"Dr. K, should we stay together for our kids? We've been married for 14 years and honestly, the last 5 have been miserable. We have two kids that I adore and they're the reason I have been trying to make it work... but I just can't do it anymore. I am worried that divorce will permanently hurt my kids and that I am being really selfish. Please tell me what you think I should do."
Hey Eric, thanks for reaching out and asking about this. I am so sorry you're suffering...
The short answer is no, you shouldn't stay together just for the kids.
I'd love to see families stay together and I think when you have kiddos, you need to knock yourself out trying to make it work. But if you've tried and you're miserable, then you're not doing your kids any favors by staying in an unhealthy situation.
They see you unhappy, your spouse unhappy, they see an unhealthy relationship and they live with a lot of tension. That's not good for any of you!
Most parents are very afraid that divorce will "screw up the kids for life." Research has shown us that this isn't true...very few kids experience long-term serious problems after their parents' divorce.
A 2002 study found that while most kids do initially experience anxiety, anger, shock and disbelief upon learning about a divorce, that these reactions typically fade over 6 months. Only a small minority of kids suffer longer.
Obviously your kids will not be happy to hear that you and your wife are parting ways, but they can and will heal from this.
That said, I would encourage you to keep your eyes peeled for ongoing signs of depression or anxiety in your kiddos and if you see anything that concerns you, please reach out to a child therapist for help.
Researchers have also found that lots of fighting - both before and after the divorce - is very harmful to your kids. Many children from high conflict families feel a sense of relief when their parents divorce because the fighting and tension decreases and they can relax.
Kids do much better during a divorce if you can limit the amount of fighting and negativity they're exposed to.
Keep any comments about the other parent and the divorce process to a minimum. And please never throw the other parent under the bus.
Remember that your kids love both of you. If you badmouth your former spouse, the kids will be very hurt and will resent you for it in the long run.
If you know that you've tried and you cannot remain in the marriage, that is ok. You have to be honest with yourself and your partner and find a way to move forward. Once you do decide to move forward, focus on being the happiest, healthiest person you can be and work on being the best parent you can be.
Talk to your kids about the divorce, their feelings about what's going on, and answer their questions fully. Provide lots of emotional support and closely monitor your kiddo's behavior.
Continue to give your kids structure and rules; be mindful of not being too strict or too easy-going. If you're too lax, kids get the idea that you don't really care what happens.
You'll all get through it. Take it one day at a time and be sure to ask for help if you need it! I hope this helps and if you'd like, you can read more about the research here.
I also posed this question - should we stay together for the kids - in our Facebook page, click here to see what people had to say and join the conversation.
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