Your parents may have done it. Your grandparents did for sure because divorce was not an option in their day and you may shift between times of unhappiness and balance in your own marriage deciding that you have to stick it out until the kids grow up. In fact, staying together until the children leave home is more common than you think and best estimates report that as many as half as all marriage (if not higher) are unhappy unions that are glued together by the fruit of each other’s loins. So, in misery and probably not always in silence – you stay and drudge away the days together sort of in count down mode. Just a few more years, right?
Let’s get the lecture out of the way right from the beginning. Marriage takes work and it takes a lot more work than you may have ever imagined. Kids never make things better – in fact, they had to the complexity of your relationship by bringing back to your own childhood and allowing all those ugly little secrets of raising, upbringing and schools of thought to surface in your marriage. Add that together with a few screaming kids, bills to pay and a humdrum routine of getting by, lack of sex and aging and you have some miserable people. Not all the time of course. But the truth is that when you marry young (in your 20’s) you are literally giving up the freest time of your life. You look and feel better than at any other time, you are finally unbound by rules from the parentals and you can pretty much go and do as you please. Then you get married, and you are right back where you started. Worse, now you are being told, asked, or expected to do things for your spouse or children at your own expense. Eventually, you are resentful, angry and feeling a tad annoyed that your spouse is ever present and on your nerves. But you stay! Even if the problems are good, parents always think that staying together for the kids is the best possible solution to a familial problem.
The real question is this, is staying together for the kids really worth it? If you are in a marriage that is abusive in any way, that makes you completely miserable, that doesn’t allow you to draw any kind of joy – is it worth giving away these youthful years of your life. The next thing to consider is that unhappy couples make miserable parents. If you feel stuck in a marriage because of the kids, your little pieces of resentment and frustration will no doubt show. You probably snap, say things you shouldn’t and allow little things to feel like big things. If you think that the kids can’t tell – they can. At some point, they will have had enough and you will be cheating them of the kind of parent you could have been should you have chosen happiness.
There is always a preconceived notion of doing what is right over what is wanted. We are taught at an early age that sacrifice and doing for others is what will make us happy and allow us to blossom into a good person. However, to live a lie – and to feel disgruntled because we know at the depths of ourselves that we are not living out potential is a very sad and lonely way to live. In order to love, you have to love yourself first. In order to be happy, you have to be happy with your own life. In order to spread your happiness to your children – you have to take care of you. Even more important is the lesson that you are still an important person and that you must make yourself a priority. There is nothing saint like in giving everything to your children and saving nothing for you. There is also no good lesson in it. Would you want your own children to follow your example and do the same?
Staying together for the kids while common hurts the entire family unit. Many parents are just plain afraid to go for the divorce. They allow the marriage to get to a point where they are too tired to work on it anymore and are stuck in complacency. They may use the excuse that they are staying together for the children, but the truth is they are staying together because it is easier. It is easier to stay than to travel through uncharted territories where the future may be unclear. It is easier to stay than put you or your kids through alternating weekends and the transition from being one family to two. It is easier to stay than to tackle the problems.
The other way to think about this dismal picture, is to realize that you always have two choices in life. You can stay because of the kids – or you can try in earnest to make the marriage better. You can try to rekindle your feelings of love, wipe the slate clean, and accept the marriage and your partner for what they are. This doesn’t mean excusing them, but instead realizing that a lot of years have gone by where many changes have occurred and you and your spouse just weren’t ready. You may be surprised to know that your partner is feeling the same way. If you work in a positive direction (if there is still desire to do so) then you may be able to bring your family back together.
If you feel like you are staying together for the kids – then take a step back for just a minute and see what you have left to work with. If you could piece together the marriage and try to make things happier between you and your partner, gain some personal happiness as well – you may find that you will do the kids a bigger favor than you think. If the differences and feelings are just too irreconcilable, then understand that you are only hurting yourself, your children, and your relationships with both by staying. There are other options.