Author Elizabeth Marquardt recently wrote about the importance of marriage for children, based on extensive research. Specifically, she addressed the questions, “Should parents stay married for the children?” And, “Is a ‘good enough’ marriage good for kids?” Her answer might be eye-opening or even controversial to some: In many cases, “yes.”
Her comments: “… some marriages are plagued by such serious problems — such as addiction, chronic infidelity, or violence — that divorce might well be warranted. But social science research shows that about two-thirds of marriages that end in divorce are low conflict.”
For Marquardt, the main issue is that, when parents divorce, they move on and create their own different worlds, which often include new living arrangements, new routines, and sometimes new relationships. Over time, their values may change. That transition presents big challenges for each parent, but even when they maintain a civil relationship, “the conflict between their worlds has not gone away. Instead, it’s left to the child — who may be four or eight or twelve years old — to make sense alone of their mother’s and father’s two different worlds. It becomes the child’s job to grow up traveling between these worlds and to make sense of the different values and beliefs and ways of living he or she finds in each place.” Read more in her article.
Through the years of married life, there are many ups and downs and adjustments along the way. Right now, there are dads — maybe you today — who are separated or considering a divorce. And it’s true, in some situations that may be warranted; there may be serious problems and the differences may be “irreconcilable.” But that needs to be more of an exception than it is today.
For all married dads, whether your marriage is pretty solid but going through the typical ups and downs, or you’re really struggling, we offer two challenging thoughts:
First: Who or what defines your expectations for your marriage? Too often, we are swayed by outside influences like the media, friends and family, or our ideals from the past — which can all be unrealistic — instead of dealing with the unique backgrounds, personalities and needs that are part of our own marriage relationships.
And second: It’s not about you. That basic attitude is crucial for husbands and fathers. A man at his best is serving those around him — focusing on how he can help his wife and children become all they can be, instead of thinking mostly of his own needs and desires.
As Ms. Marquardt points out, dad, your marriage is a huge source of confidence and security for your children, and it’s a key area of your modeling for them — even if your marriage is a work in progress. And all married dads could do more to nurture their marriages with trust, communication and thoughtful attentiveness.
- Talk with your wife about expectations in your marriage. With each one ask, “Is this realistic for us and our situation?”
- Take the word “divorce” out of your vocabulary when talking to your wife — including threats about leaving or even jokes that fall into that category.
- What is your wife’s “love language”? If you don’t know, both of you can take an inventory here. Using those insights, make it a priority to “speak her language” as often as you can.
- Are you a divorced dad? Maintain your high level of commitment to your children and help them overcome the challenges of the divorce. Ms. Marquardt’s book will help you understand more about those challenges.
- Reach out to a dad you know who’s in a struggling marriage. Listen and empathize, but also help him restore hope for his situation.
- Be accountable to other men. Ask them to check in with you regularly about how your marriage is going.