Top Menu

High Conflict Marriages Worse Than Divorce for Children

Justin worked hard to try not to see what was before his eyes.  The mileage on Jesse’s car didn’t add up to what it should have if she had been where she had said she was going, and he even, feeling sneaky as he did, once called a friend where Jesse said she was, only to find out, as he feared, that she had never been there.

But he was stuck. Aside from a fear of divorce for himself, he felt he simply couldn’t ‘do it’ to his children. He didn’t want them o have divorced parents. Even more, he didn’t want them to be with Mom alone. That didn’t keep him from heated arguments with his wife, however, who screamed back and sulked for days.

This was the same life-time sentence that three other dedicated parents had chosen.  Jennifer lived with bi-polar man, whose rages alternated with depression, who cut her off from her family or origin, and whose threats of suicide or taking the children away terrified the household. Yelling, pushing, door slamming–these sounds kept he children up a night.

Jordan’s wife turned away from the religious life-life into which the couple had brought six children.  She refused to shop or cook for the kids or her mate; the couple fought over the household chaos.  Jiesse was out with men when the children came home from school. The oldest son–merely 13–babysat every afternoon til Dad came home.  Dad and the kids divided the household chore, and awaited Mom’s return, ofter at 2 or 3 in the morning.  The fighting continued nightly, and then some more by phone during the day.

Jose’s wife couldn’t get out of bed. Dad was in charge of getting the kids up and out each morning. When they returned, Mom was in bed with a headache.  Jose and Jocelyn fought daily over his anger at being the working Dad plus the home-making “mom.”  What enraged him even more was her hoarding.  Periodically, he’d become furious enough to gather carload of stuff to dump in resale or thrift shops.  Then Jocelyn’s rage kicked in.

Each of these parents, knowing their own needs would never be bet by their disfunctional spouses, believed that their children needed them to stay in the marriage.

And despite some of the more ‘positive research,’ if we can call it that, on divorce’s impact on children, there is still a general societal sense–and research to back it up–that divorce is difficult on children.   [See the New York Times article from 2005 entitled, “Poll says even quiet divorces affect children’s paths,” for just one example.]

But the question we need to address here is not that of ‘quiet divorces’ and low-conflict marriages. Rather it is what is the impact of high interparental conflict on the children, even among intact families.


In a somewhat older but still relevant paper, DR Morrison from the Georgetown Public Policy Institute and Department of Demography at Georgetown University and MJ Coiro from the Department of Health Policy and Management at Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health wrote that separation and divorce are indeed associated with increases in behavior problems in children. “However,” they continue in their paper entitled “Parental conflict and marital disruption: Do children benefit when high-conflict marriages are dissolved?” in Journal of Marriage and the Family (August, 1999), “in marriages that do not break up, high levels of marital conflict are associated with even greater increases in children’s behavior problems” [italics mine].

Even further, they write, “Indeed, the adverse effect of frequent marital quarrels is larger than the deleterious effect of separation and divorce.”

I saw it again when  sociologists Alan Booth and Paul Amato from Pennsylvania State University asserted in their February 2001 article in the same publication that “. . .divorce among high-conflict couples appears to have a relatively benign or even beneficial effect.”

But wait–there’s more!

David Mechanic & Stephen Hansell, sociologists at Rutgers University, found in a 1989 study [decades ago, when divorce retained more of its bad name than it does today] entitled “Divorce, Family Conflict and Adolescents’ Well-Being , “. . .that those in high-conflict, married families had significantly poorer adjustment than those in low-conflict, divorced families.”

AND, Constance Gager, Associate Professor of Child and Family Studies at Montclair State University, said in an interview that “[t]he basic implication is, ‘Don’t stay together for the sake of the children if you’re in a high conflict marriage.'”

In other words, Jordan was doing his children no favor by staying. If you’re living in a high-conflict marriage, with significant amounts of screaming and yelling, with emotional and verbal abuse, the answer to should you stay or should you go, if you’re considering your children, might just well be a vote for the “go” side.


, , , ,

One Response to High Conflict Marriages Worse Than Divorce for Children

  1. Lamont Sheets January 7, 2012 at 3:41 am #

    nice work, continue the great webpage.

Leave a Reply