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Article of Interest - Parenting

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Bridges4Kids LogoBook Challenges Ideas About Kids, Divorce
by Meredith Moss, Cox News Service, March 15, 2004
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Joshua Coleman may not think of himself as a myth exploder, but the he is challenging some of our society's most accepted ideas.

Coleman, a psychologist who has spent his professional career counseling couples, has come up with some theories that challenge current assumptions about the effects of divorce on children.

The result is his new book, "Imperfect Harmony: How to Stay Married for the Sake of Your Children and Still Be Happy" (St. Martin's Press, $23.95).

"The myth is that if parents are unhappy, then the children must be unhappy," says Coleman, who insists that's a false assumption that has done a tremendous amount of damage.

Coleman says the connection between unhappy parents and unhappy kids applies only to high-conflict marriages.

"Those are situations in which the parents hate each other and where there is ongoing physical and verbal abuse," he says. "In those situations, it is better for the children if parents divorce if they can't resolve the conflicts."

But those families, he says, aren't the norm. In most cases, there are viable alternatives to divorce that will be healthier for everyone in the family, he says. He sees couples every day who are on the verge of divorce but who manage to turn their lives around.

"Many people are never going to have that great marriage, but it doesn't mean they should get divorced," he says. "When there's a divorce, not only does the child pay a large price, but the divorcing parent does as well. There is lost time with the child, and not being able to be a day-to-day force in a child's life. You are also exposing the child to the stressors of divorce."

Coleman, 49, says his goal is to help couples with a third alternative.

"Even though the husband or wife may be a bad partner for now, they may still be a good dad or mother. There are enormous things you can do. Most people give up on marriage too soon."

Coleman reached these conclusions as a result of his own years of practice and his personal life.

He was married and divorced in his 20s and has a daughter from his first marriage. He has been married to his current wife for 15 years, and the two have twin boys.

"We all tell our children that Mommy and Daddy are getting a divorce, but parents never divorce their children," says Coleman. "That's not entirely true. It's harder than anyone thinks."

Contrary to popular belief, Coleman says, it's not necessary for mommies and daddies to be crazy about one another.

"While it's a benefit, children don't need their parents to be in love," he says. "They need parents who are devoted to them and who protect them from their conflicts."

Coleman advises people who have done everything to make their marriage better and haven't been successful to grieve that loss and move toward accepting their partners.

"It isn't enough to just stay married for the sake of your children," he says. "You have to do it from a place of acceptance, not victimhood or martyrdom."

American couples simply expect too much out of marriage, he says.

"Marriage can't and shouldn't be a one-stop shopping center for all of your needs. It's better to have a multidimensional view of happiness that includes friends, work, hobbies, children and a spiritual life. People can still be happy even if they aren't that happy with their marriage."

If your marriage isn't making you happy, he advises, you need to stop making it so central in your life. Coleman thinks it's wrong for our culture to make people feel ashamed if they don't leave ho-hum marriages and pursue their soul mates.

When college students of the 1950s and '60s were asked what they hoped to find in marriage, they talked about economic security, friendship and children. Those were more modest and realistic goals, Coleman says.

"People now want their marriage to be a foundation for intense personal growth and well- being," he says. "You can't have both the mind-set that you're going to raise children and one of blind personal focus on one's self-interest and happiness."


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