Unhappily married: Should you stay or leave? What’s better for your child? – Times of India

All couples start with “a happily-ever-after and till death do us apart”, but the truth is that relationships don’t always feel worthy of keeping that promise. Staying in an unhappy marriage or leaving is one of the hardest decisions a couple could make especially when there are children involved in the equation.

So should couples stay because of their children in a marriage that no longer feels worth celebrating? The answer is complicated as it depends on many factors including the priorities of the couple, state of the marriage and what environment it is bringing in for the children. As a parenting coach and child & family counsellor, I help people break their generational patterns, heal and repair relationships. But unfortunately some relationships are beyond repair and in that case my work focuses on helping couples find their power within and work together either inside or outside of their marriages in a way that the negative impact on the children is minimal.

My work involves reminding partners, how discord in their marriage, toxic environment, unhappiness, sadness, and | or aggression in their homes set up their children for a difficult and unfulfilling life in future. What is most important is physical safety and psychological well-being of the child and to be able to make the right decision about leaving or staying, at least one parent (preferably both), need to move from their intention, from their own discord and see what it is doing to their children. If a warring couple’s emotional cup is empty or if the marriage involves verbal, physical abuse and| or irreparable differences, leaving would be the right call because in that case the child will not have the security they need to grow up into well-adjusted people. Children learn from our examples, how we live our lives instead of what we preach. And hence when a relationship becomes toxic, there is no hiding it from the children, they’ll know and growing research on this states that they will bear the impact.

A lot of research and attention on how divorce impacts children negatively has been conducted. But what is worth noting is that the findings also indicate a lot of this negativity has roots in the tension that the marital conflict has preceding the divorce or months and years before the divorce. Most of the advice that couples receive talks about doing anything and everything for the sake of their children even if it means staying in an unhappy or toxic marriage. In my experience, I have seen many more mental health problems in children who grow up in unhappy marriages. Conflict and discord at home sometimes does more harm to children than divorce. Why? Because it harms the parent – child bond as stress drains the parental energy and makes one or both parents become emotionally absent for the children. Children sometimes end up feeling responsible for the tension between the parents and blame themselves. Another reason why staying back in high level conflict marriages can be damaging is because it brings in psychological and behavioural issues. Children living in conflict zones are more susceptible to internalising problems like anxiety, depression, withdrawal etc. and externalising problems like verbal or physical aggression, defiance and acting out. Also children who live in hostile unresolved conflict environments show poorer academic performance and interpersonal skills, lack of conflict resolution skills, emotional insecurity, and are more likely to have trouble with their own romantic relationships in adolescence and later in life later. When children are offered stability by staying together, they get a chance to develop the emotional skills to deal with divorce better, but only if the relationships are repaired. But if it is an abusive marriage for any partner or children, divorce is the only way.

Parents also can’t do loveless staying by thinking that their sacrifice will save their children from the pain of the divorce. Because the pain will come either way. How little that can be for the children should be the right yardstick. Hence staying or leaving is an individual decision a couple needs to take and should be done after weighing all pros and cons of what will give the children a better environment and future which is not just financially secure but also an emotionally safe space where peaceful lives outweighs stress. When deciding the fate of a marriage, the most important issue is whether the couple can mutually agree to put their personal discord behind them for the children’s sake. Unfortunately this is not always possible, but it’s worth exploring before making a final decision. If parenting can be done positively and the couple can keep their personal differences aside for the sake of the kids, staying together may have an advantage. If not, an amicable divorce with a co-parenting option would be better for the children.

Prior to thinking about a divorce and making yourself and your children endure the stress that divorce creates, it is imperative for couples to seek help through counseling and see if there are any chances of relationship repair. Whether they are willing and able to rebuild their marriage for the sake of the children is an important question.

If you are struggling with this question, you are not alone and this decision is complicated because if your own identity is being compromised in staying for the sake of children, it is again going to be counter productive.

So what’s right for children – Staying or leaving an unhappy marriage ?

Stay or leave, your child will feel it big.

Children will feel the burn both ways, hence the first option as a parenting coach I would always say should be an honest attempt to repair the relationship instead of staying in a conflict or to leaving because of conflict!

This article is authored by Saakshi Singla, Child & Family Coach |Psychologist |Child Development & Parenting Expert | Gender Equality Advocate & Coach

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