People in unhappy marriages often spend a long time contemplating whether divorce is the right option given their situation. Parents with young children are a perfect example. Those who currently have children at home often worry that divorce will destabilize the children and cause a host of challenges. There is research connecting parental divorce with declining academic performance, mental health challenges and sometimes even a decline in physical health.
However, divorce does not occur spontaneously and without careful prior consideration. Many people preparing for divorce have suffered through an unhappy marriage for years. And, ultimately, staying in an unhealthy relationship can actually do far more harm to one’s kids than a divorce might.
Children may witness damaging conflict
Divorce does often lead to parents fighting with each other, but they probably fight already if one adult in the household sincerely thinks the marriage is past saving. In some families, fighting may happen more often than amicable communication between the adults in the household. The more conflict children witness, the more likely they are to develop mental health challenges including anxiety and depression. Parents who are already in a high-conflict marriage will frequently realize that divorce is a less-harm option when compared to staying in that unhealthy situation.
Children model what they see at home
No matter how many times parents tell their children to do as they say and not as they do, children are very unlikely to internalize those lessons. Instead, they will subconsciously repeat the same patterns that they saw their parents display throughout their marriage. Children who witness intense parental conflicts may be more likely to end up in unstable or abusive relationships in the future.
They may have a hard time even establishing a romantic connection with someone. Parents can model the importance of self-care and of selecting healthy relationships by choosing to end a marriage that has become dysfunctional. When children see their parents setting good examples, they will hopefully learn from their parents’ mistakes and make better choices about their partnerships later in life.
Those questioning whether divorce is appropriate for their families because they worry about their children may need to consider whether the current situation is a healthy one and whether divorce might improve the situation for everyone in the family in the long-run.