We often hear people in government and elsewhere chanting the same tired old mantra about marriage – that it is a cure-all for society’s ills and is the most beneficial form of family unit known to man. But these same people gloss over the complex truth about marriage.
Togetherness for the sake of it, does not create true intimacy or meaningful relationships and the reality about marriage is that, like all complex and multi-dimensional things, it is a gamble, a terrible risk and of those who take that risk, only a few lucky ones get it right the first time round, with even less being able to manage that risk as time goes on. This is because human beings change and evolve over time, as is natural and healthy and sometimes, two people who start life out together with the same perspective, can find that their spouse becomes a relative stranger, over time.
What makes the difference between a stable childhood and a volatile one, is conflict and that conflict can and does exist within marriage and although politicians and think tanks fail to address this issue, it is a very real one – marriage can harbour and perpetuate the worst forms of conflict and children are not immune to those experiences, just because their parents are married.
So at Researching Reform, we thought we would turn the often cursed and stigmatised notion of divorce on its head and offer another point of view. That divorce can sometimes save lives.
The notion of child suicide and marital conflict came to us because we know of several children who have died intentionally, who took their own lives because their parents were not there for them, too rooted in their own marital conflicts and personal problems to give their children the love and support they needed and in turn, those children eventually gave up trying to get noticed in conventional ways and made their point by exiting this world, at which point, having acquired their parents’ attention, it was too late.
But no-one ever talks about marital conflict and the effect it has on children in quite the same way they talk about divorce and the ways that can impact children today. Yet if you take a look around the internet, there are in-depth studies on the subject, which confirm that marital conflict is a killer, not just for adults but for children, too.
In fact, a startlingly high percentage of children in conventional marital set-ups have thought about committing suicide, and it is clear that counsellors regularly note that conflict rather than divorce is the cause for children feeling unstable in the family home.
And yet, parents remain resolute to stay together, for the sake of their children. But what does this really mean in practice? Recent research indicates that inter-parental conflict has a very real and significant impact on children, causing them to internalise behavioural problems, such as depression and low self-esteem. From continuous arguments, to violent interactions, all these things have a direct impact on children, whether verbal or physical and the longer these forms of communication play out in the family unit, the more likely a child is to start to suffer the impact of an unstable marriage.
A little while back we posted a conversation we overheard in a cafe about the notion of staying together for the kids. It was a raw conversation, but the two gentlemen having it made an excellent point. What are we teaching our children, if we stay in a marriage where all love is gone and behaviour is no longer healthy? What communication skills, survival skills and behavioural patterns are we passing on?
Divorce is not a pleasant experience and it can and does affect children. But when marriage breaks down and there is clearly nothing that can save it (and all the people we know at least who decide to divorce never make the decision lightly), surely moving away from an empty vessel, to a more meaningful future, makes sense. Divorce is not always the answer, but it is not the enemy within.