Raising Kids in an Unhappy Marriage

Every marriage is imperfect, and every couple has times of struggle, strife, disagreement, and unhappiness.

Every marriage is imperfect, and every couple has times of struggle, strife, disagreement, and unhappiness. But that’s not an unhappy marriage.

An unhappy marriage is one dominated by constant argument, criticism, and threats. Before looking at some steps to take, let’s see the side effects of this kind of home. There are several.

First, it undercuts the security of the children. Children find their security when parents love one another. They think, “Mom and Dad love each other – even when they argue, they stay together. They’re not going to leave each other, or me.” Children need that assurance to grow up confident, balanced, and assured.

There’s a story recently about a man who was sitting in the front seat of his car, telling his wife it was all over and he was leaving her. Both of them had forgotten their two-year-old son was in the back seat. When they looked back, the boy had his fingers in his ears, his head bowed, and a look of agony on his face. He couldn’t bear to hear what they were saying.

Shortly after his father left, the boy became unmanageable, emotionally disturbed. Why? Because love wasn’t demonstrated in his home, and without that, young people become emotionally crippled. As they grow up, they’re vulnerable to all sorts of unhappy relationships with other kids their own age.

A court judge in Denver, a man who handled over 28,000 delinquency cases, once said, “The lack of affection between father and mother is the greatest cause of delinquency I know.”

It’s not how you treat children as much as how you treat each other. Partnership is more important that parenthood because the partnership determines what kind of parenthood there can be.

Second, strife between parents confuses children regarding values and behavior. If parents fight over money, for instance, of their roles in marriage or how to discipline kids, the children never know what’s right or wrong. They’re confused about basic values, and this confusion can become a tattoo that marks them for life.

Third, children become discouraged. When all they’ve known is an unhappy marriage, when the two smartest people in their lives can’t put their marriage together, they begin to doubt if happy marriages are possible. They back off. And if the children do get married eventually, the tendency is that they’ll not take responsibility for their marriage. They don’t expect to succeed.

People often ask, “Should we stay together for the sake of the kids?”

That’s a tough question to answer without knowing all the details. But generally, if there is no physical violence, if it’s just a tough situation with lots of bickering, parents should stay together as long as possible. Why? Because the whole idea of family never leaves a person, even an unhappy home is better than a broken one.

Better yet, however, is for mother and father to admit they have a problem and begin to seek help – perhaps a counselor, perhaps by improving their available information through books or tapes. If you don’t understand why the problems are occurring, what the problems are, and if you get no more information, conditions will never improve.

For instance, you might learn to stop giving “you” messages, pointing the finger and blaming the other person. You learn to talk about subjects on which you disagree without blasting the other person.

Or another example: eliminating the words “if only” – “if only you had done this”; if only we hadn’t had the accident”; and on and on. That language indicates you’re looking in the wrong direction.

New information can help you overcome some of these bad habits and make the marriage stronger.


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Athena Goodlight
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Linda Smith
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Roberta Baxter
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Ileen Zovluck
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Tanya Wallace
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