Author: Mark Berger
This is not the first time you’ve considered ending your current relationship. The marriage has had some rough spots and it is now clear to you that no repair is possible. Divorce is a scary reality to contemplate for you, but when you think about the effect on your children, it almost seems unbearable. Can I do this? Will it ruin them? How can I ever explain “getting a divorce” in a way that makes sense to my children? What will their lives be like after divorce? The worry is almost enough to make one stay in the marriage. Almost.
There is no shortage of things to consider when thinking about the effects of divorce on children. Here’s a really important one: children learn from doing, from experiencing, not so much from lecturing and simply being told. When you live in a passionless, mundane, or worse, abusive (mentally, emotionally or physically) relationship, your children absorb this. They see a poor, potentially damaging, model of an adult relationship and are likely to form a lasting impression from it.1 This only serves to create a cycle of unhealthy relationships.2 We all want our children to have better lives than we did, and that includes a healthy, supportive relationship with a life partner. Divorce will not be simple or easy and your children will need support to come through it whole, as much as you will; but they will be saved from forming a poor impression of adult relationships, and that is significant.
Our marriages and romantic relationships have a significant ripple effect on the rest of our lives, just as persistent stress can have a devastating effect on your life and on the lives of those close to you. When your marriage is effectively over you experience considerable stress, whether you recognize it or not. What effect does that stress have on your children? They know when their parents’ lives are not healthy. Even if you think you are shielding your children by keeping the bickering, fighting, and unpleasantness to private times, they are aware.
We all have an antenna for the feelings of others. We pick up on intonations, looks, and body language; children have a sense, whether distress is made explicit or not, when all is not well with their parents. This is a stressor on them and can in turn have its own effects: acting out, seclusion, poor school performance, possible drug and/or alcohol use/abuse, weight gain or loss, and so on.3 Staying in an unhealthy marriage may in fact be an unhealthy choice for your children.
Your children can come through divorce in a healthy manner; but, like anything else, it takes a thoughtful, considered approach. Just barreling into it will likely yield a lot of problems for all concerned. Take the time to get informed about the best way to present the idea of divorce. Acquire some strategies for moving through the process with your children, and develop a plan for moving forward after the divorce is final.
Your children may or may not thank you one day, but you’ll have done them a loving service and you’ll reap the reward of seeing them in a healthy relationship of their own one day.
1. Ming Cui and Frank D. Fincham, “The Differential Effects of Parental Divorce and Marital Conflict on Young Adult Romantic Relationships,” Personal Relationships 17, (2010): 340.
2. Susan E. Jacquet and Catherine A. Surra, “Parental Divorce and Premarital Couples: Commitment and Other Relationship Characteristics,” Journal of Marriage and Family 63, (2001): 627.
About the Author: Mark Berger is the father of a seventeen year old daughter and a twenty-three year old stepson, and shares his life with his partner and wife, Shawn. Mark has spent 25 years of his life in service to children, though his work in education. He has been the leader of numerous Montessori schools since 1990, worked with national organizations, spoken to parent groups and written extensively about the needs of children and how parents can support these needs. He is a passionate advocate for children in and out of his Montessori work. In 2013 Mark and Shawn relocated to Atlanta where she is in private practice as a clinical psychologist, and Mark has worked with local independent schools to refocus their Montessori mission. As an education blogger, speaker and general child advocate, Mark is always looking for an opportunity to play an active role in the community.