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Staying for the Kids

24 December 2021
Staying for the Kids


Sheila Robinson :
In the words of my southern and wise Grandpa Hood, "What gets you into a relationship is not always what keeps you there."
I grew up in a neighborhood where everyone knew everyone's deeply private business. If a couple in the neighborhood was about to bust up-grandpa's catch-all phrase for divorce-it was never a big deal unless they had kids. If they had children, he would lament loudly, "What a damn shame. They have kids!"
As if navigating a divorce is a walk in the park, absent children.
Having counseled individuals and families for over 25 years through the ups and downs of relationships where children are concerned, I'm a firm believer in both marriage and divorce.
When a relationship becomes so toxic that it is no longer tenable to stay, divorce is an obvious and viable solution. I'm reminded of a former eleven-year-old client whose parents had recently divorced. When I asked her how things were going living between two homes, in a flash, she said, "Great! Momma is happy, and Dad is happier. Best of all, I have two dogs." Today that little girl is a happily married mother with her own son. The divorce was the best decision for her and her parents.
In other circumstances remaining in the marriage for the children's sake is the optimal decision.
We can simply no longer treat marriage like a one size fits all jumpsuit. We'd do better as a society to begin supporting healthy family functioning versus rigid and outdated norms that suffocate parents who are struggling to do what is best for their children.
Last year I visited the Bolt castle. It's a breathtaking property located near Alexandria Bay, New York, in the famed 1000 Islands. George Boldt built this castle as a loving tribute to his wife, Louise. Unfortunately, Louise passed away before the project was complete. Today the castle stands, stunning as ever, having been repurposed as a prime tourist attraction.
Like anything else, a marriage can be repurposed to accommodate all manner of changes, remaining viable while allowing a family to thrive.
Nearly everyone marries with the expectation that happily ever after will follow. The reality is love, romance, and affection, either grows or fades in a marriage. The kind of warm feelings that bind us to a partner, generating and regenerating the spark of happy togetherness, are either there or not.
It is not always a matter of growing apart that leads a couple into less than lukewarm feelings in a relationship. Often couples simply grow differently. The differences eventually overwhelm the relationship.
A couple I worked with was contemplating ending a 19-year marriage. One partner shared, "I have a profound respect for her. In so many ways, I admire her. I am not the same person I was 19 years ago. We have become so very different. I love the kids and hate the thought of disrupting their lives, but I'm tired of working on this."
He looked perplexed when I asked, "Then why don't you stop and focus on the kids?"
As it turned out, his partner was equally tired of working on the relationship. As a matter of fact, they were so busy working on the relationship-unsuccessfully-they never stopped to ask one another if it was worth it to them anymore.
The happy togetherness aspect of their relationship had ended a long time ago. They finally turned to one another and acknowledged they were both still in the marriage for the children only. They both wanted to stay for the kids. It quickly became easier for them to lead with the intention of nurturing their children without the pressure to fake it.
I have watched numerous couples renegotiate and repurpose their marriages as partnerships exclusively focused on raising their children. In many respects, couples thrive in these partnerships because they are not pretending to be together for any other reason than for the benefit of their children.
It is stressful to live on a ranch in Montana and pretend to reside in a chateau in Europe.
Reality is a powerful ally when a relationship changes fundamentally.
This marriage agreement works best for couples who are on the same page and willing to be transparent about their feelings and expectations regarding behavior in the marriage.
I asked a woman who had remained in her marriage five additional years for the sake of her kids, after serious discussions about divorce, "The kids are off to college. You said you would file for the divorce once they launched. How is that going?"
Her reply has remained with me, "Sheila, we've been busy with our kids for years. Our friendship is strong. We both want to travel a little, have some fun, see how we feel, and decide later."
The kids are as good a reason as any to stay in your marriage after love has become less than lukewarm.
    
(Sheila Robinson-Kiss, MSW, LCSW, is a therapist and mental health educator leading the Rebalancing America
and Beyond Initiative).

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