Can a Couple Be Happy if They Stay Together For the Kids?

QUESTION: Can a couple be happy if they stay together for the kids?

ANSWER: I’ll answer that question, but the first question to consider is how happy will each parent be when they see how their divorce affects their kids. Most of the couples who come to our workshops for marriages in crisis have at least one spouse who is very concerned about the effect the divorce will have on their children. They should also consider how the divorce’s affect on their children will also affect them personally.

For example, the kids typically express their anger and take out their frustration on the parent they live with rather than the other. The reason for that likely has to do with their fear that if they display those emotions to the parent who doesn’t live with them, that parent may not want to be with them. The old adage that we take out our anger on those with whom we feel safer is generally true. Because they don’t think the parent they live with them is going to leave, they act out toward her or him rather than the parent who lives elsewhere.

The parent who sees the children every other weekend (or whatever the agreement is) has his/her own emotional difficulties as well. Some parents become enamored of their new freedom and wind up having little to do with their children. They miss promised dates, back out on their time with their children (sometimes at the last minute), and gradually become less and less involved with them. Those parents don’t hold their parental responsibilities as a strong value. They mostly leave it up to the other to take care of their children. Other parents miss their children terribly. They try to cram two weeks worth of time together into two short days every other weekend, and find themselves longing for more time. When they walk their children back to the door of the other parent, they know that when that door shuts they will be only a peripheral part of their lives for half a month.

If one or more of the children begins having emotional, mood, or similar problems because of the divorce, both parents hurt for them if they truly love their children. If one of the kids starts having behavioral problems – we call it acting out – both will feel some degree of responsibility. If they child’s grades fail…well, you get the point.

Having a new love to replace your current spouse involves many emotions. The question most gloss over in their own hearts is whether that new love is worth the pain it causes the children.

Back to the question at hand: Can a couple be happy if they stay together for the kids?

Absolutely they can, if they work on their problems in a way that actually brings resolution. Each must stop doing the things destroying the relationship, and each must start doing the things that can make love take root and grow again. Over the last quarter century, I’ve seen it happen repeatedly. Couples who seem to have no hope, who apparently hate each other or worse (worse is when they feel nothing at all), make the right steps and solve their problems. They don’t just save their marriages; they fall in love again. Staying together for the sake of their children didn’t solve their problems, but it held them together and motivated them to solve their problems.

On a personal note, my wife and I divorced in 1984 because of my very selfish focus on me. We remarried in 1987 and are coming up on our 26th anniversary of our second marriage. We did not remarry because we had fallen in love again. We remarried because we decided our children needed us to be together. Our living apart was having a profound effect emotionally on our 9 year old. (She was six when we divorced.) We had to learn how to love each other again. We did that for the sake of our children. It took intentionality and a lot of aggravation, occasional anger, and sometimes frustration, but we DID learn to love each other again. We have a solid, good, wonderful marriage today. If you want to see the effect over years on the child who is now a woman, I wish you could meet our daughter Joanna. She would tell you quickly how much she deeply appreciates our putting our marriage back together for her. And we are quite happy because we did learn to love each other again and it turned out to be great for us as well.

If you are willing to try to save your marriage and make it good again – even if that seems impossible to you – please call us toll free at 866-903-0090 or email us at

See accompanying blog: Should we stay together for the kids?

See accompanying blog: How does a staying together for the kids affect the kids?

See accompanying blog: Should a child choose between divorcing parents?