How Do Kids Suffer in Dysfunctional Marriages?

BY: - 5 Jun '18 | Parenting

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Dr. Buckingham,

I am stuck in between a rock and a hard place in my marriage. My marriage is totally dysfunctional. My husband and I live like we are roommates and try our best to remain sane in our home. However, it is becoming more and more difficult. We are in constant conflict about our finances, parenting, intimacy and family functioning. He accuses me of being emotionally unstable because I have a history of depression. I cannot deny that I have ups and downs occasionally. I try my best to keep a positive mood, but sometimes my children do see me in a low place. I know that I have some challenges, but so does he. He is verbally aggressive toward our children occasionally and me often. We both know that the marriage is on its last leg, but believe that it is better for the kids to have two parents. I know that my marriage is doing something to my kids and I want to know what. How Do Kids Suffer in Dysfunctional Marriages?


Wife and Mother in Distress

Ask Dr. Buckingham

Dear Wife and Mother in Distress,

Unfortunately, your situation is too commonplace. There are thousands of married couples in your situation. They are trying to determine if it is better to remain married for their kids. While no one knows exactly how growing up in dysfunctional marriages impacts children mentally, many social scientists would argue that children who grow up in dysfunctional marriages are more likely to grow thinking that the dysfunction is normal. Children pay attention to models in their lives and encode their behavior.

Behavior that is seen is considered to be visual encoding and behavior that is heard is considered to be acoustic encoding. Children see and hear, and then try to make sense out of the information that they received. When they observe or hear dysfunctional behavior between the two people that they love the most it creates conflict because they have to assign meaning to the information. Given this, I believe that kids suffer the most by learning abnormal and unhealthy behavior from their models. The conflict that arises inside of them is something that they have to learn how to resolve and work through without turning to destructive means such as drugs, alcohol, violence or passive-aggressive behavior.

If we agree that kids learn from the models in their lives, we could also agree that kids who grow up watching their parents comfort and respect each other will more likely model the same behavior in their marriages. You have to ask yourself some tough questions such as, “Do I Want My Children to Have Two Parents, but Distorted Thinking About Marriage? Am I Giving My Children the Best Opportunity to become Healthy Adults? Is Stable Living Better than Healthy Living?


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The abovementioned questions are tough to answer so I highly recommend that you pay attention to your children and try to talk to them about how they feel. If they do not want to talk with you or lack the ability to articulate how they feel, please consider getting them some professional counseling. I believe that kids are very resilient and are capable of bouncing back after facing adversity. However, I also believe that it is best to create conditions where they do not have to fight against demons. An untainted or non-dysfunctional childhood is the best gift that you can give a child.

Best regards,

Dr. Buckingham

If you have questions for Dr. Dwayne Buckingham regarding relationships (married, single, etc), parenting, or personal growth and development, please send an email to

Disclaimer: The ideas, opinions, and recommendations contained in this post are not intended as a substitute for seeking professional counseling or guidance. Any concerns or questions that you have about relationships or any other source of potential distress should be discussed with a professional, in person. The author is not liable or responsible for any personal or relational distress, loss or damage allegedly arising from any information or recommendations in this post.

About the author

Dwayne Buckingham wrote 220 articles on this blog.

Dr. Dwayne L. Buckingham, author of Qualified, yet Single: Why Good Men Remain Single and Unconditional Love: What Every Woman and Man Desires in a Relationship, is a highly acclaimed international clinical psychotherapist, life coach, relationship and resiliency expert, motivational speaker and corporate consultant. He is also the President and Chief Executive Officer of R.E.A.L. Horizons Consulting Service, located in Silver Spring, Maryland. To learn more about Dr. Dwayne L. Buckingham visit his website at


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