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.