Parents often feel that divorce will ruin their children's lives forever. Because of this they stay in unhealthy and miserable marriages, for the sake of the kids. But the truth is that children need to learn what true love is. They deserve to be in a peaceful home empty of angry hostile emotions. When a couple stays in an unhealthy marriage, they are teaching them that this is what marriage looks like. Often the scars of living with unhappy parents are much worse than the scars of divorce. Children learn how to act in relationships by the models in their lives. If you are modeling that a marriage is bad communication, disrespect for your mate or sacrificing your voice at all costs, then that is what they will choose for their own marriage. If you are showing them that love is bitter and hurtful, devoid of compassion or just plain cold, then that is what they will use as their definition of love for the rest of their lives.
Often my clients ask me to give them the answer; leave or stay! My answer to them is to make sure that they have done all that they can to save the marriage first. Try! Get help. Go to therapy! Talk to your priest or rabbi, or spiritual counselor. If someone cheated, work on forgiveness. If someone is drinking, work on sobriety. Just do the work. Then after you've truly tried to save the marriage, if it does not seem to be healing or healthy, you will know your own answer. It is then that it becomes easier to do what is right for your family. If it is divorce than one day you will be able to tell your children that you both tried! That is a much healthier lesson for them than learning to suffer in the name of love.
In my practice I have seen a myriad of emotions from the children of divorce. Everything from anger, fear and sadness to absolute relief! Yep, relief! Relief that they do not have to listen to the fighting anymore. Relief that the tears and hostility are no longer in the house. But most importantly, relief that they no longer feel responsible for their parents happiness. Here is a great litmus test I give my parents. I ask them, "What if it was one of your children in your place? Would you tell them to stay or would you tell them to leave?" Inevitably that brings a new set of awareness to make their decision by.
Children are like barometers of all of the emotions in the home. They soak up the way mom is feeling that day, or the way Dad is talking that day. They know when a door is slammed, or when a parent yells at them for no reason, that something is wrong. Sadly, the children bear the load. They carry it with them when they go to school. It shows in their attitudes towards their peers. But most importantly it shows in their attitudes towards their self. So in the end, if you have tried to save the marriage, and if you have evaluated all sides of staying or leaving, if you look at the long term affects of a loveless marriage on your children, the words "for the sake of the kids" will have new meaning. Sometimes it is in the leaving of an unhealthy relationship that we teach our children their most important lessons. We teach them self respect. We teach them self love.