Couples in a bad marriage try hard to stay together for the sake of their children.
My 42-year-old client V is in a marriage like that. She got married to her college sweetheart at the age of 22. Five years ago, she had an affair that rocked her already troubled marriage.
V’s husband was very furious and upset when he got to know of the affair. But he never brought up the subject of ending their marriage. Instead, he subjected V to a constant barrage of jibes, lashed at her with anger and at times was icy cold towards her. This lasted for almost three years. V on many occasions wanted to call it quits. Her husband however was very clear — divorce wasn’t a possibility as it would affect their only child.
Their daughter was 8 years old at the time. The atmosphere at home through the turbulence in their relationship was unbearable, V recalls. Her husband wanted to protect their now 13-year-old daughter from the effects of a divorce, but V’s also worried equally that a tense domestic atmosphere will affect the teenager too.
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None of V’s arguments or counter opinions of ending things to give their child a peaceful and happy home worked. She did not know how to react when her daughter used to comment on the couple’s constant bickering. Or how they stopped taking family holidays like they used to.
This continued till the day they received a call from the daughter’s school. Apparently, not only had their daughter’s grades dropped but she was also found hiding in the toilet or sports field during class hours as she could not bear being possibly pulled up for her lack of attention in class and studies in general.
That’s when V and her husband decided to, as a family, get counselling. In the last two years, the couple has moved out of their bedroom, and into separate rooms on different floors. They rarely eat together. Communication is restricted to transactional conversations about finance, health, and about their daughter.
Only their parents know of this situation. Their extended family and friends don’t have a clue yet. They rarely socialise as a couple. V cannot invite anyone home without a prior discussion with her husband, and he usually makes an excuse and does not mingle with the guests. Last year, their daughter insisted they go on a family holiday with V’s sister. It was very awkward, but they survived it.
Both V and her husband have clarity that their marriage is over. But V and her husband do not want a divorce even now, for the sake of their daughter. So, V and I are working on making the couple’s daily life a bit more pleasant. After all they do live together in the same house, and both say that their daughter is their priority. They then need to give their child a healthy environment at home.
Every couple has their own reason to stay or on not stay in a marriage. However, if children are the reason to stay, then they also need to consider steps they will take in order to give their child/children an angst free, healthy, and peaceful environment at home — one where there is no bickering, sarcasm, irritability or even disgust that partners feel for each other when a relationship is over. If one is unable to do that, then the decision to split might be better.
There is no doubt this will be hard. No child wants their parents to split. But if the couple feels happier calling it quits, after an initial feeling of being unsettled, the children will also adapt. They will get used to spending time with each parent separately. They will also need extra hand holding and counselling to get through any uncertainty, and the goal should always be to give them the best environment possible in both homes. This is only possible if the parents are not stressed themselves.
When it comes to situations like these, one must evaluate the extent of damage their decision — either to stay in the marriage or call it quits — will cause to their children. V and her husband’s decision to stay together for their daughter’s sake is based on their observation of the emotional stress their daughter used to go through when they used to fight.
According to V, she and her husband are slowly settling into a kind of “mature friendship”. This has eased their own mental and emotional stress. The small successes they have – like managing to have decent family holiday after they called it quits — keeps them motivated to create a warm, happy environment for their daughter.
Not every couple is able to do what V and her husband are trying to achieve. With awareness and external help of a trusted counsellor, couples can choose the path that works best for them and their child/children. The key factor is to ensure a healthy, stress-free environment where the children feel loved and cared for, be it in one home or in separate homes of each parent.
This is a limited series by Simran Mangharam, a dating and relationship coach, who can be reached on email@example.com