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Impact of divorce on small children - better to stay or leave?

(48 Posts)
foggybrain Fri 07-Oct-11 20:45:51

Hi. I am a regular but namechanger. Does anyone have any research or experience about what is best for v small children in the case of unhappy marriages - a split or parents to try and be amicable and carry on until they are older?

DH and I have (IMO) reached the end of the road in our marriage. Having relate but not really getting anywhere. Having some v bad arguments in front of DC (both under 4). Relate counsellor has tried to get us to focus on being more supportive towards each other although we've failed miserably at both the tasks we agreed to. I feel like it is now a case of when not if we split.

I have read even quite unhappy marriages are better for children than a split if there is no violence etc involved (there isn't). The youngest is under a year. I can't bear the thought of being without them at weekend etc, but want to try and do what's best for them. I am willing to make a massive effort one last time with the marriage if I see evidence that will be better for the children. If not, I guess sooner is better whilst they are still young. If anyone has any research or links I would be really grateful.

1catherine1 Fri 07-Oct-11 21:19:08

There was that program a few years ago on "How to get divorced without screwing up your kids". Found a link for the program if you haven't seen it.

1catherine1 Fri 07-Oct-11 21:20:00


kunahero Fri 07-Oct-11 21:27:28

No research or 'evidence' but my first marraige ended when dc were 2 and 5. Dw didnt want to put in any effort to repair relationship so we split.
Dc are now 15 and 19. and neither 'seem' to have come out of it too badly. We have always talked to them from day one to explain what was happening though not neccessarily why.
Although I moved out I have not gone more than 2 weeks without contact and inially saw then both every weekend. I still have reasonably good relationship with them both albeit from a bit of a distance.
Although you think they are young they will understand a lot more than you realise so talking to them calmly will help.
FWIW IMO it is not worth trying to paper over the cracks and carry on as if everything is ok. You think you are doing a great job but the dc will pick up on every thing and you and dh will only end up resenting each other wondering what might have happened and how happy you could have been if only you had split when you know you should.
Good luck and sorry i cant be of any more help.

BertieBotts Fri 07-Oct-11 21:28:12

My personal belief, and this is based on gut feeling and (a large amount of) anecdotal evidence, rather than any specific scientific study (if there are any, I'm not aware of them) is that it's worse for children to witness their parents' unhappy relationship, whether there is violence or not - remember many forms of domestic abuse are non-physical - than for the parents to split up, especially if the split can be amicable.

This is based on the belief that most people take their parents' relationship and use it to form their base relationship template for adult life (unconscious of course). I don't think this is the only place we take our relationship template from, but it plays a large part for the majority - it must do, when you are young, you are learning how the world works. If one of the things you learn is that women are domestic skivvies, or that it's normal for adults to make each other cry in relationships, or that it's okay to speak to someone else with disrespect, there's nothing to show them that this is different from other lessons they are learning, like that you have to pay for things in shops, being sick is no fun, things always fall down rather than up, etc. How you see adults interacting around you is just another fact of life to be taken for granted, not questioned.

The only studies I know which vaguely relate to this are about the cycle of abuse. I know you say that your relationship is not abusive, but it seems logical that if abuse normalisation can continue from one generation to the next in this way, so can other relationship patterns.

Also - children know. Even if you think you are hiding things, they will be aware that something isn't right.

foggybrain Fri 07-Oct-11 22:00:54

Thank you for your responses. If a couple split but did not form a new relationship does that mean you're not really providing a model at all for your DC, good or bad? Both DH and my parents are divorced.

Rivenwithoutabingle Fri 07-Oct-11 22:04:57

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

foggybrain Fri 07-Oct-11 22:08:12

I am looking back and realising I've been unhappy for a long time really, but actually wondering if at crisis point because of sleep deprivation (DC2 still up BF a lot at night and I'm back at work and we're both juggling long working hours). Maybe I can put up with more when I am getting more sleep, I don't know.

HarrietSchulenberg Fri 07-Oct-11 22:18:43

My parents stayed together solely for my sake. Or rather my mother stayed with my controlling and abusive (verbal and emotional, not physical) father as she thought it would be better for me to have two parents. They hate each other and I grew up in the middle of that. It's not a good way to grow up, especially when they still insist on keeping up the veneer of respectability.

Much better to make a clean break but keep good relations with your H rather than let children grow up in a house of secrets and lies. That is why I chose to split up with my children's father rather than spend the next 20 years pretending that everything was OK when it clearly wasn't.

Having said that, you don't sound as if you've hit breaking point, and you need to work out if your relationship is worth saving or not. Someone on here once said to me that the real acid test is to think how you would feel if your partner had an affair. I realised that the only thing I would feel was relief, and I knew we had nothing worth saving. So we split up, and because we are not together we can be good parents. Sure we still have some difficulty over him putting his work commitments before his family, but that aside we function as a much better parenting unit now that we are apart.

Don't let tiredness cloud your judgement - take some time and have a good, hard look at how you really feel and how you would feel if you were on your own with 2 small children as it's not an easy option.

BertieBotts Fri 07-Oct-11 22:20:31

Not necessarily. If you're happily single, that's something to model - that it's okay to be so, it doesn't mean you've given up on life, it's a perfectly valid decision to make, that you can absolutely manage alone.

I'm not a brilliant example of this because although my mum brought my sister and I up alone after I was 6, I did then go on to have a serious relationship (which turned out to be a bad relationship) with someone who shared a lot of characteristics with my dad, and my relationship was fairly similar to my parents'. But I do remember very clearly thinking when I first found out I was pregnant with DS, it's fine, if things go wrong I will just bring up the child on my own, I'll be okay.

I think I still picked up some incorrect and possibly damaging stereotypes and ideas about men from my mum, because her own experiences of men were so awful and she just didn't have the positive side to show me sad Hopefully this wouldn't be the case in your situation. The only positive male role models I can think of that I had growing up, we barely saw as well.

1catherine1 Fri 07-Oct-11 22:20:41

Foggy... Since I haven't name changed I probably shouldn't admit this but... Last week I was planning on leaving OH and taking DD back to my parents as OH was a "lazy, inconsiderate, selfish, waster" but then we had a long talk and we both realised that the demands we were putting on one another were unreasonable. We work opposite shifts and DD who is 6mo takes all of our time when we're home. There is little time for everything else and that often means each other.

It could be that you just need to sleep and approach this when you aren't feeling so drained and in need of help. Tell him you feel drained and in need of help. Have a long chat and then decide what you really want to do.

I'm glad me and OH had our chat. I was overlooking all the times my OH is considerate and loving. See if you can negotiate a lie-in. My OH and I have agreed he gets Saturday this weekend and I get Sunday - sleep is so important. After your DC BF get you DH to take baby and let you recharge.

Matronalia Fri 07-Oct-11 22:50:12

Better to divorce when the children are young. My parents loathed each other for years and agreed to stay together until my brother and I were 18. They were amiable during the day but at night would have the most terrible arguments when we were asleep. Only we weren't. We'd be lying in bed listening too it. Or sitting on the landing holding hands.
It has left me very insecure in relationships with everybody, I associate arguing with emotional pain and if DH hadn't been so nice then for the first few years of our relationship he could have walked all over me. I have a lot of pent up emotion because I have issues displaying my anger healthily.

My brother came off worse because once I left home at 18 he was left on his own and my parents finally split up the year he left for university.

However if this is down to tiredness you really need to sit down and talk this out. Can you write down a list of things that you still like about him even now? Perhaps he could do the same about you. I know DH and I came near breaking point in DC2's first year, although after that it got better even though we had some pretty bad things in that second year. Its so hard to see through that fog.

marykat2004 Fri 07-Oct-11 23:05:20

I disagree. Only from what I have seen and heard, and not an official study (I don't know about official studies). No relationship is perfect. If you divorce, you put your kids through hell, and then whatever new person you are with, is that going to be all perfect with no arguments? It might not be nice to have parents that argue, but everyone I have known who had divorced parents and/or had step-parents come into their lives had a rougher time than the rest of us whose parents stayed together and tried to make it work as a family.

The exception being, of course, physical violence. Then there is no choice but to leave.

Divorce fuels capitalism, which is why the media encourages people to seek their own individual happiness, rather than think about their children's happiness. Divorced people need 2 homes, and spend more money than people trying to keep things afloat as they are.

(let's see how unpopular this comment is...)

WonkyCadonkey Fri 07-Oct-11 23:49:00

You're right marykat no relationship is perfect. However, a good relationship will teach a child happiness and security, and show them making up etc and show them how love and life works whereas a failing, strained relationship will show them heartache and pain and sorrow. There's more to a bad relationship the just arguments, and no matter how hard you try children pick up on the atmosphere, the things that aren't said but can be felt, the things that can't be painted over in an attempt to make things work. My parents tried for 29 years to make a failing marriage work and it was horrendous. I wish, and always have done, that they had split up when I was young, so that I could have enjoyed a childhood that wasn't constantly under tension, one I could relaxed in instead of fearing their next fight. My mother will tell you she did it for us children but it definitely didn't help me in the slightest. Divorce doesn't fuel capitalism for gods sake, and every ad I've just seen on tv involved a family, people aren't so shallow to divorce for materialist gain, and anyway it usually leads to the absolute opposite, and saying these things isn't helping the OP in the slightest, they asked for advice not a lecture. OP all I can tell you is that I came from a family that didn't split and I wish to god they had, I have emotional baggage I will never rid myself of from that time, and that when I myself divorced my youngest child, who was 8 at the time, has come through the best and happiest. My older two children, who were 12 and 13 didn't fair as well, I think because they had seen more unhappiness and remembered more because they were older. Good luck in whatever you decide to do.

HarrietSchulenberg Sat 08-Oct-11 00:05:54

Marykat - we're not talking about having step-parents. That's a whole different issue. We're talking about parents separating. And relationships can get so bad that there is no choice but to leave even if there is no physical violence involved. What about being brought up in family where your father can go for days on end without speaking to you or your mother, or where you both dread the time he comes home from work as that's when the silence begins? There aren't always arguments in houses where adults hate each other - trust me, the silence is almost worse. At least an argument implies some sort of passion and emotion; silence means emptiness.

"Divorce fuels capitalism" is utter bollocks.

Children's happiness does depend on the happiness and mental well-being of their parents, and on those parents being strong, consistent and united in their values. They don't have to be living in the same house to do this. It's up to parents to be grown-ups and to be consistent in their values.

When children of an unhappy relationship grow up they tend to feel guilty that their parents had such a shit life because they "did it for you". I did and I didn't want my children to feel like that.

Foggy - I doubt if this is helping and I have no research other than my own experience, sorry.

foggybrain Sat 08-Oct-11 09:31:24

Thanks again everyone, I don't mind hearing all opinions - I need to get some perspectives. A few things briefly as DH has just taken both DC out to get bread.

Yes, he does do some nice things and can be kind and loving (like this morning). He made me a cup of tea most mornings when I was pg with DC2. However he can also be selfish, thoughtless, inconsiderate, explosively angry with a misogynistic streak which comes through when he loses his temper. I have always felt he has kept part of him separate, we don't communicate very well - like he's not sharing himself with me. He has said a number of times he is depressed but won't seek help for it.

I tend to think much better of him when he is not here if that makes sense, think we can make it work, and then he comes home and something sets things off - either something housework related, silly things like always leaving a bit of food on the plate and never scraping it into the bin. 1ctaherine1 I do think tiredness is a killer and I know it is making things worse. If I wasn't so tired I would probably not be as bitter about doing a lot of the shitwork in the marriage. I could put up with more and bite my lip.

As far as someone else or step-parents, well I don;t think that would be an issue as I don't think I ever want to live with anyone again.

DD sees it all even when we're not arguing. I know she does. She's so bright and lovely. I just don't want to hurt her and how will she understand that 'mummy doesn't want to live with Daddy anymore'.

Bottom line is Harriet I would be so, so relieved if he said tomorrow he was having an affair and was leaving.

I woke up this morning and realised something I never did before: DH is so similar to my father minus the alocholism, I don't know how I didn't see it for all this time.

I have been desperate. Really desperate at times but at the moment I feel very detached, if scared. We did have a horrendous rough patch after DC1 was born then things seemed to improve and that's when we conceived DC2, but a number of things happened when I was pregnant with DC2 which I think just killed dead what we had left for me.

I think I've answered my own question. I have not the first clue about how to go about setting up a separate life. I know this shouldn't be my first thought, but what on earth family, friends, work colleagues etc are going to think and with DC2 so small. sad sad

AttilaTheMeerkat Sat 08-Oct-11 09:41:07

You need both legal and financial advice first and foremost. Some solicitors give a free 30 minute consultation. CAB is also a good place to talk to as well.

As for the people you mention in your last para, well they don't live your life so would not pay undue heed to what they may or may not think about your own situation.

I always think better to be apart and happier than to be together and miserable.

We learn about relationships first and foremost from our parents; you married someone very similar to your Dad after all. What do you want to teach your own children about relationships, the current model they are seeing is not an ideal one at all for them to follow is it?.

AttilaTheMeerkat Sat 08-Oct-11 09:46:06

re Harriet's comment:-

"When children of an unhappy relationship grow up they tend to feel guilty that their parents had such a shit life because they "did it for you".


I know of someone who called their mother a silly cow amongst other things for saying that she did it for them because it messed with their heads as a result. This person also went on to accuse their mother of putting her man's needs before theirs as well.

Bossybritches22 Sat 08-Oct-11 10:03:25

Harriet is right there is researched evidence to prove that when children in later life find out their mum stayed in an unhappy marriage/relationship there is HORRENDOUS guilt that they were the cause of a life wasted.

I'm not saying it's easy & maybe now is not the time whilst you are both so tired & stretched.

Negotiate some lie-ins & time out together, if possible & have a few heart -to hearts.

countingto10 Sat 08-Oct-11 10:16:53

Have either of you gone for inidividual counselling? Sounds like there are some co-dependent issues going on with you (re alcoholic father and choosing someone like him) and tiredness will kill most things. We also tend to replicate our childhoods too in adulthood and this will need addressing even if you split up so you don't choose a similar partner again.

Co-Dependent No More by Melodie Beatty is a very good book with helpful exercises for building self esteem etc. And Not Just Friends by Shirley Glass (although primarily for recovery from affairs) has some very useful advice for rebuilding marriages. I am of the believe that every avenue should be covered before throwing in the towel where children are concerned (violence, abuse and addiction the exceptions).

But in the end it is better to be from a broken family than to live in one. I wish to god my mother had left my father than subjecting all of us DC to their marriage (which has had ramifications all the way down the line for us and our adult relationships).

marykat2004 Sat 08-Oct-11 11:18:02

I was just throwing in an argument for argument's sake, though I do still stand by that people thinking of themselves fuels capitalism. It's not so direct as advertising showing people splitting up, but you do buy more stuff when separate. You need to buy furniture, etc etc.

I can't think of one person who's parents had a 100% happy marriage. Is it just that I only have friends from either broken homes or parents who stayed together for the children?

I see so many people split up because they are bored, because the going has got tough.

But having said all that, it's easier when the children are younger. I think it affects teenagers the worst.

I think about splitting up all the time, but I don't do it, because I can't imagine any joy I'm going to feel being able to make up for the pain I would cause so many people. (DH, DD, extended family).

My parents stayed together 'for the children', yet is it a bizarre thing that once the stress of these 3 monsters in the house was gone, once we all moved out, my parents started getting along better, and even going to trips together? yes there was a lot of fighting, but now all 3 children have celebrated their own 10 year anniversaries. We might have some bad times with our spouses, too, but as far as I can see my brother and sister are in functioning relationships.

I'm just putting forth another perspective. Of course HE has to work on his end, too, he can't be blowing up about nothing, it's not helpful for the family if someone is losing their temper all the time. Will he be active in seeing his children and supporting them when you part ways? One of the benefits of splitting up in the modern world is that is no longer a tabboo, and plenty of people manage to 'co-parent' quite effectively.

Best of luck with your decisions. May it have the best outcome for all.

specialknickers Sat 08-Oct-11 12:42:22

Hi Foggybrain. I haven't much to add unfortunately, I fear I may be in a similar situation to you. I too had an alcoholic father and I'm pretty sure this is probably the root of my relationship problems and it's not something that will just go away. I'm going to give you the same advice you'd probably give me: get some counselling for yourself, and as soon as you can. If you wanna PM me, feel free. Good luck with whatever you decide.

RushyBay Sat 08-Oct-11 13:17:40

Foggy, I could have written your last post... XH could be so considerate and generous. When he wanted to be. When everything was going fine and I felt able to offer him completely unconditional love and affection, he was the perfect husband. When I began to question his explosive anger and general negativity, his underlying core beliefs about women all came seeping out. I tried and tried to be positive about the relationship - to focus on all the good things about him. And when he wasn't there, I could! But I couldn't keep it up. Over 18 months I just lost all respect for him, and realised that if he told me he was leaving, or met someone else, I would be relieved.

We've been separated for 2 months now, and already I feel so much better. The fact that I have not missed him for a second shows me that we haven't been 'together' for longer than I realised. I have moments when I question whether we gave up too soon. Whether we should have worked harder, had more counselling. Whether I should have been more accepting of him. But then I remember all the things he has said that show his lack of respect for me, and the things he has done that have shown he never really committed to me in the first place, and just wants different things from life, and I know we're doing the right thing.

I don't know of any specific research, but I know that I want my son to grow up to be a man who loves his partner and his loved by them. I would hate to think of him being in a relationship like the one I have/had with XH. So I don't want to teach him that this is what relationships look like.

Good luck, whatever you decide to do.

foggybrain Sat 08-Oct-11 19:49:01

Your right attila I do NOT want this kind for relationship for either of the DC. It's really godo to get your perspectives rushy too. Do you mind me asking how old your DS and how he is since the split? And what you do re custody/contact?

marykat one of the problems is DH talks a lot about how much he loves me but does very little in terms of putting in work to change.

I have lots and lots to think about, but I've just realised the last time I posted with this user name about our relationship issues was a year ago almost to the day and I still feel just as crappy as I did then - nothing has changed.

foolonthehill Sat 08-Oct-11 20:13:10

Hi, just to add my 2 penny-worth. The oft-quoted studies saying that staying together is better than splitting usually don't control for poverty...especially those from the U States. Studies are nearly always flawed because splitting up is so messy and ssuch an individual thing....for example how do you control for parents who don't see their children at all and those who have a 50:50 custody arrangement? And everything in between?

I personally have a huge respect for marriage and have worked my hardest to keep my own going...for 13 years. Then I realised that his emotional abuse and angry outbursts were terribly damaging( hmm ) for both me and the children and am in the process of preparing to confront him...personally I think I have to try all avenues before splitting....but it's your life. Just check that you are both being reasonable ordinary people who are having a rough spot....your man sounds like he might not be.....tho' i am in no position to judge. If you are interested in looking at what an abusive relationship looks like here are a couple of links (see below) and i would recommend Lundy Bancroft's book "Why Does He Do That?".

take your time and make sure you have lots of support.
Best wishes FOTH

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