Holy cow, is that a big question. And if you've ever seriously asked it, you know it can be an agonizing one.
In the coming weeks, I'll be blogging about how I've answered this question for myself. I know it's tempting to answer the question of whether or not we should stay together for the kids with a simple "yes. A mediocre marriage is better for kids than no marriage, right? We might believe this at least partly because of a hugely flawed—but very influential and well-publicized—study by Judith Wallerstein that "showed" that kids don't notice that their parents are unhappy in a marriage.
Wallerstein argued that unless domestic violence is a part of the picture, kids are worse off when parents divorce. Thinking that an unhappy marriage is better than no marriage—whether the belief comes from our family or religion or a study like Wallerstein's—has kept a lot of unhappily married Americans in their marriages. The study, by the way, while embraced by the press and published as a New York Times- bestselling book, has been rejected whole-heartedly by social scientists because Wallerstein didn't use a random sample of families that had divorced or stayed married; instead, she looked at a group of divorced people with mental health problems.
Her study doesn't meet accepted standards of scientific research, and its findings shouldn't be generalized to families that aren't struggling with the same things for which Wallerstein's tiny sample was being treated usually histories of mental illness, clinical depression, and suicidal tendencies. Here is what I've gleaned from the many good studies I've read on the subject: It is the quality of parents' relationships with each other, rather than whether they are married or single , that matters most for kids' well-being.
Parental conflict isn't good for children's happiness , whether or not you are married. Furthermore, when couples aren't getting along, their irritation or anger with each other often spills over into their relationships with their children. They suffer the consequences of both the "heated or frosty emotional tone of their parents' relationship" and the frequent result of co-parent conflict—" harsh or ineffective patterns of caring and discipline.
I've lived this: When my husband and I would fight , I would have a hard time managing the powerful negative emotions that surfaced—anger, disappointment, hurt—while trying to keep Fiona and Molly's routines on track effectively. And I could usually win all the awards for crappy parenting if I also needed to handle a situation with the kids that required calm, consistent discipline. When I'm already upset, I tend to discipline the kids in a way that is, uh, not calm or collected.
So should you stay together for the kids? It depends on how high-conflict your marriage is, how unhappy you are, and whether or not you can fix these things. Cowan, P. Wallerstein, Judith S. New York: Hyperion, So many bloggers talk about this it is hard to know where to start wish I had time to read them all! Penelope Trunk cites the Wallerstein research like it is the last word; it isn't. Please suggest other websites in the comments! Become a fan of Raising Happiness on Facebook. Subscribe to the Happiness Matters Podcast on iTunes. Christine Carter, Ph.
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Find out more about Christine here. Tough, tough issue. Probably best addressed family by family. Unresolvable conflict takes a toll on everyone, literally upon their nervous systems, often raising and sustaining glucocorticoid measures way beyond acceptable levels. Mark am, November 4, Link. Important subject—one that many parents struggle with, thanks for bringing it up. Conflict is part of life and inherent in human relationships.
If we can work to manage strong emotions and model how to work through some of it, this is helpful. Statistics on divorce and childhood poverty? Think parenthood nowadays is overly busy, hectic and over-extended? Try single parenthood. When do you ever get time to play, hang out, enjoy your children and show them that you enjoy being with them? Almost never. Stepmothers have a lot of say in what your children experience growing up. Sofia pm, November 4, Link. What are the statistics on serial divorce?
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Wow did this ever hit home. When you look back after 10 years, the commitment. You really have to sit back and look at what is going on, what you are doing, what could be better, who could change and sometimes you have to suck it up and try a lot harder than you want to for a lot longer then you wanted to. Brandi pm, November 4, Link. As you point out, parental conflict is not good for kids whether or not the parents are married. Seems like one question to ask oneself might be: Will getting a divorce really reduce the conflict between us?
Will there really be less fighting, or will a contentious marriage become a contentious divorce? Chris Cicchetti pm, November 4, Link. What a question! I am currently struggling with it my self. I putted off for a long time, and now the roosters are coming home to roost.
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I watched my own parents struggle and I always told my self I will never do that, I will never stay in a relationship just for my kids. Now, here I am in their shoes and is such a taught decision to make. Although, my parent had their fair share of issues, their relationship was never the abusive kind. My husband comes from a divorce family and I can tell you it was not fun for him. But what is that breaking point where you decide that is does not longer work? When do you stop fighting and trying? Is having an abusive relationship the only thing that should count on getting divorce?
How about loneliness, feeling like a furniture in a house, emptiness and abandonment?
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Is it really going to be better with someone else? These are all questions I find my self constantly trying to answer. I see my parents now, luckily they have overcome a lot of the issues and they seem happier than ever. I do not know if that will be my case or not but at least it shows me that there could be a light at the end of the tunnel.
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Ana pm, November 4, Link. Christine, You are very brave to take on this topic! I also appreciate your willingness to share your struggles! Brandi-It is not possible to stay in a relationship with someone when one person is doing all the work and the other person refuses to participate…or the way they interact is by constantly criticizing, yelling, etc.
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I was so afraid to tell my daughter that daddy was moving out, but then she started a major campaign to get him out! Not only is it damaging me, her relationship with him is not healthy. Because of fear of all thethings you mentioned, I would probably have stuck it out. He wants everything his way, he wants us to be perfect.
I have found that now that the contact is limited to once or twice a week things have improved a little. Many men need a serious wake up call that we are no longer living in the 50s… OK, will get off my soapbox and take my kids to the playground now…. Elizabeth am, November 5, Link. I am so glad to have seen this post. We are struggling in our house as well, though we have a few other factors beyond cruelty and fights. I know I love him, but am not in love anymore. He is not able to just be himself anymore. He has depression, ADD and anxiety, and theses illnesses impact every single day.
Sometimes just a little, sometimes alot. He is also not able to economically sustain himself. He is wonderful with our child. We know we are lucky, we have a place to live and the money I earn, but the day to day is killing me.
So much rests on my shoulders, so much accommodation for his illness. I am a changed woman because of it. I feel like we both would be better off if we had space from each other, but our child seems happy with us both there. I am not able to fully convey it all here, but some days I just want to cut the tie. I am tired, lonely, overburdened. My child means more to me than life and I will do whatever seems best.
I am curious if there are others out there like me dealing with these things, and what their strategies or decisions have been. Mark am, November 5, Link. Well, when is divorce NOT complicated?
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Because of whatever issues my husband has personal it makes our day to day interactions varied from loving to distant to angered to confusing.