Are you in an unhealthy and unhappy marriage, but are staying together for the kids because you are scared it will emotionally scar them?
Five words: Staying together for the kids. Well-meaning. Shows good parenting. Gives the idea of kids-above-all, the way things should be in the Good Parent Handbook.
When we make the decision to have children we know they will always come first. Those five words then are our sense of responsibility, our contribution to our family in times of trouble:
We will be good parents.
We will give you everything.
We will never hurt you.
But what if our relationship as partners isn’t working? What if it’s unhealthy or abusive? What are we giving to our children if all we have to offer them as a couple is exhaustion, frustration, and secrecy? Are those five words really the right way to go?
Staying together for the kids. For years, those five words haunted me. While the narrative of domestic abuse has spun an idea that victims of abuse know it’s happening because it’s obvious, the fact is: abuse is often a slow-moving process that sinks in overtime.
It has certain warning signs, but they’re easy to miss or mistake for something else. Oftentimes, victims of emotional, verbal, and physical abuse simply want things to be “normal” and will work hard to save a relationship even if it’s harming them.
I’ve been there. I was there for a long time. Until one day I asked myself, “If you want the best for your kids and you’re staying in a relationship that’s unacceptable, then what lesson are you teaching them? What will they think is normal? Won’t this mean they will one day be prone to abusive people and situations?” The answer is yes. So I decided to stop pretending.
When the time came for us to tell our kids that we were going to temporarily separate, we asked other people how they did it, talked to our therapists, and read article after article about when to do it, where to do it, and how to frame it. And then, when we told them, my teenager said the most curious thing:
“I’ve seen this coming since I was seven.”
Do you think that divorce is a better option than being in an unhappy marriage? Read 5 Situations When Divorce Is The Best Parenting Decision You Can Make
I’ve worked with young adults since I was a young adult. The more I work with them, the more I’m certain that they have a far better view of the real problems in their lives, especially their battling parents than most adults think they do.
Of course, my teenager saw it coming. I saw it. I was just voluntarily blindfolded, trying to make things “normal.” My teenager wasn’t.
Kids are natural sponges. They will soak up whatever’s around them. Like us, they became increasingly stressed, anxious, angry, and guilty as we kept spending more and more time on the weekends and weeknights trying to “work things out.”
They became nearly invisible during the last year before the separation. They seemed to have no needs. This is unhealthy and damaging. To have no needs is to spend an hour trying to figure out the right way to ask for something they actually need. It’s staying quiet because they don’t think anyone wants to hear what’s on their mind. Once solid ground turns to a bog, and with every step, they wonder when the ground will give and swallow them up. We thought telling them that we were separating would swallow them up, never knowing they’d already been swallowed by our problems for years.
An abusive marriage is a quiet and sneaky life that breeds quieter, sneaky lives.