You’re going through a difficult time in your marriage. You may have even tried relationship counseling but it doesn’t look like things will work out with your spouse. The question is: Should you stay together for the kids’ sake? Many experts believe you should.

“In my opinion,” says Dennis Neder, an ordained minister and author of Being a Man in a Woman’s World(Remington Publications, 2000), “the highest form of selfishness is to breed. After all, children don’t ask to be born. Parents choose to create little carbon copies of themselves. Thus, I believe that parents should stay together for the sake of the children.”

Laurie Moore, Ph.D., author of Creative Intimacy: A Practical Guide to Better Relationships (North Atlantic Books, 2001) andChoosing a Life Mate Wisely, strongly agrees. Moore, a psychotherapist and licensed marriage family therapist, also believes that couples should work out what she calls “practical lifestyle compatibility” issues before they have children.

That means, says Dr. Neder, that “parents need to know what they believe and stand for. This includes beliefs about religion, government and politics, family and work life.” They also should be fiscally and emotionally mature enough to support a family and be committed to raising that family. The trick, according to Dr. Neder, is proper planning and perspective.

“If couples would decide that they will raise their children as their primary responsibility, they would come to only one conclusion: staying together and agreeing to put the needs of their children before their own.”

If a couple can’t get along — even for the sake of the family — they should, at the very least, go out of their way to try and avoid confrontation, says Dr. Neder. While this is difficult for most people, he adds that children deserve this from their parents.

Repair Your Marriage With Baby Steps

When children are involved, try taking baby steps to keep the family together. Michele Weiner Davis, Ph.D., author of The Divorce Remedy: The Proven 7-Step Program for Saving Your Marriage (Simon & Schuster, 2001), teaches people how to set new goals in a marriage. She says that people can change their relationships, even without their partner’s cooperation. Here’s how:

  • Start by writing down three things you hope to change in your marriage. Writing, says Weiner Davis, starts the action process because you get “out of your head.” Written down, your wishes appear more real. They also offer a baseline to which you can refer in the days to come.
  • Focus on what you want in your marriage — not what’s missing. When you zero in on complaints you perpetuate problems, rather than solve them.
  • Translate your complaints into goals. Once you do that, you can come up with steps that you or your spouse can take to improve things.
  • Take it one step at a time. It’s natural to want to speed through the repair process. But change is a gradual process. You don’t go from being miserable to being intensely in love again overnight. Be happy with small improvements — and try to be positive.

What if All Else Fails?

Of course, it’s not a perfect world — not everyone can work out relationship differences. So, if children are suffering, Dr. Moore says it probably makes sense to split up.

In such cases, parents must come to an understanding over the raising of the children, says Dr. Neder. Both parents should spend time with the children, regardless of who has custody. He also says that it’s important for men and women who seriously date a divorced parent to consult with that child’s mother or father to discuss beliefs and expectations about child rearing. The goal, of course, is to minimize the emotional trauma that divorce can bring into a child’s life. While divorced parents may no longer enjoy life as a family, they still can enjoy the pleasure of watching their child grow — together.