Got Kids? Stay Married … It’s That Simple

One expert’s controversial take on marriage, divorce and staying together for the sake of the kids.

People often say that you shouldn’t stay married for the sake of the kids. After all, the logic goes, if parents are miserable, it will only hurt the kids.

It’s better for kids, they say, to have two happy parents who lead separate lives than to be exposed to sadness, emotional distance, and conflict in their family. Makes sense, right? Wrong. Now, after seeing the havoc that divorce wreaks on the lives of families, I am an unabashed marriage-saver. And since I became dedicated to helping people resuscitate flat-lined marriages and keep their families together, I have learned a great deal about the process and the benefits of working things out.

First, I learned that implicit in the question, “Should you get divorced if you have kids?” is the assumption that if the couple stays together, they will inevitably remain miserable in the marriage. This is insanity. Over the past decade, we have learned a tremendous amount about what constitutes a successful marriage. We actually have a very concrete understanding of what spouses need to do and stop doing to make marriages work.

Falling in love is easy.

Staying in love is another thing altogether. It requires skills — relationship skills. We learn about relationships as we grow up and unfortunately, most of us didn’t have great role models. 

Even if we did have great role models, we might choose a partner who wasn’t so fortunate. If we don’t have adequate relationship skills — knowing how to co-parent, communicate, resolve conflict, compromise, build on relationship strengths — our relationships fail.

The good news is that today, there are marriage education classes couples can take to improve their Relationship IQs. Couples can transform an unhappy or ho-hum marriage into a great one.

Additionally, although choosing a quality therapist takes some investigation and effort, couples can go to therapists who are skilled at helping them resolve their differences, not just talk about their feelings or the problems.

In short, although it’s understandable why someone who is unhappy in marriage might envision the future to be nothing more than a miserable extension of the past, it ain’t necessarily so.

Marriages can heal, change and improve with the proper help. In fact, studies show that, even without professional help, couples who wait out the storm report that they are extremely happy five years later!

When it comes to marriage, patience isn’t only a virtue, it’s a necessity.

Parents who want a divorce often say that, although it won’t be easy, children are resilient and they will be better off in the long run, but here’s what the research says about this: Divorce takes an enormous toll on children.

Change is very difficult. Dissolving a family has enormous repercussions. Children often are shuffled from home to home. Family finances suffer due to the need to maintain separate households. Parents are often preoccupied with their own emotional well-being.

Frequently, there are moves to new school districts, requiring major emotional adjustments. And then there are second marriages and the unique challenges of step-families. Plus, second and subsequent marriages are less likely to succeed than first marriages, requiring more changes to children’s lifestyles. Studies also suggest that even when the adults are happier in their new lives, there doesn’t seem to be a trickle-down effect on the children. Children, it seems, get the short end of the stick.

So, should you get divorced if you have kids? Here’s one more thing to consider: There is never just a single reason people remain together; there are many, many reasons couples decide to stick it out. Marriage is a package deal.

People choose to remain married because they want companionship, sex, financial security, family ties, extended family, someone with whom to share responsibilities, a person to grow old, a preference to share life as opposed to going it alone, and so on.  If one of the reasons people choose to remain together is for the sake of the kids, I say, “Bravo.” That’s great.

The bottom line is this: We only have one go-around, and we all deserve happiness. No one should plan on simply acquiescing to a life of misery.

Having said that, given the miraculous changes I’ve seen in couples’ relationships, even in the 11th hour, I feel like a psychotic optimist. You don’t have to just stay together for the sake of the kids; get happy for the sake of the kids! It will be a gift for a lifetime.

 

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4 thoughts on “Got Kids? Stay Married … It’s That Simple”

  1. I understand but don’t understand. If one is in an abusive relationship and you stick it out it teaches your children that the abuser has the right and permission to behave badly and your acceptance. It sets up the child to perpetuate it in their own lives once it’s their turn. I’m not talking about just physical abuse, but also verbal abuses and if the other partner is not willing to recognize their conduct and make the changes, sticking it out helps no one. I was not going to teach my girls that it was okay to be a philandering jerk and they must accept it, I feel bad for my kids but I grew up abused and beaten. No way! So sorry. My son is sticking it out in a sexless marriage because he hated being in a split family and who knows? Only time will tell.

    1. Agreed. This is the last year of dating and relationship advice. I’m running out of things to write about regarding the subject. I also grew up in a home with a loveless, sexless marriage. Did I get yelled at and physically abused as a kid. Damn straight. So, if nobody’s happy, get out of the abusive relationship for your own ske and the safety of your children. Things were so much better when dad worked in another state and only came home on the weekends. Greatest hits was seeing him briefly for fun times, not being hit.
      Thank you as always for your insight!

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