Should Unhappy Couples Stay Together Because of the Kids?

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About Lara Riscol

Lara Riscol writes about sex and society, where politics, pop culture, religion, media, and feminism collide. She's writing a book called, Ten Sex Myths That Screw America: a pleasure polemic.


  1. FABULOUS piece. Well-reasoned, well-researched, well-balanced. Sharing all over the place.

  2. Can unhappy couples afford to separate (paying 2x rent, etc)?

    • Factor in the price of child support for one of the two parents and it can be even more expensive. I do understand the “cheaper to keep her” mentality. I just don’t agree with it. Seems like a miserable way to live.

  3. wellokaythen says:

    Here’s a trickier, more practical question for a Taking Sides chapter about staying together for the sake of the kids:

    Which is better for the kids, two married parents fighting in the house all the time, or two divorced parents fighting over e-mail every other weekend?

    Or, maybe this one:

    Which is better for the kids, having a parent in a good relationship with a step-parent, or having two biological parents who mistreat each other?

    Let’s not leave out the step-dads and step-moms and all the other blended families out there. Are those families always worse for kids than bio-nuclear families? No.

  4. If the couple is making steps to make their marriage happier (therapy, cooperation, etc.) I’d say stick it out. But if they’re there with “cheaper to keep her” logic and just refuse to take the steps of separation (and making each other miserable) I think they should part ways. Not only are they making each other miserable but kids observe that behavior and it could work one of two ways: 1) Children will grow up and jump through hoops to make their relationship not like Mom and Dads (and maybe won’t speak up when they’re really unhappy). 2) Fall back from relationships altogether because they just don’t have the energy to argue like Mom and Dad did.

    But if the kids see Mom and Dad working it out, then at least they’ll learn some conflict-resolution skills. If it’s a physically and mentally abusive relationship though, I say LEAVE immediately.

  5. I am always amused by the attitude expressed by many younger people when sharing their reason why they are not married yet. Mostly it is a version of “We didn’t feel we were ready.” Many of these couples have at least one if not several children together. I constantly ask myself. If you aren’t ready to commit to each other formally what the F*%&ck are you doing making children? Surely having a child with someone is the ultimate committment.

    I think that one of the aspects that is frequently overlooked in this debate is the extremely low value our culture places on parenting and caring for children. Housewives and women who forgo careers to parent children are considered lesser beings because their earning power is less. Childcare workers and teachers are amongst the lowest paid workers in the Western World. I see both sides of the debate as presented here there is much damage in staying together because of children or religious values or both, there is damage in dumping and running when the going gets tough. Both of these models do little to give children confidence in their parents and themselves or allow them to see models for sucessful and fulfilling relationships that they can use to pattern their own lives.

    Seriously if people thought more about their fertility before the children even existed and valued their future children many of these scenarios could be avoided.

  6. Don Draper says:

    While every scenario is different, and I believe there are extreme situations wherein a couple with children should divorce, for the most part I believe Coleman is right.

    The real question should be, “why can’t couple be mature enough to make “life” decisions in such a way that the objective ins NOT “my” happiness…and if I’M not “happy” I have to leave this person of my prior choosing.” There is usually one partner who gets the itch to move on, who’s “unfulfilled.” If the couple can work on their marriage and “through” the issues, they need to stay.

    I WAS a partner who justified ending my marriage, and while outwardly, many would assess my three children as well-adjusted, the divorce has negatively affected their lives in tangible and intangible ways, as it has mine. I used all the usual justifications, but six years later, I can confess, it was pure bunk, and I was WRONG. I hate that I hurt my children and ex-wife. It was a selfish and needless act, the remorse and weight of which I will tote to my grave. Be prepared to carry that load, because you don’t get to choose when “your debt has been paid in full” once you jump off that cliff.

    Love one another…make sure of it on the “front end.” LOVE- selflessly, not for self gratification.

  7. wellokaythen says:

    In the vast majority of cases of a dilemma between two options, there are at least three options. The third option may not be the best option, but it’s always worth some consideration. In cases where you are completely torn between two choices, look for a third choices.

    Between staying in a marriage and leaving a marriage there is a third option – reworking the marriage. Staying and recommitting is not the same as transforming. You marriage is what you and your spouse make of it. Forget all the baggage about what your marriage is supposed to be or what you’re supposed to want. Make it a relationship defined by both of you. If your marital relationship is fundamentally flawed, then one possibility is to make a brand new one with the same person. You can end your marriage and stay to remake a better one for both of you. There’s a real difference between “white-knuckling” it and transforming it. The difference is between trying to save a bad marriage and trying to make new one.

    (This is just one kind of “third option,” not the only kind.)

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