A comment that I have heard time and time again throughout the course of my work is “we stayed together for the sake of the children”.
It would appear that many couples of all ages feel pressure to stay in a failing marriage, for the sake of their children.
Clients will have often sacrificed their own situation, their own career, indeed their whole life in order to ensure that they stay with a partner who in effect is neither good for them or to them. Time and time again people tell me that their children come first. Whether you believe this or not, is it simply the case that in Northern Ireland family still has a very special place and for most people ‘family’ means staying together until such times as your job as a parent is done?
I read an article recently published by an American psychologist Robyn Reisch. In the article he says that that three things can happen when you stay together for the “sake of the kids”.
1.“Your children will internalise your behaviour towards one another”
Reisch says “intentionally or not you and your spouse are creating a sort of relationship blueprint for your child”. He goes on to say that they will treat others the way that you treat each other. This is how they will learn what to expect from a partner; whether that be respect or contempt, spite or compassion, consideration or disinterest. They will pick this up from the way that you react to each other. Reisch says that you need to look at your daily interactions and behaviour to decide if this what you want for your children.
2.“Resentments will build and not only between yourself and your partner”
Children always try to find someone to blame for conflict and unhappiness. Your conflict may cause them to pick sides, preferring one parent over the other. They may in fact blame themselves for their family’s problems and this may result in “low self-esteem, guilt, anxiety, anger management problems or even depression”. Reisch states that the trauma of a broken home can take root without the legal proceedings of a divorce and that many married families live in an environment of hostility.
3. “Your children will be living in a place of conflict”
We have all experienced the situation where an argument has arisen between ourselves and our spouse. We try to keep the fight away from the children. Children however are very tuned in to their parents and tuned in to the tension in the home; whether it involves them directly or not. Whether they get to listen to all the details of the fight or they simply pick up on tension at the breakfast table the following morning it will effect your children and it will effect them deeply. Healthy conflict is of course another thing. No home can be entirely peaceful all the time. Occasional disagreements can teach a child how to reconcile, forgive and compromise. If however, hostility is a common occurrence then for the children their home can become like a war zone.
Is Reisch right?
His is only one opinion. For many people their staying together until the children leave home can be positive as they are then dealing with adult children in a conflict situation, who may be better equipped to understand the difficulties involved in separation.
There are however children who do live in situations akin to a battle field. For these families the conflict which arises between their parents is a normal part of everyday life. If research is to be believed the children will be deeply effected by their parents’ behaviour.
We have all experienced a situation where an argument has arisen between ourselves and our spouse. We always try to keep the argument away from children but whether they get to listen to the details of the argument or simply pick up on the tension it will affect your children and affect them deeply.
Healthy conflict on the other hand is another thing altogether. No home, of any nature, can be entirely peaceful all of the time and occasional disagreements can teach a child how to reconcile, forgive and compromise. If the hostility within the home is however a common occurrence then for the children their home can become like a war zone.
How can DMC help?
I have interviewed hundreds, if not thousands, of people in relation to the breakdown of their marriage. I would say that in each and every case every person who has had children has indicated to me that they were willing to stay “for the sake of the children”. They were willing to give it “one last Christmas” or “one last summer holiday” on the basis that they would try to do the best for their children.
I do not think anyone in a conflict situation where a marriage breaks down ever sets out to make things difficult for their children,
I certainly believe that there is no wrong or right answer in relation to this terribly difficult scenario.
What I do however fully believe is that if you feel stuck making that decision and feel you should stay “for the sake of the children” but are not sure if this is the right route for you – perhaps you are best advised to take independent legal advice.