Would You Tell Your Child To Stay In A Marriage Like Yours?

Think deeply about your idea that it is better for you to stay in a situation with constant fighting and stress "for the sake of the kids."

unhappy wife PeopleImages.com - Yuri A / Shutterstock

There are many people who feel trapped in marriages that are conflictual, chaotic, and volatile.

There is an ongoing conflict, whether this manifests as violence or constant arguments and screaming. There are threats of leaving that the parents tell themselves the kids don’t hear or understand.

This type of home atmosphere makes both parents and children feel anxious, stressed, and hypervigilant. 


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Would you tell your child to remain in a marriage like yours?

People who end up staying in volatile marriages like this generally witnessed a lot of conflict in their own families of origin.


They subconsciously believe that a home is a place of stress and chaos, where nobody can count on anyone else to have their back. 

Instead of the home being thought of as a safe haven, the kids prefer school or friends’ houses because they feel scared and stressed at home.

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There is debate about whether to stay in a loveless but amicable marriage for the sake of the children, and there are cogent arguments on both sides of this. 

Some research indicates that it is better for kids to grow up in intact homes as long as they do not perceive conflict, and the downsides of divorce (particularly if the child no longer gets to see one parent regularly and/or has a major change in financial/material circumstances) outweigh the positives of potentially seeing one or both parents in happier romantic relationships in the future. 


However, this does not apply to stressful, conflictual marriages. Here, it is always better to leave, unless the divorce would be worse than the marriage, e.g. extended custody battle, one or both parents getting into another conflictual romantic relationship after the divorce that the children witness, etc.

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Think deeply about your idea that it is better for you to stay in a situation with constant fighting and stress "for the sake of the kids." 

Would you advise your own child to stay in such a situation? 

If you saw your grandchildren telling your child and their spouse to "Please stop fighting!" on a regular basis, would you not hope that your child and spouse separated? Leaving the grandchildren aside, wouldn’t you want more out of a marriage for your child? 


And of course, wouldn’t you want to know why your child was drawn to this sort of marriage if that is the one they are currently exposed to in your home?

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People who stay in bad situations believe on some level that they don’t deserve anything better.

They are then teaching their kids not to expect more out of life than a pressure cooker of stress, anger and periodic blowups. 

I will tell you as a child of a conflictual marriage myself that it is extraordinarily difficult to create a different dynamic than what you are exposed to growing up. 

Without therapy, deep introspection, and massive internal effort, you are likely to recreate some version of what you saw as a child.


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Some people have an epiphany or a rock-bottom moment when they recognize that they either need to change their marriage or leave. Maybe this can be yours. 

If you would be suffused with shame and regret if you saw your own child get into a marriage like yours, then now would be the time to break the cycle and either show them a marriage that is, at the very least, calm and amicable or get out.

From what I hear from my older clients, it is heartbreaking to see their grandchildren suffer through the same sorts of marital turmoil that they themselves didn’t have the presence of mind or courage to protect their own kids from seeing in their own homes. 


Every child deserves their home to be a safe haven, and not someplace where people explode at any moment and they are under constant stress.  Every adult deserves the same thing, and you know you would tell this to your child.

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Incidentally, a larger point here is that adult children of dysfunctional families don’t have a parent that they trust to give them loving and helpful advice. 


This is why they often need therapy — because the therapist can act in loco parentis and be the helpful, calm, caring, healthy reality check/sounding board that their parents cannot be. 

Eventually, they can learn to reparent themselves (and their spouse can help with this too) and to give themselves loving advice and pep talks like a parent would.  This article aspires to be that voice for you if you are not lucky enough to have a parent to turn to in this way.

Think deeply about whether you would want your child to be in the marriage you’re in, and if the answer is no, reach out to a therapist to figure out why you’re staying, whether change could be possible, and how to create the life that you deserve.

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Dr. Samantha Rodman Whiten, aka Dr. Psych Mom, is a clinical psychologist in private practice and the founder of DrPsychMom. She works with adults and couples in her group practice Best Life Behavioral Health.