Children and Marital Problems
anonymous Asks ...
My wife and I are considering separating but we are still trying to salvage our marriage. We still love each other but living together is becoming impossible. Everyday it feels like walking into a minefield and you never know when the explosion was coming. We have three daughters under 13 and it’s been really hard for them. We are actually talking about separating now because our eldest daughter started acting out in class and getting into trouble like smoking. We think her sudden behavior problems are occurring because of all the problems and tension at home. She pretty much admitted as much. She says she can’t take it anymore. So we are thinking about trying to restore some peace at home while we tried to resolve our differences. Does this make sense? Do you think this will make it easier on the children? I don’t know what is worse; no dad at home or mom and dad fighting everyday. We have decided to get marriage counseling. We should have done this sooner. Since our kids are affected how involved should they be our marriage counseling?
Rev. Christopher Smith Says ...
There are times when a separation can be helpful in providing the space necessary to heal the wounds in a relationship that will allow a marriage to not only survive but flourish. There are also times when a separation makes it easier for a couple to continue separating, making the arrangement permanent and even leading to divorce. Having an understanding of where each of you are at and how each of you are likely to react is important before entering into a separation. As you are already moving forward on marriage counseling, your marriage therapist can help you understand these dimensions. Likewise, a licensed marriage and family therapist as a mental health professional will be able to guide you on the other questions much better as they will be able to explore relevant aspects of your situation that can affect answers to your questions.
That being said, two areas you raised are important areas to speak to, in general. The first is about your eldest daughter's behavior. The other is about the kids being involved in marriage counseling.
In terms of your daughter's behavior, and that she is your eldest, you will want to take into account the normal developmental stages she may be going to. As a pre-teen/teenager, regardless of the conflict parents are having, behavioral challenges can occur. It is also an age where children criticize what is going on at the home - in your case the conflict but in other cases the calm. It is certainly possible that the conflict i the home has exacerbated things for her, but careful looking at the situation (either by a qualified mental health professional, by the school counselor or even perhaps by yourself) will likely show that there are other factors that are involved. Similarly, there may be other factors to be involved in the situation such as her own image of herself, peer relationships or longer family histories. If she is acting out in class, what are the school counselors saying? What is the history of smoking in the family and how has it been talked about? At the same time, the home environment also needs to be looked at. Does she feel like she is walking on eggshells? Does she get pulled into the conflicts between her parents? Does she overhear you arguing about how to handle the problems she is involved with? There are a lot of questions to explore before deciding whether it makes sense to create peace at home to help your daughter even before you get to the question of how the current situation compares to being in a one parent home or being split between parents.
Again, seeking marriage counseling is an important step and one which you have already elected to take. It is only one of the types of counseling that may be needed in this situation. The others are individual counseling, family counseling and group counseling. The least likely of these is group counseling but there might be an appropriate group, such as on parenting a pre-teen, that can be recommended for you. Individual counseling may be appropriate for you, your wife and/or one or more of your daughters. There are times that I have been doing marriage counseling and it became apparent that there was something that one or both of the partners needed to work on individually in order to help in working on the marriage. If that is the case, understand that the individual work can make the work on the marriage go much more easily or at least be able to focus it. If this is the case, some therapists will work with the couple and individual(s) and some will refer to someone else for the individual work. Similarly, if one of your daughters is struggling, they might need another person for them to talk to and this may add not just health for them now but also for the long term. The final form is family counseling, which is where the therapist will work with the whole family as a unit and try to help bring healing, health and peace to the family. In this context, it is very appropriate to involve the kids in the counseling. Note that here the focus is on the family (whether or not the family will still live under one roof) whereas in marriage counseling the focus is on the marriage. In your situation, I would suspect that a counselor or therapist working with you may well find it appropriate to do a blend of marriage and family counseling. Some of this will come down to specifics, but your kids should probably be involved in some of it (like the family part) and you and your wife have other dimensions to work on that you need to be able to do without the involvement of your kids.
The good news is that you are seeking help. In seeking help, everyone is ready to at least begin moving towards a solution. The journey will not necessarily be easy but you are able to find wholeness and peace through this process.