Split Decisions

6 Dads on When They Knew They Needed to Get a Divorce

This is when I realized my marriage wasn't going to get better.

Sometimes stories are shorter than you think they’re going to be. Periods come instead of commas; endings appear before the plot feels complete. This is to say: Divorce happens. The reasons for divorce are many. And while themes may appear, no two couples end their marriage for the exact same reason. The same can be said for when they know divorce is the right move, especially after building lives together, falling in love, and having kids. It varies wildly. So we decided to ask a variety of divorced dads when they knew it was time to call it quits. Some knew that they could never rebuild the trust they once had; others reflect on moments of apathy from their spouse that let them know the flame had gone out. All offer a window into why divorce became the answer to a question they kept asking themselves.

“I lost my wife’s trust.”

I got postpartum depression after our daughter was born and that first 18 months was such a bad time that our relationship did not survive. We fought to save our marriage for over a year and tried everything. I lost my wife’s trust, and did too much damage. I realized it was the path forward when my wife said she cried in the car on the way to our daughter’s dance class, because it was the only time she had where no one, especially our daughter, would see her. It broke my heart to hear that. I knew it would be best for my daughter, too, if we could separate and find happiness.

— Darren, 41, UK

“I tried to share an accomplishment at work and she said she didn’t care.”

I had come home from a very long day. At the time I was working at an ad agency as a creative director. I had just sold through a campaign idea that was very important to me, and when I got home I wanted to share the news with her. She was doing the dishes. I asked if she would turn the water off so I could tell her. She told me that my story wasn’t more important than her doing the dishes. I packed an overnight bag and when I left the house, the water was still on.

— Josh, 50, California

“My ex yelled at our daughter to pay attention.”

The final straw was an argument my ex-wife had with my youngest daughter. My youngest daughter was trying to read to her mom for an assignment for school and kept getting distracted by a TV that was on. Instead of shutting the TV off like a responsible person, my ex yelled at our daughter to just pay attention. There had been about a year of her cheating, lying, and pretty much causing all sorts of havoc in our relationship. We were in the middle of trying one last time when this happened.

— Dustin, 38, Illinois

“After therapy, we knew what was special about our marriage was gone.”

My ex-wife and I had been married for 20 years. We started the process of breaking up, a number of years before we actually did. We went for marriage counseling in 2010 and 2011; our divorce, was legally done in 2016. Before we went to therapy, we had been having challenges. As a result of our therapy, we both felt that the thing that made our marriage special and worth preserving was finished. We then made the worst possible decision for the best possible reasons. We decided to stay together anyway. We had young teenage children at the time. We were not a couple that was at each other’s throats; we weren’t throwing pottery at each other. The romance part of our relationship had just worn itself out. We still liked each other. And, frankly, we still do. It just had devolved into something that neither of us were sure was a marriage. And yet we decided to stay together and make that commitment.

Steve, 56, Massachusetts

“We were both just so tired of fighting.”

When you love someone, you convince yourself that you’ll love them for the rest of your life. That’s a hard proposition, one that my wife and I couldn’t see through. We loved each other hard for many years. I mean, we were the couple that our friends were jealous of, the one that other people try to model their relationship after. But when we had kids, we just fought all of the time. Like every day over every little thing. It was endless. I sniped at her, she sniped at me. Something just broke in our relationship and I think both of us felt stuck by our marriage. I thought we could get through it, that this was just a rough patch. But it was three years of the same. Three long, frustrating years and nothing — not counseling, job changes, apartment changes — helped. In the end, we were just so tired of fighting. Now that we’re divorced, our co-parenting relationship is actually quite solid. So, this is just another evolution of who we are.”

Andrew K., 42, Kansas City