Stay Together for the Kids? When Divorce Might Benefit Everyone

Cropped shot of a happy father and son bonding at homeAs parents and/or as mental health professionals, we might assume divorce always has a negative emotional impact on children. When children are exposed to chronic conflict between their parents, however, divorce may be a better choice for parents than staying together and continuing to expose children to the chronic conflict.

Living under one roof can be extremely stressful for parents who might otherwise consider divorce but are working hard to both keep the family together and meet financial obligations. The impact of this stress often contributes to chronic conflict among the parents, and when children are exposed to this conflict and stress, they experience stress themselves.

Often the chronic conflict that occurs while the family is under one roof becomes the norm for children, who can be compared to barometers, or little instruments that measure atmospheric pressure. Children “measure” the conflict and stress, and their behavior often reflects what they experience.

How Are Children Affected by Chronic Conflict?

Children who experience distress as a result of chronic conflict between parents may be impacted negatively in a number of ways. As they grow up, they may lack role models for healthy relationships. When parents put all of their energy into the conflict existing between them, both the relationship with the children and the ability to parent may be impacted. If conflict is particularly harsh or volatile, children may learn and model a lack of respect for others. Often, children may also find it difficult to trust others or develop faith in healthy, positive relationships, and these effects may impact their adult relationships.

Children do much better when their parents are happy and doing well, physically and mentally. Sometimes finding this state of well-being and happiness requires ending the marriage or partnership.

When parents project the negative energy created by chronic conflict, children are more inclined to feel pressure to take sides, and they often absorb the negative energy projected by vocal fighting and arguing. Thus they are then placed in the position of having to deal with adult problems they shouldn’t be exposed to.

Separation of the parents can often relieve the stress at the root of the chronic conflict. When parents separate or divorce, there are certainly transitions and adjustments to be made by the children, and indeed the whole family, but the stresses of daily living under one roof are often relieved, and relationships among family members are likely to improve.

What Factors Determine How Well Children Adjust?

Parents who model positive relationship behaviors, including ending partnerships that are unhealthy, toxic, or simply not working out, can show their children everyone deserves to be in happy and healthy relationships. By not settling for less themselves, they can help their children learn to make similar choices.

Children do much better when their parents are happy and doing well, physically and mentally. Sometimes finding this state of well-being and happiness requires ending the marriage or partnership. If there is no way to reduce the level of conflict between parents, the children are unlikely to derive any benefit from their parents staying together when levels of relationship conflict are high and unlikely to lower.

Through my work with individuals in my practice, I have found three key factors typically determine how well children will adjust to divorce:

  1. The quality of the relationship the children have with each parent prior to the divorce
  2. The length of time the chronic conflict has occurred as well as the intensity of the conflict
  3. The ability of the parents to make the needs of the children a priority during the divorce

Per my professional experience, it is the conflict and the quality of communication between the divorced parents, not the divorce itself or who the children live with, that is the largest factor determining how well children will adjust to the divorce. The mother’s attitude toward the father has a significant impact on the amount of time and the quality of time fathers have with their children after divorce. This is not to say it is the mother’s responsibility to ensure that fathers step up for their children. However, when one parent openly display a negative attitude toward the other parent, the likelihood of that parent withdrawing more from the children’s lives is increased. If this happens, the children will likely experience a negative emotional impact.

It is just as important for both parents (of any gender) to remain openly respectful and collaborate regarding the needs of the children. It is important for the parent without primary custody to make seeing their children consistently a priority, in order for a quality relationship to endure. Further, the parent paying child support should make certain to pay it in a timely manner and continue to take responsibility for continued involvement with their children’s schooling and activities (sports, lessons, performances, and so on).

Adolescents who have difficulty adjusting to divorce have typically experienced a lengthy period of high conflict both before and during the divorce. Adolescents who are able to adjust well typically come from a situation where parents collaborated and negotiated based on what was in the best interest of the children.

Positive Outcomes for Children

Per my observations from working with families affected by divorce or separation, the following are some positive results that can be the outcome for some children after divorce:

  • Children often become more resilient and adaptable because they must develop coping strategies for adapting to different situations and to change.
  • Due to the change in income often experienced, children often have to become more self-sufficient, as both parents are most likely working. Even when one parent was able to stay at home before the divorce, that parent will most likely need to work after the divorce, and children, accordingly, must often take more responsibility for household chores.
  • Children who experience divorce are more likely to have increased empathy for others. When children who experience divorce observe others they care about having difficulty, it often resonates more, and they become more accepting of the various problems and situations experienced by others.
  • Children are often able to have more quality time with each parent. Children from more traditional families often report being able to spend more time with their fathers after the divorce and experience benefit from that.
  • Children develop a recognition for the significance of the commitment marriage requires. Children from divorce sometimes develop a deeper understanding of the stakes involved when deciding to marry. Some children, especially as they reach young adulthood, often decide they do not want to repeat the dynamic they saw in their parents’ relationships in their own relationships. They will often make special efforts to ensure their relationships are more stable and healthy as a result of experiencing chronic conflict between their parents and the resulting stress they experienced while growing up.

The bottom line is this: the happiness of our children, now or in the future, does not rest solely on the institution of marriage or divorce in and of themselves. Their happiness is based on routine, confidence in their relationships with their parents, and their perceptions of their parents as people of strong character. The fear of parental abandonment puts children at the greatest risk when there is chronic conflict and/or when divorce happens. Therefore, parents need to ensure, whether they stay married or decide to divorce, their relationships with their children are a top priority, primarily by including self-care and modeling healthy relationships. A qualified and compassionate professional can often be of assistance here!

References:

  1. Mohi, G. W. (2015, September 22). Positive outcomes of divorce: A multi-method study on the effects of parental divorce on children. University of Central Florida Undergraduate Research Journal, 7(2). Retrieved from from https://www.urj.ucf.edu/docs/mohi.pdf.
  2. Positive effects of divorce on children. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://divorce.laws.com/positive-effects-of-divorce-on-children
  3. What are the effects of divorce on children? (n.d.). FamilyMeans. Retrieved from https://www.familymeans.org/effects-of-divorce-on-children.html

© Copyright 2017 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • 8 comments
  • Leave a Comment
  • Barrett

    Barrett

    September 7th, 2017 at 10:30 AM

    We saw our parents in fights so often as kids that I am pretty sure all three of us prayed daily for them to just call it quits and divorce.

  • Sandra

    Sandra

    September 7th, 2017 at 2:11 PM

    When your children get to a certain age you can sit down and talk to them like adults and be honest about the things that are going on in the home. They deserve more than what we as adults usually give to them. They are smart, know when there is a problem. Most of the time I would say that if they are old enough they will know that getting a divorce does not have to be the end of the world for them. They will know that you still care about them but that getting a divorce could actually lead to a much healthier home dynamic for everyone.

  • Kathryn

    Kathryn

    September 8th, 2017 at 9:25 AM

    I suppose that there would have been a time when no rational person would have ever thought that it would be better to get a divorce instead of not getting a divorce. But there are always going to be marriages that just don’t work out, that’s just the way it is. It doesn’t mean that you didn’t try, but that things just didn’t work out. Accept your part in that then move on.

  • Kammie

    Kammie

    September 9th, 2017 at 8:20 AM

    My mom had a revolving door of men in and out of her life when we were young so my sisters and I all thought that this was the norm, how a grown woman was supposed to behave and that a man was perfectly ok treating us like something on the bottom of his shoe. That was how we always saw her being treated and every single one of us has grown up to find ourselves in a similar situation at some point in time. Some of us have had an easier time than others in getting out of those bad romances, but seeing that on a daily basis while you are young really can cloud your judgement about people and can skew the differences that you see in relationships that are healthy versus those that aren’t so much.

  • joseph

    joseph

    September 11th, 2017 at 2:37 PM

    The one thing that I would request is that no one make a snap judgement when it comes to ending a marriage. Sometimes I think that we say things before we ever really think them through and once you have sad certain things you can’t ever really take them back. All I’m saying is that don’t rush to a rash decision. Take some time to step back and think about if this is what you really want to happen.

  • shy and quiet

    shy and quiet

    September 12th, 2017 at 10:38 AM

    when I made the decision to get a divorce I was told not to come back to my church, that there was no place for women like me there.

  • Sallie

    Sallie

    September 13th, 2017 at 10:31 AM

    My parents always made us take sides, and who wants to have to do that as a kid?
    But when you are forced to do that you start to play one of them off of the other and look to see who can create the upper hand.
    Now tell me how healthy that is for any child.
    Wouldn’t it just be better to let the mom have her time and the dad have his time and both of them work on creating safe spaces for the children instead of worrying who is going to win the next battle or one up the other parent?

  • harrison

    harrison

    September 16th, 2017 at 12:08 PM

    If the parents can do it amicably and keep things safe and secure for the children, then I would much rather they divorce instead of putting their children through the hurt and pain of watching them try to live together but miserably.

Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of GoodTherapy.org's Terms and Conditions of Use.

 

 

* Indicates required field.

Therapist   Treatment Center

Advanced Search

Search Our Blog

Title   Content   Author
GoodTherapy.org is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, medical treatment, or therapy. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding any mental health symptom or medical condition. Never disregard professional psychological or medical advice nor delay in seeking professional advice or treatment because of something you have read on GoodTherapy.org.