Worried About Your Kids Because of Your Marriage?  Here’s What To Do Next…

“I had to leave. Things are so bad between us, and our kids have seen too much already.”

“Our fighting is too toxic. We need to split for the sake of our kids.”

“It’s terrible with us being under one roof. It’s like a cold war. I just can’t do this anymore.”

Both as a divorce attorney and a mediator, I’ve heard parents say these things again and again. Sure, some said, “We’ve been separated but we’re amicable, and our kids are adjusting.” Even when they started off as “amicable,” most parents found themselves arguing over parenting decisions after they split.

However, many of these parents were frustrated to discover that leaving didn’t work the way they expected. In some cases, their fighting escalated.  Their kids were not sheltered from the impacts.

Your children are tuned-in and perceptive. They know more than you think they know about the good, the not-so-good and the cringe-worthy parts of your conflict. This isn’t just an issue for kids whose parents are divorcing. Unhealthy conflict in marriage affects most of us at times.

If you and your spouse feel stuck and you’re considering leaving because your disillusionment or disappointment with each other seems insurmountable, and you want the best for your kids, I’d love for you to hear Marcus and Katie’s story (not real names, of course).

Marcus and Katie

Marcus and Katie separated after being married for 9 years. At that point, their two boys were seven and four. Marcus called it quits because he couldn’t stand the constant tension with Katie anymore.

He ran a business, and when he retained me, he had already started a relationship with someone else.

His journey through the divorce process was more fraught with conflict than he ever imagined. Once the I’s were dotted, t’s were crossed he had his divorce, and he looked at me through tears and said,  “If only I’d known then what I know now, I would have worked harder to save my marriage.”

It was as if Marcus had imagined, as many of my clients did, that leaving their marriage would be something like packing their relationship problems away in a box.  He’d set that box out to the curb and it would be whisked away.  Done.

However, Marcus discovered after he separated that it wasn’t that simple. Yes, the marriage WAS taken away.  They were no longer married.  But, after separating, he found himself holding a second box – one that he had no choice but to unpack.  In that box, there were the financial problems including property division, child and spousal support that demanded decisions.  There were two residences to maintain on a fixed income.  There were parenting decisions that became complex because both parents wanted more time with their kids.

And underneath those problems in that same box were all the relationship problems that had been causing tension and frustration while they were still together. Only amplified.

To give you a window into how their kids were impacted, after Marcus moved out, Katie didn’t mean to let it slip in front of their boys how frustrated she was that Marcus didn’t pay support on time.  She didn’t think about the emotional impact on the boys when she vented about her expenses piling up.

Marcus didn’t intend to complain to his kids that their mother didn’t care if he had no money left to spend on them. And Marcus didn’t mean anything by telling his younger son not to tell Mom he forgot the car seat. He just wanted to spend time with his sons, without friction from Katie.

Then there was the time the boys returned to Katie with sunburns because their dad forgot the sunscreen.  Which was followed by more venting about how irresponsible he was, and how much he acted like a child.

Throughout the separation proceedings, I would hear Marcus and Katie both say they didn’t want their kids to be caught in the middle. They sincerely wanted the best for their kids. But in the heat of the moment, their emotions and words just leaked out.

It became critical for Marcus and Katie to find a way to become more civil and cooperative with each other, for the sake of their grieved kids.  That meant, as it does for so many parents, they had to seek help from a counsellor on how to co-parent after separation, when they had restricted time, energy, and resources to devote to it because they were dealing with the divorce.

All this to say:  if you really want to help your kids, the time for peace is now.  Unless your relationship has become toxic or harmful[1], investing your time and energy into figuring out how to bring more peace into your relationship is something to do now, not later. Before you even make a final decision about whether or not to split. You will not more motivated or more available to do this in the future, especially if you split.

The time for peace is now.

The time for peace is now. Click To Tweet

What do your kids really need?


 While you and your partner are feeling stuck and frustrated with each other, let me encourage you with the simplicity of two basics that will make a world of difference for your kids.

  1. Kindness and respect between you, their parents

If you’ve been in a cycle of conflict OR a cold war, you need a disruptor for the sake of your kids.  If you leave right now, chances are, you’ll be piling bitterness on top of old, unresolved grievances.  You’ll have many more opportunities to clash over your differing perspectives and desires.  On the other hand, how about focusing on this singular issue:  What change can I make in my approach to my spouse to extend an olive branch?  What can I let go of for the sake of peace for my kids?

Some people find, as Carey and I did, that once you delve into gaining insight and interrupting poor communication habits and blame, there’s more room for kindness.  Then kindness over time rebuilds respect and makes room for love.

Maybe your love for your kids could spark a transformation in your relationship.  Perhaps your marriage could go from that bad to this good.

  1. The freedom to love both of you

When parents are in a season of discord, it’s easy to make the mistakes of leaning emotionally on our kids or drawing them into the mess.

A young child will do or say whatever they perceive the need to in order to preserve their relationship with each of you when there’s conflict between you.  When they’re feeling the tension, don’t put too much stock in the content of what they say to you. Their messages to each of you may reflect what they think you want to hear. If you’re not aware of this common child reaction to dealing with parents who are fighting, you might get upset over their ‘lying’.  The truth is this:  your child is fighting to stay connected with you.  Both of you.

What your child needs most is the freedom to love both of you.  A freedom from any sense of loyalty conflict. The freedom from having to compartmentalize their life to keep adults from being upset by what’s going on during the other parent’s one-on-one time or in the other parent’s home.

This kind of loyalty conflict may arise when parents are struggling with each other and not separating. It can sound like, ‘Honey, don’t worry about that homework your mom wants you to do right now.  We’ll take the bikes out instead.’  Or, “Let’s go to the mall and get your back to school things” (meanwhile, your child was about to go out to fix the car with Dad…).

Avoid placing your child in the position where they have to make a choice that will favour one parent and disappoint the other.

When Carey and I realized that the dysfunctions in our relationship were putting our kids at risk, we agreed with each other to a signal that marked the halting of a conversation, especially in front of our kids.  That meant we needed to take responsibility for noticing when we were about to lose civility in our words, or when we were getting triggered.  It was one of the concrete steps toward a healing in our marriage.

For practical solutions to the problems married people face, plus your options from a divorce attorney perspective and the advice of marriage experts, find all of this in one place in my book, Before You Split.  Buy it here.

The time for peace is now.  No childhood is ever perfect, but the security of peace at home lasts a lifetime.

If you’ve discovered concrete steps that have helped you recover kindness and respect for the sake of your kids, please take a moment to share below.

What your child needs most is the freedom to love both of you. Click To Tweet

[1] https://toninieuwhof.com/is-your-marriage-unhappy-or-harmful/ Here’s a link, if you’re asking yourself the question of whether your marriage is harmful.

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