Many couples who are considering divorce may wonder if the divorce is more harmful to their children, especially young ones, than staying together for the duration of their lives, or at least until the children are adults. Staying together can be good for the children, but only if the couple has made changes which enable them to strengthen their relationship. Understanding the role of marital relationships in a child’s development can help you in your decision-making regarding your marriage.

Children Learn How to Be a Partner From Their Parents’ Marriage

When considering the children in your life and their reaction to a divorce, keep in mind that children often use their parents’ relationship as a kind of blueprint for what relationships “should” be. For instance, if one parent gives all of their paycheck to the other one for the sake of money management, the child will likely grow to view that behavior as acceptable. If one parent hits the other when they have a disagreement, the child may likely view that behavior as normal, even though it’s painful. Keeping this idea in mind can help you gauge which choice is best for you and your family between the options of staying together without reconciling, staying together and reconciling, and divorcing. The question is, can you sustain a relationship which will be a reasonable model for you childrens’ future lives?

Staying Together Without Reconciliation

Should you choose to remain together without any sort of intervention (such as couples therapy or reading self-help books in order to make concrete, lasting changes in the relationship) you could be putting your children at greater risk for unhealthy relationships throughout their lives. People may notice that their children may be argumentative or even physically violent with friends or teachers at school if their parents exhibit this behavior at home. This is a sign that the child has started to accept that the way their parents treat each other is the way any two people in a relationship should behave. They also may learn that they are supposed to stay in relationships regardless of how painful, dysfunctional, and dangerous they might be.
Reconciling the Relationship

Though the children may see a temporary period of turmoil between the two parents, noticing a positive shift in the relationship can actually teach them that they don’t have to end a relationship just because it doesn’t seem to be progressing perfectly. Depending upon what kinds of new skills have been introduced into the marriage (such as deep listening skills or calmer communication that doesn’t involve yelling or cursing), the child could also pick up on these skills and use them in their future professional, social, and romantic relationships. When children adopt wholesome relationship skills at an early age,they will be less likely to experience significant problems in their relationships as they grow older.

If the decision to divorce has finally been agreed upon, or pushed by one member of the couple, this can still be of benefit to the children. When people divorce and they’re clear about why they are doing so, the children can learn to understand that they don’t have to stay in a painful, unhealthy relationship. They can learn that they can take care of themselves by getting out of a bad marriage and moving forward with their lives in a healthy way.

Regardless of which of these options you choose, being clear about why you have made your decision gives the children insight into the process of attempting to make good decisions. You can also take the time to clarify the fact that your divorce is about you and your spouse, since children often perceive themselves as being responsible for their parents divorcing. Making sure that they understand that they had nothing to do with the decision to divorce is helpful for their idea of what a healthy relationship is and their own perception of themselves as a loveable human being.