A common misconception that parents have is that, even though they are unhappy in their marriage, they should stay together for the sake of their children. In line with this, the assumption that children who grow up with two married parents tend to fare better than others is frequently cited.
Another important line of research however, has demonstrated the negative effect of parental conflict on child outcomes. Children whose parents argue, often score worse on measures of academic achievement, they are more likely to have behavioural problems, and their psychological well-being is likely to suffer.
The point of this post it not to encourage people to leave their marriages, however we cannot ignore the fact that there are countless problems associated with the decision parents in an unhappy marriage make by staying together for the so-called benefit of their children.
A study entitled “Are both parents always better than one? Parental conflict and young adult well-being” addresses this dilemma. The study collected data from close to 2000 families and it looked at the associations between adolescent family experiences and young adult well-being across a variety of different measures, including schooling, substance abuse and family-related transitions. The conclusion of this important study was that “while children do better, on average, living with two biological married parents, the advantages of two-parent families are not shared equally by all”. The study found that by moderating the effect of conflict on divorce, there were weaker associations between divorce and child outcomes, which suggests that divorce may indeed bring relief from the stress of a living in a high-conflict home.
While it is understandable that staying together may seem like the logical decision, parents are often blind to the harm that raising their children in a conflict-ridden household brings. Growing up in a house with two parents who are not in love with each other, in the best-case scenario, creates an uncomfortable environment for their kids. It is obviously a different story if both parents are willing to work at their marriage, but if one or both parents have given up, and are still living together, this will only be detrimental to the children.
Although a separation or divorce is an extremely challenging event for both a child and a parent to handle, with it usually comes a great sense of relief for everybody involved. To go from living in a conflictual, awkward, unhappy family, to two uniquely happy ones, is a change that most children actually welcome with open arms. It is also not uncommon for parents to get along much better once they are separated, which allows them to co-parent in a much more productive way than they were when they were living together and constantly dealing with conflict.
Musick, Kelly, and Ann Meier. “ARE BOTH PARENTS ALWAYS BETTER THAN ONE? PARENTAL CONFLICT AND YOUNG ADULT WELL-BEING .” Social science research 39.5 (2010): 814–830. PMC. Web. 13 June 2018.