Do you love your children?  What parent wouldn’t immediately respond to this question with an emphatic, “Yes, of course I love my children!”  And many would probably add a comment something like, “They are the most important thing in the world to me!” or “I would do anything for my children!”  But if you then ask the question, “What is love?” many would often revert to some form of simplistic description of how they feel about their children.  And if you ask, “What would it look like to love your children, or how are you actively living out that love in the midst of your messy marriage?” many would respond that they are doing all they possibly can.  But if you have not yet seriously considered Marriage Counseling, then I would challenge that you have not yet gone far enough in your parental commitment to your children’s emotional and physical health.

Children of all ages are brought into therapy to help them “work through” what they have experienced in the home.  But what parents often expect is that the children will accept and “normalize” these experiences.  However, it is not healthy to normalize what is unhealthy and sometimes abusive, not healthy for a relationship, and certainly not healthy for children.  Marriage Counseling can help you identify and address these unhealthy patterns of behavior that have become problematic and normalized.

Look, for example, at Janie or Tommy, young teens.  Their parents, who did not attempt Couples Counseling, decided they no longer want to be married, describing their separation, divorce, and new arrangements as very amicable, sharing joint custody.  They dutifully bring their child to another counselor because the child “didn’t feel comfortable” with the previous one.  Both parents soon become involved in other relationships, one parent moving their relationship into the home, creating an environment where the child does not feel safe.  The child feels emotionally manipulated and put into a position to accept both of these on-again-off-again unhealthy relationships for the sake of the happiness of their parents.  As a result, the child tells the parents they are fine with their decisions, knowing this is what pleases them and makes them feel that everything is fine.  The child refuses to include their parents in therapy and risk hurting their feelings.  The child’s plan, as soon as possible, is to move in with their “girlfriend/boyfriend” and get away from their craziness. These children struggle with anxiety and depression, and are at high risk of involvement in abusive relationships.  They have difficulty connecting in therapy, and as soon as they feel they have again come to enough sessions to please their parents, they again discontinue.  The parents have avoided the struggling through Marriage Counseling, but nobody is happier and the dysfunctional cycle progresses.  You may think these risks are not possible with your family, but they present in therapy as “normally” as any other family.

Check out little 7 year-old William in this short video created by his father to “get a kid’s perspective on divorce”.  We’re not wanting to criticize the father, but to look at the video itself with a critical eye to see what else we can discern this child struggling with.

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A few things to note in this video:

1) When his father tries to point out a positive point of Will’s struggles with going back and forth between Mom and Dad (2 Christmas’/2 birthdays), Will still refocuses on how difficult it is for him;   2) When asked what advice Will would give to help others get through divorce, Will describes his own unhealthy coping strategy of pretending his parents aren’t divorced, pretending they are still together, being tough, and burying his feelings.  Though his father seems a little surprised at Will’s pretending, he summarizes Will’s words as, “you just expect that that is how your life is going to be from now on”, which misses what Will is saying and how he is being impacted; 3) The father seems unaware and surprised that Will’s divorce experience is not something he shares in common with his friends, and talks about with them;  4) Will says his life is at a “7” on a scale of 1-10, a question too mature for a 7 year-old to grasp, though his father acknowledges, as positive as this sounds, a “7” is only a place to improve on.

These are only illustrations of how you might perceive your children’s struggles with rose colored glasses in our culture where marital struggles and divorce have become so normalized.  It is heartbreaking to watch their hearts breaking unnecessarily.  We have seen, with Couples Counseling, marriages in the process of divorce turn around, and hope for children to heal from the damage already done.  We can’t guarantee this for everyone, but with Marriage Counseling, there is hope and help, and we hope you will have the courage to pursue this, for yourselves, and for the love of your children.