At some point or another, ever couple fights. Whether you’re married, living together, dating or otherwise, it happens. It’s a normal, and sometimes even healthy, part of every relationship. But sometimes things go above and beyond the normal fights. Sometimes two people just can’t get along, for whatever reason. Normally, the answer would simply be; exit the relationship. However, when kids are in the mix that simple answer is not so simple anymore.
This is one of the most common excuses I’ve heard when a parent is in a toxic or unhappy relationship: “We’re staying together for the kids. I’m not leaving because I don’t want to put them through a divorce.” So, instead, they continue to stay in that unhappy relationship, making everyone miserable, in an effort to spare their kids some heartache. I get it. You don’t want to be responsible for some kind of trauma in your child’s life. You don’t want to “mess them up” or make things hard on them. Going from living in one house with mom and dad to two houses, each with only one parent, sounds traumatizing at best. You can’t think of a good way to make them understand, so as long as you’re still able to stomach the situation; you stay. You stay as long as you can without losing your mind, thinking that it’s in the best interest of your children. But, generally speaking, it’s not.
I’m all for fixing a fixable marriage or relationship. If you can seek counseling or resolve your issues between yourselves, I commend you. This should always be the first, and most desirable option. But the ugly truth of it is; it doesn’t always work. Sometimes things like that just aren’t fixable. Whether it be from an act of infidelity or just a lack of happiness with the other person, some things just fall apart and there’s nothing you can do about it. While the best answer would seem to be toughing out for the sake of your children, take a moment to think; what kind of example am I setting for my child? Do I want them to look at this marriage/relationship and believe that this is what’s healthy or normal?
No matter how hard you try, unhappiness can’t always be hidden. It’s exhausting to constantly pretend that things aren’t as bad as they seem. It’s nerve-wracking to ignore all the warning bells in your head telling you to run away from the situation. It’s impossible to plaster on a happy face day in and day out when you’re the farthest thing away from happy. Eventually, whether you like it or not, that unhappiness will start to seep its way into your everyday life. Even with all the determination in the world, you’ll fight, you’ll frown, you’ll sigh and you’ll lose sleep.
Even the youngest of kids aren’t stupid. They’ll hear the late night fights, they’ll see the look on your face and they’ll notice the lack of affection. While you may feel as though toughing out is doing them a favor, you’re only showing them that this unhappiness that you’re feeling, that you’re living with every day, is normal. They’ll become accustomed to the bickering and the silent-treatments and assume that it’s part of a regular relationship.
No matter their age, or what they try to tell you when they’re angry with you, your children look up to you. They look to you, as their parent, for an example of what “normal” should be. When they see fighting and unhappiness coming from their role-models they inherently believe that’s the way things are supposed to be done. After all, that’s how their parent’s do it, right?
On top of that, if all that fighting is making you miserable, it’s making them miserable, as well. They may find themselves worrying about the situation, wondering what’s going on and even if it’s their fault. This can lead to behavioral issues and even trouble in school. If they’re up all night worrying about their parent’s, they’re not getting the rest that they need to thrive in school and day to day life.
If your relationship has gotten to this point, it’s time to walk away. Staying for the kids is only hurting the kids in the long run. Instead, do your best to be civil and make the transition as easily as possible for them.
Remind them that, no matter what, you both love them unconditionally and without judgment
Depending on what they’ve heard or what they’ve been told, they could have a lot going on in their heads right now. Ensure them that while mom and dad may not get along anymore, that does not change the love that you both have for them.
Do not bash the other parent. No matter how badly you want to
Even if you don’t love them anymore, your kid still does. Resist the urge to trash talk. No matter what, your child is still half of the other parent. If you’re bashing the parent, you’re bashing half of your child.
Encourage a healthy relationship with the other parent
Don’t allow your personal feelings to get in the way of your child’s relationship with their mom or dad. Unless the situation was abusive or dangerous, encourage them to still be an active part of their mom or dad’s life. Kid’s need BOTH of their parent’s.
Explain to them as much as you can
Without divulging details that aren’t kid-appropriate, try to help your child understand what’s going on. Make sure they know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that this is in no way their fault. This is a problem between you and the other person and the best way for the both of you to be the best parent’s you could be was to do so apart from each other. There’s no need to tell them daddy cheated or mommy didn’t pay attention anymore. But make sure that they understand that this is your problem, not theirs.
If necessary, get them (and yourself) in counseling
This is a big change for everyone involved. Some people take to it better than others. If you, or your child, are struggling with the transition, get some help. There’s no shame in making sure that your family stays healthy both physically and mentally.
The short of it is, happiness can’t be faked and it can’t be fabricated. Instead of staying together for the kids when your both miserable, set a different and better example for them. Show them even though some things just don’t work, there are ways to deal with the situation. Show them that your happiness, and later in life their happiness, is worth something, it’s important. Show them the value of self-worth by walking away from something that’s not healthy for you. Children are smart and they’re resilient. Things may be tough at first, but they will adjust. And instead of seeing a broken relationship every day, they’ll see the healthy way to make things work.