Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Unhappy marriage – What’s best for the kids?

The relationship is no longer working. You’re both miserable and the love is gone. It might be time to part ways but for couples with kids, it’s not always that black and white.

The institution of marriage often falls short of its billing. The holy matrimony is often romanticized as a bastion of love and affection and the best social structure to raise children. Oftentimes, however, reality gets in the way and marriage turns into a cesspool of violence and abuse. Even then, some couples just stick it out for the sake of their children.

Dr Sophie Moagi, psychologist in Gaborone however feels that may be a bad idea.

“Unfortunately, many parents find themselves in a marital relationship that is unhappy, no matter how hard they try to build support and care for one another. These parents find themselves in a situation where they must weigh the fallout from two undesirable scenarios — divorcing or staying together for the children. Sometimes despite the greatest ‘happily-ever-after’ intentions, a relationship can become a tense, unhappy, conflicted union. Deciding to separate is never easy, particularly when children are involved. But we all know that conflict is particularly damaging to children in the long-run. Parents who stay together for the kids but put on a happy front are, in some ways, practicing dishonesty in the home. Children may perceive this dishonesty and grow to distrust what they see at face value. Children who grow up in an unhealthy home lack good role models for how a loving and supportive relationship should look. With unhealthy role models, the child may not know how to navigate romantic relationships effectively in his or her own adulthood.”

Social research suggests that loveless marriages can have an effect on the development of children. As children grow older, they tend to replicate relationships similar to what their parents modeled. Most parents would never say they want their children to suffer or struggle in their relationships. Yet that’s the likelihood. Kids living in a toxic environment are not only at risk of having rough romantic relationships in their adulthood, but it can even affect how a child will perceive any kind of connection with another person. Conflicts at home lead to difficulties with building balanced relationships with peers, while sibling relationships can become overprotective or distant.

Dr Sethunya Mosime, senior Sociology lecturer at the University of Botswana says, “Putting up an armor of denial to the outside world is emotionally, physically and spiritually draining. You may have told yourself that you are capable of living in an unhappy marriage as long as that sacrifice keeps your family together. What you have not factored into the equation is the stress — physically, mentally and spiritually that will happen during those years to yourself and every family member. The underlying anger, pain and hopelessness derived from living in a loveless marriage needs an outlet. Generally, you’ll end up taking out those feelings of hopelessness and isolation on those you love most, making your home life one lacking of peace and unity. I think people should stop blaming their kids. You are not staying in your marriage for the kids. You are using the kids as a scapegoat to avoid taking a major, frightening step. Divorce is scary. What is scarier is spending the rest of your life in the misery of a loveless at best, abusive at worst, marriage and for your children to grow up expecting their own marriage to be exactly like yours.”

Indications are that distressed couples are simply afraid to move on with their lives. Sometimes because of financial concerns or the fear of being alone. “For the sake of my children” is often used as an excuse.

Unloving or conflicted marriages often follow a lineage as they are passed down from generation to generation. With children involved, the stakes are higher – and most times, the opinion seems to be that so long as a relationship isn’t actually violent then the best thing is to put up and shut up for the sake of the kids.

Couples with children often work harder at saving their relationship than those without. The reason being parents feel a two-parent home provides more security and stability and that forming a strong familial network is in the children’s best interest. Many parents believe if they can just work at it long enough or hard enough, they will be able to get their relationship to a “healthy” enough state to make the relationship doable and thus better for their children. It is mis-informed to believe that children are not aware of problems between parents, simply because they ‘don’t fight’ in front of them. Kids on some level know what’s going on and they know the “truth” even if they don’t know exactly what they know. Unfortunately, staying together for the kids’ sake also sets up a “false” family dynamic and could lead to children questioning relationships in the future. When a couple’s relationship is characterized by unresolved conflict and unhappiness, their children tend to have more acting out aggressive behavior problems, more shy withdrawn behavior, and fewer social and academic skills. Furthermore, when couples aren’t getting along, their irritation or anger with each other often spills over into their relationships with their children. They suffer the consequences of both the heated or ice-cold emotional tone of their parents’ relationship and the frequent result of co-parent conflict -harsh/ineffective patterns of caring and discipline.


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