How Do I Protect Our Kids from Our Marriage Problems?

by | May 13, 2019 | Parenting Teens, Parenting Young Kids | 19 comments

How do you give your kids a healthy view of marriage…if your marriage isn’t healthy?

Every Monday I like to post a reader question and take a stab at answering it, and today I’ve got a similar question from two hurting wives who are worried about the effects of their marriage on the kids:

Reader Question

I was 7 months pregnant when he confessed to porn use.

Glory to God, we are in a miracle and my husband is healing and we are healing and our lives are being restored. Interesting, you recently wrote about when to invite the husband back to the bed after betrayal. I’m getting to a place for that, slowly as we are growing in emotional intimacy again.

How can I help my children recover from all the trauma of my husband’s fallout? My son was just two when my husband confessed and he witnessed all my heartache and anger and the fights between us (We lived in a 1200 square foot home at the time- no where to hide.) my daughter was in the womb still and although she seems to be miraculously healthy I still wonder about the long term effects of all I went through emotionally while she was not yet born.

Another woman writes:

Reader Question

Parenting experts often say the best thing you can do for your kids is work on and have a good marriage. This crushes me because so many of our marriage issues are not my issues and I can’t control them. Nor can I pretend we’re in love to somehow make the kids feel secure.

So… for those of us who can’t just conjure up a good marriage how can we model this to our children without making them even more insecure?

Great question! Let’s look at it today.

God Can Protect Your Kids’ Hearts

A mom’s heartbeat is to protect her kids. We want, yearn, NEED to protect them.

But in this rush to protect them, let’s not forget that we are not all-powerful. Sometimes I think we feel that we are more powerful than we really are–that we should be able to smooth over life for our kids and we should be able to make sure our kids turn out well.

Our ultimate calling is not to protect our kids; it is to point them to Christ.

When they understand the love of Christ–how high and long and wide and deep it is–then nothing else can get them. They are safe. They will be able to turn to Christ in their problems, and define themselves through what Jesus did for them, and not what others have done to them.

Bad things are going to happen to your kids. For yours, it may be that their lives started out in a tumultuous situation because your marriage was bad. But for others it may be living in a bad neighborhood and being bullied; having someone they love die; living several years through great financial hardship.

Life happens.

And in all of that, God is there. And while we can’t protect our kids, let’s never forget that He can.

Our past does not need to define us.

Yes, it is true that those who grow up in a shaky nuclear family do worse overall than those who grow up in a functional, loving, stable home. But note the word “overall“. That’s based on studies of thousands and thousands of kids. It isn’t based on a study of YOUR kid.

I grew up the only child to a single mother. If you look at the studies; you would not have predicted that I would be an A student; that I wouldn’t become promiscuous; that I would finish graduate degrees in university; that I would marry well. But I did, because God protected me, showed His grace to me, and led me to Him.

I have known friends who lived through horrendous abuse and family situations as young children who are honestly fine now. And then I have known others who lived in a stable, nuclear family with two parents who loved them who struggle to cope with the littlest thing going wrong in life.

Individuals are not statistics, and your children are individuals. Their past does not write their future; it is about how their past interacts with their personalities, with your characteristics, with other circumstances–but most of all, with God’s grace.

If you live your life scared that your children will turn out hurt because of what is done to them, they very well might. But if you proceed forward deeply in prayer for them, and focus on their individual, unique personalities, life really can be limitless. Just because a person has some struggles doesn’t mean that they can’t succeed well in relationships later or in faith later. Pray, point them to Jesus, and enjoy them in the present!

Authenticity Matters More Than Perfection

But what if the problems continue?

The second letter writer is asking, “how do I show kids a healthy marriage when ours isn’t healthy?”

Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He isn’t in perfection; He’s in Truth, and truth is often messy.

When I wrote about the Duggar scandal when that first broke, I said that authenticity matters so much in our witness–likely more than anything else. And it matters more than anything else in raising our kids, too. When we are honest with them, they are free to be honest. When we tell them, “you can’t ever criticize the family”, or “it’s a betrayal if you don’t think we’re perfect” (you wouldn’t SAY this, but you may SHOW this), then kids don’t know what to think. When they see something that’s wrong, they feel  inner turmoil. To admit it’s wrong (or even to believe that it’s wrong) means that they’re betraying their family, and they can’t stand to do that. And so they push things under the surface and learn not to believe their own red flags. That doesn’t bode well for future relationships.

Being authentic is the best way to connect with your teen.

That’s what I found again and again when I interviewed 25 young adults to figure out what made teenage rebellion more or less likely. So what does authenticity actually look like in a family?

Hint: you may need to throw out most of the parenting advice you’ve heard.

Truth is a gift that you can give your children.

In your marriage, even if there isn’t love, and even if your husband acts inappropriately at times, you can be kind. You can refrain from sniping at him. You can talk with him and not withdraw.

But you can also draw appropriate boundaries (for instance, if he yells, you can say, “I see that your angry, and I do want to talk to you about this, but I won’t stay in the room while you yell, so once you’re calmed down I’d be happy to talk”, and then you can leave the room.) You can treat yourself with respect, and act with in ways worthy of respect. You can show them that while our relationship may not be perfect, I am trying to live as Christ did and point people to Christ.

When your children see that you honor your husband, but that you also honor yourself and do not get sucked into counterproductive arguments, then you show them that loving someone does not mean allowing them to treat you badly.

I’m going to assume that the issue here is not one of emotional or verbal abuse, though, because I know the second letter writer a little bit, and I believe that she would not put up with that. I also believe that if the issue is one of abuse, removing yourself and your children from that situation is the best course of action, but I’m not directing that here because I’m proceeding as if it’s not abuse but just simply bad decisions or bad modes of interacting on the part of the husband.

Maybe it’s simply that he’s a workaholic and you have no relationship. Perhaps he has no relationship with the kids, either, and you know how important a father’s relationship is. And that’s what you worry about.

You can involve their dad when he’s willing, but you can also make sure that you do fun things with the kids without waiting around for their dad. You can involve uncles in their lives. They’ll understand when they grow up. They’ll know that their dad made bad choices, and they may not have a great relationship with their dad. But a bad relationship with their dad does not necessarily mean that they’ll have bad relationships in general at all. Not if you’re walking in Truth; allowing them to speak Truth with respect; and letting them be in healthy church communities where they can see other men who do treat their families well.

Watch How They Speak to Their Dad–But Permit Honesty

Don’t worry so much about your kids that you create rifts with between them and their father. I have seen countless marriages where the mom is so worried about how the dad treats the kids that she’s forever telling the kids, “it’s okay to be mad when your dad does that,” or “your dad just doesn’t understand you.” Don’t foment anger.

But if your child is upset with your husband your child starts the conversation, it’s okay to say, “how does Jesus want us to handle it when we’re upset?” And it’s okay to encourage your child to take it up with your husband. You should expect a child to show a dad respect and not call him names, but it’s perfectly appropriate for a child to say, “when you did X it hurt me,” or “when you didn’t show up I felt angry.”

Let your child have those conversations and don’t interfere. Naming feelings is important, and if a child or teen can speak them out loud when they’re still children, that’s often healthier than growing up without ever being able to speak the disappointment. Just be careful that in your quest to guard your kids you don’t cement this “Mom is good and understands me and Dad is distant and is a loser” mentality. If you’ve chosen to stay in the marriage, then stay in that marriage. Treat your husband with kindness. Speak of him well. And pray hard.

Can we protect our kids from our marriage problems? How to help kids growing up in a tense marriage.

Let me ask you: Have any of you dealt with this? How do you protect your kids without encouraging them to be angry at their dad? Let’s talk in the comments!

And if any of you are struggling with how to have those hard conversations with your kids or how to explain the more difficult things of life with them, check out Why I Didn’t Rebel. It’s got some great stories that can help illuminate some of the more complex or grey areas of parenting to help you make the right decision for your family.

Written by

Sheila Wray Gregoire


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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. Amanda

    Husband is a pornography addict and right now I’m doubting that our marriage will survive. I’m thinking of having a conversation with our adult children to let them know, and to warn them about the dangers of pornography so their marriages are not also ruined.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I think that’s totally okay. It’s good for children to know what’s going on, especially if they’re adults and they can handle it, so that they can support you, put pressure on their dad to change, and not be blindsided if something bad happens, in my opinion.

  2. Lami Moyin

    Man, Sheila, you’re really graced to do this! I loved every word of this! More grace to you !

  3. Brokenhearted

    Sadly, I have experienced lies and betrayal in my marriage. It was so bad at one point that my husband wasn’t allowed to come home unless he was serious about turning his life around. This was extremely hard to go through, especially with our three little ones crying for their Daddy and asking why he wasn’t home. I always reminded them that their Daddy loved them and we prayed for him to follow Jesus so that Jesus could bring him home. They didn’t need to know details, just that we all need Jesus and we prayed together for Daddy to follow Him.
    Praising God today that my husband did come home and is surrendering his life to Jesus one day at a time. Recovery is not easy, but worth it. We both attend Celebrate Recovery at our church and our kids will hear bits of our story when they’re ready so that they can learn from our struggles and hopefully never fall into the pain and destruction that lust, lies and porn bring.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, I’m so glad that your husband is getting real about the problems in his life! That’s wonderful. I know this is a really tough time. I wish you all the best! And I’ve said a prayer for you.

      • Brokenhearted

        Thank you Sheila!

  4. Phil

    I have been hung up on the word integrity lately. The quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness. Thats what this takes while pointing to Jesus. My Mom didn’t raise me perfectly but she did her best. She did her best with morality and principles and while I wouldnt say she directed me directly to Jesus she got me to church and even though things didnt go well for me in many ways it turns out the morals and principles and even going to church where even at one point I was molested by our youth pastor was enough to teach me some morality – well – over 16 uears ago my internal being couldn’t handle the double life I was leading. I had to come clean and I did and God gave me a way out and protected me and gave me the wonderful life I have today. Amen Sheila. Thanks for this. I pray for those who struggle both as parent and child.

    • Phil

      Today I dont have to pass on the garbage. Today I can pass on a legacy. – maybe in part my own legacy, but really what an opportunity to pass on the legacy of Jesus. Wow!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Integrity is a great word–and it’s definitely what we need!

      I love your kind words about your mom, especially after Mother’s Day.

      And, Phil, I am so sorry about the abuse you suffered. I pray that one day your abuser will really face justice, even here on earth.

  5. EM

    I had a very rough mother’s day – found out in the evening that on a recent business trip my husband had slipped up – stupid hotel TV in a foreign country had porn on (just a regular channel, he didn’t even have to look for it) and he gave in, being lonely, tired, and stressed. However, I was very thankful that we had already arranged for our kids to spend the night at their grandparents, so I could ugly cry as much as I wanted and we could talk it out without worrying about being interrupted. Obviously that won’t work for long term issues, but it might be a good thing to try if you know you need to have a really big discussion.

    I really think the Holy Spirit gave me a heads up that something was wrong. I could just tell that he was retreating from any real intimacy, just like he used to (I first found out about his porn use 4 years ago and he has committed to stopping). It’s hard to describe but I could feel it. I would really appreciate some prayer. He feels terrible about it and we had a great talk this morning and I felt the intimacy restored. But I feel very much like the enemy is trying to attack all the progress I’ve made – that it was somehow my fault because I’ve been standing up for myself more, and that drove him away from feeling close to me. I know that isn’t true (or even if it is true, the blame is on him, not me) but it’s hard to fight that feeling. I sobbed so hard this morning telling him that my biggest fear is that if I am difficult or demanding, I won’t be loved. I need to remember that Jesus loves me so much that He died for me, and nothing is more difficult than that.

    I do hope that my husband will let the boys know about his struggle when they are a little older, so they know they can always come to him if they need to. His parents never talked about porn with him, and he was a sitting duck when he got to college and had a computer in his dorm room. He is a good man and never would have sought out porn by going to a store and buying it. I am so angry that it has become so accessible. Sigh.

    • Phil

      EM – you have my prayer. Please know from first hand experience as a sex addict that his porn use does not have anything to do with you. There is nothing you did or will do to cause him to use porn. Porn is the devil’s weapon and your husband made a choice. He must now overcome that temptation which can become harder and harder each time he uses. So my prayer is not just for you but for him as well. May you and your husband find healing – Amen. As an fyi I stay in hotels by myself fairly frequently. I choose not to turn the TV on. Yep thats right. And I dont miss it and it works.

      • EM

        Thanks Phil, I appreciate your prayers.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, EM, I’m so sorry! But really, don’t blame yourself. Often it’s just when things are getting better that there’s a slipup. You’re changing the dynamic in your marriage, and in a time of flux, stress can increase. It doesn’t mean you were wrong. It’s just that the route to health is often rocky.

      It sounds like God was making provision for you, though, and that you’re dealing with it now. I did say a prayer for you, EM. I am sorry.

      • EM

        Thank you so much for replying, Sheila. I first found your blog when I found out 4 years ago and it gave me a lifeline to hold onto when I felt the world crumbling under my feet.

        I’m not sure how to go forward. I don’t want to make too big a deal out of it and get him stuck in shame. Especially because I really do love and forgive him! But I don’t want to move on and just hope for the best either. He’s not really the type to go to counseling, and overall he’s been doing so well I’m not sure it’s necessary. He did recently confess his past porn use to our newly married group. I was so proud of him for that because he’s a super private person! But I need to see some action on his part to show me that he’ll do whatever it takes to keep this from happening again.

        My thought today is that I will ask him to commit to praying with me every single day. This is an area we have always struggled in because it’s so intimate and that’s tough for him, and I’ve never been one to push him. But I think that would help normalize spiritual intimacy, give us a regular time to be honest about how we are doing, and invite the Holy Spirit into our lives every day. Plus a time to really connect because he is so busy with work and that isn’t likely to change. Any thoughts?

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          I like that idea a lot! It’s so important to pray together everyday, and often people run away from prayer when they know there’s something wrong in their lives. Praying makes you confront what’s really happening, strengthens you, and does grow you closer together. I think that’s great!

  6. Anggie

    My husband has been addicted to porn since before our marriage. The problem is that he refuses counseling and continues with this. He blames me for porn use suggesting that if I had taken care of myself in the physical department, he would not have been tempted. Every argument is my fault. At the end everything is my fault. He had an affair recently with a girl half his age and also shifted the blame on me saying I had been distant and cold so he was easily tempted. He has not worked for 20 years so he has plenty of time to indulge in such vices.

    I have been the only breadwinner for the past 2 decades. Due to my foolishness and church teaching that couples must have joint accounts, I agreed to this arrangement but my husband has taken out a lot of money over the years without telling me what its being used for, as a result we are not really prepared for retirement. I was planning to retire in 5 years time but now looks like I cannot as we don’t have enough savings. I am responsible for every expense in the family which I am not resentful of but I hate the way my husband has taken advantage of me.

    My daughter knows about the affair and has become very rebellious. She will scream at both my husband and me whenever she gets angry and is rude and disrespectful.

    I am not sure how much I should disclose to her. Our marriage is a sham and there is no intimacy affection or love. I realized that my husband is not interested to work at the marriage. I too no longer want to reconcile with him at any level. I feel that at some point I would need to warn my daughter about men like my husband so that she will look out for red flags when dating.

    Because I see no future in our marriage, I have started a secret savings for my daughter’s and my future. This includes bonuses I received from my company, which my husband is ignorant about. If my husband ever finds out about the funds, he will think up of something to spend the money on. He just views me as a money vending machine and probably stays in the marriage for financial security and gain.

    I read an article recently and it was from a Christian viewpoint that if the husband is the one who is staying at home and taking care of the children then he should be entitled to allowance, etc, and equally share in the assets, just like a wife would be if she was the one who stayed at home. He chose not to work and look after my daughter. Although he has done a good job in raising her, he has been a horrible and irresponsible husband. Am I supposed to be letting him spend my earnings as he likes whilst he indulges in porn, women etc. I don’t trust him to look after me in my old age. For now I cannot leave the marriage but maybe in the future there is some hope.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, Anggie, that’s just awful! I’m so sorry. Do you have a counsellor that you can talk to, or someone who can help you with next steps? It sounds like your husband really needs a wake up call, and really needs to “reap what he sows” so that he understands the damage he is doing. And I’m sorry that this is affecting your relationship with your daughter, too. But maybe she’s angry at you because she thinks that you are enabling it? Have you talked to her about it from that vantage point? That may help. Again, I’m so sorry.

  7. christinachaff

    It is true “Parenting experts often say the best thing you can do for your kids is work on and have a good marriage.” Thanks for sharing the post!

  8. J. Parker

    I just want to add my personal story for this questioner. My husband and I had an awful marriage when our kids were young, but older than yours. They were toddler/preschool/early elementary when all this was happening, and I was sure they’d remember it all.

    But we worked on our relationship, revived it with God’s help, and ended up with a great (though still not perfect) marriage. And years later, I said something about when our marriage was terrible…and my high-school aged son looked at like I had horns on my head. “When was that?” He honestly didn’t remember those years, because we’d replaced them with new memories for him…of parents who argued sometimes but loved each other unequivocally.

    I’m not saying that some kids don’t remember such things—they might. But we can worry so much about this and what our children pay the most attention to is who we’ve become. And that day, I got to tell my child a story of God’s redemption.

    May God bring your marriage to thriving!


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