HeartChoice: Should I Leave My Partner?
Parenting: I Have a Bad Marriage, But Will I Damage My Children if I Divorce?
Q: I have a terrible marriage but am afraid I will damage my children forever if I go through with a divorce. How can I minimize the damage? Is there a good divorce?
A: Be aware that bringing up your children in a loveless, nonaffectionate, verbally abusive marriage gives your children the idea that this is normal so that they may settle for this kind of relationship in their own marriages as adults. So while divorce is usually difficult for children, there are benefits to children in terms of removing them for a very negative context.
In terms of having a good divorce, remember it is the conflict between the parents that does the damage of divorce to children, not the divorce itself. A good divorce depends on doing each of the following:
1. Be Civil to Each Other.
Do whatever you can to be civil with your soon to be ex. Commit yourselves to being cooperative about disengaging from each other and reaching agreements on child sharing- when the children will be with each parent. The one specific thing that you can do to ensure a good divorce is to treat your ex like a friend that you have something in common with (e.g. your children) even though you will see them less often.
2. Keep Access of Children Open to Each Parent.
The more children have access to each parent, the better. The worst divorce is the one where one parent takes custody of the children and does whatever possible to keep them from the other parent. Keeping children in the middle of the conflict is to be avoided. One child said, “My mom makes me feel guilty if I see my dad and my dad makes me feel guilty if I don’t.”
3. Get a Divorce Mediator rather than a Lawyer.
If you can’t agree on child custody/visitation, division of property and child support, see a divorce mediator rather than a lawyer. The mediator is focused on an agreement that is fair to both parties and will save you both time and money. Lawyers are focused on winning and stirring up conflict- most spouses who hire lawyers to fight over their divorce end up being bitter lifelong enemies. Avoid this- no one wins (except the lawyers).
4. Talk Positively about the Other Parent.
Regardless of how angry you feel toward your ex, remember that this is the PARENT of you child and to speak as positively as possible about him or her. Don’t run down each other to your children. Your children don’t want to hear it and it makes them feel uncomfortable around each parent to know the other hates them and to remember what they have said. Build up each other to your children and make them proud to have each other as parents.
5. Allow Time for Healing.
Divorce is hard on both spouses and children. Give it time for new patterns and routines to be established. Children are resilient and most recover/do not show lasting effects from the divorce.