Myth Buster Monday: Parents who have conflict in their marriage should divorce for the sake of their children.

Myth Buster Monday: Parents who have conflict in their marriage should divorce for the sake of their children.

If your marriage is unhappy and you feel like a divorce would be better for your children, you might want to think again.  Studies have determined that divorces in high-conflict marriages have a neutral or beneficial effect on a child.  Children from low-conflict families who experience parental divorce, however, suffer significant adverse effects on their psychological and social well-being[1]

How many couples are in “high-conflict” marriages?

According to a 15-year study, less than one-third of divorces occur in high-conflict marriages (ie., abusive or violent).  Most divorces occur in low-conflict, but unhappy marriages.  Twenty-eight percent of parents who divorced during the study reported any sort of spousal physical abuse prior to divorce, 30 percent reported more than two serious quarrels in the last month, and 23 percent reported that they disagreed “often” or “very often” with their spouses. Thus it appears only a minority of divorces involve high-conflict marriages. [2]

Researchers agree that, except in cases of high and unremitting parental conflict, children who grow up in households with their married mother and father do better on a wide range of economic, social, educational, physical and emotional measures than the children raised in other kinds of family arrangements.

What about those unhappy marriages?

Two-thirds of unhappily married spouses who stayed married reported that their marriage improved within five years.  The most unhappy marriages reported the most dramatic turnarounds; among those who rated their marriages as “very unhappy,” almost eight out of ten who avoided divorce were happily married five years later.[3]


[1] Alan Booth and Paul R. Amato, “Parental Predivorce Relations and Offspring Postdivorce Well-Being,” Journal of Marriage and Family 63 (February 2001): 197-212.

[2] Paul Amato and Alan Booth, A Generation at Risk: Growing Up in an Era of Family Upheaval (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997): 220.

[3] Linda Waite, Don Browning, William Doherty, Maggie Gallagher, Ye Luo and Scott Stanley, “Does Divorce Make People Happy?  Findings from a Study of Unhappy Marriages,” New York:  Institute for American Values, (2002):  148-149.

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