4 Reasons Unhappy Couples Stay Together (For The Kids) And 15 Ways They Manage It

When two people swear to spend forever together, they dream of wedding dresses, romantic honeymoons, and cuddling on the couch after a long day at work. The reality of spending too many hours in close proximity to one person doesn't quite sink in until years after saying, "I do."

The easiest part of marriage is falling in love and walking down the aisle. The hardest part of marriage is 10 years later when kids, a mortgage, and monotony have become a daily drudgery. Some couples rise above their circumstances and band together to become stronger together than they would be apart. Other couples call it quits because the stress of a relationship makes the hard situations far more difficult. Then, there's another group of married couples who stayed married, even though they would rather be separated.

According to a new study which polled over 2,000 married parents, some of the biggest contributors to dissatisfaction in a relationship were affairs, growing apart, and "becoming more like friends." A quarter of married couples are only together for their children - and plan to split up once the kids grow up.

These couples often hide their marital problems from both friends and family by going on date nights and celebrating family holidays like any healthy couple. Sadly, these charades are nothing more than an act for their loved ones. In fact, twenty percent of all of the married parents who were polled plan to split after the final family Christmas.

The following list gives 20 reasons why parents might decide to stay together for the kids, despite their deep unhappiness with their marriage.

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19 Why They Stay - They Feel Like There Is Too Much To Lose


A third of the couples who were surveyed in this study stated that they have simply too much to lose if they were to get a divorce. Though this could be considered losing out on the advantage of dual incomes, a lot of this sense of "too much to lose" stems from the pooled resources of two families working together for the children.

There is a sense of stability which stems from being able to rely on grandparents, friends, finances, and family vacations that all come with marriage.

When two people partner together, they oftentimes become connected with each other's families and grow rooted to their new family nest. Divorce means sacrificing everything which the partners have built over the course of years. Remembering just how long it took to build their family is often enough to keep an unhappy marriage together.

18 Why They Stay - They Feel They Can't Financially Afford A Divorce


The financial burden of getting a divorce can be astronomical, and it's one of the key factors that keeps unhappy couples in a failing marriage. However, not all divorces are considered financially equal.

If you and your partner are willing to split amicably, then the divorce can cost as little as $300. On the opposite end of the spectrum, if you need a lawyer to manage the case and – worst case scenario – the divorce goes to trial, the cost can range from $78,000 to $200,000! That's quite a financial range! Sometimes simply crunching the numbers of the cost to leave your partner is enough to make a couple ignore their problems.

17 Why They Stay - They Don't Want To Emotionally Stress Their Kids


Many parents view an unhappy marriage as more emotionally stable for the children than following a litany of custody schedules. By placing an emphasis on the emotional stability of their children, many couples merely ignore their deep-seated unhappiness for "the sake of the kids."

The research of Robert Emery, the Director of the Center for Children, Families, and the Law at the University of Virginia indicates that: "Divorce clearly increases the risk that children will suffer from psychological and behavioral problems."

However, the great majority of children whose parents divorce do not develop these kinds of serious behavioral or emotional problems.

Most children from divorced families are resilient, especially when their parents do a reasonably good job managing the stress of divorce. After years of research, Dr. Emery determined that most children from divorced families feel and function pretty much like kids whose parents are married.

16 Why They Stay - They Believe That Marriage Is Forever (Regardless Of Feelings)

Martha Stewart Weddings

Some people will cite their moral beliefs as their reasoning for staying in an unhappy marriage. Many couples who have been married for over a decade view love as more of a choice than a state of being. Relationships often start full of passion with the intention of developing into a deep understanding of love; however, it usually it moves into a more fluid state of partnership.

Many couples take their vows with the same seriousness as having a child. Once the "I do" is pronounced, they see no way to remove themselves from the partnership. Their redefinition of love into a choice allows many long-term couples to stay in their unhappy marriage.

15 Why They Stay - They Need Help With Busy Schedules


It's hard to be a single parent. When two people decide they will stay in an unfulfilling marriage "for the kids," they oftentimes consider the kids' schedules as a part of this decision. With two parents who tag-team to get the kids to soccer practice and recitals, it seems objectively easier to have someone to help with the busy schedules.

Enjoying the marriage becomes more of an afterthought.

This becomes even more of a weight on the marriage if one parent stays at home with the kids. There's the financial burden of divorce for the stay-at-home parent and the time loss factor for the working parent. Oftentimes, it seems easier to maintain the status quo until raising kids becomes less of a schedule strain.

14 Why They Stay - Separating Finances Is Complicated


Divorce finances for the recently married tend to be fairly simple: at most, there's a mortgage and childcare fees. However, for couples who have been married for a decade or more, there is a lot more to lose.

Separating finances isn't as simple as separating bills once a couple has been married for a longer period of time.

There's retirement funds, possible rental properties, joint loans, debt that should be shared but isn't, etc. Then there is the question of spousal support and child support. With the cost of the actual divorce already laying claim on a couple's pocketbook, the added stress of determining how to give financial support in tandem with custody schedules is often enough to keep couples together until the kids are adults.

13 How They Manage - They Change The Expectations Of Their Marriage


The concept of a soul-mate who brings psychological and emotional wholeness into a marriage is a relatively new perspective. In the 1970s, a cultural shift began to take place where marriage was no longer seen as a function of shared resources. Instead, marriage became about finding a soul-mate to bring a sense of wholeness to a person's life.

Many couples who decide to stay in an unfulfilling marriage often will go back to the pre-1970s definition of marriage.

All of a sudden, a partner is viewed as a person who contributes resources, and their relationship begins to resemble that of roommates: each person contributes to the rent, chores, and errands in such a marriage. It might not be a Disney fairy-tale, but it's practical to look at the reality of a person who refuses to divorce.

12 How They Manage - They Begin Consciously Uncoupling


Conscious uncoupling is a newer term used among marriage counselors, but the concept is relatively old. The term started to gain traction in the media when Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin announced that they were consciously uncoupling in 2014 after 10 years of marriage. Essentially, the process is a break-up that is slow, methodical, and "wholesome."

For parents who know that they are no longer fulfilled in their marriage, it might help to communicate these feelings and agree to a "break-up" without the drama. Both parents in this case agree that they both played a part in the failure of the marriage. The ultimate goal is to effectively co-parent the children in a way that is functional and puts the kids' well-being first.

11 How They Manage - They Decide To Just Sleep in Separate Rooms


It completely removes all of the pressure from the bedroom when one person decides to sleep in a separate bed. If a marriage is more for convenience or necessity, separating your sleeping arrangements might be enough to have the break that the couple needs from each other.

If your partner has a different sleep routine, there can be added stress in a relationship when one person accidentally wakes up the other.

Sleeping in separate bedrooms provides deeper sleep to each person, which is absolutely necessary to a parent. Though it might raise questions with the kids, sometimes doing what you have to do in order to remain civil includes sleeping in separate rooms.

10 How They Manage - They Decide to Have Unrestricted Free Time

Sometimes unrestricted free time also goes hand-in-hand with an open relationship. If both people in the marriage agree to no longer censor their partner's time or relationships, a sense of freedom results which will be enough for a platonic relationship to continue. The key, in this situation, is open communication and a mutual agreement on the boundaries.

Many married couples believe that once the ring is on the finger, it's there to stay. However, some couples see the ring as a promise of support more than a commitment of oneself to the other. This perception should be communicated in order to keep an unhappy marriage from becoming an unsalvageable one.

9 How They Manage - They Experiment With A Trial Separation

While you might not be ready for a divorce, a trial separation might be a good first step in regaining stability in your life. However, The Marriage Counseling Blog warns couples to not force a separation as a wake-up call or punishment to a spouse.

The statistics show that 79% of all separations result in a divorce, usually three or four years after the initial separation.

If divorce isn't something you want to put your family through, a trial separation can often be a way to regain a sense of oneself and earnestly looking at the marriage. A couple of my friends went through a trial separation that actually made their marriages stronger because they were able to take a deep look at the systemic issues in their relationship. Ultimately, a stronger marriage is best for the kids, and separations do work for 21% of all couples who are on the rocks.

8 How They Manage - They Have Age-Appropriate Discussions with the Kids


It's not easy explaining to your children why mommy and daddy don't spend as much time together. For most parents who are in an unhappy marriage, they will often ignore their partner and focus on spending time with their kids. Depending on the age of their child, though, this can backfire.

Children watch their parents to see how a healthy relationship works. It's crucial, then, to teach your children when your relationship is no longer healthy. Having age-appropriate conversations with your kids will allow them to process their parents' relationship in a positive way. Through communication with your children, you have the power to break a generational cycle of unhappy marriages.

7 How They Manage - They Consider Couples Counseling


Some people are dead-set against counseling, while others tout its benefits to anyone who will listen. If a couple decides to stay together for their children, it might benefit them to go to couples counseling to improve their communication. Do they want to sleep in separate rooms? Have an open relationship? Create a chore chart?

Couples counseling is a great way to air all their communication missteps in the presence of a neutral third party.

Couples counseling can be a useful tool for parents who want an unbiased third party to help referee the dividing up of parental responsibilities. Whether it's the chores around the house, time spent picking up the kids, or co-discipline strategies, a therapist can help to streamline the communication process.

6 How They Manage - They Keep An Outline Of Household And Parent Responsibilities

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Sometimes this outline is physically written while other times it's a simple verbal agreement: I'll pick up the kids on Mondays and Thursdays and cook dinner the other days of the week. You take care of laundry and paying the mortgage every month. This kind of divvying up of responsibilities really comes in handy in a relationship of necessity.

I have seen some couples write down their new "roommate agreements" in order for things to be explicit. Sometimes this really helps a couple, while other times a partner can grow resentful of the dynamic. Whatever the methodology, a decision to no longer "sacrifice" for one another but rather split duties as equal roommates is usually a part of the equation.

5 How They Manage - They Tell Their Children They Love Them Unconditionally, And Tell Them Often

Huffington Post

Living in a home where the flames have dissipated between the parents can make many kids feel as though their parents might one day "stop loving them." It's crucial as a parent to tell your children that they are loved unconditionally. The key, too, is to tell them not only in words but in actions as well.

The most valuable gift a parent can give their child is the gift of time – it's more important than any physical object or any verbal statement a parent can make.

The more time spent with your children will equate to a stronger parent-child bond. Since many parents who are in unhappy marriages will often stop spending time with each other, time spent with the kids can help to reinforce your unconditional love for them.

4 How They Manage - They Decide To Never Fight In Front Of The Kids

Gemma Robillard

Surprisingly, divorce is not the greatest negative effect parents can have on their children. According to Dr. Emery, "There’s ample research out there that divorce isn’t the worst thing that parents can do to kids: Fighting terribly and subjecting them to your vitriolic hatred toward each other is the worst; staying married in such a state is actually worse for kids than if you actually got divorced.

I’ve seen many people divorce and, because they handled their emotions well, the children also did well. I’ve also witnessed couples do significant damage to their kids by staying in an unhealthy relationship and trying to 'make it work.'"

3 How They Manage - They Have a Place Where One Parent Can Spend The Night Outside Of The House

Holiner Group

Sometimes one parent might need to "get away" and crash at a friend or family member's home for the night. Living in an unhappy marriage is one of the most emotionally draining relationships a person can have. By having a place where one spouse can escape to - with the understanding and consent of both parties - sometimes creates the space one spouse needs to keep trudging along.

It's important to communicate this dynamic with the kids in an age-appropriate way.

Telling kids that their mom or dad is at grandma's because they needed a timeout can be a helpful way to teach emotional self-regulation to your child. Each parent will make their own decision in this matter, but the option is there to help each parent stay together for their kids.

2 How They Manage - They Maintain Their Separate Identities (I Vs We)

Wikimedia Commons

Identity is a weird thing in any relationship. Oftentimes two people in love will bend over backward to please their significant other and sometimes lose themselves in the process. While it isn't usually the intention to become enmeshed in a relationship, the tendency to do so still exists.

One way many unhappy couples can continue together in their relationship is to maintain a separate identity from their spouse. Maybe one person enjoys sampling chocolates from around the world or attending Comic Con. Whatever a person's particular hobby, the decision to pursue it - without your partner's involvement - can create a space to develop as an individual and find fulfillment in something other than family.

1 How They Manage - They Teach Their Kids to Express Their Emotions

rosenberg center

Helping your child to label and healthily express their feelings is a part of parenthood. According to Kidsmatter.edu, "Being able to recognize, express and manage a wide range of emotions in themselves and others benefits children’s mental health and wellbeing. Caregivers can help children learn about feelings and how to manage them effectively."

When parents stay in a marriage for their kids, their kids will often figure out that mommy and daddy don't act like they are in love.

By teaching your child to express how this makes them feel, you can help to stop poor relationship dynamics in your child's future. Staying together for the kids is a difficult decision. The key to this dynamic acting as a positive role model for your child is to work with your child to identify their emotions and handle them in a positive way.

References: Kids Matter | Daily Mail | Emery On Divorce | Equitable Mediation | Huffington Post | National Affairs | Conscious Uncoupling | Marriage Counseling Blog

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