Relationship Fitness

S18: Action E7: Think Thrice When Children are Involved

In Season 18, Episode 7 of “Relationship Workout for Men,” the podcast addresses the complex considerations that come into play when contemplating divorce, especially when children are involved. The episode provides thoughtful insights into how having children shifts the dynamics of fun and drama within a relationship, emphasizing the importance of active participation in family life and the potentially profound implications of choosing to separate. It highlights the need for fathers to create and savor connected moments with their families and offers a perspective on evaluating the true value and potential impact of divorce on one’s life.

Welcome to Relationship Workout for Men, a podcast dedicated to helping men be intentional in choosing a better partner, and being a better partner for the person they choose.

Season 18 Episode 7:  Think Thrice When Children are Involved

I must admit, I have a habit of asking guys what’s most important to them, picking between things like their careers, financial success, traveling, their golf games, etc. Without exception, 100% of the time, the answer I receive is family. Not surprising, right? 

At the core, this sentiment often stems from the deep emotional bonds and sense of belonging that family relationships provide. Families are the first social unit a person becomes part of, offering initial experiences of love, support, and security, which lay the groundwork for one’s values and perspectives. 

For many, family signifies a steadfast source of unconditional love, acceptance, and understanding, unmatched by any other relationship. This unwavering support system is crucial during life’s highs and lows, offering comfort during times of struggle and celebration in moments of success. 

Additionally, family traditions and shared history can strengthen the sense of connection and identity, making family not just an important aspect of life but the very foundation of it. 

In essence, when a guy says his family is the most important thing, it reflects an acknowledgment of the irreplaceable role his family plays in providing emotional anchorage, shaping his identity, and guiding his values throughout life.

So up to now, this entire podcast has been focused on the partner in the family. For this episode, I’d like to raise four points to consider when children are involved, especially if you’re considering filing for divorce.

Point 1: Add fun with your children to your fun-to-drama equation

When you have children living with you and your partner, happy fun moments together that include both your children and your partner need to be truly appreciated and valued. If you keep a Relationship Journal the fun moments need to be added to your journaling fun-to-drama ratio. Indeed, especially when your children still live with you, much of the fun times within your marriage can be dominated by fun times that include your children.

In fact, in my marriage over the past year, over 35% of our fun moments involved our children, which is two times more than any other fun category. 

So why do I make this point? For two reasons. One, fun moments that involve your partner and children don’t happen by accident. Perhaps, it’s your wife scheduling the event, but regardless of who does the planning we men still need to show up and participate fully in these potentially fun family moments. 

The reality is often there will be other requests for our time that we might much prefer to attend to in the moment. Perhaps you’re trying to get out a deliverable for your boss? Perhaps your buddies called you with a late tee time set for the afternoon, asking you to join. Perhaps, you’d like to spend some me-time dabbling in your favorite hobby.

Whatever the reason encouraging you to pass on family time, remember that every time you do bow out of the family event – for instance, letting your wife take the kids on the excursion by herself — you’re missing out on a potential fun moment with your family, which leads me to an obvious second point.

There are only so many potential fun moments you can have that involve your entire family before your children leave the house. Every time you pass on joining your family, you lose one of these moments. It’s gone. A lost potential fun opportunity you can’t get back. 

So, a suggestion: A commitment to relationship excellence also means thinking twice about not joining activities with your family. And when you do join, participate 100 percent – soak up as much of the happiness as you can, because there are only so many of these moments available for you to enjoy and cherish.

Okay, so now to Point 2: Babies change the fun-to-drama ratio 

I’d like to recall a point I made way back in Season 3 on Chemistry, Episode 7 and that is beware: It can be a lot easier to have fun with your partner before babies arrive. From going out as much as your budget can afford to having sex whenever you both decide. However, once babies arrive, the amount of time and energy available to have fun together drops dramatically, which can expose the amount of drama you may be conveniently ignoring.

To illustrate this point, let’s say while dating you two on average experience ten moments of drama to every fifty moments of fun. You’re at that stable 5:1 fun to drama ratio, which was discussed in Season 1, so you might think all signs look good enough to make a long-term commitment.

However, once your first baby is born, life can become exhausting and difficult, especially the first few years and especially for her (ask any women who has ever had children if you don’t believe me). There’s sleep deprivation, potential financial stress, differences in parenting styles, and a shift in the relationship dynamics toward caregiving. It can also become hard to find time for each other, potentially leading to feelings of neglect and isolation. Put simply, with babies come many potential topics to disagree on, such as arguing about who gets up in the middle of the night to sooth your screaming baby.

This combination of exhaustion plus disagreements about how to raise the child, added to pre-existing drama potential, might lead you to have a bout with drama almost once a day on average. It’s not unrealistic with a newborn to find something to argue about almost every day. So, let’s say you’re averaging 20 moments of drama every month for at least the baby’s first two years.

In the meantime, you may very well find yourselves with little time or energy to have fun moments together, dropping the number of positive moments each month to say five. It’s not unreasonable to say you’re at most averaging a date night every other week and the other weeks you find one or two other things to do together that bring connection.

But if this is the situation, then what has happened to your fun-to-drama ratio? Your relationship went from having a stable 5:1 fun-to-drama ratio before babies, averaging every month approximately 50 moments of fun to every 10 moments of drama, to now in the first months to years of having babies your fun-to-drama ratio has flipped. Now you’re having 5 moments of fun to every 20 moments of drama for a 0.25 fun-to-drama ratio. 

Now, I don’t need to be a mathematical whiz to realize that if your life together month-after-month has more drama than fun, after a few years of this you can very well feel like wanting to quit. 

My main point here is to expect that at least until your babies have turned four that you might very well have an uncomfortable amount of drama compared to how much fun you’re having. But my suggestion is to weather through this storm, as the opportunities to have family fun times increase dramatically as your babies get older, as discussed in the first point. 

This leads me to Point 3: The daddy needs to take the lead in creating connected moments

A third point is when there are babies it’s important that the father do whatever he can to not only support his wife but also take the lead in finding ways for her and him to have opportunities to have connected moments together. I’d argue guys need to play this role throughout their relationship, but I think it’s especially important when your children are still babies.

I recall when we had young babies, for Valentine’s Day I’d order takeout from one of my wife’s favorite restaurants so we could have a nice candlelight dinner at home after our babies went asleep. My wife certainly appreciated this.

Okay, so now to Point 4: Considering the children when considering divorce

So what if you’re considering divorce and you have children together? How do children fit into your decision making? Well besides the obvious, here is a way to think about whether to ask for a divorce when you have children together, admittedly through a grossly over simplified scenario.

Let’s say you’re married with two children and considering filing for divorce.

If you do, this likely means your best case is to get 50% custody. This also means you’ve lost the opportunity to have fun with your children for at least 50% of the rest of their childhood, while also ramping up the drama coming from a now likely bitter ex-wife.

Let’s further say that before filing for divorce, each child brings 1 unit of value to your life. So, your children are bringing you two points of value.

Let’s also say you’re very unhappy in your marriage (way too much drama, far too little fun). Let’s further say your wife brings 0 units of value to your life. In reality, she might be taking value away or more likely bringing at least some value to you for no other reason than she’s likely heavily involved with raising the children. This means your current relationship and family situation is bringing two units of value to your life: 1 plus 1 for the two children and plus 0 for your wife, which equals 2.

Now let’s say you decide to file for divorce, and you get your best-case situation 50% custody. This is a base-case scenario, as I have friends who received only a few weekends a month of custody.

But in this base case scenario, now each child can only at best case bring 0.5 units of value to your life. However, now your ex-wife bitterly hates you and puts the screws to you every chance she gets. I’ve heard this story frequently from divorced guys. So, let’s say this translates to her taking away 1 unit of value – driven by her anger toward you and the financial drain of alimony. 

But let’s also say you immediately meet what you think is the “real” love of your life. Miraculously, the day after your wife walks out of your life, your true Person walks in. Of course, this isn’t a realistic expectation, but bear with me. Now that you’re with this new person, let’s say she’s bringing you 1 unit of value to your life.

So, what does your relationship equation look like now? Well, you have 0.5 + 0.5 for 50% time with your two children plus 1 for your new Person being in your life, but minus one from the ex. This all equals 1 unit of value.

So, by getting a divorce you’ve actually halved the value you have in your life, in the best of post-wife scenarios, while also picking up alimony and child support payments and most likely severely hurting your children in the process. 

Of course, this is an oversimplification, but the point is by leaving your wife, especially when you have children, the grass may not be any greener. So, you very well might be better off taking the action to intentionally work on your relationship with your wife to give you the best of scenarios: Keeping your family intact receiving full units of value from each of your children and your wife!

Of course, this relationship equation can get nullified if there is abuse, so that will be the topic of our next episode.

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