Staying Together for the Kids



People who are unhappily married frequently tell me they

would like to stay together for a few more years–until the

kids grow up.  They believe, correctly, that their divorce

will destabilize the kids and make them unhappy.  Even though

their marriage isn’t working they want to be good parents and

protect the kids from their own failure as spouses.  Many of

them remember their own parents’ divorce and how much it hurt


It’s a noble sentiment, to be sure.  To sacrifice one’s

own happiness for that of the kids sounds like responsible

parenting.  But many parents don’t realize the covert

messages they are sending to their children by staying in a

chronically unhappy marriage.

Children can sense when their parents are unhappy and

don’t really like each other.  What the kid learns is that

denial is the way to operate.  This teaches them to ignore

signals they ought to notice in their own relationships later

on.  Often, they feel betrayed by parents who pretended

loyalty and happiness while hiding their real feelings.

The lesson learned is that commitment is a prison from

which there is no escape.  Since commitment is a black hole

of misery that lasts forever, they grow understandably wary,

even phobic of it.  They hold out for a “perfect” partner so

that they won’t have to deal with the ambiguities and

uncertainties of a real relationship.  When they finally do

choose a mate, the normal difficulties of working out a

marriage seem to be the harbingers of immutable doom and

despair, of problems which cannot be fixed and must be

endured in silence.

They become masters of deception, learning to feign

normality when they have no idea what “normal” is.

Appearances become more important than substance.  Many

become “romance addicts”, dropping partners when the initial

glow of perfect love fades–and it always does.

The real loss here is in the ability to trust.  Having

been deceived they expect to be deceived again, becoming

cynical and hypervigilant, constantly on guard against

deception and disappointment.  Expecting failure, they

usually find it.




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