How A Difficult Marriage Affects Your Kids Later In Life

by Sarah Bunton

In an ideal world, you would get along with your spouse every second of every day. But the fact is couples fight, and it's actually good for your relationship. Fighting every day, however, can cause some serious problems, especially if there is a child watching you two go at it. If you and your spouse argue often enough, you may wonder how a difficult marriage affects your kids later in life — and how you might be able to change things for the better. Holding a mirror up to your relationship isn't always the easiest thing to do, but a willingness to examine things will go a long way.

Before our son was born, my partner and I promised each other that we'd never fight in front of him. Of course, we've both broken that oath on more than one occasion and our son noticed. Nothing hurts me more than when my son asks my husband and I to be nice to one another. It's moments like those where many parents — myself included — wonder what kind of impact a toxic relationship can have on their child throughout life. If you're curious about this, too, then check this out.


They Repeat After You

Your child may not be consciously forming their world view, but every thing they experience is being absorbed. As relationship coach and author Nancy Pina told HuffPost, "dysfunctional behavior displayed toward each other will be your children’s pattern in love as they become adults." If you and your significant other fight regularly, then your little one is likely to grow up thinking that is the norm.


They Pick Up Bad Habits

Being able to process the relationship between your environment and your emotions is something that most adults can do easily. But, as clinical psychologist Dr. Lisa Firestone told Psychology Today, children often develop unhealthy habits in response to a stressful or tension-filled home life. Whether this manifests as overeating, escaping reality via electronics, or simply throwing tantrums, these are just a few examples of how a difficult marriage can affect your child later in life.


They Take The Blame

Once your child is old enough to understand what you and your spouse are arguing about, it's not unusual for them to internalize things. As psychologist Dr. Leigh Neiman Weisz told Coping Partners, children who feel they are the source of conflict between their parents often go on to become adults who continue this cycle of self-blame. Thankfully, this bad habit can be stopped in its tracks by making sure your child knows they are never the reason for any family frustrations.


Their Emotions Are Negatively Impacted

Regardless of how subtle you think you're being, your children can sense when there is a rift between you and your partner. In an interview with Good Morning America, researcher Dr. Harold Gordon said that, when you and your spouse fight in a negative way, "it threatens their emotional stability." How does this affect your child throughout life? "They're showing increases in negative symptoms such as depression, anxiety, aggression, and hostility," Gordon further explained. This isn't to say that parents can never have arguments, because that would be impossible. Just make sure that if your child sees a fight that you're less than proud of, that they also see that you make up and find resolution.


They Struggle To Connect

According to Developmental Science, the official site of developmental psychologist Dr. Diana Divecha, "children raised in environments of destructive conflict have problems forming healthy, balanced relationships with their peers." I somewhat expected that kids whose parents had a difficult marriage would go on to have equally rough romantic relationships. But it was interesting to discover that this could affect how a child goes on to form any kind of connection with another person.


They Have A Higher Risk For Depression

A difficult marriage isn't solely defined in terms of frequent arguing. Strain can be placed on a relationship when just one parent is experiencing untreated mental health issues. As psychotherapist Dr. Richard O'Connor told Psych Central, "children of depressed parents are at high risk for depression themselves." This is in no way implying that parents who are depressed should feel any kind of guilt or shame. In fact, it's just the opposite. O'Connor further suggested that this can be seen as an opportunity for the whole family to learn about and receive the necessary help for any mental health concerns. If you think you or a family member could be depressed, you can anonymously connect with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA):by calling 1-800-662-HELP (4357) for free.


They Mirror These Behaviors In Marriage

According to a study conducted by sociologists Dr. Paul R. Amato and the late Dr. Alan Booth, which was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, "parents' marital discord was positively related to offspring's marital discord." To be a bit more specific, there were certain behavioral traits that seemed to strongly affect the nature of the offspring's marriage. For instance, characteristics of, "jealousy, being domineering, getting angry easily, [and] being critical," were self-reported by both the parents and the grown children. It would appear the saying, "children are like sponges," is truer than you might have ever thought.


Their Stress Gauge Is Off

How do you know when a problem is really a problem? Apparently, it all goes back to your childhood. In an interview with Forbes, family counselor David Code said that when parents do not create a calm and secure environment for their children, they can develop an irrational sense of impending doom, become easily stressed, and mistakenly identify situations to be threatening, as Code further explained. As it turns out, the presence — or absence — of peace in your household plays a large role in your child's development.