How to handle a difficult marriage with the children in mind.
Dear Dr. Weiss-Wisdom,
I am in a bad marriage. We fight all the time and have very little in common any more besides our children. For a long time now, I've thought that we should hang in there for the sake of the children but I'm starting to think that we aren't doing them any favors by doing so. The dread of all the change involved in getting divorced is starting to pale compared to the pain of staying in the marriage. My youngest asks me about once a month, "are you and and Daddy getting divorced?" I know we are not supposed to fight in front of the kids but we can't seem to help ourselves; besides the hostility between us is palpable even when we are not overtly fighting. We've been to counseling in the past and nothing seems to really help. Could it be that divorce is the best option for the whole family?
Many people struggle with this dilemma of having grown apart from their spouse but not wanting to unravel the life that they've built together. Ideally, children live with a loving mother and father under one roof. But when the marriage has deteriorated to the point that you are describing, I can see why you are considering other alternatives. There is more than one way to raise a family. Blended families (in which at least one of the adults has a child from a previous relationship) currently out number traditional nuclear family structures. Sometimes, when there is a lot of fighting and unhappiness in the home, children express relief when their parents separate. As you probably already know, one of the worst things for kids is to be caught in the middle of ongoing hostility storms between their parents. Psychologically, they sometimes think that they are the cause (irrationally or unconsciously) of your conflicts. Furthermore, children are skillful observers and learn about relationships by watching their parents. So, what do you want your children to learn? If you and your husband can't find your way back to a loving friendship or peaceful co-habiting, some other alternative may be preferable for everyone concerned.
As we all know, it takes two to tango. Even if you and your husband divorce, you'll still have to interact for co-parenting sake. I recommend that you do some soul searching to understand your own role in these marital problems. Sometimes, when we do our own work and change the way we look at things -our relationships unexpectedly shift. Perhaps you can write down some specifics about how you'd like your relationship with your husband to change. Forget about his behavior for a moment and ask yourself how would you behave if the two of you were getting along or better yet, in love. And then try to behave that way. So in other words, I suggest that you focus on trying to reduce the discord on your end and think of it as practice for if you have to get along as co-parents. Treat him as you would like to be treated. And you are right, if you and your husband decide to divorce or if you decide to stay married, keeping hostility out of the mix or at least away from your children is of the utmost importance.
Diana Weiss-Wisdom, Ph.D. Licensed Psychologist psy#12476 is in private practice in Rancho Santa Fe and Carmel Valley, California.
You can reach her at (858) 259-0146 or www.drdianaweiss-wisdom.com