Prompted by the recent furore over tax breaks for married couples who stay together, here's my take on things based on my own painful experience.
Marriage is only a good thing if both partners in it are happy. Full stop. Staying together for the sake of the children is something some choose to do, but inevitably it will lead to bitterness further down the line when the realisation dawns upon both people that they have lost many years of their lives staying in an untenable relationship and living in misery. That and the fact that they are probably too old to find another partner. In the meantime however, their children will have fled the nest without thanking their parents for the constant bickering and air of misery about the house they had to endure for all those years.
I was in an unhappy marriage over twenty years ago. We argued about anything and everything. My wife's intense jealousy was out of control and eventually drove us apart when I started questioning my own sanity on an almost daily basis. It was a huge wrench because I had a daughter of 4 at the time, but heartbreaking thoughit was for me, I couldn't take any more of the daily stress that existed betwen me and my wife.
When we split up I lost everything. The house, contents, everything. I was broke and living in a single room in a house share paying out one and a half times what I earned every month until the divorce came through. But you know what? I had at last regained something that you couldn't put a price on. Something I hadn't had for years. Peace of mind and sanity.
It took a long time to get back to normality, but I was fortunate enough two years later to meet someone who was right for me (so often we don't know what's right or wrong for us until we have experienced the wrong) and we both agreed, having come from bad relationships, that we would never settle for second best again. i.e. if we constantly argued or plain didn't get on, we would part.
20 years on and two children later, we're still together and happy. We've had our ups and downs, sure (and some truly stressful ones at that) but compared to my first marriage, it's no contest. Indeed, I often wonder what would have happened had I stayed in that first, miserable, marriage. I would never have known the happiness I have today, that's for sure.
Put simply, life is too short to live it in misery. Change is the biggest obstacle people fear. They would rather stick with what they know, even if in their heart they know it's not right. But you know what? Sometimes, when you're feeling so miserable that you just don't enjoy the prospect of the day ahead, it's worth enduring the stress of splitting up and facing up to the unknown that lies ahead, because the chances are there is a better life around the corner.
Would I have stayed in my first marriage for a few extra bob in my pay packet? Not in a million years. As The Beatles once said, money can't buy you love. The government's notion that a tax break for married couples will make the world a more harmonious place is totally ridiculous.