Q. I have two children -- sometimes I think everybody has two children -- and a dog and a cat and gerbils and a part-time job and a car and a house in the suburbs. I also have a huband -- and he's the reason I want OUT.
When we married he was just my type: quiet, hard-working, nice sense of humor, but now he hardly talks except to ask me, "What's for dinner?" or to bark at the kids, "Did you get good marks in school today?" or "Can't you turn down that stereo? I'm working even if you're not!"
It's really the working that has gotten to me. Unless he's in front of the television, he spends all of his time either at the office or reading the stuff he's brought home. It's work; television; work; chores; work; wash the car; work. No movies, no camping, no walks -- none of the things we used to have.
He says he's too busy earning a living, but it's not what I call living and it sure isn't what I got married for. Now I've about decided it's not what I'm going to stay married for either.
I figure this is the year to change my life -- first a full-time job, then a divorce. If parents can't get along, I really do think kids are better off if they separate, don't you. Jim is almost 8 and Penny is 10.
A. What's going on here? You act like there are only two options: a good divorce or a bad marriage. That's not true. There is no such a thing as a good divorce. We've known a lot of divorces that were necessary -- even obligatory -- but never one that didn't carry a carload of grief. This is especially true when there are children.
What you have here are four possibilities: a bad divorce, a bad marriage, a passable marriage, or a good marriage -- one, in fact, that is all the better for the extra effort it takes.
Of course you're feeling low and your husband must be too. When a man has to hide behind the "work syndrome," it's a sign of a lot gone wrong. It may be the weight of his responsibilities or he may feel his job is beyond him, or he may think that you are the one who has changed, which may surprise you most.
It doesn't matter, of course, who changed first. When one person in a relationship begins to act differently, the other person will too, until neither feels safe enough to confide in the other. It's the lack of communication that causes more divorces than anything else. One thing is sure: A marriage doesn't go sour all by itself, but if you work hard enough, it often sweetens up.
Now is the time to try to rescue what you had, through marriage counseling and perhaps individual therapy too: A trained outsider can see a lot that the insiders miss. This may be expensive, but only until you compare it to the cost of a divorce.
Besides, in the back of your mind you always would wonder if you couldn't have tried a little harder, and if you were to marry another pleasant guy, you would worry if this would go wrong, too, and where and how. At the very least you want fo decipher the dynamics of your present marriage, so you won't help to set the same trap again.
Jim and Penny, however, are the main reasons for keeping your marriage together. They have become the lynchpins of your lives: Unless you or your husband disappear, your futures are forever meshed.
This was made very clear when one of the smartest women we know -- divorced with two children and remarried -- told us in exasperation, "There's no such thing as divorce. There's only polygamy!"
It isn't just the week-to-week exchange of children, but the sorting out of school problems, money problems, health problems. You will watch your progeny together at parents' day at camp, and see each other at graduations and at football games and high school plays. You may weep together in relief in some hospital emergency room, sit next to each other when they marry and pass the first grandchild back and forth at the baptism.
This kind of togetherness doesn't even work in the movies any more; at least one of them is catching up with reality.
While "Kramer Vs. Dramer" is offbase when it pretends that you can have big bucks in the bank and a classy, two-bedroom apartment in Manhattan on $33,000 a year, their account of divorce -- and what it does to a child -- is painfully true. For what may be the first time, a movie tells this story not only from the diverse viewpoints of the man and the woman, but also from a child's point of view. Here all the guilt, the heartbreak, the depression of the child is spread out so graphically that if every caring parent were condemned to see this movie, the divorce rate would be cut in half.
That's why you ought to go.
Tell your husband that it is very important to you to see this movie with him, but if he won't go, then go alone. And if he won't go with you to a counselor, then do that alone too. A divorce lawyer is the last step to take, not the first.
And we're sure that Penny and Jim would agree.