Should You Stay Together for the Kids?

WebMD Blog:

Should You Stay Together for the Kids?

By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD


If you’re staying together for the kids – trying to spare them the pain of being from a broken family – give this some further thought. The truth is that your kids live the reality.

Whatever the state of your marriage, your children know it (at least on a sensing level, if not being outright consciously aware). If it’s a happy union, the health of your relationship is in the air they breathe. But if it falls short of that, they also know. Whether you and your spouse respond to each other with an icy silence, a polite distance, or heated arguments, your children are absorbing it as a model for what intimate relationships are like. Even couples that function okay together, but without loving interactions, are role modeling an emotional distance in their intimate relationship.

When you pretend that your relationship is better than it really is or simply ignore the problems, your children learn that this is how to cope with relationship problems. Or, when they have personal struggles, they might learn not to be open about them in their relationships.

It is entirely possible that your children might learn from your mistakes. They might decide to use aspects of your marriage as a model for what not to do. And that might enable them to one-day nurture a happier marriage.

But, instead of glossing over the problems in your marriage, there is another, perhaps better, way – working as a team. If you are honest with your spouse and yourself about your marriage, you can work as a unit to address problems. If those feel insurmountable, you might want to seek counseling or work as a unit to figure out how to proceed on your own from there.

Even if your marriage is shaky, good communication will show your kids how you interact together in a caring way. This might mean working together in a less than perfect union (as most marriages are), but still showing consideration and support for each other. It might also mean cooperating through the divorce process or in a divorced relationship. To the degree that they see you both working in healthy ways together, they will absorb that as a model for intimate relationships.

It can help to think about your children as part of a larger picture as you decide whether or not to remain married. Maybe wanting your children to grow up in an intact family is the motivation you need to work harder on making your marriage better. There is certainly nothing wrong with that! But as you decide whether to remain together, keep in mind that your children will be learning from how you and your spouse conduct yourselves in your relationship.


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