The other day my 13-year-old daughter gave me one of the greatest gifts I could have asked for. We were talking about one of her friends who’s been exhibiting some extremely inappropriate behaviors. I suggested that it might be because she’s simply trying to get some attention and affection. My daughter agreed and explained that her friend has been pretty upset because of the stress at home. “Her parents hate each other and the tension is terrible,” my daughter explained.
And then she said the words that will ring in my ears forever. “Mom, I would have hated living with that kind of stress. I’m so glad you decided to get a divorce.”
There’s probably not a parent among us who doesn’t wonder if our divorce has screwed up our kids forever. But in my heart I knew that staying in an unhealthy and dysfunctional relationship was absolutely the wrong thing to do.
Admittedly there are various scenarios and sometimes, like when there’s physical abuse, it’s easier to make the choice. But in a great many circumstances it’s not as clear-cut for a woman. Perhaps your spouse has an addiction problem, is emotionally or verbally abusive or he’s a narcissist or you’ve simply fallen out of love.
Women will put up with a great deal and sacrifice their own happiness because they don’t want to “break up the family.” Here’s a news flash:
The family is already broken!
Talk to any adult whose parents were miserable but stayed together and I doubt you’ll find one that is happy about that decision. Not one will say “Hey, my father had affairs and my mom was always crying but gosh it was great we were all under the same roof!”
In my coaching practice, I work with women who are paralyzed by fear. They mask their fear with excuses for staying and usually “doing it for the kids” is the most popular. But when I start helping them peel back the layers and look at why they think a toxic environment is good or healthy for their kids, the real reason comes out.
They can’t imagine not having their kids full time or missing a holiday with them or having them away for a week vacation. They worry that their husband simply can’t take care of them properly. I recall having those feelings as well and, I won’t lie, the first Christmas was hard, but then I started thinking back to previous Christmas’s that ended up with tears and yelling. As if that’s any better?! The reality is that most women say they’re staying in an unhappy, cold marriage for the kids, but they’re not, they’re staying because they are clinging to the kids.
Still think your kids are better off with you staying married when you’re unhappy? Here are some other reasons why you need to leave.
You’re setting up a cycle of dysfunction for the next generation.
I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “Actions speak louder than words.” If you’re lucky, your kids won’t copy your relationship patterns but chances are they will. Does your son witness you being disrespected and you allowing it? Chances are he’ll think that’s acceptable behavior. Did you marry the bad boy assuming you were going to change him? Don’t be surprised when your daughter does the same thing.
Their friend’s families make them realize how screwed up theirs is.
Unless you decide to keep your kid isolated from everyone they’re going to see that their friend’s moms and dads act differently. They laugh, they hug and they talk. It doesn’t take long for your kids to realize that what they experience at home isn’t half as enjoyable. Regardless of the good front you put up, they see that it’s just that – a façade. I remember so often during my divorce feeling as if I had fallen down the proverbial rabbit hole. Everything was crazy. That’s what it’s like for your kids as well. Pretending everything’s normal is doing way more damage than a divorce ever will.
The stress is killing them
Our kids experience so much stress between school and activities they need a haven where they can get away from it. That’s what home is supposed to be – a place where they can relax and be at peace. The stress of the silent tension or the overt screaming is what will cause a kid to go over the edge and turn to alcohol, drugs, sex or whatever escape mechanism they can find.
Perhaps the most important question to ask yourself is this. Would you encourage your child to stay in an unhappy marriage? If the answer’s no then you need to start considering why you’re doing it.
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