Is Staying Together for the Kids’ Sake Ever a Smart Idea?




It’s an age-old question that stirs a lot of controversy and “what ifs” and internal guilt for many of the couples I’ve worked with who’ve contemplated saying good-bye: Is staying together for the sake of the kids ever a wise choice?

No simple answer

I will stop short of answering this question with either a yes or a no and say that in most cases it’s not a win-win for anyone involved. Now, there are cases where legally and financially, at least for a period of time, it can make sense to coexist under the same roof and lead separate lives. I’m sure many of you have a story where in fact it did make some sense. However, in probably 90 percent of the situations it can do more harm than good. Here’s why.
Guilt. It’s a biggie. The idea that you’re failing in a relationship gets compounded when kids are involved. There are more people who are let down by this situation than just the two of you. Our minds wander and we connect more to the initial sadness than thinking about the longer-term opportunities of getting out if it’s indeed not working. It’s also not unusual for kids, depending on their age, to take on being the cause of the upset and the reason for the divorce. This will keep couples together longer than necessary, rather longer than is helpful for everyone involved.
Modeling. What often gets overlooked as two people attempt to work through their challenges is exactly what the kids are learning from all this. We tend to assume they don’t know or understand what the looks, language and loud voices in the house really mean. Kids, like everyone else on the planet, absorb energy and experiences like water to a sponge. Without mom and dad attempting to explain or clarify what is going on, they begin to make their assumptions as to what relationships look like, how mommies and daddies talk to each other and treat each other. They begin to see what’s in front of them as normal — even when it’s uncomfortable. This is a setup for them down the road to repeat what we call trans-generational patterns, sometimes referred to as the sins of the parents passed on to the next generation and on and on down the line. In essence, belief systems about relationships, men, women, being a parent, love, and so forth, anything and everything that shapes the way in which we perceive and function in the world.
Belief systems about relationships. Some people believe that in order to make a relationship work, they have to keep working at it regardless of whether their needs and the needs of the family are being met. This is a misconception. The values, beliefs, desires, wants and willingness to work through issues need to be present on both sides. If the foundation isn’t steady, then all you’re doing is spinning your wheels, wanting to fall back in love with someone’s potential, or what once was rather than what is and has been.

When its time to consider houtside help

The biggest obstacle for most couples is how to know when enough is enough or whether there is in fact more that can be done. This is where getting support from a Therapist, Coach or Relationship Counselor can really be helpful. In the midst of the fighting and the upset, clarity and conscious decision-making abilities can be lost. Follow these guidelines and ask yourself and your partner these same questions:

  1. Is the foundation for love, as we once understood it, still there? If it’s not, what is? People don’t always grow apart. Sometimes they grow together yet in different ways. There may be a new and exciting path to consider.
  2. If the kids were younger or older, would that impact our decision to stay or leave?
  3. Is any part of the decision about finances, meaning the cost of a divorce through lawyers, splitting assets, and so on?
  4. Is there a fear of being alone or fear of the unknown that is playing itself out and impacting your decision?
  5. Are there any physical or emotional conditions on the table that need to be discussed?

As I stated in the beginning, some people can’t afford to get divorced, at least not right away, so it may require some finessing to create an “under one roof but separate” arrangement. I don’t recommend this for an indefinite period of time, since this can be equally confusing for your kids. Which leads me to my last point: I highly encourage communication from both parties, preferably together, in speaking with your kids. Seek out support from a professional about age-appropriate information. Make sure you’re both in agreement about exactly what will be shared and what information might not be relevant.