If you're staying in a bad marriage, your children are being exposed to an unhealthy environment that could shape their personality negatively in the future.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published on July 15, 2020. It has since been updated.
As a child, if you grew up in a house where parents fought continuously, at some point you would have wondered if they wouldn't just be happier apart. You might have also wondered if you are the reason they are still together despite being unhappy. Then you may have seen how those who got divorced were treated by the society around you. As an adult, if you're stuck in a precarious situation where you have to decide between being miserable every day for the rest of your life to ensure that the family is intact and leading a happier life with a broken home, go for the latter. It's good not just for you but your children too.
When a child sees their parents fighting constantly, they start blaming themselves for the fights when what went wrong in your marriage is most likely unknown even to you. Children are impressionable and naive, so they end up taking on guilt when it doesn't even have anything to do with them. If you need more reasons a toxic marriage is worse than divorce for your children, here are six:
Children need a safe and happy space to thrive. If they have to constantly navigate between the landmines that you and your partner have become then your child is uncomfortable at home. They are also likely uncomfortable with you and your partner because they don't want to increase the amount of conflict. They would find it difficult to express themselves freely by constantly being vigilant about the emotions of the adults in the house.
"Kids don’t know what to expect in this situation. They walk on eggshells, never knowing where or when the next land mine will explode," said Deborah Mecklinger, a mediator and therapist based in Toronto, Ontario, to Huffpost. "Divorce, when done right, diminishes the conflict. Children have the opportunity to learn about respect, real cooperation and communication."
The children who are raised by parents constantly at odds with each other would find it difficult to get close to people, and this can carry later into adulthood too. For them, intimacy is deeply connected to trauma since they witnessed their parent's dysfunctional marriage. For them, keeping distance means avoiding getting hurt in the future. Even later, when they do become a part of an intimate relationship they are closed off to a great degree. In times of conflict in their intimate relationships, they could end up avoiding it entirely or copy how their parent reacted, according to Psychology Today.
A therapist, Terry Gaspard, specializing in divorce and the author of Daughters of Divorce, told Huffpost that there are studies which show that children born in high-conflict homes can end up with feelings of low self-esteem and unworthiness.
"Children are like sponges and they will absorb negative emotions and internalize their anger and shame," she said. "If they're exposed to parents who are chronically unhappy, kids will grow into adults who have low self-esteem and trust issues. An important question to ask yourself is, would the well-being of the children be enhanced by a move to a divorced, single-parent family? If the answer is yes, then a divorce can be advantageous."
If your home is full of conflict, then not just your children, you too are likely to be uneasy at home. So, you're not really excited to go home and are seeking escapes to stay out longer. In this tussle, the children have less and less of your time, which affects them.
"Usually, spouses look to 'escape' unhappy marriages and avoid being at home in order to avoid their partners," she said. "They may work longer hours, spend more time with friends or use alcohol to avoid being present. Sometimes as a result of divorce, kids gain a parent."
An unhappy home can lead to children with serious mood problems, such as dysthymia or persistent depressive disorder. When mental health is not addressed in these cases, it can lead to personality disorders or substance abuse in the future. According to Psychology Today, with an unhappy background, children lose hope early in life and always expect the worst.
It is not possible to mask away the deep unhappiness within you and the lack of love between you and your partner. Children will pick up on it, said Betsy Ross, a Massachusetts-based psychotherapist, to Huffpost.
"Even the youngest children can sense that you're suffering and that things are not right," she said. "Since children are naturally ego-centered and generally have the idea that they are more powerful than they really are, they are likely to think they've somehow caused your unhappiness and that it's really about them." Even though you don't want your child to think that as a parent, you have to accept the fact that your child might believe they are the cause of your pain.
Since children model their lives, to a great extent, after their parents' what they believe to be true when they see unhappy romantic relationships is that their future is going to be similar.
"You're teaching them that it’s OK to settle for less than they deserve in relationships," Terry said. "Children who observe their parents settling for a miserable marriage might become passive, depressed or pessimistic about their ability to love and be loved in a healthy intimate relationship."
Once you stop believing that staying in a bad marriage is helping your family, and get divorced, it is possible that you find your co-parenting mojo. Also when you choose your happiness, you are teaching your children to do the same as well. They will grow up respecting themselves and expecting that they deserve better than to just settle, said Brette Sember to Huffpost.