You may not realize it, but your kids are always watching, and they’re learning from your words and actions what a relationship should look like. This is great if you are in a happy, healthy relationship, but can be devastating if your marriage is unhealthy and/or abusive.
When we become adults, we quickly forget what it was like to be a kid. We forget how much we hated it when adults assumed we didn’t know anything because of our age, and we forget just how much we knew, saw and heard as children. Adults tend to think that if a child isn’t in the room during a discussion or fight, that they don’t know about it, but this is rarely the case.
Children Are Sneaky
Just because you can’t hear or see them, doesn’t mean they can’t hear or see you. You may think that your children are oblivious to your marital problems, but they aren’t. They hear your arguments in the other room. They see you flick each other off behind the other’s back. They see you hit your partner or throw something in anger. They feel the tension in the air at dinner after a fight.
Over time, these things seep into them and they see this dysfunction as what all relationships are like, and as the example for what their future relationships should be.
This is even more dangerous if the marriage is an abusive one. If one spouse is abusing the other, whether verbally, emotionally or physically, their children are seeing this and are being taught that this is what a normal relationship looks like. I know this because I was that child.
How My Parent’s Marriage Warped My Views
My childhood was one of anxiety, anger, dysfunction and confusion. Fire and ice, my parents fought constantly when around each other. It was so bad that when I was told at the age of 10 that they were divorcing, I actually felt relief.
My parent’s marriage taught me two things:
- Marital disagreements are only resolved with violence and anger, and;
- Verbal and/or physical violence is normal in a relationship.
This is why, when I first started dating my husband (who grew up in a loving, caring home where fights were discussions instead of fights) at the age of 16, I would fly off the handle and spiral into a vicious rage anytime something went wrong in our relationship. I am not proud, but I was verbally abusive to him more than once during that time. Although hindsight is 20/20 and I now know that it was wrong, at the time every couple I knew did it, so I truly didn’t know any different. I always said I would never marry a man like my father, and I didn’t – I just became my father. It took work and time, but I eventually realized I was wrong and changed my thought process accordingly.
My parent’s marriage didn’t only affect my ideas of relationships, either.
My dad, who had anger management issues, had been abusive toward my mom and us for decades. His outbursts created a deep fear in me that exists to this day. My husband, who is the most calm and loving man I’ve ever met, has never given me any reason to fear him. Yet, if he playfully yells about something, my first instinct all these years later is to become small and to keep quiet so as to not incur his (non-existent) wrath.
My parent’s terrible marriage made my life hell in more ways than one, and it didn’t end when they divorced because I had already been programmed. I was too old by that time and it was too late.
Every day your children are learning from you. They’re watching and listening to everything you say and do, both good and bad. This is why they repeat cuss words or tell your business to their teachers.
If your marriage is loving and healthy, they will seek that as they grow up and find a partner. Just the same, if your marriage is dysfunctional, abusive or unhappy, they will continue that trend with whoever they end up with.
This is why sometimes it isn’t better to stay in a bad marriage for the kids. By doing so you’re subjecting them to the same unhappiness you’re dealing with, both now and in their future.
I understand that separating isn’t always feasible and that there are many reasons why people stay in bad marriages, but doing so “for the kids” shouldn’t be one of them.