Should You Stay Together for the Children? What You Need to Know
These insights and information will help you decide if you should stay together for the children. The effects of divorce on kids can be serious and long-lasting – but so can the impact of growing up in a home with parents who are unhealthy, disconnected, or abusive. Meet the reader who inspired me to write this article; she’s a wife and stay at home mom who has been married for over ten years.
“My husband and I have been married for 12 years,” says Janice on How to Leave Your Husband When You’re a Stay at Home Mom. “We have two children, ages seven and nine. My husband had an affair that lasted almost a year. I’m a stay at home mom, but I have friends and family who can help me leave him. The only thing is, I don’t know what to do about my children. Should I stay with my husband because of our children? I don’t know if a divorce would cause problems for them the rest of their lives. My kids love their dad and they want us to stay together. But I don’t think I want to be in this marriage anymore, after he cheated on me for that long. How do you decide if you should stay together because of the children?”
As a parent, you may be agonizing about the effect of separation and divorce on your children. Leaving your husband and marriage is in itself a painful and difficult decision; when you have kids together it can seem impossible to know what to do.
To make things even more difficult, there are no “guaranteed” or certain research outcomes or psychological effects of divorce on children. The only thing you can know for sure is that separating and divorcing your spouse will be uncomfortable and even painful for you and your children. But if divorce is the right thing to do, then you can help your children heal and even grow stronger throughout the process.
Your first step is to carefully consider your marriage with your husband and how it affects your children. I included resources in this article to help you decide if you should stay together because it’s the right thing for you, your spouse, and your children.
What You Need to Know About “Staying Together for the Children”
“Research findings [on the effect of separation and divorce on children] depend on a child’s age, sex, and level of psychological adjustment at the time of the divorce,” writes Janis A. Spring in After the Affair: Healing the Pain And Rebuilding Trust When a Partner Has Been Unfaithful.
Most studies confirm that children from divorced families don’t do as well as children from intact families – at least during the first two years after the separation. Kids from separated and divorced parents struggle in areas of academic achievement, social conduct, psychological adjustment, self-esteem, and feelings of personal competence.
However, the long term effects of divorce on your children may not be as damaging as staying together in an unhealthy or abusive marriage.
Your relationship with your husband has the biggest effect on your kids
Staying together for the children is not good for them if you and your husband are not in a happy, healthy marriage. Further, staying together for the children can damage them for the rest of their lives if you are in an abusive relationship with their father. Getting a divorce would be less harmful for your kids if you and your husbands can separate and divorce peacefully.
“It seems equally clear, however, that what most determines a child’s well-being is less the present of both parents in the same household than the level of inter-parental conflict to which the child is exposed – before, during, and after the divorce,” writes Spring. “It appears better for children to be in a divorce family in which there are low levels of conflict then to be in an intact family in which there are high levels of conflict.”
Emotional connection matters more than separation or divorce
The most important factor in your children’s well-being after a divorce is how connected you are to them. You can’t control the relationship between your ex-husband and your children, but you can build a healthy emotional connection with your kids. This is far more important than staying married for the children’s sake.
“If you decide to separate or divorce, the physical distance between you and your children may be less damaging to them than the emotional distance between you and your children,” writes Spring. “You are family, whether you share the same household or not, and your children’s psychological adjustment hinges more on your emotional availability than on your physical proximity alone. If you leave home, or see your children only part time, you should make every effort to maintain a caring involvement with them.”
How you handle divorce and co-parenting has a lifelong impact
While you’re deciding if you should stay together for the children or leave for your own personal, emotional, or moral reasons, remember that the decision to divorce is just the first step. You have many more opportunities to help your children heal and grow after the trauma of separation and divorce – and even to grow closer to you and your ex-husband.
The most important way to keep your kids healthy and happy after separation and divorce is to treat your ex-husband with wisdom, peace, kindness, and compassion. If you allow bitterness, pain, regret, and anger to blacken your soul, it will seep into your relationship with your ex-husband and your children. Don’t involve your children in the separation and divorce process. Don’t make them carry messages to your ex-husband, ask intrusive or personal questions about your ex’s new wife or life, or ask them to keep secrets or hide information from your ex-husband.
If you don’t think you should stay together for the children, read How to Help Your Children Through a Painful Divorce.
Your emotional and spiritual health is key to your children’s well-being
Children who are emotionally and spiritually healthy won’t be as negatively affected by divorce – especially if they are in good shape when the separation and divorce begins. If they feel close to and loved by you and your husband, then they will handle the effects of divorce easier.
How do you ensure your kids are emotionally and spiritually healthy? By role modeling strong emotional and spiritual health practices yourself. This is essential – especially if you’re trying to decide if you should stay together for the children. The stronger and healthier you are, the better your decision-making skills will be. You’ll be a better mom, a better ex-wife, and an all around better woman if you stay connected to whatever it is that makes you feel whole, healthy, and grounded.
“If you’re staying together only for the sake of the children – if you’re simply treading water in and embittered, spiritless marriage out of guilt, fear, or obligation – then, in the long run, you may not be doing your children a favor” writes Spring in After the Affair. “On the contrary, you risk providing a regrettable model of love for them, one that you wouldn’t want them to replicate in their own adult lives. Moreover, if you’re unfulfilled in your marriage and become excessively self absorbed and depressed, your children are likely to suffer from your emotional withdrawal.
Your child’s first choice is an intact family
While you’re deciding if you should stay together for the children, remember that your choices are not just to be unhappily married for happily divorced. This might make it worthwhile for you to strive to keep a salvageable marriage intact by working out your differences and dissatisfactions.
“It should come as no surprise that most children, given the choice, would want their families to stay together and get along,” writes Spring in After the Affair. “If in your own minds there are enough good reasons to recommit to your marriage and stay together, you may not only preserve the nuclear family for your children but you may also teach them a valuable life lesson: that people who at one time hurt and even hate each other can learn to love each other again; that married couples can separate and then return to one another; that interpersonal conflicts can be successfully resolved; and that a crisis in intimacy can lead to meaningful change and a stronger connection.”
It takes time to rebuild your marriage – but it may be well worth it
If you decide that staying together for the children is the best choice for you and your family, commit to actually understanding what went wrong in your marriage.
This requires digging into your psyche – which can be uncomfortable and even painful. Hopefully, your husband will be willing to take time to dig into his own psyche so you both understand yourself in a deeper and more intimate way.
Here’s what one wife said about deciding to stay in her marriage:
“I was about to leave my husband for repeatedly cheating on me,” says Betty in After the Affair: Healing the Pain and Rebuilding Trust When a Partner Has Been Unfaithful. “I thought to myself, ‘We should stay together for the children but he obviously doesn’t love me so what’s the point?’ But he came to see, and made me see as well, that what was drawing him to other women wasn’t his unhappiness with me, for his love for them. He was having affairs because of his fear of intimacy with anyone – his worry that if he let anyone know him, he be seen as a fraud. When I understood this, I felt less personally rejected and tried to be patient while he worked through his issues with his therapist. It was a beginning.”
If you’re still not sure if you should stay together for your kids’ sake, read Is Your Marriage Over? 6 Signs You Shouldn’t Ignore.
What are your thoughts on staying together for your children? Have you and your husband talked about the impact of divorce and separation on your kids? I welcome your thoughts below. I can’t offer relationship advice or marriage counseling, but I encourage you to write about your relationship with your husband. Working through your feelings in writing can help you see your marriage more clearly, and help you know if you should stay together for the kids sake.
Help Deciding if You Should Stay Together for the Children
After the Affair: Healing the Pain And Rebuilding Trust When a Partner Has Been Unfaithful by Janis A. Spring is an excellent resource for couples who need guidance. Even though the title says “after the affair”, this book isn’t just for healing broken marriages after a spouse has cheated. It’s a wonderful resource for any couple who is struggling to decide if they should stay together – and it offers many tips, strategies, and information about rebuilding a marriage.
Janis Abrahms Spring, Ph.D., is a nationally acclaimed expert on issues of trust, intimacy, and forgiveness. She is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Westport, Connecticut, as well as the author of How Can I Forgive You?, The Courage to Forgive, the Freedom Not To and Life with Pop: Lessons on Caring for an Aging Parent.
In Talking to Children About Divorce: A Parent’s Guide to Healthy Communication at Each Stage of Divorce, marriage and family therapist Jean McBride offers tools and encouragement to effectively communicate with your child about divorce. McBride brings her more than 25 years of specializing in divorce to guide you through crucial but difficult conversations and cultivate an environment of love and support throughout the divorce process.
In this book, you’ll learn how to have honest conversations with your children about different situations and emotions that may arise during divorce ― from breaking the news to understanding resistance. Even if you still don’t know if you should stay together for the children, it’s important to know how to talk to kids about divorce. This may help you decide what to do about your marriage.
Talking to Children About Divorce offers:
- Concrete actions to help your children weather the emotions of divorce.
- Useful scripts to guide you through a variety of situations throughout the divorce process.
- Simple steps to improve communication, both with your former spouse and with your children.
- 10 tips to maintain co-parenting success and promote healthy, happy, well-adjusted children.
Whether you’re beginning the divorce process or still deciding if you should stay or go, Talking to Children About Divorce offers practical advice that will contribute positively to your child’s emotional wellbeing.
May you find wisdom and healing, strength and courage. May you take time to make a careful decision about your marriage, and may you and your husband unite in peace regardless of whether or not you decide to stay married. May you grow healthy and strong through this experience, and may your children be blessed with joy, connection, and love in their lives.
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