Better for child to stay in unhappy marriage? - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 20 Old 08-06-2010, 07:47 AM - Thread Starter
 
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I am seeking advice for my cousin. We are a close family and he is like a brother to me. He is a father to a six year old daughter and a great dad. Unfortunately him and his wife do not get along at all and this has been the case for years. Really, his marriage has been troubled from the beginning and his loved ones have always questioned how the two of them ever ended up together. He did find out after his marriage that his wife is bi-polar, which has added many challenges to the relationship. They have tried but he has told me that there is no way they will ever fix the problems between them.

My cousin feels that it is better for his daughter to continue his marriage and for him to be miserable then to get a divorce and try to find happiness as a single dad. His daughter is so important to him and he is willing to sacrifice his happiness so she does not have to have divorced parents. My family is having a hard time excepting this. We feel that for all of them it would be much better for a divorce to happen.

Currently his solution to the problem is to work out of state during the weekdays and be home on the weekends. During the time he is home he tells me that him and his wife "fake" being happy. When you are with the two of them you can feel the tension between them. His wife continually complains and my cousin seems to try everything to make her happy without ever seeming to be able to do so. It really is unbearable to witness. I can not imagine that his daughter does not feel the stress.

His plan is to continue to live this way until his daughter graduates from high school, so for the next 12 years he will live in misery for his daughter.

I have encouraged him to think beyond this box he has built and put himself inside. I feel that it is much better for all involved to be happy apart then miserable together.

Please share any advice with me that you may have. My family and I are not sure how to handle this situation and would like to be able to offer help and support in some way. Thanks!
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#2 of 20 Old 08-06-2010, 08:18 AM
 
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Have they tried counseling? Is his wife on meds?

I would hate for the child to feel like it's her fault her parents are miserable because they stayed in the relationship for her, you know what I mean?

I split up from my dds' father 2 years ago when they were 9 and 5. We were horribly miserable and the kids knew it. I too, suspected that he is bipolar and he self-medicated with alcohol. After we separated, life was peaceful. We still "somewhat" get along, but we are ALL much happier now.
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#3 of 20 Old 08-06-2010, 03:38 PM
 
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OMG, no! As a child of divorced parents, I can't tell you how relieved I was when they finally officially split up and divorced. Things had not been great since I was very little, and when I was probably 8-9 years old they "separated". They continued to be in contact constantly even though they lived apart. It was extremely stressful for me and my brother, and it was like a great weight was lifted when they did divorced -- when I was a sophomore in high school.

They tried to do things together "for us" - like "normal" family trips and outings - but it was extremely awkward because we knew how they fought behind closed doors. We were always waiting for the next big blow-up, even when they had happy faces on.

If there's no way for the situation to get better, then the best thing he can do is to create a separate space where he can be truly happy, his daughter can see him truly happy, and he can work on having a friendly 'co-parenting' kind of relationship with her mom.

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#4 of 20 Old 08-08-2010, 03:08 PM
 
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I am divorced with one dd, now 13. Just like earthy mama I was also married to someone I suspected was bi-polar and he self medicated with alcohol.
The tension was so thick in our house it was horrible.
My daughter has since told me that she is glad we divorced. She sees how much happier I am now and remembers the tension and the crying in the marriage.
DD also has a friend with parents in a similar situation. The mom has said she will stay until her children are finished high school as well. dd has noticed many things about how strained their relationship seems when she is at their house. Although they never fight in front of her or their own kids, it is still obvious that the relationship is severely lacking. Kids learn what a relationship should be from watching the examples around them.
Is this what he wants for his daughter when she grows up?
I would hope not.
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#5 of 20 Old 08-09-2010, 09:50 PM
 
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#6 of 20 Old 08-10-2010, 03:43 AM
 
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I read an interesting book on this subject, Between Two Worlds: the Inner Lives of Children of Divorce, by Elizabeth Marquardt. (I may have just misspelled her last name. It's an odd one.)

It's a pretty quick read and rather low-key and scientific, instead of preachy.

Her basic premise is that children in very high-conflict marriages tend to do better (long-term, into adulthood) if their parents did go ahead and divorce; but when parents are unhappily married, yet they can manage not to scream and throw vases at each other in front of the children, the kids fare better if the family remains intact at least until they grow up and leave the house.

If you do read it (or your cousin does), be sure to look at her raw data at the end of the book. I did not peruse it as closely as I would for a research paper, but it seemed to me that the difference in outcome between kids in high-conflict marriages and kids of divorce was much more dramatic than the difference between kids of divorce and kids in low-conflict unhappy marriages. Therefore, one might have written the book as a caveat to high-conflict couples: divorce quick, before you screw up your kids even more! Instead, her focus was: If you can swing it (if you're not being abused, etc.), try to keep your unhappy marriage low-conflict and do stay together for the kids.

She had a lot of interesting theories, besides the research, such as the concept that we've all been fed a bunch of B.S. since the "me" generation, to the effect that whatever makes the parents happy is best for the kids and what enables people to promote that theory is the fact that kids don't have as loud a voice as adults and they're easily manipulated into saying what they think will make their parents happy.

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#7 of 20 Old 08-11-2010, 02:15 AM
 
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I'm very interested in this as this is my situation right now. My marriage has not been working since my first child was born 6 years ago. We talked of separating then, went to counseling, and decided to stay together and "try". Same thing about 3 years ago. Here we are again, but with separate bedrooms and we really don't like each other. We are civil most of the time, but it's clear we don't really like each other a whole lot. There is no intimacy or affection whatsoever and we are very impatient and short with each other often.

I'm torn because I want my children to have the chance to see a happy loving relationship, which they never will if I stay married, on the other hand there is no guarantee I'll find that if we divorce so they may not see it then either. I do know that when we argue, my son is very stressed, and when we are getting along and joking around he is so happy. But it's not "real" (our relationship and appearing to get along).

We have talked about staying together for the kids, but we're not sure which is really better. There is less stress when the other parent is away or not at home, but the kids cry and miss DH when he's not here so they would miss him (though he's not that involved in their lives unfortunately). I want to give them a chance to have a good male role model, but there is no guarantee I'll find that.

My parents fought regularly but not violently when I was growing up, just lots of yelling and criticizing. But we had many "happy" family memories in my childhood (at least I remember them being happy) yet I was always walking on eggshells waiting for the next blow up. My parents divorced when I was 16 (yes, to my shock) and I remember thinking my parents whole marriage was a scam, feeling like my family was a scam, then questioning if they faked loving each other had they faked loving me too...and since then I've really felt skeptical about relationships. I feel like even if they "seem" to work they probably won't in the end, etc.

So in a way I feel that it was good that my parents stayed together "for the kids" but in a way it was bad too. I just can't figure out which was worse I guess.

I do think that if DH and I divorce there is a fairly good chance (80%) that we could still be amicable and do things together with the kids. Neither of us are happy and I think we'd both be happier if we just didn't live together.

Sorry to highjack your thread! Just wanted you to know I share these concerns and I'm interested in hearing other's feedback.
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#8 of 20 Old 08-12-2010, 04:53 PM
 
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I had a friend who knew her parents were not happy and that he had told everyone the day she turned 18 she he was gone. Very sad.
she grew up knowing that her dad was miserable and felt it was her fault. She told him at 16, "just go" and he didn't, he stayed til her 18th birthday.


Sometimes its not about the best but the best out of your choices.

I do think that a mom who is somewhat not the happiest in her marriage but has a good husband who is happy and has financial security and can stay home with her kids are better off that a child who has a mom.... and a dad... who are both dating and breaking up and dating and not focusing on them.

But both of those examples are extremes.

I think it depends on personality of both people. If both of you are unhappy... how long can you "fake" happy. and how long can he? Also as kids get older they notice more and more.

But I do know a woman who "stayed together" for the kids, and they are 10 and 14. and they know their parents arent close, but their mom is a very determined loving woman (raised Mormon) and their dad a kinda lazy ass. So the mom and dad treat each other ok. don't yell. and sometimes he does special things with them. he goes away on business trips alot. she doesn't seem to act to bitter about it. I agree its not optimal but it could have been worse.
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#9 of 20 Old 08-13-2010, 08:48 PM
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I am a HUGE believer in the theory that a marriage =/relationship that is bad for the parents is bad for the child. No matter how much you can "fake" being happy, I really think (and as a child of divorced parents) that children can absorb the tension that exists between parents who aren't happy together.

It is difficult, but how do you model a strong, healthy relationship for your child(ren) if you aren't happy. Ultimately, and I know that many situations are very complex, I believe that it is better for partners who are unhappy together to separate. Unhappily married parents can be far more difficult for a child than happily separated parents.
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#10 of 20 Old 08-13-2010, 08:55 PM
 
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I'm a huge Dr. Laura listener and i agree with a lot of stuff she says, but she's a HUGE advocate on staying in an unhappy marriage for the childrens sake, as long as it's not dangerous (physically or emotionally) to the child. I have read her book The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands and it has changed my views on men completely. I believe the next relationship I enter into will be better because of this book. I would recommend this book for the unhappy husband, as well as the wife. Perhaps it would change both of their views on eachother.

On a side note, i'm not sure why people in unhappy marriages would decide to have a child in the first place?
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#11 of 20 Old 08-13-2010, 09:03 PM
 
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I'm a believer in a third "option".

That is staying for the child, but choosing not to fight and treating each other kindly in spite of differences that make the marriage impossible to hold together long term.

Of course maintaining the status quo of bitterness and tension isn't good for a child. Being part of a shattered family isn't good though either. Sometimes it happens. Sometimes it's necessary because of abuse. But in many cases it would be possible for a couple to maintain a stable household and a respectful atmosphere even if they intend to split up when the child is grown. That would take a *lot* of self control and it would be a sacrifice. It would require not burdening the child with the knowledge that either one or both parents wasn't happy.

That would be my first choice though. I'd do it for my kids.
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#12 of 20 Old 08-13-2010, 09:10 PM
 
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Many times the unhappiness doesn't show up until later in the marriage.

I personally do not agree with staying together "for the sake of the children". Why? Because I don't see it as a selfless act of giving up on happiness to make life better for the children. I see it as the adults not wanting to make the changes necessary to help better the situation because they are afraid of what the rest of society will say if the kids start having problems.

Divorce affects the children no matter how old they are when it happens. I have to agree with jkn, an unhappy marriage doesn't model a strong, healthy relationship for the children and can be far more of a problem than happily separated parents.

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#13 of 20 Old 08-15-2010, 01:26 AM
 
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Originally Posted by cappuccinosmom View Post
It would require not burdening the child with the knowledge that either one or both parents wasn't happy.
But often they can feel it anyway no matter how good the parents are at being civil.

Take the time to heal from your marriage before you move on with someone else. Make a list of all the qualities you would like in a new partner and then work on growing that way yourself. ~mandib50
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#14 of 20 Old 08-16-2010, 12:38 PM
 
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My marriage has been in crisis for several months now, and I, too, have grappled with this question. I think it would be easier for me to jump to the divorce conclusion if there were a lot of fighting going on. The tension comes and goes, but for the most part, my wife and I are able to remain civil and pleasant with each other. It's not even false: we do, genuinely, love and care about each other. Put simplistically, the root of our troubles is that we got together very young (18 and 21), and now (12 years later), we've matured into ourselves, realized what we really want out of life and partnership, and have grown apart in a lot of ways.

My parents divorced only recently, after 38 years together, and, while I did frequently wish for them to get divorced when I was a kid, I'm somewhat relieved that they waited as long as they did. I'm glad I didn't have to be part of a joint custody swap growing up. That said, I don't really know what that would have been like or if maybe it would have felt better in the end (and maybe I wouldn't be in the current crisis I'm in if I had been witness to a healthy marriage during my formative years).

To get divorced--with four young children--feels like it would be incredibly selfish. Like, even if I would be better for it, I doubt that the kids would be. Still, it's tempting to want to put my needs first for once, or to see it through the light of "if I am happier, they will be happier," or "it's important for them to grow up witness to their parents making hard choices that take them to more fulfilling places." But I'm not sure what the real truth is.

The only obvious choice is to at least try to make my marriage work; I know I would always regret choosing to end it without feeling as though I had given it my all. That said, I'm not completely certain what "giving it my all" really means. For now: patience.

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#15 of 20 Old 08-16-2010, 05:48 PM
 
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Originally Posted by cappuccinosmom View Post
I'm a believer in a third "option".

That is staying for the child, but choosing not to fight and treating each other kindly in spite of differences that make the marriage impossible to hold together long term.
I like that, if people can swing it. And the long-term results of making yourself treat your spouse decently might surprise you! My parents' marriage was miserable, when I (their oldest) was growing up and I often wished they would get a divorce. I didn't (and don't) understand what benefit they imagined I derived from them staying together, when they were so unpleasant!

But when I left home for college and beyond, I still had two much-younger siblings at home. By then my parents were more mature...and perhaps just older, with less energy. They gradually accepted that they were never going to get divorced and started being more polite to each other, just to make it easier to live together. It became more and more of a habit and now I think they're genuinely glad to be together.

My best friend's parents also went through a bumpy time in their marriage, while we were still kids. They were very disciplined about being polite to each other, being pleasant in front of the kids and even continuing their social life without broadcasting their unhappiness. They were much quicker than my parents, at getting over their differences and feeling happy together, again. They seem to have a very romantic, fun marriage now.

But I know it takes two, to do this.

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#16 of 20 Old 08-20-2010, 11:58 PM
 
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I grew up in a home with a lot of tension and fighting. My parents were not happy in their relationship but stayed together for us kids sake. I am very glad they did. I am happily married but even if I were not I would stey together for my kids sake but I would not broadcast that I was staying for thier sake. They would not need that burden.
Research does prove that children have a better chance at doing better in life if their parents stay together unless it is an abusive or extremely tense situation. ONly your cousin can make that choice but if it were me I would suggest he stay in his marriage for his dd's sake.
Read the majority of the threads in this forum to see how difficult and sad it is for children in "brocken" homes. After reading them for awhile now I am throughly convinced that in many cases staying in a marriage if you have children is the best option for the children.
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#17 of 20 Old 08-21-2010, 02:40 PM
 
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I have to weigh in on the side of leaving an unhappy marriage to benefit the kids. My kids were quite young when we divorced, and after about six months of adjustment, they have been much happier than they ever were while we were married. We don't have a "broken" home at all. Their dad is much more involved in their lives now that I'm not there to do all the parenting, and in fact he has really stepped up to the plate in a lot of areas and is a much better role model in general now. Obviously he was just as unhappy as I was!

We Never hear the slightest expression of sadness or anxiety or anything negative at all about the situation from the kids. The two of us work together as parents so well now, because all the stuff about each other that used to drive me crazy has no bearing on our lives anymore. In our case it was overwhelmingly the most positive choice for all involved.

I am pretty skeptical when I hear someone suggesting that you can "fake" happiness in your own home, or polite your way to a happy marriage (though obviously rudeness can ruin a good one!). But then, I really am a terrible actor.

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#18 of 20 Old 08-23-2010, 09:00 PM
 
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My parents had an unhappy marriage and finally divorced this year (I am 26). They stayed together "for the kids".

All it did was teach me that you should stay with a spouse no matter what, even if you are mistreated or miserably unhappy. It took a lot of time for me to break that and to stop staying with men who treated me badly.

For the child's sake, you need to teach them that a person needs love and respect, and if it isn't with each other, then end it.
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#19 of 20 Old 08-24-2010, 11:43 AM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jkn View Post
I am a HUGE believer in the theory that a marriage =/relationship that is bad for the parents is bad for the child. No matter how much you can "fake" being happy, I really think (and as a child of divorced parents) that children can absorb the tension that exists between parents who aren't happy together.

It is difficult, but how do you model a strong, healthy relationship for your child(ren) if you aren't happy. Ultimately, and I know that many situations are very complex, I believe that it is better for partners who are unhappy together to separate. Unhappily married parents can be far more difficult for a child than happily separated parents.
:

I was in an unhappy relationship and decided to leave with my child because I did not want her to perpetuate a cycle of "settling". I wanted to model a life of happiness (with or without a relationship) and wholeness. I got married when I was very young and the relationship was very codependent. He needed to be taken care of and I needed to take care of someone. It worked for awhile until I grew up and got exhausted with all that and he refused to "step up." We simply did not grow together. I absolutely did not want my dd to watch me take care of this man in an unhealthy, unequal way and think that was what a woman was supposed to do in a relationship.

We (ex and I) were never high conflict or violent towards each other. We would have been amicable and "okay" had we stayed in the relationship, but still, it wasn't worth it to me. I think a child models what they see and just because she wouldn't have seen anything high conflict doesn't mean she wouldn't have experienced ill effects. (I feel this way even stronger with regards to girls, fwiw.)

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#20 of 20 Old 08-24-2010, 11:56 AM
 
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I would never try to encourage someone else to get divorced when they don't want to, it's really not your decision or your business. Maybe you could try and encourage him in marriage instead, suggest counseling etc. As happy as the kids may look after the divorce their are always negative feelings about it that they may never express, feeling like it's their fault etc.

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