When to stay married for the sake of the kids

Psychologist Joshua Coleman, PhD discusses when parents should consider staying married for the sake of the children
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When to stay married for the sake of the kids

So a lot of parents who I work with who are contemplated divorce are worried about the effect that divorce is going to have on their children and they wonder, should they stay married for the sake of the children. In general, people don’t stay married for the sake of the children in the way that they used to, and in part that’s because most parents today believe that if the parents are unhappy, then the kids must be happy and I’d like to say that sometimes that’s really true. We know that the research shows that in high conflict marriages and those are marriages where there’s ongoing verbal abuse, physical abuse, swearing, screaming, children are harmed in those situations are they’re much better off when the parents divorce, assume when the parents divorce they don’t continue the high conflict which as is the case in 25% of divorces. But when parents divorce from a high conflict marriage and go on and have happier lives, kids actually do better in that situation. But some parents stay married not only for the sake of the children, but for the sake of themselves because they hate the idea of being separated from their children. So they’ll stay with somebody that they’re not very happily married to or even unhappily married to because the idea of spending any time apart from their children is just too painful. In that situation I think it’s a completely reasonably thing to do. In our culture we’ve gotten so orientated towards personal happiness and growth that we don’t realize some of the sacrifices that we make when we end a marriage. This isn’t to say that I’m against divorce because I’m not, but I think there’s a place in our cultural society to say where one could or should stay together for the sake of the children. I think that’s a very valid one. The second point I want to make about that is idea that if the parents are unhappy, the children must be unhappy too. Sometimes that is true as in the case of a high conflict marriage, but a lot of parents do actually a perfectly good job of containing their unhappiness. They do it in a mature way; the kids don’t really necessarily know that their parents are unhappy because the parents don’t particularly fight. They may not have the closest, most affectionate relationship, but they have a reasonable marriage and then those marriages and those households, children seem to do okay. Now I don’t think and the research shows it, they don’t do quit as well as in those households where the parents are happy and affectionate and that kind of thing, but they may do better in that situation than if the parents divorce and are fighting or they remarry and the kids don’t see the parents as much. All these things have to be thought about in a very comprehensive way.

Psychologist Joshua Coleman, PhD discusses when parents should consider staying married for the sake of the children


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Joshua Coleman, PhD

Author & Psychologist

Dr. Coleman is a psychologist in private practice in the San Francisco Bay Area and Co-Chair of the Council on Contemporary Families, a non-partisan organization composed of leading sociologists, historians, psychologists and demographers dedicated to providing the press and public with the latest research and best-practice findings about American families. He has lectured at Harvard University and The University of California at Berkeley and blogs on parent-adult child relationships for the U.C. Berkeley publication, Greater Good Magazine, the Huffington Post and Psychology Today.

Dr. Coleman is frequently contacted by the media for opinions and commentary about changes in the American family. He has been a frequent guest on the Today Show, NPR, and The BBC, and has also been featured on Sesame Street, 20/20, Good Morning America, PBS, AARP,  America Online Coaches,  and numerous news programs for FOX, ABC, CNN, and NBC television. His advice appears often in The New York Times, The Times of London, Fortune, Newsweek, The Chicago Tribune, Slate, Psychology Today, U.S. World and News Report, Parenting Magazine, The Baltimore Sun and many others.

He has served on the clinical faculties of The University of California at San Francisco, The Wright Institute Graduate School of Psychology, and the San Francisco Psychotherapy Research Group. He is the author of numerous articles and chapters and has written four books:  When Parents Hurt: Compassionate Strategies When You and Your Grown Child Don't Get Along (HarperCollins) The Marriage Makeover: Finding Happiness in Imperfect Harmony (St. Martin's Press); The Lazy Husband: How to Get Men to Do More Parenting and Housework (St. Martin's Press); and Married with Twins: Life, Love and the Pursuit of Marital Harmony. His books have been translated into Chinese, Croatian, and Korean, and are also available in the U.K., Canada, and Australia. He is formerly a contributing editor to Twins Magazine.

 Dr. Coleman is a sought-after public speaker on topics related to the family. He is also co-editor, along with historian Stephanie Coontz of the yearly online volume, Unconventional Wisdom: News You Can Use, a compendium of noteworthy research on the contemporary family, gender, sexuality, poverty, and work-family issues.  He runs a popular webinar series for estranged parents and a free newsletter for parents, The Coleman Report.

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