Unhealthy relationships result in troubled kids

Mar 28, 2010 at 12:48 p.m. ET

I believe the just about all marriages can be saved. But that doesn't mean that staying in a relationship and trying to work things out on your own is best for your family in the immediate future. Being a child of divorce can create an unhealthy legacy for kids to carry on, but so can remaining in a dysfunctional marriage without seeking help for your problems. Aside from the adverse effects these types of relationships have on kids, they create baggage for the adults as well. Pretty soon, the wall of discontent and pain created by these marriages is built so high that the concept of working through things in a civilized manner becomes foreign and seems impossible.

Parents fighting in front of child

Do you stay together for the kids?

I believe most marriages can be saved but I believe there is a right and wrong way to go about doing this. Living as roommates – two people under one roof who are unable or unwilling to restore intimacy, creating a volatile home situation for the family due to arguments, fights and blow-ups, or putting kids in a situation where they feel they must look out for their parents and their family are just a few of the wrong ways to stay together. This is why I say that people rarely truly "stay together for the kids." People stay with a troubled relationship because deep down they want to make it work and they believe they can get to the bottom of the situation, and work through it. These are valuable sentiments to acknowledge and important in beginning to re-build the relationship, if that's what the couple chooses to do.

Volatile relationships create baggage for every family member

Otherwise, there will be a baggage that comes with continuing in a volatile relationship as these decisions will follow the children around for the rest of their lives. People who are in these types of relationships – and this includes the whole family as well as the individual adults – can experience an emotional emptiness passed down from generation to generation via what I call the Bio Chemical Craving for Connection which typically transpires from a combination of stress, separation and loss. It can effect children of all ages, including even the unborn.

A brush with death as a solution?

I encourage people who are facing this type of baggage – where they are unable to move past certain issues on their own – to engage in a brush with death. This is not an easy decision to make, or one that should be made lightly as it can have painful effects if not entered into with mutual goals. It can also be looked at as "breaking up to make up." It's the idea that the couple wants to make things work in the long run, but need some time to sort through their anger, frustration and other emotions on their own.

Now, I'm not talking about something where the couple breaks up with the "cushion" that it "might work out at a later date." (How many times are we all guilty of saying, hoping for, or believing that?) What I'm talking about is an intentioned break up with the idea of continuing to work toward a healthy solution – when two people still want to be together, but have major obstacles to overcome.

Explore family play therapy with professional guidance

Of course a decision to separate with the intention of finding solutions would be difficult enough without adding kids to the mix, but can be even more troubling when children are involved. This is why I developed what I call Family Play Therapy, which can be done at home. This therapy is used to cushion the pain a child feels.

Facing a painful relationship is upsetting at any age, but with intentioned forethought we can work to turn the baggage of a failed relationship into a success story, and that is hopeful for people of any age!

More on the impact of unhealthy relationships

For more information on healthy solutions for troubled relationships and Family Play Therapy, visit www.DoctorBonnie.com.