The relationship is no longer working, you’re miserable and the love is gone. It’s time to split up, right?
For couples with kids, it’s not always that black and white.
But is staying for the children gifting them a nuclear family or a sacrifice that does more harm than good?
Relationships Australia counsellor Fiona Bennett says couples with children often try harder to save their relationship than those without.
“They can feel it’s in the best interest for the children in terms of security, stability and good time with both parents,” Ms Bennett says.
“A significant number of people do believe that if they can work on it and get it to a healthy enough state in their relationship, that it is better for the children.”
It’s not an honest family dynamic: psychologist
Child psychologist Kimberley O’Brien says parents who pretend to their children the relationship isn’t experiencing problems could be fooling themselves.
“Kids are really sensitive to changes to things like voice tone and parents’ stress levels,” Dr O’Brien of The Quirky Kid Clinic says.
“If parents are trying to pretend that they’re fine and just doing it for their kids, it’s like keeping a big secret from their child, like not telling them they’re adopted.
“That is not an honest family dynamic [and] could force them to question things later in life.”
Children are sensitive to issues their parents are experiencing, psychologist Kimberley O’Brien says. (Supplied: Pexels)
She recommends parents be as honest as possible with their children, but seek professional advice on how much to reveal based on the child’s developmental stage.
According to Dr O’Brien, the majority of children with recently separated parents wish mum and dad would reunite.
“Even when parents are getting on and trying to do an amicable separation, ‘unconscious coupling’` as they say … in most cases kids just want their parents to be together,” she said.
She says it is a grieving process most children move past eventually.
Ultimately, she says, parents need to consider the cost of forgoing their own happiness.
“In some cases the parents … compromise 10 years of their own happiness to stay together, but is that really something the child will be grateful for?”
They were protecting me: child of divorce
As a divorce lawyer, Kasey Fox doesn’t recommend parents stay an item for the sake of the children, but is grateful her parents did.
As a divorce lawyer Kasey Fox witnesses couples’ fights over young children. (Supplied: Kasey Fox)
Her mum and dad waited until she finished high school to call it quits.
Her older sister had already left home and her younger brother was 15.
“It was fairly clear to me and my sister that they just weren’t really happy together,” Ms Fox says.
The 34-year-old Canberran says despite there being no arguments in the home, a lack of affection made it obvious they “just weren’t meant for each other”.
Her parents didn’t admit at the time of the separation they had kept their 25-year-long relationship going for the kids, but confirmed years later “in so many words”.
“I remember thinking at the time before they even chose to separate ‘why would you bother staying together, why wouldn’t you just separate and be happy?'” she says.
“But looking back now, even though when they did eventually separate it was quite stressful, I can imagine it would have been even more stressful when I was younger.”
Ms Fox says witnessing the fights over young children her divorce clients go through has made her appreciative of her parents’ decision to wait.
“So I’m grateful for it, but now I’m a divorce lawyer it’s not something I would recommend,” she said.
“I can see for some families you can see if they thought if ‘I just need to hang in there for a few more years’, from their perspective it is protecting their children.”
You only get one life, mum says
Counsellor Fiona Bennett says parents should seek professional help before ending the relationship, because “there are plenty of success stories”.
“Focusing on what their relationship needs as well as what the children need can help get a good grasp on what they can do [to help the relationship],” she said.
But for Brisbane-based Karen (not her real name), counselling couldn’t save her seven-year marriage.
The 31-year-old became unhappy in the relationship not long after falling pregnant with their second child.
The pair had just moved back to where her partner’s immediate family was based.
“I noticed changes in my husband; he no longer looked at myself and my daughter as his family … we pretty much no longer existed to him,” she said.
But Karen stayed, believing she owed the relationship a chance to improve.
“But things got worse and worse after our second daughter was born … I was too scared to leave as I didn’t want to break up the family,” she said.
“I stayed around two more years purely for the girls’ sake.”
After trying counselling and recognising health issues linked to stress, Karen decided ending the relationship was her only path to happiness.
“I didn’t know it was going to happen, I just got up one morning and we ended up having a conversation that I guess we both knew was coming, to end it,” she said.
Children go through a grieving process when their parents separate, Dr O’Brien says. (Supplied: Jamie McCaffrey)
Karen says the separation has ultimately been the right move for the whole family.
“It definitely has been hard, and we are still working through some issues. But the fact that I am a more confident, happy and healthier person really speaks volumes,” she said.
“Kids are resilient … don’t be afraid to make the call and do what is right for you.
“You only get one life, do you really want to spend it miserable?”
Ms Bennett says if the relationship isn’t improving after seeking help, it’s not healthy to remain as a family unit.
“If literally the only reason for staying together is for the kids, we generally believe that shouldn’t be the deciding factor,” she said.