Can a Bad Marriage Be Worse for Children Than Divorce?

For people in their 50s and 60s, they grew up in an era where divorce was viewed quite differently than it is today. When Baby Boomers were children, divorce parents were looked down upon; they were shunned and gossiped about. People would quietly whisper about presumed affairs, spousal abuse and mental disorders. Divorced mothers would be home-wreckers while divorced fathers must have had a midlife crisis and abandoned their wives and children.

Society’s message to married couples in the 1960s and 1970s was clear: Do whatever you can to keep your family together. Keep your family intact, even if it means enduring domestic violence, alcoholism, or adultery.

The family unit has come a long way since our parents were kids. Today, nearly half of all first marriages end in divorce and those numbers are even higher for second and third marriages. If you’re trapped in a hollow marriage and you have kids, you may be wondering, “How would a divorce affect my children?”

Much of it comes down to how the divorce is handled by you and your spouse. If you remain in a highly-toxic marriage, two things are for sure: it is going to damage your children and it will do more harm than good. Think divorce is bad for kids? Try forcing them to endure a loveless marriage. Try forcing them to deal with constant tension and constant arguing day in and day out. Since it’s nearly impossible for parents to hide their dysfunctional relationship, children do bear the brunt of it.

Children are often present for daily arguments. They are observant, sensitive creatures and they sense when their parents are miserable; they are not blind. Intuitively, they can feel their parents’ unhappiness and they can sense their parents’ coldness and emotional distance between each other.

In many situations, children blame themselves for their parents’ conflict; they tend to think it’s all their fault. They think, “If only I did my chores better. If only I got better grades. If only I was a better kid. If only I listened better to Mom and Dad. If only I was more helpful at home.”

Five ways children can suffer from their parents’ toxic marriage:

1. Constant Arguing
When parents are constantly arguing at home, it affects the children directly. Children are very sensitive and when they overhear their parents argue, it upsets them. During an argument, children can put on their headphones, clutch on to a favorite stuffed animal or blanket (small children), cry, or go into a temporary depression.

Parental conflict can be so distracting, kids have trouble concentrating on homework and want to do nothing but escape the turmoil. Constant exposure to parental conflict is stressful and affects children emotionally and sometimes physically.

2. Chronic Tension
When children are exposed to chronic tension, it’s akin to being in a constant state of stress. Science has proven that stress leads to overeating, depression, heart disease, high blood pressure, and other negative health effects in adults. It can’t possibly be good for children’s health either. Often, the childhood trauma and emotional scars of child’s parents’ bad marriage has effects that last well-into adulthood.

3. Lack of ‘Joy’ in the Home
What do children need? They need love and lots of it. When children are constantly exposed to the emotional stressors of their parents’ toxic marriage, there is a lack of joy in the home and believe us, the children can feel it. The children go to school or their friends’ houses to escape their home life and when they come home, they dread being there every minute. This is NO WAY for children to live.

4. Cold Atmosphere
Can you imagine growing up in a home that’s cold and lacking warmth (emotional warmth, the feel-good kind)? Well, you may be living it right now as an adult but it’s no way for a child to live. No parent wants to rob their children of a happy childhood but when they remain in a toxic marriage, that’s exactly what they’re doing.

You can buy your children all of the latest electronics, video games, and designer clothes in the world but no material item can make up for a loving home where your children actually want to be.

5. Emotional Instability
When children are chronically exposed to high-conflict marriages, it eats away at them. Day-by-day, the strain diminishes their emotional stability and inner peace, putting them at odds with their natural impulses. For example, they may want nothing more than emotional intimacy, but they socially isolate themselves from friends and family.

They yearn to have friends, but instead they reject them and become a loner. They long for love, but can’t handle developing close relationships. They have amazing talents and creative abilities, but burry them deep and give up before they get started. Their parents’ external conflict almost always becomes an internal battle and it leads to unhealthy and unsatisfactory relationships.

“Please Mom and Dad, Get a Divorce Already!”

If you’re in a high-conflict marriage and your children are older than 10-years-old or are very mature for their age, they may be hoping, dreaming, praying that you get a divorce. If your child is in seventh grade or above, they may have already told you that you should get a divorce. They may have even asked you, “Why are you still married? Why don’t you just get a divorce already?” If your child has had this type of conversation with you, it may be time to take their input to heart.

There are plenty of children of high-conflict marriages who suffer regular humiliation at school, during extracurricular activities, and in front of their friends because of their parents’ toxic relationship. Sometimes, the verbal abuse children witness on behalf of one or both of their parents causes them to suffer from headaches, depression, mood disorders, and even weight problems. Think a bad marriage affects you physically and emotionally? Well, it’s probably affecting your children too.

For countless children, when their parents finally decide to end their high-conflict marriages, the children’s depression lifts. They start doing better in school, and they can finally have peace and love in their home. In fact, it’s amazing how much better life can be for everyone once a toxic marriage is put an end to.

Related: 3 Signs It’s Time to Call it Quits

Looking for a Los Angeles divorce attorney? Contact Claery & Hammond, LLP to arrange your free initial consultation.