It was a Saturday afternoon when some friends of ours called in great distress. They asked if I could come over as soon as possible. I could tell from the voice on the phone that something bad was happening.
When I pulled up, one spouse was on one side of their yard, pacing back and forth and waiving their arms. The other spouse was on the other side of the yard, shaking and sobbing into their hands. And near the side of the road, was their small son, frightened and sobbing.
After parking the car, I scooped up the son and tried to comfort him before turning my attention to the couple.
This was a couple who came to my counseling office because the husband wanted a divorce. He was so disengaged, he couldn’t even sit on the same loveseat as his wife. (The term “love seat” seems very ironic here.)
The husband spent a good part of the session making his case as to why he felt they should divorce. The whole time he was talking, his wife (who didn’t want the divorce) sat sobbing on the other side of the room.
It was clear I wasn’t going to change his mind about getting a divorce, so I proceeded to walk them through what they could expect if they went down that road. When I talked to them about the impact it would have on their children, he looked me in the eye and with a straight face said, “Our children will be better off if we divorce.” (I almost lost my professionalism over that one. )
Here’s the point…
Compared to these two examples, you may be feeling pretty good about your marriage. You may be thinking, “We don’t have it that bad. Neither of us has done anything bad enough to bring things to that kind of hurtful climax.
But before you start thinking too highly of yourself and your marriage, here’s the punch line…
The couples in these examples didn’t get to that point because there was some big indiscretion, or abuse, or infidelity. They got to that point because they had hurt each other; gradually, in little ways, and over a long period of time. They had taken each other for granted, stopped putting each other first, stopped being careful with their words, stopped pursuing one another.
These hurts gradually built up to a point that felt insurmountable, and the result was not only the mortal wounding of their marriage, but also the mortal wounding of their children.
Every parent will tell you they would never want to hurt their kids, but then those same parents will treat each other in ways that wind up hurting their kids. Because, when things are bad between you and your spouse, things are bad for the kids.
Kids get their sense of well-being from how well things are going between their parents.
You may say, “We don’t let our kids see our problems,” But kids are empathic, and they have have an incredible emotional radar. They know when something’s not right between their parents…even when those parents are trying to cover it up. And it doesn’t have to be a big, blowout fight for kids to know something’s not right.
Also, kids get their sense of stability and safety from watching their parents. (And this is true no matter how old you are, or how old your children are.) When things are good between their parents, kids are less fearful and insecure. But when things are not good between parents, the kids’ world feels fearful and uncertain.
But there’s another reason why when things are bad between you and your spouse it’s bad for your kids…
Kids will judge and model their future relationships based upon what they see and feel in yours.
Your kids are watching you. They’re watching to see how you treat one another, how you help or don’t help one another, and how you show affection to one another. They’re watching to see if you’re willing to serve one another and sacrifice for one another. And they’re watching to see how you deal with conflict, whether you treat one another with respect, and whether you’re willing to quickly apologize.
What your children see in you and your marriage sets the tone for their beliefs and expectations about their future marriage. Right or wrong, you’re currently training them on what kind of spouse they will be.
So you see, when you’re not taking care of your spouse, you’re not taking care of your kids. Or to put it another way…
If you don’t want to hurt your kids…don’t hurt your spouse.
Here’s a good rule of thumb…treat your spouse in the same way you want your kids’ future spouse to treat them. It’s one of the best things you can do for your kids…and your marriage.