For parents, the question of whether to stay together for the children is not an easy one to answer. Divorce impacts families in many ways. When we experience separation in our marriage, no matter the reasons that preceded the split, most of life is touched in some way by this often tumultuous change,
Peripheral relationships are affected. Our kids’ behavior can shift. We may have to change homes. The solidity of the family unit gets disrupted. Our level of conflict with those around us may increase for a time. Our work performance, sleep and health habits, and overall outlook can go through a season of tremendous upheaval and change.
Often, kids are the ones who suffer the greatest impact from the effects of divorce. It’s difficult for children of divorce to process the reasons for their parents’ separation. Children sometimes blame themselves. Their schoolwork can suffer. Their friendships experience strain. They may exhibit signs of depression, anxiety, mental illness, along with other behavioral shifts that affect their relationships and level of overall satisfaction.
Because of these things, many parents seriously consider staying in the relationship, sometimes in the midst of a dangerous situation and a wildly dysfunctional family. Of course, it’s incredibly important to prioritize your children, to not let them slip through the cracks, to do what you can to guide them through this time toward hope and healing. However, if you’re really concerned about your family, make sure you weigh a key factor in this whole equation. You need to consider whether staying in an intact but unhappy marriage is better for you and your children than creating a separated but happier home.
Also, if we’re talking about even more extreme circumstances, those involving a severely strained relationship, domestic abuse, verbally abusive parental conflict, alcohol abuse, substance abuse, aggressive behavior toward you or your children, rampant irresponsibility with finances, a repeatedly unfaithful spouse, and other examples unhealthy relationships and behavior, it is better to move forward with divorce for the safety, security, and health of both you and your kids.
Possible Risks and Benefits of Staying Together
A satisfying family life and a healthy relationship are difficult things to master, especially when you’re already dealing with a great deal of adult conflict. There is both an upside and a downside to sticking around for the sake of the kids. Some possible benefits to your children of not getting divorced include:
- The stability of intact families
- Emotional support from both parents
- Guidance from both parents
- Greater self-esteem
- Better academic performance
- The desire to make the most of their own relationships
- A better living environment
- Access to greater resources
- Uninterrupted social life and more.
However, these benefits only take place when there is at least a genuine friendship between both spouses, a mutual respect for one another, strong, clear communication, and a common vision for parenting. This is rare, though, as most struggling couples find it increasingly difficult to see eye to eye.
If you and your spouse don’t find yourselves in this enviable position, and aren’t interested in building at least a baseline of respect and cooperation, the long-term risks of forcing yourselves to stay together will damage not only the two of you, but your children as well. Some of these consequences include:
- Depression and anxiety for you and your children
- Frequent fighting and arguments
- Abusive behavior: including emotional abuse or physical abuse
- Addictive behaviors which stem from ongoing family conflict – in you, your spouse, or your kids
- Loss of freedom
- Sacrificing your own health
- Giving up on your dreams and goals
- Children experiencing difficulty maintaining healthy adult relationships when they grow up (however, this affects children of divorce just as much).
As you can see, either choice carries both positive and negative consequences. You should make the choice that leads to greater long-term health, safety, and abundance for your family. Never sacrifice your own safety and well-being just to keep the kids happy. If you are in an unsafe environment, or one where you experience a complete lack of love, respect, and dignity, staying put will only benefit your kids for a short time. After a while, the negative effects on you and the toxic household atmosphere will damage your children’s emotional and mental health and their promise for a strong future.
Helping Your Children get through Divorce
As we’ve discussed, divorce certainly carries several potential downsides for people, including spouses, family members, friends, and certainly children. However, studies show that when children have at least one parent who is consistently supportive, loving, and engaged in their lives, they tend to bounce back from their parents’ divorce after a few years. Let’s look now at a few things parents can do to both protect and inspire their kids during this difficult season.
Being a good listener is important for every relationship in your life. But we often neglect this with our kids. Take time each day to get down to their level and listen to them intently. Don’t interrupt and try to solve everything right away. Just listen. Then, once they’ve finished, move toward compassionate, thoughtful responses along with advice and guidance. You’ll find that sometimes just listening to them makes things better.
Respect and Speak Well of Your Ex
It’s easy to blame things on your ex, to make fun of them or diminish their value in your children’s eyes. This is the wrong move. It hurts your kids’ relationship with your spouse, which is one of the most vital relationships they have. It also makes you look adolescent and trashy.
Approach your interactions with and your conversations about your ex with maturity, dignity, respect, and honor. Don’t constantly drum up old arguments or start new ones. Avoid fighting in front of the kids and speak well of them while encouraging your children to sow into their relationship with your ex. This all works in your favor and creates a much healthier environment for your kids.
Work with a Good Counselor
There are few things more instrumental to your family’s health following divorce than the support and guidance of an experienced family therapist. They have years of experience, specific training, myriad tools, and considerable knowledge to help you and your kids develop coping skills, healthy life habits, better communication, ways to express emotion in a healthy manner, personal growth strategies, practical family and parenting advice, and so much more.
Don’t underestimate the need for a good counselor. The benefits are innumerable and far outweigh any small, temporary cost it may require of you.
Monitor Them Closely but Respect Their Autonomy
Divorce can be one of the most difficult seasons your children face. Every child is unique, which means every child reacts differently to parental separation. During this rough time, it’s important to keep a close eye on your kids for signs of depression, severe behavioral changes, increased anxiety, addiction, self-destructive patterns, or other troubling signs.
It’s normal for kids to experience a measure of depression, confusion, anxiety and relational distress during this time. The key thing is to stay aware of what’s going on, listen to them when they share, stay involved in their lives, get them the professional help they need, offer sound advice and guidance, and help them find their way toward a hopeful future.
At the same time, you want to ensure that your efforts to monitor their safety and well-being don’t go overboard. They still need their independence and autonomy, especially in their teen years. You don’t want to hover and over-parent. Just be there consistently. Watch closely without micromanaging, and step in more directly if behaviors become unhealthy or harmful.
Facilitate a Supportive Social Circle of Extended Family, Community Members, and Close Friends
Getting through divorce means having the right people by your side. Both you and your kids need the loving support provided by members of your extended family, individuals from your community like faith-based leaders, mentors, supportive business associates, and others, and of course, the love and help of dear friends.
There is no substitute for good people in your life. No matter how many coping mechanisms and growth strategies you’ve learned, without love and friendship, none of that matters.
Cooperate with Your Ex on Matters that Involve Your Children
Too many ex spouses spend their time bickering, fighting, and disrespecting one another. They even do so in front of their children. Instead, choose early on to work together for your children’s benefit and for your own sanity.
Life will go a lot smoother when you work together respectfully, taking one another’s perspectives into account, and coming up with effective parenting solutions you can both agree on. Also, your child will feel more grounded and at ease sensing your cooperation with one another. They will have a better idea of what to expect each day and how to interact with each of you.
On the practical side, you’ll be able to plan events and appointments with greater ease and find that being on the same page makes life a lot easier for everyone.
No matter what you choose, your children will experience a level of distress and adjustment. It is important to make decisions based on long-term well-being, both for you and your kids. Don’t stay in a dangerous or abusive relationship just to “keep things together” for the kids. This puts you and them at risk for greater harm.
Also, even while parents make sacrifices every day for their kids, it isn’t wise to sacrifice your own health and happiness forever just to maintain the status quo. If things aren’t good and don’t improve with counseling, moving on from the relationship, while difficult for everyone at first, may be the best choice you can make for your family.
Torrone Law is dedicated to helping individuals and families find resolution and wholeness during divorce, custody and adoption. Contact us today with questions and to discover how Torrone can help you build a better future.
To learn more about divorce and parenting, check out our frequently asked questions and answers below.
Is it ever a good idea to stay in a bad marriage for the sake of the kids?
Sometimes, in the case of marriages that are simply struggling but aren’t dangerous in any way, working on your relationship together, especially with a counselor, can be an excellent idea. You can establish a better home for your kids and turn a difficult marriage into a thriving one.
However, when we’re talking about an unhealthy environment, an abusive relationship, or one where your partner shows no interest or initiative in working on things together, moving on is your best choice. As long as you provide loving support and guidance alongside a healthy social support circle and professional counsel, your children will adjust and bounce back with time.
Are the effects worse for children of unhappy marriages or children of divorce?
It’s a fair question and one that isn’t easily answered. Both experience a variety of negative effects. Unhappy marriages can wreak havoc on children over time, if they are full of discord, arguments, disrespect, frequent fights in front of the kids, emotional coldness and distance, manipulation, and gossip. These things will damage your children’s emotional well-being and mental health, and hurt their possibility of having a healthy marriage when they become adults.
At the same time, children of divorce suffer a great deal too, from emotional and mental health concerns, to addictive behavior, school problems, conflicts with friends and family, depression, anxiety, confusion and more.
The key is to create a very supportive, honest, and inspiring environment for your children, with plenty of support, good counsel, great listening, personal responsibility, professional advocates, and encouragement.
Who are the best people to talk to about my marriage, parenting, or divorce struggles?
- Marriage and family counselors
- Child psychologists
- Divorce Lawyers
- Family Advocates
- Community Leaders
- Trusted friends and family