By Richard A. Shulman, Ph.D.
The decision to stay in or leave an unhappy marriage is one of the most difficult choices that you will ever have to make; especially when children are involved.
Many make this decision based on what they believe is in the best interest of the children. They believe that an intact family, regardless of severe marital conflict is better than a broken one.
The goal of any decision is to affect and develop a cordial and harmonious relationship with your spouse.
Studies reveal that children who are raised in a two person, loving, and stable environment show less signs of depression, anxiety, and defiant behavior and these children also have better academics and develop the capacity for truly intimate relationships; children raised in a stressful and conflicted marriage are more stressed, have more defiant behavior, and have more problems with discipline than children raised in a stable divorced or stable single parent home.
Studies also have shown that children do better when their parents get divorced, in comparison to their parents living together in a continuous state of conflict, instability, argumentation, hatred, and uncertainty.
There is no easy answer. There is no simple answer. However, there may be an acceptable solution. Your ability to communicate, provide a stable environment, problem solve, and be loving will assist your child with this transition.
Before evaluating what is best for you and your family, it is important to realize that there are pro’s and con’s for each scenario.
Barring physical, and/or emotional, or substance addiction, the five most important questions to ask yourself when contemplating this decision are:
1. Is this a time limited stressor or conflict?
Relationships go through periods of instability, conflict, and dislike. Ask yourself whether your relationship is going through a difficult time or an ongoing stressor? The rule of thumb is whether these stressors have been going on for three or more years and resolution does not seem possible or imminent.
2. Can this problem be resolved through counseling, mediation, or marital retreats?
How motivated am I to resolve this conflict? How motivated is my spouse? Are we willing to take the necessary steps to improve our relationship? Most marriages are salvageable unless either you or your spouse has lost hope, interest, or the motivation to save the marriage.
3. Are you and your spouse truly compatible or are you staying together for the Wrong reasons?
This is a difficult question, because only you and your spouse know the answer. What is your relationship (foundation) built on? Do you have the capacity to re-establish trust, intimacy, friendship, and love? Do you both want to?
4. What are the benefits to staying together or getting divorced?
Many times couples move towards divorce due to emotional reactions and/or impulsivity. Marriage or divorce is a life-long decision that should not be taken lightly. It is crucial to weigh the pros and cons of this decision, while mapping out your life plan for the next month, year, and decade.
5. Is this a decision that I want or are my family and friends guiding me in a particular path or direction?
Many times our family and friends try to guide us in a direction that they think is best. We end up making decisions based on their input and suggestions. Getting divorced is a personal and difficult decision and should only be instigated by your own personal choice.
Many people marry out of love and divorce out of anger. Unfortunately, children become the victims of marital war. Regardless of the decision that you choose, it is important to remember that when children are involved – your spouse will be involved in some capacity for all of the activities, decisions, and emotional consequences that affect the entire family forever.
The goal of any decision is to affect and develop a cordial and harmonious relationship with your spouse. And that is always in the children’s best interest.