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How to tell the kids that your marriage is about to end

By Aileen Santos

There’s no simple way to say it, and I’m certainly not going to sugarcoat it. The plain and simple fact is this: In a family and a marriage, when the adults screw up, it’s the kids who become the victims.

Back when it was just about you and your partner, any problems you encountered (or inflicted on yourselves) only affected the two of you. But when kids are involved and you can no longer think of your spouse as anything but “the enemy,” then let’s face it: You’ve both just managed to negatively impact your kids’ views about love, family, and marriage, and this will affect their own future relationships (or lack of it) for as long as they live.marriend

No dear, I’m not blaming you. But I am holding you responsible, because you are one of the adults here. (Unless you’re the spouse who’s the serial cheater, abuser, or gambling/alcohol/drug/porn/gaming/laziness addict in the marriage. Because if you are, then I do blame you.)

Responsibility means “the ability to respond” (response + ability) and responding well, particularly in situations like this. It’s what separates good adults from the bad ones, and right now you want to be on the good side.

Yes, I know you’re in pain (and anger, or denial, or bargaining), too. But we will address that in a bit: for now we need to do some major adulting.

After all, the children are involved.


What To Say… What Not To

How do you tell an innocent child that the parent they love so much betrayed your family? That some marriages thrive while others don’t, and it feels like yours is one of the latter? How do you tell them that maybe love doesn’t last forever, that not all people are good, that even the people they trust most can betray them?

How do you tell them their lives are about to change?

The short answer is: You don’t.

At least not yet, and for heaven’s sake not in those words that are ready to spill out of your mouth because you’ve been thinking about them over and over in your head.

Before you say anything you’ll want to take a deep breath, and remember these three key principles:


1 Communication is Not About

Expressing Yourself

Too many people don’t know this. Like the people in the house next door to ours.

So our neighbors are really good at “expressing themselves.” They’re so good, in fact, that about once every month we hear them shouting at each other, cursing their own family members, and throwing plates and glasses at each other (we can hear the crashes).

If they want everyone to know they’re angry, then they’re very successful at it. But if you look at their family relationships, they aren’t just broken: they’re fractured beyond repair.

(One of their family members left and moved into a friend’s house nearby, and recently died without ever asking to come back. Some of his family didn’t even show up at his wake… A wake which was sponsored by his friend, too.)

So keep this in mind: Good communication is not about “expressing yourself.” Instead, good communication is something that leads to better connections.


2 Remember What You Hope for Your Kids

Speaking of good communication, ask yourself this: “When I talk to my children about what’s happening, what do I want to happen to them? How do I want them to react? What do I want them to feel?”

And because I know you’re a good parent/concerned adult (you’ve reached this part of this article, after all), then I know you want certain things to happen:

• You don’t want your children to feel guilty/think that what happened is their fault. So you avoid making statements like “You should’ve done this” or “You should’ve told me” or “Why couldn’t you have been more..?”

Worse of all, don’t just stop talking to them/decide not to inform them altogether. When you avoid them, they think you’re angry at them. And your silence will always make them assume the worst of themselves.

• You don’t want your children to be ashamed of/revolted by who they are/what’s inside them… and part of who they are is your spouse.

Like it or not, the person you think is your enemy right now is embedded deep into the genetic code of the children you love. So before you open your mouth to say anything, remind yourself to never condemn/bad mouth /negatively label the person who is part of who they are.


3.Remind Yourself of What You Hope for You

This isn’t just about “what you say” to help your children through this. What’s actually even more important here is the way you behave: Are you behaving in ways you hope your own children will behave someday if they ever go through something like this?

Have you really “done what you could”/“tried your best” when it comes to repairing your partnership after what’s happened?

Remember that this doesn’t mean doing it all alone: go ahead and get the support you need, learn better information, and actively practice new relationship skills and move towards growth.

After all, you can’t create a better relationship using the old tools that led to the problems you already have.

Of course you want to tell your children that you tried your best, that you did what you could. But even more than that, you want to know that they have seen you doing this in action, so they know you’re 100 percent honest when you actually say these things.

You don’t end a marriage because you’re angry/want to lash out for the hurt you feel.

You end it because you’ve done what you can (which includes listening to the person who hurt you, accepting their apology, going after opportunities to repair things, and maybe even accepting your own contribution to the situation)… and this is now the best possible resolution.


Do I Forgive? Yes, You Have To

You may already know that “forgiveness is about setting a prisoner free… and realizing that prisoner was you,” and this is true.

But aside from your own peace of mind, forgiveness is also an important act you need to do (and do it daily, hourly, over and over if necessary) when you want your children to learn how to forgive themselves.

Yes, it will be hard. Yes, it will hurt, a lot. And yes, you will all keep hurting for a long time. But the point that you want you and your children to learn is this: You will overcome.

Some families have gone through the most difficult challenges and come out of them stronger and better.

Other families need a bit more time to heal.

Others are changed; but then change is really something that naturally happens, and we deal with it.


So What Do We Tell Children About Love?

All you need to do is tell them the truth; after all, the truth does not change because of one person’s mistake.

And that truth is this: Love is always worth fighting for… it’s just that there are some people who decide not to fight for it with you.

And may the way you fight for your children be a shining example of your own real love for them.


Aileen Santos is a relationship coach.