What’s the Impact on Your Kids?
Work on Your Marriage for the Sake of Your Kids!
The last couple of weeks have been tough. My mother passed away. I had the honor of giving my mother’s eulogy at her funeral.
I prepared for this by thinking about the impact that mom made on me. I had to ask myself what I learned from my mother. It also forced me to think through what I want to leave to my children and my grandchildren. What do I want to leave as a legacy?
This topic is important to all of us. What do you want your kids to learn from you?
That’s a tough question to ask. When I speak with couples that are struggling with their relationship, this is sometimes in the back of their mind. They care for their kids and they don’t want to hurt them.
Let’s face it, being concerned about your children can be highly motivating. Who wants to hurt their kids? This can be a motivation to work on your marriage relationship.
Divorce Hurts Children
There is no question that divorce hurts children. Judith Wallerstein researched the effects of divorce through a study that followed children of divorced parents for 25-years. She found that the children:
- Reached a conclusion that personal relationships are unreliable. This thought process continues into their adulthood.
- Even after 25 years, feelings of loneliness, bewilderment and anger continue. This creates a trigger that makes it easy to withdraw from your spouse.
- Felt challenged to develop relationships.
- Were less likely to attend college.
- Are less likely to marry
- Are more likely to divorce
I don’t want to take a chance that I am passing on these harmful patterns to my children.
Staying Married for the Kids?
Should a couple stay married for the sake of the kids? This is a very common question, but it’s the wrong question. It makes the assumption that your marriage will stay unhappy.
I understand that no one wants to think about staying in an unhappy place. It’s also very easy to lose hope that anything can change.
I see couples that decide to stay in their marriage, but they just tough it out. They live with the status quo. They don’t take practical steps.
I’ve said something like, “I don’t want you to stay together for your kids, I want you to have a fantastic relationship. That will be a better example to your children.
The good news is that couples can improve their relationship. There are very practical steps that people can take that will improve connection.
So I ask, “For the sake of your kids, would you be willing to work on improving your marriage?”
How Do We Use This for Motivation?
This is where it gets tricky. Couples don’t want to hurt their children.
Yet, it wouldn’t help for me to say, “If you loved your kids, you’d work on your marriage.” That just sounds judgmental. It is judgmental.
I have found the most effective way is to be specific. Would you be willing to work on criticizing less? Understanding more? Spending time together? Offering more compliments and affirmations? Other healthy habits?
Here are some consequence questions I have asked:
- If you keep at the status quo, will your relationship improve or get worse? What will be the impact to your kids?
- Do your kids notice your lack of connection? How has it influenced them?
- What would you like your kids to see in your relationship?
- It sounds like you and your partner criticize each other (or any other hurtful behavior). If you did that less, would your kids notice?
- Would your kids notice if you worked on understanding each other?
My wife and I have heard from many couples that have improved their marriage the impact it has had on their children. We have had more than one couple tell us that when their relationship improves, their kids express that they have noticed the better communication and have felt more secure.
What a great legacy to leave your kids! Work on the practical steps that will improve your relationship.
Tips for Marriage Mentors:
- Be careful not to be judgmental – Be careful not to use the “kids” idea as a stick. It’s easy to guilt people into something. I would rather they are motivated by hope of improvement over guilt.
- Ask consequence questions – Ask questions that will help the couple to come to their own conclusions.
- Remember, kids are only one of the motivations – There are lots of reasons to improve your connection. Children are only one of them.
Wallerstein, J. S., & Lewis, J. (2004). The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: Report of a 25 Year Landmark Study. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 21(3), 353-370. DOI: 10.1037/0736-97188.8.131.523