If you’re considering divorce, there’s no doubt you’re experiencing some amount of emotional distress. When you exchanged vows, you were likely aware of the high divorce rate in the western world. But a little voice in the back of your head whispered, “That won’t be us.”
Despite our best efforts, marriages can degrade over time. And while this can be crushing, the effects of divorce on children can be devastating. With this in mind, does it make sense to stay together for the children?
Below, we offer some pros and cons of staying together and how our choice impacts children.
The Pros of Staying Together for the Children
1. Maintain Financial Stability
An average divorce in the United States costs between $10,000 and $20,000. This does not take into account other factors such as separation of assets, alimony, and child support costs. With financial figures like these, staying together may allow for greater financial stability for child(ren).
2. Fewer Childhood Behavioral Issues
Studies have shown that children in divorced families have more behavioral issues than those in stable, two-parent households. A 1999 study published in the Journal of Marriage and the Family found that separation and divorce are associated with increased behavioral problems in children, especially boys, regardless of the conflict level between parents. Children from divorced households are more likely to exhibit diminished school performance, higher rates of aggression, and higher rates of drug and alcohol abuse.
3. Greater Positive Outcomes as Adults
Children who grow up in stable, two-parent households are more likely to experience conventional success as adults. They have a greater probability of achieving career success, staying married as adults, and avoiding substance abuse challenges. Conversely, children from divorced households are significantly more likely to experience mental health problems as adults. These include depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, suicide attempts, and substance abuse.
4. Stronger Parent-Child Bonds
When parents separate or divorce, the physical distance between parent and child can be stressful for children. Sure, technology makes staying in touch easier than ever before. But catching up via Facetime isn’t the same as spending time in the same physical space with one another, as a family. Technology doesn’t allow for hugs or spontaneous interaction. Choosing to stay together can more easily facilitate a child’s healthy bond with both parents.
5. May Reduce Conflict and Allow for Positive Change in the Relationship
When a couple starts discussing divorce, conflicts that previously bubbled under the surface often come out into the open. Although parents should openly address conflict together, unproductive conflict may decrease when a couple decides against divorce. Additionally, staying together could offer a couple the emotional space necessary to cultivate healing change in the relationship.
The Cons of Staying Together for the Children
1. May Provide a Poor Relationship Model for Children
If your marriage is struggling, your children probably already know something is off. Growing up watching parents struggle in a volatile marriage does not offer children a positive relationship model for the future. If you choose to stay together, it will be important to prioritize demonstrating healthy conflict management techniques. Seeing parents effectively resolve conflict teaches children positive relationship behaviors. It may also be productive to reframe your relationship from a romantic marriage to a “parenting marriage.”
2. Continuous Conflict Negatively Affects Children
If you and your spouse argue regularly, your children could be silently struggling with fear, anxiety, or guilt. When children live in a hostile environment, their emotional and physical health can suffer. According to a 2012 study published in Pediatrics in Review, exposure to high levels of parental conflict is predictive of poor emotional adjustment by the child. And because children are typically self-centered by nature, they may interpret parental conflict as their fault, causing extreme anxiety and guilt.
3. May Lead to Parents Resenting Their Children
In choosing to stay for the sake of their children, one or both parents may begin to consciously or subconsciously resent their children for “making” them stay. Although a child is not responsible for their parents’ relationship, parents who are emotionally immature may take out their frustrations on their children, leading to adverse outcomes for both children and parents.
4. Children Could Assume Unhealthy Roles in the Family
According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, parents struggling with divorce may turn to their children for comfort or direction. This need for comfort can place the child in a reversed role of offering emotional support to the parent when the situation should be the other way around. It’s never acceptable to expect a child to provide comfort or guidance to a parent in distress.
5. Postponing Divorce May Only Delay the Inevitable
If your marriage is truly over, postponing your divorce may prolong your family’s pain. Is your daily life full of volatile arguments that create a toxic environment for you, your spouse, and your children? If you feel you are out of options for saving the marriage, postponing an inevitable divorce “for the children” may not be the best choice.
When it comes to staying together for the sake of the children vs. divorcing, parents should carefully consider the choice that leads to the best outcome for their unique family and circumstance. Divorce is traumatic for all involved, but living through daily conflict can also cause long-term harm. Ultimately, you are the best person to discern which option will create the healthiest outcome for both parents and children. If you choose to stay together, 7 Tips For Co-Parents To Help A Child Cope With Divorce may provide you with valuable insights.
Contact Creative Counseling Center
If you or your child is struggling, we can help. We provide therapy to young children, adolescents, teens and adults struggling with anxiety, depression, grief and loss, past or recent trauma, stress due to life transitions, and more. You can request a FREE Phone Consultation by completing the brief form below. A member of our team will contact you and help you determine if our practice and which therapist is best suited for your specific circumstance. If our practice is not a good fit, we are happy to offer recommendations to other providers in the Denver metro area.