Divorce affects people in many ways — even if you aren’t divorcing. You and your kids may feel empathy for those you know who are experiencing divorce in the family, and relationships with friends (even family relationships) may be severed. Watching divorce happen to people around you can trigger you to ask questions about your own marriage and family. For a child, those questions can feel scary.
When a child experiences divorce in the extended family or through a friend, many confusing emotions may occur. Your child may wonder, “Will my parents split up, too?” and begin to show signs of anxiety. Any slight disagreement between you and your spouse may elicit an unexpectedly strong response, out of fear it’s a sign of the end.
Conversation and reassurance
First things first: Talk with and reassure your child about the solid nature of your marriage and your family — if it is solid, of course. But even if you’ve happened to hit a bumpy patch, you can talk to your child about the nature of commitment in marriage and how you intend to keep working at the relationship. Make sure you’re not dismissing your child’s feelings as “silly.” Your child is still learning about these issues and what they mean — and you’re the teacher.
You can also talk about how, even if a split were to occur, it would have nothing to do with your child and she would still be loved and cherished and taken care of. You shouldn’t get into details about marital difficulties. Always remember that your children are your kids, not a therapist or a friend to confide in.
Living life by example
If you encounter such a moment with your child, it’s likely an excellent time to be sure you are living your life by example and showing your child what it means to commit to and work on a marriage — not just talking the talk, but walking the walk. It doesn’t mean your child never has to know about disagreements or that there can be challenges in a marriage, but it does mean you work out your issues with respect, compassion and kindness. Show your child what it means to have a healthy, loving relationship in all that you do.
Divorces are tough on everyone, even if the divorce is “amicable.” Hard though they may be, take the experiences in your wider circle as a trigger to reinforce your family. Recommit to your marriage and your family, and reassure your kids that their family will be OK, no matter what happens now or in the future.
How to stop a divorce
Unhappy in your relationship but your partner won’t work on it because he thinks you’re the problem? You can change your relationship single-handedly! Don’t believe it’s possible? Watch this video from Michele Weiner-Davis, author of Divorce Busting.