Often, struggling couples try, to the best of intentions, to hide their misery from their children. It is admirable because it is difficult to hide emotions and conflicts, and they do so so so that their children do not worry.
I 100% think it is positive to shield your children from certain things that will overly stress or worry them, or things that are not developmentally appropriate. Things that you should definitely hide from your kids are:,* Loud or mean arguing,* Constant near-daily arguing of any type, including “just bickering” (this raises your kids’ cortisol levels even if you tell yourself they don’t notice or hear),* Any discussion about your sex life ,* Any discussion of infidelity, substance abuse, or reckless behavior,* That you hate other key members of the family (e.g. your spouse’s parents),* Any violence, including physical fighting and emotional abuse (e.g., name calling),,However, it is a slippery slope to pretend to your children that you are happily married when you are not. When children see angry, disconnected, unaffectionate, resentful behavior at home (even if this is “just” ignoring one another, curt answers, eye rolling) and their parents say their marriage is fine, your kids learn that this behavior characterizes supposedly functional or even “happy” marriages. ,To some extent, kids whose parents openly say they are miserable are better off, because they are not being unintentionally gaslighted. The kids of openly dissatisfied couples know what unhappiness looks like, and at least can try to avoid it (although without therapy and generally a few learning experiences, they are likely to replicate at least some of their parents’ dysfunction). But the kids of dissatisfied couples who pretend they are happy and state that they are happy have no chance at understand what a healthy relationship looks like.,So what does this mean for those of you in marriages that are disconnected, bitter, and only sometimes openly conflictual ? Should you start being openly hateful to one another in front of the kids? Certainly not. Should you confide in your kids about the problems under the surface of your marriage?
Never. Quite honestly, the only healthy options in this case are:,1. Work on your marriage and grow closer, until you are approximating a relationship that you might want your children to have one day with their romantic partners, or,2. Leave.,Never think that your kids are not seeing how unhappy you are. Remember yourself as a child. You heard plenty of stuff your parents would swear you never heard. You found things that they had no idea you found. You saw your parents’ expressions and you read their moods. Why does everyone think that they as a child were so much more mature or observant than their own kids? It is a defense mechanism that allows you to think your kids are shielded from more than they really are, and it helps nobody. ,After posting
this post on Facebook, someone asked me, “What if you divorce your spouse and then you cannot find another partner? Will your kids be messed up because they have no healthy template for intimate relationships?” My answer is not necessarily. In the case where children have a single parent, especially one who is well adjusted and a healthy role model, the children are aware they are not seeing how a relationship should go. They may not have a good template, but at least they don’t have a bad template. ,Analogously, my own parents did not say anything to me about sex, and they did not affectionately touch one another ever in my memory. So, I knew I had zero template for physical affection or intimacy, and I made it my business to learn about sex and affection from other sources, like books, the internet, and exploration with boyfriends, once I was old enough.
I watched other people’s parents too, and tried to figure out what healthy romantic affection looked like. ,Now I think among my myriad childhood-related problems, sexual dysfunction is not one of them. This is I think in large part because I very obviously had no template and had to learn one. This would be analogous to having a single parent and never seeing a relationship. You’ll probably observe other couples assiduously, and read up on couples, and whatever else, knowing you have a gap in your education and need to learn. But, and this is my key point here, you are not plagued with a BAD template that parents have tried to convince you is a GOOD template.,Think about this post deeply if it speaks to you. Kids deserve to see a good template, and if that cannot happen, NO template. They do not deserve to be misled, even with the best of intentions, about what a good template constitutes. “