This question brings people to this blog from time to time: Should I stay married for the kids? They ask it of Google or Yahoo! or Bing and arrive here. It is a noble question, a sign of maturity even to ask it.
I was once one of those kids for whom a couple stayed married, so I can tell you there are some real plusses. We continued to be able to afford a house and a yard in a good school district, one that got me to MIT on scholarship. I have to say thanks for this.
I had two parents helping me the day I pulled off a really great sixteenth birthday picnic overlooking the Hudson River. When both parents showed up after my husband died, they arrived together and did not add the tension a couple of divorced parents might have. Again, so much better than I see in other families that split up.
However, I believe a lot of people who ask the question picture doing what my parents did, which is staying the course, a course that took an arduous route and offered little reward other than honoring their integrity and doing right by their children.
They paid a huge price for what they gave us. Worse, we could see the price they were paying and feel the tension between them every day. Growing up, I felt fortunate, but never comfortable.
And then I became one of those parents asking, “Should I stay married for our child?” Ann Landers offered the awful advice to add up the benefits and the costs and choose the better deal. The therapist I saw offered little hope of my situation changing; we cannot remold our spouses. But they missed the point entirely.
Stay married for yourself. Stay married for another shot at a great marriage with the person your kids call Mommy or Daddy. If you have been trying to change your spouse, give it up, because 90% of your experience of the marriage — unless it involves walking on eggshells to avoid threat of bodily or emotional harm — is taking place between your two ears, and you truly have the power to change it.
Divorce gets you from -5 to 0 on the life satisfaction scale. It gets your kids from maybe 2 (if they sense your unhappiness) to -8 and leaves them powerless to change any of it. Changing the way you see your marriage and your options and living your life differently as a result can take you from -5 to +8 in a year. And for your kids, your +8 is their +10.
If you’re at -5 right now, this next benefit might not yet be great news, but when your spouse finds himself or herself married to a +8 and raising +10 kids, his or her life satisfaction is going up, too, maybe even enough for you to feel yourself incredibly fortunate you didn’t leave before the second act.
Three things work for me to change everything:
- Assume Love – Take a second look at everything that upsets you about your mate’s words and deeds by asking what might explain them if you are still loved as much as ever by someone as wonderful as you first imagined.
- Expect Love – Everything you expect about what a spouse should do or how someone who loves you will act gets in the way of letting yourself be loved. An expectation is a premeditated resentment. If you have been waiting for your mate to fix your life, start fixing it yourself. Prepare to be surprised by the forms love takes when you stop trying to dictate what it should look like.
- Find Third Alternatives – When you disagree, let go of your first choice to free yourself to look together for an even better choice, one at least as good for you with the bonus of making your spouse happy, too. Never settle for being a doormat or for being right without being kind.
Afraid you might be putting on rose-colored glasses and changing nothing? Rose-colored glasses are actually part of most happy marriages. They change everything. Your kids want you to fall in love all over again with their other parent. Give it a try.
Tell me, did your parents stay married for the kids? Did they divorce? Did it affect the one you handled the rough spots in your own marriage?