Stop Blaming Your Crappy Marriage On Your Kids

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parents arguing behind child

“I’m thinking about getting a divorce. Well, I want to, but I’m just not sure if I should because I am worried about the kids. I think they will be traumatized. No, I'm not in love with my spouse. We co-exist at best. I feel like I’m drowning. Actually, I’m miserable and I cannot imagine we will stay together after the kids go to college. But do you think the kids would be OK? I think we should wait.”

I hear some version of this monologue on regular basis. I'm not one to judge the reasoning.

I have been through my own painful struggle with the decision of whether or not to divorce. Throughout a difficult marriage, the biggest fear I had was how it would crush my children to find out that their father and I would not be together anymore.

I feared the financial and emotional dangers that come from dividing time and property between households.

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I feared that my boys would be crippled as men in their future relationships.

I felt that — as an adult — I had made my own decisions and my children shouldn’t have to pay the price by living in a broken home.

But really, the home was already broken.

And if you are calling me, a friend, or certainly any divorce professional to ask the question, “Should I get a divorce?,” then I am telling you now that the answer is yes.

And pardon my French, but if you don’t have to balls to go through with it yet, just like I didn’t for almost 10 years, that's fine. It’s not your time yet.

But stop blaming your kids.

That’s right. You're not staying in your marriage for the kids. What you're really doing is using your kids as a scapegoat to avoid taking a major, frightening step.

Divorce is scary. Divorce is hard. Divorce is painful and traumatic and can be ridiculously expensive if you allow it to get there. 

But you know what's scarier? Spending the rest of your life in the sheer and utter misery of a loveless at best — abusive at worst — marriage. And for your children to grow up expecting their own marriage to be exactly the same way

We all see the headlines with new studies about the havoc divorce wrecks on children.

The best possible situation for any child is to be raised in a loving, intact home with their two parents. Where these studies can be dangerously misleading is in the assumption that the opposite situation of a divorce is a happy marriage.

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Happily married people stay happily married, just like my own parents who are still crazy for each other after 47 years. The marriages that end in divorce are unhappy. Children born into these marriages are born into a home fraught with the makings of anxiety, depression, and the like.

They were never going to grow up in a loving, intact home. 

According to An Overview of the Literature on the Psychological Effects of Divorce on Children, published by the American Psychological Association, “Some children do well post-divorce and others do not. However, not enough is known to disentangle the impact of contextual factors that often accompany divorce (e.g., financial pressures and marital conflict) from the impact of the divorce itself.”

It is a chicken and egg question. Children of divorce do experience higher levels of anxiety than children of happy marriages, but there are no studies comparing what effect that same marriage would have had on the children anyway.

Whether or not children of divorce will suffer long-terms negative effects depends largely on their coping mechanisms, which are modeled for them in their parents’ own behaviors. Parents who see problems as challenges and work towards solutions by thinking positively and staying flexible model resiliency to their children.

Parents who see problems as unconquerable threats they can only manage through wishful thinking model helplessness. Whose children would you suppose learn more effective lessons for managing their own difficulties? Parents with the resourcefulness to build a new life, or parents who remain frozen in a cycle of unhappiness?

Who does your little girl pretend is her own special prince? Daddy. Who does your little boy think is the most wonderful woman in the whole world? Mommy.

Your children watch every single thing you do  not just as individuals — but as a married couple.

Without even thinking about it, you are teaching your children how their own marriages should be. You may not be the couple who has knockdown, drag-out fights. Maybe you just live your separate lives, pretty much ignoring each other except for when you need to touch base about logistics.  

Here is the one question you really need to consider: How would you feel if your own child wound up in the same type of marriage you have?

As you go about the next week, try imagining your child as the husband or wife currently in your shoes and consider these 3 scenarios:

1. Do you feel happy that your child is in that relationship?

Great! By all means, keep doing what you are doing, and let us all know so we can learn from you!

2. Do you feel content for your child, but concerned by a troubling disconnect you observe has grown over time?

Raise the conversation with your spouse now and consider options for help reconnecting before it's too late.

3. Do you feel sad for your child? Angry at their spouse for treating them that way? Disappointed with them for allowing themselves to be so ill-used?

Get. Out. Now.

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Every time you tell yourself you are staying in your marriage for the kids, you are unconsciously sending a message to your child — I have to be here because of you. It is your fault. And if you make the same mistake I did when your time comes to choose, you will just have to suffer through it as I did.

No one has to be blamed. It is what it is. It is your life.

If you know you should get out, do it now. If you want to stay in, stay. Just realize that you are not staying for the kids, you are staying because that is what works for you right now.

George Bernard Shaw said it best: “Make it a rule never to give a child a book you would not read yourself." 

The same should be true of your marriage. 

Deputy Editor Arianna Jeret, MA/MSW, is a former family law mediator and recognized expert on love and relationships. Her work has been featured in Cosmopolitan, The Huffington Post, Yahoo, MSN, Bustle, Parents, and more. You can follow her on Twitter.

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