The Top 7 Reasons Why You Shouldn't Stay Married for the Kids
You want a divorce, but you have kids. So, you think, wouldn’t it be better just to suck it up and stay married until they’re in a good place? When they’re stable. Not about to begin preschool. Kindergarten. The fifth grade. Pitch at the next Little League game. Take the SATs. Go to prom. Apply to college. See where I’m going with this?
It’s why I always say don’t bother waiting. No matter what you think, there’s never going to be that “perfect” time to end your marriage — for you, your spouse, and certainly not for your kids.
Trying to time a divorce is like trying to time the stock market. You shouldn’t do it because, most of the time, it backfires. What usually happens is the market goes up when you least expect it to. Or down. And, somehow, you lose out. You either should’ve invested more, invested less, or not invested at all.
Well, the same holds for trying to time a divorce based on what works for your kids. Guess what? If you try to do that, you’ll find there’s always going to be something — an illness, an event (large or small), a life passage, a happy occasion, like a birthday, a bar mitzvah, or a confirmation, or a sad occasion — that you’re not going to want to ratchet up the stress for or disrupt.
The path of least resistance, or so it seems, would be to wait. Put your divorce off. But, in doing so, you risk putting off your life, and in many ways, your family members’ lives, too. For now. Indefinitely.
Without you even realizing it, your life then passes you by as you stay in a marriage that doesn’t bring you happiness or, at the extreme, makes you miserable. Or worse still, your remaining married causes your children irreparable harm, harm you might not realize is even occurring until they’re older, perhaps adults.
Not convinced? It’s OK. I get how hard it is to make a move based on abstract ideas. Therefore, let me give you a few concrete reasons why you should reconsider staying married for the kids.
1. Kids can feel the tension.
If you think your children aren’t listening, think again. They are. And watching. They don’t have to be older children either; younger children can sense their parents are arguing or are unhappy, too.
Studies have shown that babies as young as six months can tell when their parents are stressed. Specifically, they have physiological reactions to stressful situations just by seeing their parents’ angry faces.
So, if you believe speaking civilly to one another in the presence of your kids, even though you’re seething inside, is fooling them into thinking you’re happy, the only one you’re fooling is yourself. Kids can often feel like something’s off.
2. Animosity usually deepens over time.
In a study of 355 couples assessed at one, two, three, four, seven, and 16 years of marriage, researchers found that marital tensions increased over time. Though marital tensions rose over time for husbands and wives, husbands experienced a greater increase.
The implication? If you’ve grown to dislike your spouse for whatever reason, burying the animosity you feel toward them will do little to cure it. Instead, the opposite will usually occur, and that is, you will grow to dislike your spouse more over time.
3. You’re putting off the inevitable.
The study above further illustrated that despite the more significant increase in marital tension for husbands, it was wives’ increased marital tension over the duration of a marriage that was more commonly associated with divorce.
Regardless of whether it’s the husband or wife who’s closer to ending the marriage, the takeaway is that unless both spouses commit to getting to the root of their marital issues, a relationship with problems and resultant tension probably won’t last. So perhaps a better question to ask is why would you want it to?
4. You’re unhappy.
Even if your spouse is great, treats you well, and provides stability in every way imaginable, it’s OK to admit you’re unhappy.
Sometimes personalities don’t click. Sometimes people fall out of love. Sometimes people realize they have different goals and that their marriage never did or no longer supports them.
Everyone has a right to be happy, including you. Plus, there’s a huge upside: happy people generally make better parents.
5. You’re modeling unhealthy behaviors for your kids.
There’s endless research showing that children model their parents’ behaviors. In one such study, researchers examined how mothers and fathers who behaved anxiously prior to their children’s spelling test affected the children. They found that when parents displayed anxious behavior beforehand, the child exhibited a higher level of anxiety and similar anxious behaviors. The result was the same whether the parent was a mother or father; the child modeled the behavior they witnessed.
As for abusive behaviors? Let me start by saying that if you’re a victim of abuse, leave. That goes for physical abuse and emotional abuse. Both put you and your children in danger directly if they, too, are being victimized. And indirectly, if they’re watching it.
Children who grow up in abusive households tend to respond in several ways. First, they may become the abuser in their future relationships. Second, they may allow themselves to be abused in relationships. Or third, they may exhibit both types of behaviors in a single relationship or ping pong between relationships where they’re the abuser or the abused, depending on the person they’re with.
You want your children to witness healthy interactions. That means being in a relationship where the partners exhibit mutual respect, show interest in each other’s lives, communicate openly and honestly, and share household responsibilities. There are certainly other healthy behaviors, but these are a few of the most obvious ones.
6. Your children deserve better.
What if I told you that your children could be better off if they came from a two-home family, where both of their parents co-parented together, happily? If you’re first considering divorce or are in the throes of a not-so-amicable one, you may not believe me.
But what I’m saying is true. By implementing specific co-parenting strategies, living in and creating this environment for your children isn’t only possible — it can also be a reality.
Healthy co-parenting, first and foremost, requires a commitment to it. Don’t worry if, right now, you’re the only one who is up for the challenge. You can lead the way for your children’s other parent. That begins with not fighting over every tiny detail, visiting a Massachusetts divorce and family lawyer to help you agree to a workable parenting plan, abiding by the parenting plan you create, making both of your living spaces homes, and, most importantly, putting your children’s needs before your feelings toward the other parent.
Your children deserve a healthy environment in which to live. And although they might not thank you directly one day, their growing up to be happy, confident, productive, kind, empathetic, and giving people will be all the thanks you’ll ever want or need.
And if by chance they do decide to express their gratitude, they’d be in good company: a 2016 survey out of the U.K. found that 82 percent of the children polled, who were between the ages of 14 and 22, said it was better their parents divorced.
7. You deserve better.
Putting your children first doesn’t mean sacrificing yourself at the stake for them. No one’s asking you to be a martyr, and if you’re considering becoming one, I beg you to reconsider.
On its face, the decision to divorce might feel like a selfish act. But, if you’re doing it to improve your life while still being attentive to your children’s needs, it’s anything but self-serving.
Happier people tend to be better friends, better relationship partners, better employees, better co-workers, and better children. And most of all, they’re likely to be better parents, which is truly the biggest gift you can give your kids — and yourself.