'Protecting The Kids’ Is A BS Reason To Stay In An Unhappy Marriage

Julia Meslener for Scary Mommy and Westend61/Getty

I’ll be the first person to admit I stayed in my marriage a lot longer than I should have for my children. I think it’s normal to want to hang on after you’ve built a home and family together. No one wants to go it alone, parent solo, or spend holidays without their children. When you have had a partner to share these moments with for so long, it feels easier to stay where you are and hope for the best.

It’s easy to tell yourself it’s not that bad, and it’s really easy to look at your children while you are all sitting around the dinner table and tell yourself you will stay together to save them.

I’m speaking from experience here: Staying in a marriage where there is no love is not saving your children. Not even a little bit.

Yes, we know it’s going to disrupt and hurt our children if we split. And doing anything to disrupt and hurt them feels unnatural. So, we cling. We stay. We fight the good fight with their feelings and hearts at the forefront of our minds.

I’m speaking from experience here: Staying in a marriage where there is no love is not saving your children. Not even a little bit.

“What about the kids?” was a question that got thrown around quite a bit when I started telling people my ex-husband and I were separating. People who have never faced divorced or separation are so quick to go there, and yes, it makes you second-guess yourself and your decision.

A more appropriate response when someone comes to you telling you their marriage or long-time relationship is ending is, “You need to do what’s best for you and your well-being.”

Because in the end, that is all we have.

Divorce is scary. It makes people uncomfortable. It feels like an end, because in a way it is. It feels like we are giving up and failing. But it isn’t a failure at all. Don’t let those pre-divorce ghosts haunt you regardless of what anyone says, even if they try to shame you into staying together for your children.

Thamrongpat Theerathammakorn / EyeEm/Getty

We cannot ignore a very important point here: When parents force themselves to stay together when they aren’t happy, this is what damages the kids most of all. My ex-husband and I started having problems when are youngest was four years old, and guess what? He knew.

I realized it when he had a play date with another 4-year-old and he said, “Mommy is sad because dad wants her to do things with him and she doesn’t want to.” This was his interpretation of an argument he’d overheard one night when we thought he was asleep. My husband was complaining I didn’t want to go out with him and his friends and share some of his hobbies. I explained maybe I’d be more open to it if he noticed me and all I did for our family more. I was starting to feel like a wife who was expected to pass a bunch of tests.

I should also tell you, this argument happened a month prior. So, not only do our kids feel the effects of our unhappiness, those feelings linger for a long time.

Our problems continued off and on for another six years, and guess what? All three of our kids knew.

Don’t let those pre-divorce ghosts haunt you regardless of what anyone says, even if they try to shame you into staying together for your children.

Your kids sense the tension and hardships in your marriage even if they don’t talk about it. When they feel those feelings, it affects them. It doesn’t matter how well adjusted or communicative they are.

They might not talk about it either. It can look like anxiety, more backtalk, not wanting to go to school, or retreating to their rooms more often.

Once I realized my marriage was not about my children, but about the partnership between me and my ex-husband, I was able to get really clear about why we divorced so I could let my guilt go.

We made vows to each other before our kids were born that we weren’t able to honor. We were in love once, made a beautiful family, but that love went away. We tried, but we weren’t able to get it back. We both deserve to find it again, and our kids need to see both of us loved in the right way. We knew it wasn’t going to be with each other, and trying to fake it for their sake was destroying us. It could have destroyed them, too.

It’s been over two years since my divorce. My ex-husband is deeply in love with a wonderful woman my children adore. They now have twice the love, twice the family trips, two homes, two Christmases, and a bonus sibling. They see a happy mother who is strong and capable and really likes her independence.

If we had stayed together, they would be sharing a space with two adults who didn’t love each other, and who probably would barely be able to be in the same room.

Because we split, they see us getting along. They see us both feeling more at peace and living our best lives. They see us communicating better. They see us putting ourselves first which is setting a good example for them.

There’s an impact on the kids when their parent divorce, for sure. I’m not arguing that. How can there not be? But what I’m saying is, if we stayed together for them and they found out our miserableness was for their sake, I truly believe that would cause a lot more harm than our divorce ever did.

It takes time, but the kids adjust to their new life; they adjust to seeing their parents happier for not being together. But they never adjust to watching the two adults in their house walk around unhappy every day.

Staying together for your kids is a bullshit reason to stay married. Stay together for you, separate for you, divorce for you, and not for anyone else. If you aren’t taking a stand for yourself and your happiness, no one else will, regardless of what you sacrifice for them.