Do Kids Cause Divorce?

A new generation of Philly parents is doing what used to be unthinkable: divorcing when their kids are barely out of diapers. How rising expectations are killing modern marriage

“When he came back from a business trip, he owed me a night out with the girls,” she says. “If I went to the gym, he got to go to a Phillies game. We should have been doing stuff together. Instead, at night, I ended up watching TV upstairs, and he was watching it downstairs.” They had separate interests, separate friends — and no desire to talk to each other about anything other than the kids.

Eventually, he stopped watching TV and started surfing porn on the Internet. She began logging onto Facebook, where she reconnected with an old flame from high school, which relationship counselor Alyson Nerenberg is hearing about during counseling sessions all the time now.
 
“On Facebook, they talk about memories of an easier time, reminisce about when life was a lot more carefree,” says Nerenberg, who practices in Chestnut Hill but sees many Main Line couples who don’t want to risk running into their neighbors. “Instead of working on the marriage, they go to Facebook for validation.”
 
After a month of Facebook flirting, Erika came clean.

“So, I’m telling my husband that I have feelings for someone else, and I think he’s going to be really upset,” she says. “Then he turns around and says he has feelings for someone else too, someone he met at the gym. Neither of us ever consummated those relationships, but even if he had, I wasn’t sad. I wasn’t pissed. I knew the road we were going down.” Her husband knew it, too. They were finally on the same page.

In the same business-like tone of their marriage, they divorced (despite Erika’s baffled mom asking her weekly, “How bad is it? He’s not beating you. He’s not bad to the kids”). They had no arguments over arranging custody, child support or alimony. He still had a key to the house; she had a key to his new apartment. He even waited until she got a job to file papers, so he could keep her on his health plan. The first thing she did when she got her own insurance? Get on birth control.
 
“I have enough guy friends to ‘take care’ of me if I need them,” she says. “People are very up-front: ‘You want to have sex? Okay.’ Some are also going through divorces or are already cheating on their spouses. Some appear [on Facebook] to be in perfectly normal marriages and say, ‘When I’m in Philly, I’ll call you.’ But I’m not going there.”

It was one of
the most organized, calculated jobs he’d ever had — hiding his affair from his wife. Mike, 34, would set his cell alarm to ring like a phone in front of her so he could pretend a client was calling, and thus go out and meet his girlfriend. Or he’d tell his wife he had to go to Harrisburg for work, then head off on a plane for a secret trip with his mistress to Atlanta, obsessively checking the weather in central Pennsylvania in case his wife asked when he called to say goodnight. His girlfriend even bought a rope ladder for her second-floor apartment, so he’d have a quick escape on the off chance his wife figured it all out and came knocking.
 
But Mike was pretty sure she wouldn’t find out:  “Having a kid made my wife brain-dead,” he says. Where was the woman, he wondered, who was smart and engaging, the sexy, fun one who could carry on a conversation with anybody about anything, not just rattle on about the latest milestone passed by her one-year-old baby girl?
 
On top of that, becoming a dad was nothing like he expected it would be.
 
“I had no clue how to interact with a baby. I was surprised I felt that way. I didn’t want to be around her,” he says. “It was all shocking to me.”

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  • Barbara

    Everything in this article is true. Marital satisfaction plummets after becoming a parent and you either tough it out or get out.

  • Jenn

    Saying this out loud is like saying “Voldemort” — among many of my peers, it’s verboten to admit that having a kid (no matter how planned & wanted & loved that kid is) is like throwing a hand gren

  • Jenn

    hand grenade at your relationship with your spouse/partner.

  • Charlie

    Suppose the couple stays together until the children reach 21 and move on? Another question — for another article — do empty nests cause divorce? When parents look at each other again, instead of the kids, suddenly have a lot of free time to be together…but prefer to be apart and to do their own thing again?

  • Charlie

    Suppose the couple stays together until the children reach 21 and move on? Another question — for another article — do empty nests cause divorce? When parents look at each other again, instead of the kids, suddenly have a lot of free time to be together…but prefer to be apart and to do their own thing again?

  • Karen

    wow what a bunch of immature,ridiculous people. your lives changed when you had kids? no kidding?? maybe try to find solutions to marital problems instead of divorce or affairs ,something that might actually benefit the children you brought in the world. my husband & I have decided not to have children ,we have tons of time for each other & a great marriage,maybe couples should give the child sisue more thought & not just assume it will make everything great!! all my married friends w/kids have problems

  • Beth

    These divorces are caused by adults who lack maturity and committment and possess an overwhelming need for instant gratification. I pity their children, who are going to need comprehensive therapy sooner rather than later if they are not going to end up as screwed up as their entitled parents. Grow up people.

  • Drew

    When are we going to admit, as a society, that marriage is largely unsuccessful? It’s a bad contract.

  • Claudia

    It’s sad and pathetic how people have to prove that their life doesn’t have to change because of a child. YES IT DOES unless you want to be some low-class piece of garbage that just doesn’t care. The only one who suffers is the child. It’s pathetic and it’s sickens me to my stomach.How do I know? My daughter is a product of this mess. However, I made sure that this would not effect her in a negative way. I had a choice; it was either let her see mommy & daddy fight and argue? Let her see mommy and daddy as friends being civil. I chose to end it before she could really realize what was going on. I was not about to subject her to a such a stoic enviornment. Her dad is in her life. Some people want to sacrifice and some just do not. My daughter is such a happy baby and I do not regret my decision. My social life has taken a back seat all together and I spend every free moment with my little friend. Not having a “life” for a while made me the happiest mother alive! The only thing that people…

  • Hannah

    I have three young kids, and I know every word of this article is true. HOWEVER, I also know that working on my marriage and giving my kids that loving, committed parents is one of the best gifts their dad and I can give them. Yeah, parenting and marriage are hard… but so worth it.

    And all of you parents who bail on your marriage when it gets a little tough; watch and episode of Intervention and then tell me your kids are going to be fine. ;)

  • eric

    you break up a marriage with innocent young kids so you can have more “fun”. absolutely digusting behavior. no its not easy but thats your fault not the kids. I am replused by the actions of these people as well as the tone of the article

  • eric

    you break up a marriage with innocent young kids so you can have more “fun”. absolutely digusting behavior. no its not easy but thats your fault not the kids. I am replused by the actions of these people as well as the tone of the article

  • R

    I applaud Philadelphia Magazine for such bravely honest portraits of new parents. I notice that some criticism below comes from readers don’t have kids. Until you have a child, you will not understand the strain it can place on even the most rock-solid relationship – especially for couples who are the “straight-A”, research-it-all, get-everything-perfect type. My 3-year marriage was absolutely perfect. After my son was born, things got very difficult. Worrying about our little one and getting very little sleep or work done caused us to snap and yell at each other in ways that we never had before. But, knowing that I’m not alone and knowing that there’s at least one regretful person out there (profiled at the end of the article) gives me the strength to hang in there. As our child grows, every month gets easier for our family. My husband and I have managed to keep our communication lines open during this stressful time (I tell him when I’m unhappy and vice-versa) have seen our relationship grow as well. To others, I say,as much as you love your child, make your partner your very first priority. Hang in there!

  • Rachel

    My kids don’t make my marriage good or bad, my choices do.

  • Rachel

    I think we are in danger of hurting our marriage if we have an extreme attitude towards kids (i.e. either kids will make our lives/marriages completely happy or kids will make our lives/marriages totally suck). The truth is that neither of these extremes are true because kids do not CAUSE a marriage to be good or bad rather they REVEAL if a marriage is good or bad. Parents can CHOOSE to ruin their marriage after having kids by CHOOSING to allow themselves to be so consumed with their children that they neglect their spouse. The kids did not CAUSE these marriages to go bad though, the parents CHOOSING wrong priorities made these marriages fail.

    I have two young children (3 and 1 1/2) who I deeply love, and I know the best gift I can give them is a mommy and daddy who deeply love each other. My husband and I make our marriage a priority my spending time together as a family, spend one-on-one time together after the little ones go to bed, going on dates, etc. Having two little ones is hard work, but a good marriage is also hard work. MY KIDS…