Q. My wife and I can't make our marriage work and are trying to arrange a reasonable divorce. It is getting harder and harder.
So far, everything is divided easily - money isn't that important to either of us - but a child can't be cut in two.
We both want custody of Jess, our only child, who is 8. In any event, he will stay in his present house and go to his present school, since we have agreed that the house and the child go together. What else can we do?
A. Be as gentle as you can, and expect trouble, somewhere, sometimes. The child who responds well at home may become a troublemaker at school or be listless or lazy there. That's why you want to see the teacher as soon as a decision is made, so that she, too, will be more gentle.
The death of a marriage is like any other death: The more closely a person is involved, the more he will grieve. You can expect your child to go through the same cathartic stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and, with luck, acceptance, but it will take a long time.
Divorce brings great pain, but there will be guilt too, for a child at any age is egocentric enough to think he caused it, and there will be fear, too, that his parents will quit loving him the way they quit loving each other. Once again, displacement haunts a child like his very own ghost.
There is one other thing you can do: Reconsider.This is a fairly radical solution in an age where there is nearly one divorce each year for every two marriages, but perhaps more couples would go for the long run if they knew that marriages, like people, go through seasons - and some of the seasons aren't much fun.
Indeed, marriages seem to topple like tenpins when a child reaches 8. You seem to be smack in the middle of a long stretch of blahs and so probably is your child. Everything seems so routine. Any 8-year-old, even Jess, is less interesting than he was as a preschooler or than he will be as a teenager. How you have this large presence in the house, always awake and around. You and your wife have little time alone to make a marriage grow.
Counseling may help, if you can surrender yourself to it. It isn't a matter of sticking together for the sake of the child. But a marriage, once good, can be stuck together for the sake of itself.
You may have to give it enough time to get past the rough patch. One thing is sure: It will be a lot easier of Jess.