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For the sake of the children . . .

There are several reasons why people get divorced. There are just as many reasons why people remain in unhappy marriages. One of these are the children - where several unhappy couples stay together until the last child has left the nest. But is this a healthy situation? And what is better for whom?

The mascara smudges are sprawling across her cheeks, at the same spot of the bruise. Her hands clasping the cup of tea that you made and you are speechless when she says: “I have decided to stay. Janie is in matric and Joey is in grade eight. This is the worst time for them. I can’t put them through a divorce now.”

How does one reply to this? She is soulfully unhappy in a marriage with a man that physically and emotionally ruins her, but she is also being bombarded from all angles with information on the effects of a divorce on children. What weighs the heaviest? Must you push aside your own happiness for the sake of the children? Must you get a divorce because the children are already suffering as is? INTIMACY4US investigates . . .

When living together isn’t an option . . .
Anita is a single parent. She and her husband divorced a few years ago after he had a relationship with one of her friends. “They claim that they were never intimate, but the trust between us was broken.”

Her husband told her it feels like he is married to his sister. “I held out for another year and then told him it wasn’t nice to be married to my brother anymore.” By that time she had finally decided to get divorced, as she was very hurt by her husband’s unfaithfulness and that he only regarded her as a ‘housemate’. “I knew I could raise my child. My ex-husband was anyway not an involved father. In the first place, he never wanted children. I knew my child and I would be okay.”

The journey ahead was difficult, as it took a while for her to regain her financial and emotional independence to get back onto her feet again. Even though her child was very young when they got divorced, she never kept him from his father or tried to keep him away from his father. “He has to know who his father was, especially as he is a boy.”

She firmly believes children can’t save a marriage, but they also know when their parents are unhappy. “I don’t wish it upon any child. Children with parents who are divorced have scars, no matter how you look at it. I wish I could’ve given my child another life. I think one must first seek help, but there are cases where there is no other way out. It’s a long and lonely road. You swallow your tears and try keep busy over weekends.”

When divorce isn’t an option . . . Susan says her and her husband have spoken about divorce before, but decided for the sake of the children to stay married. “We have nothing in common. His hobby is to jog and most evenings he is away – the exact time when the children have to bath! I am more creative and want to do other things that he doesn’t want to do. The only area where we have the same interests, is when it comes to our children. We both love our children and just want the best for them.”

She says she has stopped fighting. “I made a decision to remain in our marriage and I must live with my decision. It isn’t always easy. When I look at my boys, then I know I made the right decision. We have a house together, we go on holiday together, we still do everything together as a family. The boys know I am their mom and he is their dad. My heart will break if they have to grow up in a broken home.”

They do have arguments at times in front of their children, but she believes “all couples” sometimes fight. “It’s difficult. We have spoken about going for therapy. I still believe the marriage can be saved. It will however require enormous commitment from us both. For the children’s sake, I think it is worthwhile.”

Who suffers the most?
This is an extra tough issue: Do you portray a front and just try to carry on and survive in your marriage for the “sake of the children” or do you decide to divorce to protect the children from your fighting and unhappiness? It is generally accepted that children learn both good and dysfunctional patterns from their parents. The important question is, what do children of divorced parents learn and what do they learn from parents that sacrifice their own happiness for the sake of their children? It is important to realise that your children’s future emotional health is influenced, regardless of whether you divorce or stay together.

In September 2012, the Daily Mail UK reported on a recent study that says that one out of every ten couples stay together for the sake of the children and that they decide to get divorced later when the children are old enough. The financial, emotional and physical pressure of modern life places enormous pressure on relationships and is possibly the driving force behind this upsettingly high figure. There are parents that feel forced to stay together and put their own happiness aside, but they don’t always consider the effect that it can possibly have on children that grow up with such conflict.

Shock statistics in this regard
A detailed study carried out with 2 000 couples, has shown that 83% of the couples tried harder to make it work when their children were still living in the home, but only 5% say that they can resolve their problems. A shocking 72% of those that said that they just live together and act as a couple in front of the children, said that they actually consider themselves “divorced”.

Six out of ten couples that lived together for the sake of their children said that they want to wait until their children are at least 18 years old or even prefer that their children are settled in University before they start planning their individual lives. The same research also showed that of the parents that got divorced, 75% regretted staying in their relationship for the sake of their children and that almost 90% now admits that they would’ve left sooner if they had more support.

According to statistics SA, in 2011, 11 475 (54,7%) of 20 980 divorces have an effect on children younger than 18. There were 18 571 children (younger than 18) that were involved in divorces, which means that there are an average of one to two children per divorce.

What do the experts say?
According to a Psychologist from Kimberley, Dr. Charlene Lauff, one mustn’t necessarily distinguish between your and your children’s happiness. “If it goes bad with a mother and she can’t properly look after her children, it is no longer an either/either situation. The influence is then so bad that the children are affected.” You must ask yourself: Is the situation really good for my children? Does it for example teach your child that emotional abuse is okay, or does it teach your son how a man must treat a woman? Charlene says it is important to remember that children don’t do what we say, but rather do what we do.

There are definitely situations where a woman doesn’t really have a choice. If your husband raises his fists or abuses alcohol or drugs, you must rather pack your bags. Such a situation can be life threatening for you and your children. Charlene says infidelity can at times fall into this category, but this is a personal decision. “If it becomes a pattern however, one must know that a partner’s behaviour won’t change.”

Is there ever a “good time?”
A divorce is always a devastating event. According to Charlene, however, children of a year or two, and even babies, accept the situation easier. They basically grow up with a single parent for as long as they can remember. Children of about ten years old and teenagers suffer tremendously, especially if they weren’t expecting it. But children integrate with each development stage after the divorce. A six year old for example, will ask why daddy lives in another home, while a teenager rather wants to know why it happened. Fears also exist that something like this could also happen to them some day.

Many women feel they must keep persevering, regardless of the circumstances, but Charlene emphasises that peace in your life is worth more than anything else. “If a marriage is busy ruining your entire being, to the point that you later no longer know who or what you are, then to stay is more destructive than to take the first step into the unknown.” It’s a big, uncertain step and nobody can tell you how it will be when you pack your bags and leave. But if you are at a place where you see your entire existence is being ruined, as well as your children’s, you must think carefully if you really want to stay. Is it still worth your while?

What is the Christian perspective?
A marriage is instituted by God. What God brought together, let no man separate. God hates divorce. For the faithful that have marital problems, the least resistant route (divorce) is not an option, but rather the hard road to restoring the marriage.

The above is, according to Barend Vos, a preacher and writer, is the prevailing Biblical and church point of view on the holiness of a marriage. Preachers are called to proclaim this and believers are called to strive for this.

“There is a major third party in a broken marriage: the children,” says Barend. “They didn’t ask to be there. And how many of them weren’t conceived when struggling parents decided to ‘make up’ again? Now they are inextricably part of the marriage and therefore also part of the failed marriage. The question for every faithful parent is: What will be the best for them, the (only) innocent party in this situation? More important still: How would God want me to protect my children in such a bad situation against further damage?”

Barend continues: “Every situation is unique: There is no ready-made answer. But in this regard all children are the same: The marital conflict between parents is traumatic for them, even if each handles the trauma in their own manner. Parents must know about this trauma, even if the child puts up a positive front. Professional help is almost always the desired outcome. A couple that have fought with each other over a long period of time, sometimes seeks the help of a marriage counsellor, but which professional looks after the children’s needs? Or is it left for an understanding teacher or concerned preacher? Or worse still, a friend? Because no matter how precious confidants and sympathetic bystanders are, their hands are tied due to a lack of knowledge, or their subjective involvement.

He is of the opinion that divorce should always be the last way out. “The decision can only be made after all other options have been exhausted. Believers that eventually decide on this, do it in a sorrowful manner before God and in recognition of their independence on Him. And with a cry for help: ‘God, help my children! Help me to still be the best mother/father that I can be. Forgive me for what I have done to them. Teach me, each day, the path that I must take with them in this broken situation.”

What do the victims say about divorce?
INTIMCY4US asked our Facebook fans how they as children experienced their parent’s decision to divorce. Here are some of their comments:

  • “It left a huge scar in my life. I still struggle today with rejection as a result of the divorce. I would prefer that they rather stayed together so that I could see what love really was.”
  • “My parents got divorced a few years after we finished school. If it happened sooner, there would’ve been less painful and less time would’ve been wasted.”
  • “You learn to live with it. That’s the best thing of being a child – the adaptability. It did leave its mark. We are all weary of marriage and struggle with trust.”
  • “It made me grow up very fast. I think it was the best thing they could’ve done for each other. Don’t underestimate children, they know very well when things at home aren’t as they should be. You are harming your children if their constantly aware of the discomfort between mom and dad.”
  • “It had a very negative impact on my life. So much so that today still at the age of 32 I am still not married. Nearly all the people that I interact with on a daily basis, are divorced and I see the negative impact that it has on their children.”

Are you really ready for a divorce?
Use the following questions from Psychologists Bruce Derman and Wendy Gregson (available at to evaluate your marriage.

  1. Are you truly married? To be truly married you must have an “us” and not a “me” relationship, otherwise there will never be harmony in your home. Both parties must be able to compromise. There is no I in team.
  2. Why do you want to get divorced? If you just want to hurt or manipulate your partner, it isn’t the right decision.
  3. Have you done everything in your power to save the marriage?
  4. Have you thought the decision through properly, or is it just an emotional reaction? People often threaten in the heat of the moment to divorce their partners. But divorce means you must be able to break all emotional ties with your partner – negative as well as positive. No talking badly of each other afterwards!
  5. Can you handle the unpleasant consequences? You will probably make enemies in the process – family that is unhappy and friends that choose sides. Will it be better for your children if you and your partner are no longer together? Will it completely disrupt their lives?
  6. Are you prepared for the emotional implications?
  7. Are you prepared for the financial implications?
  8. Are you ready to be a co-parent? You will have to share your children over weekends and holidays and see your partner each time the ‘exchange’ takes place. Can you handle the situation in a mature manner?

If there are changes in your lifestyle and finances are tight, you can’t handle your children’s heartache and you cannot detach yourself from your partner emotionally, physically or spiritually, then divorce is not the answer. . .

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