5 Reasons that Staying in an Unhealthy or Unhappy Marriage “For the Kids” is Harmful.
#1: Kids look to their parents as the example, their first inspiration, of what love is and should look like
Children observe their parents for evidence of what a marriage and love is and “should be” like. Thus, for parents who are in an unhealthy or unhappy marriage, kids notice this, and it leaves a mark.
Kids then learn that people “should” stay in relationships that are no longer healthy or good (which is never a healthy message, since when they become adults, this lesson can result in them then staying in relationships that are not healthy).
Contentious. Manipulative. Resigned. Bitter. Estranged. Unkind. Sexist. Unfaithful. Disconnected. Whatever the reasons might be or whatever the unhealthy aura is of the problematic marriage, children will watch this carefully and take it in. They then learn that this is what love looks like and how it should function. A very dangerous lesson for children of particularly dysfunctional relationships.
#2: Research has shown that growing up in an unhappy household is more damaging for a child…
…over the long-term than parents who separate but are then happier and healthier for it. Studies have shown that kids in a household with unhappily married parents are associated with a range of damaging internalizing (such as depression, anxiety, withdrawal) and externalizing (such as aggression, non-compliance) outcomes in them.
They also tend to have poorer academic performance and worse interpersonal skills, as well as experience more trouble in their own future romantic relationships.
On the flip side of the same coin, studies have shown that kids actually prefer their parents separate if they are unhappy, rather than stay together “for the children.”
#3: A parent who “stays married for the kids” is giving up their own potential for a happy, healthy romantic relationship
And they are doing this, which, as indicated above, doesn’t really help the kids that much over the long-run anyway.
Life is short. Time is ticking. Why waste it with someone you are not happy or healthy with any longer? You can still be a committed, loving, wonderful parent and let go of your child’s father or mother (aka, your spouse) at the same time.
Ultimately, healthy, mature adults do not stay in unhealthy, unhappy, expired relationships. They find the courage, maturity, and grace to let them go. Marriage vows or not. Years and years of shared history or not. Kids or not.
#4: Kids learn life lessons that are not particularly good or healthy via watching parents who remain in unhappy or unhealthy marriages.
They learn things like:
- To be fearful of change and letting go
- To cling to safety rather than take risks
- To allow fear to dictate your life
- To give up yourself and your own health out of “duty” (being a martyr)
- That a relationship ending is always “bad” and a “failure” (which, of course, is silly and inaccurate. Plenty of relationships endure and are miserable, while plenty end and were beautiful and good. An ending or it lasting has nothing to do with whether a relationship is a “success” or not)
- That “image” (such as, the appearance to outsiders that their family is intact and thus, somehow better) is more important than what is healthy and true (which might mean separation, letting go, and divorce)
- That there is shame in breaking up when in truth, the opposite is far more accurate (that people are stronger, braver, more healthy, and mature when they are honest and choose to let go when something has reached its natural endpoint).
#5: Unhappiness is contagious
Emotions in a household such as depression, anger, bitterness, and tension are contagious and spread. If a spouse is depressed, their partner is something like 150 percent more likely to become depressed as a result. If one person in the family is frequently sad, bitter, or angry, the other members are the family are likely to feel these emotions too. Thus, if parents are unhappy, dysfunctional, and in an unhealthy relationship, these toxic emotions and this dark aura will seep throughout the whole household and family. It affects everyone whether they consciously realize it or not. Therefore, kids living in a household with unhappy parents? Not such a good thing for their mental and emotional health.
Staying in an unhappy, unhealthy union “for the kids”, while well-intended, is often a damaging, misplaced decision. One that causes more harm than the good we believe and hope it will. We assume that the image of an “intact” family (from the outside) is always better. This is far from the case. If parents are unhappy, much of the time, it is going to be better for the children and the parents too if the spouses can go their separate ways and let go of their romantic relationship. This is frequently healthier for the parents and children over the big picture.