You often hear people say they’re staying in an unhappy marriage for the sake of the children. But what does that really mean? Is it really best for your kids to stay in an unhappy, toxic, or abusive relationship?
What Does “For the Sake of the Children” Really Mean?
Chris Sain, Jr. said, “Sometimes the best reason to let go of a toxic or abusive relationship is because your child is watching.” There is no truer statement than that.
You’ve probably heard the saying that children are like sponges: they soak up everything around them, learning and remembering things that we often don’t even realize they’ve picked up on. This ability to learn so easily and quickly can be a good thing, when they’re learning to read or multiply double digits.
But what if what they’re learning is how to be treated badly? Or how to treat others badly? What if what they’re learning is that yelling, screaming, and tears are a normal part of relationships? What if they learn that punching walls, slamming doors, or calling each other names is how to deal with problems?
What if you’re teaching them that cold silence and sitting at opposite ends of the couch, or not even spending time in the same room together at all, is love?
Two-parent homes may be the ideal for a happy family and thriving children, but is it always best?
What If the Best Thing For the Children is Two Separate Homes?
I won’t try to argue about the benefits of a two-parent home. I do disagree with some of the claims about single-parent homes, but that’s not the point here. A two-parent home may provide a lot of benefits, but only if it’s a healthy, happy, and stable home.
And it’s that last part that is key, I believe: a healthy, happy, and stable home. And if a single-parent home is able to be healthy, happy, and stable where the two-parent home was not, why wouldn’t that be a better option for the children?
I distinctly remember a lot about my marriage. But here’s the thing: I don’t remember anything good. I don’t recall my wedding day in any kind of vivid detail. I recall the births of my children, but I don’t remember anything good about my ex-husband in connection with the births. What I do remember is screaming fights. I remember one fight, in particular, where my ex-husband prevented me from giving my then 18-month-old son his sippy cup of milk and while my ex had me backed against a wall so he could scream at me, my son was standing on his toes to grab his cup and give himself his milk. I remember being happy and smiling with my son while his father was at work, and depressed and distant when he came home. I remember counting the hours in the evenings and on weekends, waiting for him to go back to work – and never mind the vacations.
Does that sound like something beneficial for my kids? Or yours?
Screw the Ideal, Do What’s Best
You know when your marriage or relationship is totally off the rails and can’t be saved. You also know when you can still salvage it.
Get couples counseling, get individual therapy, and do everything you can think of to work on the relationship. Don’t walk away without knowing that you’ve done every possible thing to save it.
But if you know you’ve done all you can, and the relationship is toxic or abusive, or otherwise just plain miserable for everyone, walk away.
Don’t let statistics and ideals convince you to stay. Don’t let religion or family persuade you to stick with something that’s unhealthy for you, your partner, and your kids.
Do what’s best for all of you. Walk away.
I Know It’s Hard
Look, I’ve been there. On top of what I described above, my ex was also a serial cheater. He was a pathological liar. He was also a mama’s boy whose mama hated me before she ever even met me, merely because I existed and had the ability to “take her precious baby away from her.” And I still did everything I could.
We went to counseling. And even after the counselor pulled me aside after the fourth session and told me that what I wanted out of my marriage was healthy and reasonable but that my ex would always be who he was because he saw no issue with his behavior and I would be better off leaving, I stayed for another year or more.
I know how hard it is to leave. I know how much you struggle with the idea that your children will suffer more if you leave than if you stay. I know you worry about how you’ll feed the kids, clothe them and keep a roof over their heads. I know some of you, like me, have that intuition telling you that if you leave, your ex won’t pay child support and won’t see the kids – and that also makes you hesitate.
What Do You Want to Teach the Kids?
Your children are watching everything you do. Consider their future.
Would you be happy if they were in a relationship like yours? If they came to you and described their relationship as being like yours, then asked for your advice, what would you tell them? Whatever you would tell them, that’s what you should do.
What kind of relationships did you have as examples as a child? Do you think they impacted your own relationship? Keep that in mind, as well. Remember that your children are no different than you: if you were influenced by poor relationship examples and have ended up in a toxic or abusive relationship, you may be setting your children up for the same fate. Is that what you want?
Ask yourself what “for the sake of the children” really means. Then do what you know is best for everyone, including the children.