The question: I am so unhappy in my marriage, we both are, but we stay together for the kids. I don’t know how long I can hang on.
We so often hear the phrase “for the children” especially when partners are not getting along. We will stay together for the children, or about our parents, “They stayed together for us.” Actually, I think it is absolutely right to stay together for the children. Children would benefit if their parents could always manage that. The problem is that the phrase is generally interpreted very narrowly, and in absolute terms. Staying together needn’t be a geographical imperative, but it should be an emotional weave.
Living under the same roof while… criticizing her, hating him, disrespecting her, insulting him, patronizing her, raging at him, screaming or under your breath, out in the open or behind closed doors. None of this is being together. And children know it. The tension in this type of environment moves through their bodies, leaving them with the impossible task of navigating a maze not of their making. They know but are not allowed to know. Often, they end up showing rather than telling, by “acting out” (often acting like) or by getting sick or shutting down.
So, what the partners are not really addressing is taken on by the children to deal with. So, there goes the notion of “for the children.” Further, the message, that I am giving up everything for my daughter or sacrificing my happiness for my son, is a great burden to the child. This child learns early that the parent is “owed” the happiness that was given up for his or her sake.
The alternative? Staying together for the children. We need to carefully consider what this means in the context of our particular circumstances. Sometimes distance protects love, respect, care – for self and other. We need to ask ourselves honestly what changes are necessary for us to be able to make fresh contact with our heart. The question is direct; the response should provide ease. Reestablishing contact in this way allows our children to stay open, to trust love even when it moves in new ways.
More important than the dogma of “staying together for the children” is its essence. If we stand in our children’s shoes and imagine the message from our parents, what will it be? “You are what has been – what is – good about the two of us.” “In you, we will always be together.” “When I look at you, I think how beautifully your father/mother flows through you.” “Whether or not your dad/mom and I live together, our meeting was one of the most meaningful moments of my life.” “You are the best expression of our time together.” “He/she and I will go on in a different way, and we will simultaneously always stand side by side when it comes to you.”