When considering divorce, many couples worry most about how it will affect their family. The main fear is that divorce will hurt children, so they stay together for their kids. Couples may believe that they can shield their children from pain or confusion by staying together, but in reality, this doesn’t actually spare the kids from a difficult situation nor does it keep the family intact. In fact, it often causes more problems.
Sometimes even the best of intentions can bring about painful consequences. If your marriage is beyond repair, it’s usually best to rip off the proverbial band aid and begin building the next chapter of your family’s life. It will hurt in the short-term, but it will allow for healing and rebuilding in the long-term. Let’s take a closer look at why a couple shouldn’t stay together for the kids and how to handle the process with sensitivity and care.
Change Your Perspective
One of the toughest things to do when you’re in the midst of an emotional rollercoaster is to maintain an objective perspective. There’s a lot of pain, worry, and overwhelm when your relationship is so broken that you’re considering divorce. To help you regain a bit of clarity, try thinking through the following “what if” scenario:
Imagine your child, who is stuck in a broken marriage, came to you for guidance on whether they should stay married for the sake of their kids. What advice would you give? Chances are, you’d probably tell your child to get help or counseling, and then consider separation if they couldn’t achieve a resolution.
Apply the same wisdom and empathy you’d give your struggling child to yourself. When you treat yourself with the same care, you will be able to shift your perspective. With the help of this role reversal, most people will recognize it’s not a good idea to stay in an unhappy marriage for the sake of their children.
Divorce Doesn't Damage Kids
Although it may be difficult to believe, divorce doesn’t damage or hurt kids in the long-term. Parental animosity and a bitter divorce is what actually hurts kids. In fact, you probably know plenty of happy, healthy, and productive people whose parents divorced while they were still children. Divorce only becomes a problem for children when the parents don’t manage it well.
Part of the danger of staying together in a broken marriage is that kids see this dysfunctional marriage as a model for their own future relationships. It’s reasonable to suspect kids will repeat your unhealthy dynamics, mistakes, and justifications as adults. This is not healthy. So if you are concerned about divorce harming your kids, consider the fact that modeling staying in a relationship that is unhealthy or even harmful is far more likely to cause damage than showing your kids that both parents deserve to be happy.
Moreover, kids tend to pick up on what’s going on around them even if they don’t have the language for it. They can feel coldness and harshness. The negativity doesn’t have to involve constant fighting or overt signals of a bad relationship between parents. Kids are usually quite attuned to their parent’s emotional states and can perceive what’s really going on underneath. Children have an instinctive ability to see right through a facade.
How Do You Tell The Kids?
Telling your kids that you’re divorcing is painful for everyone involved. But you can take steps to ease the pain. First and most importantly, you should tell your kids you love them and will always be there for them. This assurance will make your kids feel less vulnerable and afraid.
Next, make sure your kids know they are not personally involved or responsible. Their parents’ decision to split up has nothing to do with them. It’s adults realizing they need a break from each other. Be short and sweet, only answering the questions that are asked. Long explanations about love and marriage are too confusing for kids at this stage.
It’s usually best to tell kids about your decision to break up all at once during a family meeting. But also have one-on-one talks with each kid and give them a chance to ask questions. Make it organic, not a formal sit down and interview about their feelings. The more natural, organic approach is to do an activity together which they enjoy (kick a ball in the yard, walk the dog in a park, go out for an ice cream, etc) and remind your child you’re open to being asked questions. Each child is at a different level of maturity and will therefore process the information and situation differently. So give each of your kids personalized and age-appropriate attention and needed space. Also keep in mind that it can take years to fully process a divorce, so make sure you remain available and open to your kids as they continue to make sense of the situation.
Find Support To Guide You Through A Separation
Staying together for the kids is an honorable intention, but it is ultimately not a practical solution. More often than not, staying together for the sake of the children creates more resentment in your marriage, leading to worse outcomes down the road for both the parents and the children. If you are not sure that divorce is the right next step, a trial separation may be a good option as you continue working through logistics and emotions. It is always advisable to get counseling during this time of transition. A little professional support goes a long way in guiding you through a separation.