Carolyn Hax: When to break up without hurting the kids too much?

DEAR CAROLYN: Is there an age at which divorce causes more or less damage to children? My husband and I have grown apart and live like friendly roommates. I’m very unhappy, but I think the kids perceive our home as warm and secure.

Sometimes I think I should just stay with my husband until our youngest child goes to college, but that will be in 10 years. I don’t think I can hang in there that long. Will the kids be able to handle it better if I wait until they’re in high school?

– For the Kids’ Sake

DEAR KIDS’ SAKE: The kids will handle anything better if you demonstrate compassion, resourcefulness, selflessness, wisdom and integrity.

Which means I don’t see any best-case outcome here unless you first try – really try – to restore these friendly roommates to husband and wife. Which means saying to this spousal roommate ... something, anything, to open his eyes to the extent of your unhappiness, and inviting him into the process of reversing years of mutual emotional neglect. Find a talented marriage counselor, a reputable marriage retreat or just watch a season or five of “Friday Night Lights” together. Seriously – it’s like a marriage clinic, with cheerleaders.

I realize it’s inherently offensive for a third party to declare from on high that you don’t “deserve” a divorce because you haven’t worked “hard” “enough” to “save” your marriage. I also think misery can be its own justification to leave a relationship, for many reasons – among them that kids don’t automatically thrive in households with “very unhappy” parents just because both parents live there. However, you put the stay-for-kids option on the table, so respect your own reasons and keep it there, with one tweak – do it for yourself, too.

Don’t just stay till it’s societally palatable to leave. Instead, take that concern for your kids’ emotional health and back it with everything you’ve got. Recognize that you had your reasons to choose this man as your life partner. Accept that some of the reasons were good ones. Then, work to find out whether any of those can be revisited, rethought, repurposed or retrofitted into a form of personal satisfaction. Maybe not the one you wanted at 21, but one that fits you now.

Virtually every marriage left untended will get weedy. It’s actually the better ones that decay into what you have, warm detachment, because there is actual warmth – plus enough maturity between you to coexist in peace. An army of professionals in the divorce industry stands ready to reassure you that these two qualities are not in abundant supply and not to be lightly dismissed.

Maybe you call it faint praise that your husband is someone you get along with, are invested in and who isn’t mean to you – but I call it a chance.