because it is over.

    The right and wrongness you have to worry about now is the kids and damn well better see to it. 

    But don’t beat yourself up. 

    You’re right about getting past it. The thing is, when you have done something wrong, you can’t ever really get past it without the forgiveness and grace I spoke of—and these can’t be presumed upon or demanded. You can ask. You can plead. But they have to be given. Healing can’t come without them. Do you know what it is like to thirst for grace? There is no longing in the human soul like it. · 26 minutes ago

    Oftentimes God has forgiven us long before we’ve forgiven ourselves. Perhaps you need to take that last – and sometimes most difficult – step. · 2 minutes ago

    Yeah, sometimes a refusal to forgive ourselves becomes almost a point of pride … that somehow our standards are higher than God’s.

    • #19
    • March 27, 2013, at 1:33 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  20. Fricosis Guy Listener

    Most of us can understand divorce for adultery, abandonment, or abuse. But no-fault divorce made it a path to independence or worse, a form of therapy.

    If anyone believe’s divorce will fix his or her problems that person is mistaken. The spouse may be gone… but your problems remain.

    My wife and I are the only one of our siblings married to spouse v1.0. There is one common theme across the divorces: one party thought everything would be OK once the other party was put out of the picture.

    • #20
    • March 27, 2013, at 1:38 AM PDT
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  21. SteveS Inactive

    Denise,

    Thank you for your candor in describing your divorce and it’s repercussions for yourself and family. I too divorced after 11 years of marriage and having three children have seen the heartache that everyone in our family circle suffered through divorce, the very personification of our hard hearts. 

    I always struggled with knowing that having them with me was robbing time from their mother and vice versa so I do know that divorce has the propensity to bring out one’s selfishness in a large fashion which can certainly be mirrored in our children’s lives in many different facets.

    Regardless of how “good” one’s divorce is, regarding the children shared, you realize they have two lives that often remain distinct and cause them great angst and undue pressure as they try to juggle it all.

    Two rules I never violated was to tear down their mom in any way shape or form, when humanely possible, and to allow them to keep as many foundational things from our families time together. Those two essential things were pivotal, I believe in giving them an anchor when they found themselves buffeted by the storms and emotions the inevitably faced.

    • #21
    • March 27, 2013, at 1:43 AM PDT
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  22. Amy Schley, Longcat Shrinker Moderator
    Fricosis Guy: Most of us can understand divorce for adultery, abandonment, or abuse. But no-fault divorce made it a path to independence or worse, a form of therapy.

    If anyone believe’s divorce will fix his or her problems that person is mistaken. The spouse may be gone… but your problems remain.

    My wife and I are the only one of our siblings married to spouse v1.0. There is one common theme across the divorces: one party thought everything would be OK once the other party was put out of the picture. · 0 minutes ago

    As per despair.com:

    dysfunctiondemotivator.jpg

    “The Only Consistent Feature of All of Your Dissatisfying Relationships is You.”

    • #22
    • March 27, 2013, at 1:43 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  23. Fricosis Guy Listener

    I know that thirst for God’s Grace. To that end, have you forgiven those who trespassed against you?

    BTW, Amy’s words are wise.

    Amy Schley
    Frozen Chosen
    Denise McAllister
    Tommy De Seno

    don’t dwell on the right and wrongness of the split because it is over.

    The right and wrongness you have to worry about now is the kids and damn well better see to it. 

    But don’t beat yourself up. 

    You’re right about getting past it. The thing is, when you have done something wrong, you can’t ever really get past it without the forgiveness and grace I spoke of—and these can’t be presumed upon or demanded. You can ask. You can plead. But they have to be given. Healing can’t come without them. Do you know what it is like to thirst for grace? There is no longing in the human soul like it. ·

    Oftentimes God has forgiven us long before we’ve forgiven ourselves. Perhaps you need to take that last – and sometimes most difficult – step. ·

    Yeah, sometimes a refusal to forgive ourselves becomes almost a point of pride … that somehow our standards are higher than God’s. ·

    • #23
    • March 27, 2013, at 1:53 AM PDT
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  24. Patrick in Albuquerque Inactive

    I have a child who will soon be getting married. My single bit of advice beyond the usual hoo haw will be: “getting pregnant is a selfish act. After that everything’s about the kid.”

    • #24
    • March 27, 2013, at 1:54 AM PDT
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  25. Frozen Chosen Inactive
    Patrick in Albuquerque: I have a child who will soon be getting married. My single bit of advice beyond the usual hoo haw will be: “getting pregnant is a selfish act. After that everything’s about the kid.” · 7 minutes ago

    People can’t let everything be about the kid, they need to keep their marriage strong as well.

    You are doing your children no favors if you focus on them at the cost of your marriage relationship.

    • #25
    • March 27, 2013, at 2:05 AM PDT
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  26. SteveS Inactive

    Also Denise, the guilt from divorce can seem both boundless and everlasting at times, as we both know first hand, but there is hope from the fount of God’s magnificent heart of grace, which I also know first hand, remains both boundless and everlasting.

    He, never being the author of divorce, certainly never wastes it’s opportunities to bring us to the end of our own resources and can through time, reveal our functional source of life, what we are truly living by.

    The pain and heartache our sin and selfishness cause those we declare to love never come as a surprise to Him who knows the very thoughts of our hearts and numbers the very hairs upon our heads so I’ve learned to take Him at His word when He bids me come to the cross to exchange that which I cannot keep, my life, to gain that which I can never lose, Christ’s life. 

    He took on flesh in the person of Christ to offer life, and not guilt, in abundance, so my hope is you too take Him at His word and your children also and to reject the “father of lies” false guilt, 

    • #26
    • March 27, 2013, at 2:16 AM PDT
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  27. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron MillerJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Please understand, Denise, that I am not unsympathetic. But divorce is a sin which people increasingly want to deny is a sin. It’s not merely unfortunate. It’s wrong. So, however much I would like to comfort all involved and assure them that this wrong will not overshadow their nobler choices, I am recluctant to skip immediately to a pat on the shoulder.

    • #27
    • March 27, 2013, at 2:21 AM PDT
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  28. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron MillerJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    A few of my relatives have divorced and kindled strong, happy marriages with their second spouses. I take that as evidence of God’s abundant mercy, as others have cited. Divorce is a severe offense. But it does not close the door on love.

    Mother Angelica once told of time when she was wading in the Gulf of Mexico and a single drop splashed onto her hand. Idly, she stared at it. Then God said to her, “Look out onto my ocean. That is my mercy. The drop is your sin. Why do you stare at that drop?”

    Darn Irish blood!

    • #28
    • March 27, 2013, at 2:29 AM PDT
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  29. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama ToadJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member
    Patrick in Albuquerque: I have a child who will soon be getting married. My single bit of advice beyond the usual hoo haw will be: “getting pregnant is a selfish act. After that everything’s about the kid.” · 27 minutes ago

    This is terrible advice.

    Getting pregnant is not a “selfish act” — where did you ever come up with that?

    Getting pregnant is the normal result of marital relations.

    Everything should never be about the kid. The child is there because the parents love each other and are married.

    The tadpoles ask sometimes why they don’t get the last piece of cake, or why their father’s serving of fish is bigger than their own. “Because I love him more than you, ” I reply. “You’re here because I love him, not the other way around.”

    • #29
    • March 27, 2013, at 2:32 AM PDT
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  30. Mollie Hemingway Contributor

    Thank you for this beautiful post. One thing that I think has helped me when things have been tough is reading things like this from people who have seen the other side. Leaving sounds so right when things are bad. In fact, it can seem like the only solution. Having people who explain that the other side has some serious downsides is helpful.

    • #30
    • March 27, 2013, at 2:32 AM PDT
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