Is marriage reconciliation bad for the kids?


Reconciliation Child


For years I have been under the impression that reconciliation for divorced couples was the ultimate success story.  I’ve whooped and hollered when a divorcing couple has reconciled. I’ve patted them on the back, high-fived the wife, and given the husband a fist bump.

So why would I even hint that reconciliation might be hurtful for the kids? Because I’ve seen how children are damaged when a couple reconciles before they are ready. So while I still believe in reconciliation, I’ve had to change my understanding of what parents need to do to make reconciliation work for the children.

My story

When my husband moved back home the first time, our pastor was excited. It had been just a phase, he said. He was sure my husband would be fine now that he understood how important his family was to him. After my husband moved out a second time, the pastor still held firm that it was just temporary. He gave me all kinds of advice about how I should be treating my wayward husband and what I needed to do when he returned.

During all of this moving back and forth, my mind was encumbered with the relationship between my husband and me. My mind was so cluttered that I really didn’t think about what this thing called “reconciliation” was doing to my children.

Negative effects of reconciliation on children

Down through the years of ministering to and working with the children in separated and divorcing families, I’ve witnessed how reconciliation has affected the children. Here are just a few of the ways:

  • Many times when a reconciliation happens prematurely, the children get confused or even angry because it seems to them their feelings are not considered in the reconciliation process.
  • Perhaps the kids have gotten used to the schedule and now the other parent moves back home and things change again. Other times the children might have become more responsible but the parent who has been out of the home doesn’t realize the changes that have taken place.
  • In some families the kids have gotten out of control due to lack of appropriate discipline. The parent moves back home and becomes the disciplinarian. The kids reject the discipline, and this further complicates the reconciliation process.

A sobering thought for most couples is, the longer the separation, the longer the reconciliation. Many times an outside source of help such as a pastor or counselor needs to be sought.

For one family that had been separated for several years, the teenage daughter went from being the “woman of the house” to being treated like a little kid again. She had had the dad’s undivided attention for several years. Now she had to share him with her mother. The mother struggled knowing exactly where she fit. She had expected to waltz right back into the family even though things and people had changed.

In another family there had been spousal abuse. The dad had been out of the picture for quite some time when the couple decided to try again. The teen son was instinctively protective of his mother. He didn’t trust the dad’s temper. The dad no longer “fit” in the family.

What does reconciliation mean?

An article on Crosswalk about reconciliation talks about developing boundaries when reconciling. It says more hurt can happen if boundaries are not developed. The article goes on to say,

“When deciding whether to take back a person asking for forgiveness and requesting a second chance, consider all factors of safety. Emotional. Physical. Mental. Spiritual. Think not only in terms of self but also in terms of others involved such as children.”

5 situations in which reconciliation hurts the children

But we’re so happy that a couple is getting back together that we don’t stop to think about the relational and family issues that need to be addressed. Now keep in mind that every family’s situation is different, but here are some reasons I’ve observed that couples might reconcile before they are ready. There are many more reasons (good and bad) that a couple might reconcile than what is included in this list.

  1. A couple reconciles on the spur of the moment. After a special family event or a family    crisis, they decide on a whim to move back in with each other.
  1. One person mistakenly thinks the other person has miraculously changed.
  1. One partner coerces the other back into the relationship by making outlandish promises he or she can’t keep.
  1. One partner had an affair and, after the separation, the newfound relationship faltered. The partner at fault realizes his or her mistake and wants to jump right back into the marriage.
  1. One partner starts dating, and the other partner gets jealous and wants to reconcile.

Helping the parents prepare the children

So parents and all involved need to think in terms of how the reconciliation is going to affect the children. Here are tips to pass on to the reconciling parents to help make reconciliation less difficult for the children:

  • Help parents realize that even though it’s said, “kids are resilient,” children need time to adjust to changes.
  • Generally it is not a good plan for parents to make a sudden decision to live together again. More than likely what brought the couple to the point of separating has to be investigated and resolved before progress can be made in the relationship.
  • Some kids will sabotage the parents’ relationship by arguing, fighting, and/or being disrespectful to one or both parents. Many of these kids can see that nothing has been resolved, and they intuitively know the relationship is not going to survive.
  • Give the kids a timeline of what is going to happen when. If the couple is going to date for a few months, let the kids know.
  • Encourage the parent who left, to “date” the kids. In other words, the parent needs to give the kids some one-on-one time. And in many situations each parent needs to spend one-on-one time with each child.
  • When the couple does decide to renew their marriage vows, help the children to understand what the new rules are going to be. What will this new family look like? Everyone has changed, feelings have changed, new friends have entered the picture, and routines and schedules might have changed. Everyone needs to be aware of all the way things are different.
  • Encourage the couple to pray together with the kids and ask God to intervene and lead them in reconciliation.
  • Encourage the couple to worship together with their children as a family.

Those of us who minister in divorce recovery programs know that reconciliation is possible. I run DivorceCare at my church and have seen several marriages restored. It is possible. I believe there is rejoicing in heaven when Christian couples reconcile.

What has been your experience in reconciliation?


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9 thoughts on “Is marriage reconciliation bad for the kids?

  1. Respectfully, ALL valid points to be weighed carefully when considering reconciliation or during the process of reconciling. Some of the same dynamics are present in intact marriages, where one of the parents is away for work for extended periods of time like in military deployments. Even more so in combining step parents and children. Awareness and sensitivity is critically inportant. From a Biblical standpoint, God desires ALL marriages to be reconciled, IF possible. Cean Hollis-Smith

    • Absolutely everything needs to be weighed carefully. And yes God does want marriages to be reconciled but many people fail to realize that reconciliation is a process for many kids, not all situations, but for many. Thanks for the the reminder that “awareness and sensitivity is critically important.”

  2. This is an excellent and timely article, pertinent to my family situation! I look forward to discussing this article with my teenagers! Stay tuned!

  3. Thank you. This is a timely article. It is so easy to get caught up in the couple that we forget the whole picture. I am so glad that there people who are working realistically with people who are broken and the healing is more than just living together again. Marriage is so much more than that and family is worth the process and time it takes to come to agreement on the problems involved, not just erasing outward symptoms. Our God is a wonderful God. He works on the total person. We need to always be conscious of the whole and work with him.

  4. When a divorce happens it is rare when there are no financial losses for either parent. One has to beware of remarrying solely for financial reasons. If the underlying relational issues are not truly healed then resentment between spouses is merely waiting for a spark to reignite old flames. Children can also carry the resentment forward, never truly forgiving the non custodial parent for leaving them in financial straits, thus allowing the child to burden themselves with adult concerns about financial insecurities once again.

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