Should We Stay Together for the Sake of the Children?

Published: 10th June 2010
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Should we stay together for the sake of the children? Many parents ask this question. People often believe that divorce is extremely damaging to children and they stay together in an otherwise unhappy marriage as a result. However, this is not necessarily the best thing for children. My clients tell me all of the time that they stayed together or believe they should stay together for the sake of their children. I tell them that children do not need married parents - they need happy and healthy parents.

There is no doubt that kids benefit from living with two parents who have a good marriage. They feel secure and safe. They learn what it takes to make a good marriage and to form good adult relationships. They do not have to deal with the complications and stress that come with a divorce. Studies reveal that children who are raised in a two person, loving, and stable environment show less signs of depression, anxiety and defiant behavior and do better in school.

However, there are two parts to that equation. Just having two parents is not enough - a good marriage is the more important part. Children are very intuitive - they can see when there are problems. While no child wants their parents to be divorced - children are more damaged by constant fighting, a poor relationship, or unhappy parents than they are by a divorce. Children raised in a stressful and conflicted environment are more stressed, have more defiant behavior, and have more disciplinary problems. Studies also have shown that children do better when their parents get divorced, in comparison to their parents living together in a continuous state of conflict, instability, and uncertainty.

Divorce is stressful on everyone, especially children, and should be avoided whenever possible. However, a divorce in and of itself is not necessarily damaging. Fighting, arguing, putting the children in the middle, custody battles, a lack of communication and a lack of respect by one of their parents towards the other are the damaging parts of a divorce. Children of divorced parents can do great if these things are avoided. Children need to know and to feel that each of their parents is a good person. If their parents belittle, demean or criticize the other parent, in a child's mind they are doing the same to them - they are a part and an extensive of their parents after all. Even if they consciously don't think this, they internalize these actions and subconsciously feel it.

Parents often get caught up in their own emotions and either can't, or won't, put aside those emotions for the sake of the children. This is true whether they continue to stay in an unhappy marriage or if they get divorced. For these people, either situation is damaging to the children. However, at least with a divorce, there is distance and fewer situations where the children are caught up in these emotions. A pending divorce can certainly amplify those emotions but eventually, the conflict will die down when the divorce concludes although the anger may never completely go away.

What if, you ask, my marriage is not high conflict or stressful? What about those situations where we have simply drifted apart or are no longer in love? Life is just going along for you and you are neither happy nor unhappy? In these situations, the answer to whether you should stay together for the children is not so easy. Your marriage is not damaging to your children at this point and the children will be bewildered and confused by a divorce. They may not have a clue that there were problems between you and your spouse. Most people would agree that in these cases, you should try to tough it out as long as possible. Since there is no doubt that children do best in a two parent, stable relationship, you should try to give them the benefit of that as long as possible.

However, I would caution that it you get to the point where your unhappiness is clearly visible, you need to reevaluate that decision (see above). Even though you may not be fighting with your spouse, if you are extremely unhappy in your marriage, eventually this unhappiness could have negative consequences. You or your spouse could look for fulfillment outside of your marriage by having an affair. You or your spouse could develop depression and other related issues. If these situations occur, it will eventually lead to anger and fighting which will have a greater negative effect on your children.

Children need healthy and happy parents so they have role models to grow up into happy and healthy adults. Children should be shown that having a mate is not the key ingredient to a good life. They should also be taught that if you have a problem, you need to face it head on and take whatever action is necessary to correct it. They should know that they can take ownership of their happiness, life is messy sometimes and things don't always turn out the way that you would like. These are not necessarily bad lessons to learn.

The answer to the question "should we stay together for the sake of the children" is not easy. As parents, it is your job to insure that your children grow up as healthy as possible. However, simply staying together is not necessarily the answer. Depending on your situation, your children may actually be better off if you divorce.

Are you unhappy with your relationship or marriage? Teri Nelson is a divorce lawyer with experience in broken relationships. Check out her blog Relationship Advice 101 for more info and advice on love, marriage, relationships and divorce.

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