Is it better to divorce or stay unhappily married?

If your relationship is breaking down, you may wonder whether it is better to divorce or stay unhappily married. But the consequences of remaining in an unhappy relationship are legion and, even in the short term, likely to take a toll on mental wellbeing. A study conducted on this issue by the University of York confirms that constant rows are likely to have a significant adverse impact on children whose parents stay together, possibly lasting into adulthood and beyond. In this article, we take a look whether it is better to stay together or divorce.

Why do some people stay in an unhappy marriage?

Some may choose to stay in an unhappy marriage in order to save face or avoid the onslaught of scrutiny and questions that inevitably ensue when a marriage fails, but whilst many will leave, others will try to shape it into a more functional relationship. Some individuals may wonder whether they’ll make it on their own, or that people will blame them for not doing more to make it work. Perhaps the relationship has become a habit, or the children are going through exams and it’s not good timing? Whatever the reason for staying, fundamentally, it has to be what’s healthiest for the whole family.

Is divorce better than staying in an unhappy marriage?

Data has shown that being in an unhappy marriage leads to lower levels of health and personal happiness. An unhappy relationship can lead to anxiety, depression, psychological and social issues, which can manifest as physical problems and medical conditions such as high blood pressure. Parental conflict may also harm children’s development and they are less likely to perform well academically.

Is it best for the children if I stay in an unhappy marriage?

In reality, if your marriage is truly miserable and its silences are punctuated with explosive arguments, then it makes no sense to stay in it for the sake of the children. They may witness the rows first hand, and even if they don’t, will feel the negative vibes of the relationship and assume this is how normal life is: constantly sad and tense. In the future, they may develop unhealthy relationships of their own because of what they saw growing up.

Study from York University suggests parents’ rows are worse for children than divorce

Research findings from the University of York suggest that children who grow up in households with constant arguments between their parents are more likely to experience negative effects than those whose parents divorce. The study surveyed over 19,000 children born in the UK in 2000 and examined their experiences of parental conflict and its impact on their mental health and wellbeing.

Children who witnessed high levels of parental conflict, even when their parents didn’t separate, were more likely to experience anxiety, depression, and poor self-esteem. Furthermore, researchers found that these negative effects persisted into adulthood, affecting the individual’s own relationships and mental health.

These findings challenge the notion that it is better for parents to stay together for the sake of the children. Dr Gordon Harold, lead author of the study, suggests that reducing parental conflict should be the aim of all interventions working with families, irrespective of whether parents are together or separated.

Should I stay if the marriage is abusive?

It is often easier said than done to walk away from an abusive relationship, but neither you nor your children deserve to stay in a marriage that is abusive, whether it is physically, emotionally, or coercively controlling. If you can leave, then you should seriously think about doing so. Stay with a friend or family member, look for your own place if you can afford it, and find a job if you don’t already have one.

There are consequences to staying in an unhappy marriage, but there are also repercussions if you divorce. Considering a trial separation before opting for divorce, where you take some time apart is likely to benefit a troubled relationship and gives you the necessary space to think about your future.


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