Should You Stay Married for the Sake of the Kids?

In my last blog post I talked about the common myth
that can keep you stuck in a bad marriage, orBlogpost 19Apr16 a marriage you simply no longer wish to be in, for years.

Today I want to talk about another prevalent reason that keeps many women (and men) stuck in unhappy relationships. And that is:

‘We have to stay together for the sake of the kids.’

What does this mean? Is it true that it is always best to stay together for the children?

Of course, making the decision to leave a marriage is a complex issue, particularly when there are children and their happiness and wellbeing to consider. I know that when I contemplated leaving my own marriage, my No.1 concern was how my children would cope and what support they would need. It’s a decision no parent ever takes lightly.

It’s also a controversial issue. I know there is a school of thought that says you should put the children first and not disrupt their lives just because you are no longer happy.

And frankly, whilst I absolutely agree that your children’s wellbeing should be a top priority, I strongly disagree with this line of thinking.

Here’s why in a nutshell:

What I know in the depths of my soul is that real happiness and fulfilment is ONLY possible when you are living 100% true to yourself – without apology.

And if you know in your heart that you no longer want to be in your marriage, and you decide to stay purely for that reason, you will be living a lie. You will not be living true to yourself.

As I am always at pains to reiterate, I am a huge advocate of finding a way to make your marriage work if you possibly can. If staying married is what you truly want in your heart, there is lots you can do to improve your relationship – first and foremost, by working on your relationship with yourself. I have worked with many women who were unhappily married and witnessed them transform their relationships. It is entirely possible.

I am also a firm advocate of giving yourself permission to leave your marriage, if that is what you truly want. If you know in your heart you want to leave, if you have done your own work and taken responsibility for your part in the marriage breakdown, if you are making an empowered choice, my advice is: Go for it.

Spending your life living a lie or sacrificing your happiness for your children, or any other external reason, just makes you a martyr. And there are no happy martyrs.

Marriage Break-ups and Kids – My Experience

Here’s what I know firsthand about marriage break-ups and kids:

How your children cope with the break-up of their parents has far more to do with how each of you chooses to behave throughout the process than the break-up itself. Yes, they will be upset. Disappointed. Angry. Let down. Yes, they would most likely prefer that you stay together, given the choice.

But if they feel well supported by both parents they will cope; they may even surprise you with their resilience.

Supporting your children through a break-up means being open and honest with them, in an age-appropriate way. It means reassuring them that the split has nothing to do with them, that both parents still love them unconditionally and are always there for them.

It’s about explaining to them what is going to change on a practical level, and what is going to stay the same – making them feel as secure as possible. And it’s about allowing them to have their own experience of the situation and permission to express their feelings openly and honestly, i.e. sadness, anger, frustration, without judgement or fear of upsetting either of you.

If you are of the mind that you need to stay married for the sake of the children, even though your heart is no longer in it, here’s what I’d like to ask you:

1) What message is your marriage giving to your children?

What are you modelling to them? What are the unconscious beliefs you are passing down? For example: ‘It’s not okay to put your own happiness first; it’s normal to stay in an unhappy relationship; this is how you ‘do’ relationships; you should tolerate behaviour you find unacceptable’ etc.

2) Are you using your children as an excuse to stay because the thought of leaving is just too terrifying?

Or because you can’t contemplate navigating the financial fall-out and giving up your current lifestyle? Or because you don’t want to disappoint your parents? (If any of these excuses rings true, that’s ok, just tell yourself the truth – don’t put that burden on your children.)

3) Picture your children as happy, independent adults. Do you think they would have wanted you to stay in an unhappy situation for their sakes?

How do you think it would make them feel knowing this?

4) Again, picture your daughter or son as a mature adult. Imagine they are in a marriage like yours.

Are you happy for them to be there?  Why or why not? What advice do you want to give them?

I’m really interested to know your thoughts on this topic. Do you agree with me? Why or why not? I’d love to hear your perspective, please leave a comment below or email and let me know your thoughts!

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