It would be one of the toughest decisions I had ever made. We had been together for a year and a half and considering our culture’s microwave approach to dating that’s a lifetime. Our kids were similar ages; we lived close to each other, and were on same weekends.
I didn’t know it then but the day I told her goodbye, for reasons that seemed so trivial, would become a life changing moment. One of those instances when you look back years later thankful it happened because of what it taught you.
At the time my kids were five and three and my youngest had gotten to that age where he blurted out of his mouth everything coming into his ears. I had received a few emails and the occasional phone call from his worried mother asking if I knew why our son had said ‘this’ or done ‘that’. All of the issues were petty by most standards but nonetheless noticeable and for the longest I chalked all of it up to the robustness of a growing boy, yet I knew better.
She shared a 50/50 custody arrange with her two daughters, the oldest of which was eight. Her ex husband was a good man but for the most part out of touch. Having remarried a woman slightly half his age, without kids of her own, it seemed he was looking for a baby sitter instead of a soul mate. For the most part discipline and boundaries were imaginary. Case in point, after spending thousands of dollars filling eight cavities on her five year old I was more than surprised to find the girl sucking on a pixi stick the following week. I had worked with her to set some rules for the girls and impose discipline if needed – all to no avail. It’s astounding what parenting looks like when fueled by guilt. We had witnessed enough of tantrums that even my son got it, “daddy, they are whiny cry babies.”
After a lot of convincing she reluctantly decided to put her oldest into counseling with some noticeable improvements. But not being a fan of therapy in general as the weeks went on she couldn’t see the long-term benefits and promptly yanked the girl out. Up to this point, I had been respectful but candid about my concerns, which were punctuated anytime my ex called, but my patience was now on thin ice.
I reached my tipping point one December night when I brought my kids over to exchange Christmas gifts. We walk in the house to World War III. The oldest was in mid eruption – all because she left a jacket at school that day and couldn’t get it until tomorrow. Mom has flustered and the girl was hysterical. We ended up bribing her with presents to get her calmed down.
Years later, in a men’s group discussion about relationships and knowing when they’re over, I wrote the following in my journal:
“A relationship is over when we begin to compromise our value system in order to stay.”
Teaching my children respect, upright behavior, and proper boundaries are very important to me. Kids who never hear ‘no’ end up living in their parents’ basement. And with each phone call from my ex the difference in our parenting styles became more defined. With every new meltdown and display of disrespect from her daughters to their mom and me the sirens grew louder and louder to the point I could no longer drown it out with the good things she and I may have had. While she readily admitted there was a problem, her conscience and a refusal to actually be the parent meant things were never going to get better.
And so three days after Christmas I decided to end the relationship. The immediate struggle was feeling like I’d been too quick to judge, overly harsh, and not understanding enough because the issue was never really between her and I. Friends would often look at me funny when I told them – as if it wasn’t a good enough reason. But as I pondered it more I kept coming back again and again to this one thought, ‘what type of relationship did we really have if I had to sacrifice my principles to stay with her?’ Even more what did it say about our longevity? If taken to its logical conclusion where could that relationship have ended up but one full of resentment and a loss of respect for each other over the very thing I knew and should have done something about when I had the chance – but I decided to ignore because everything else was good.
There can be few greater truths behind that phrase. No relationship, regardless of how good it might ‘feel’ at the time, is ever worth sacrificing your morals over. Because in the end if we give up those what do we have left?