While most marriages that fall apart end in divorce, there are a number of couples that choose to stay together despite the fact that they are unhappy in their marriages, because they believe they are doing the right thing for their children. Are they doing their children any favors by staying in an unloving and unfulfilling relationship, or is this decision likely to backfire on them in the future?
People who stay together for their children, despite a broken marriage, usually say that they chose to postpone divorce because they didn’t want their children to grow up in a broken home. Other common reasons include fear of the stigma their children may encounter in church or school settings, fear of the negative emotional impact that the divorce would have on the children, and the financial impact that divorce would have on their children’s lives.
Almost all mental health professionals will agree that children fare better when raised in a happy home, by parents who are happy together. But what about when the marriage isn’t so happy? Should you stay and stick it out, or abandon ship in search of calmer waters? The answer may surprise you, says Robert Emery, professor of Psychology and Director of the Center for Children, Families, and the Law at the University of Virginia.
In his book, The Truth About Children & Divorce, Emery talks about the difference between low-conflict and high-conflict marriages, and how this distinction should impact the choice you make. Although Emery acknowledges that children who are the product of happy marriages are a best-case-scenario, when it comes to failing marriages, parents should consider their individual marriage before deciding to stay together for their children.
Conflict, rather than divorce, plays a bigger role in how your kids are affected.
According to research, Emery says that children do better in homes with marriages that may not be happy but are low-conflict, than if that same family had split as a result of divorce. However, this does not apply to the children of high conflict marriages. Children from high conflict marriages statistically do better after the marriage has ended.
So the question of whether remaining together would be better for your children, should be determined by the level and frequency of conflict that you and your spouse experience. Do you fight daily, once or twice a week, or hardly at all? Are your arguments brief and controlled, or protracted affairs with a great deal of screaming and name calling? Consider the type of emotional environment your children live in right now, and then consider whether or not divorcing would be better for them, or not.
However, if you do decide to stay together, Emery warns that this decision should ultimately be made for yourselves, not for your children. This is what Emery calls ” a grown up decision” that should be made by adults who take responsibility for their actions. “I don’t want you to be a martyr.” he says in his book, “I don’t want your children to bear the guilt of your misery. You need to make your own decisions. And especially if you have children, staying together despite your unhappiness, most certainly is an option to consider with great care.”
If you and your spouse have decided that you are no longer happy together, and would like to end your marriage, we recommend contacting an experienced divorce attorney who can represent you during the process. At the Kronzek Firm, our family law attorneys have spent decades protecting our clients’ interests during their divorces, and ensuring that the outcome is as favorable as possible for everyone we represent.