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What does your marriage teach your children?

The sound you’re hearing is me opening up a can of worms. Sorry. Well, not really; this discussion needs to happen.

Recently I worked with a married couple who came to see me as a last ditch effort to stave off divorce. They each had strayed from the marriage but wanted to work through the betrayals and stay together.

Before we started our intensive nine hours of therapy sessions together, I challenged them with this question, “Are you wanting to work through this and stay together because it’s the best thing to do for your kids, or are you wanting to stay together because you want to be with your spouse?”

Their answer to this question will largely influence how the marriage progresses.

There are definitely times when it’s easier to do things for the sake of the kids — give up a career to stay home, sacrifice sleep in order to care for their needs, among many other things.

But the simple fact is this: any marriage that remains alive solely for the sake of the kids is only delaying separation until the kids are out of the house.

To me, there is a fundamental truth:

Your marriage is a prototype for the marriage your children will have.

This may hit you like a punch in the gut, but it’s true.

Photo by Brent Moore

You’re left with two possible courses of action:

1. Work harder to portray a loving, vibrant marriage that isn’t really existent.

2. Do what’s necessary to actually live in a loving and vibrant marriage.

Now you may be thinking, How do I do this when there is no way my husband would ever seek professional help, let alone be willing to talk about the gulf between us? My response — seek out help on your own. There are some tremendous benefits from therapy and help, even when you’re alone in the process.

If you’re unsure how to even begin this process on your own, here’s a couple of guides that will help:

If professional help isn’t what you’re looking for, pick up some books on relationships. Read blogs (you could start with Simple Marriage, wink, wink). Talk to a good friend.

The point is, DO SOMETHING!

Expecting things to change without any effort on your part is the epitome of insanity — doing the same things over and over while expecting different results.

Photo by Jaci Perkopec

Let’s say you don’t want to take too drastic a step. Here are a couple of other things you can do that will influence your life and marriage.


As odd as it sounds, cleaning up the world around you really will impact your mood and feelings. Spend some time and clear out the clutter. Tsh has several guides already written on this. Start small, say a drawer, closet, or a shelf. I’ll bet that once you get started, you’ll want to keep going.


This may seem like common sense, but talk with your spouse. This doesn’t have to be a deep, heart-to-heart conversation. Just talk. About the kids, work, your day, vacations. The goal is laying a better foundation for future conversations that may be tougher.

Walk and talk.

This is a great strategy for any marriage tension. Rather than having to sit face-to-face and look each other in the eye, walk and talk. Be sure the walk is at least 20 minutes, and walk side by side.

Face-to-face conversation can be threatening, intimidating, or it can shut down communication, depending on the intensity. A walk dissipates the anxious energy that is part and parcel of talking about things that matter with people that matter.

Say “I’m sorry.”

Photo by CP Storm

The phrases “I’m sorry,” “I apologize,” and “Forgive me” are so easily said that they’ve lost their meaning. Ever get an apology that left you wondering whether or not the person apologizing had a clue about what hurt your feelings?

Rather than taking ownership of everything in the relationship (i.e., sacrificing yourself for the sake of the relationship), own up to what’s yours and let your partner own up to what’s theirs.

You do not need to plead for your partner to restore your sense of self by either asking (begging) for forgiveness or to accept your apology. You don’t have to continually apologize for past mistakes. Say it, take responsibility for yourself going forward, and let your actions show you mean what you say.

I once heard someone say their marriage wasn’t worth fighting for. The response I heard in return was, “That’s because you haven’t fought for it. Something’s only worth fighting for after it’s been fought for.”

What do you think? Is your marriage worth fighting for?

Reading Time:

3 minutes





  1. Tracy

    So true, if you both don’t own up for the mistakes made and both really put the effort into working together nothing can save a marriage.

    As far as “Your marriage is a prototype for the marriage your children will have.” for me my marriage was the complete and utter exact opposite of what my parents have. But I think my marriage turned out to be exactly like the kind my STBEXs parents had/have (not sure if their divorce is final or not :)).

    It takes dedication and work to make a marriage work, and work well, on both sides.
    .-= Tracy´s last blog ..Truthful Tuesday – Let Go =-.

  2. Trisha

    You’re so right about the decluttering. We recently decluttered our master bedroom and it has made a world of difference! No kids books lying about, shoes under the bed or magazines cluttering up the night stands. Just simple, framed photos on all surfaces. It looks grand and we feel so much better.
    .-= Trisha´s last blog ..All Good Things Must Come to an End =-.

    • Corey - Simple Marriage

      Trisha- Decluttering the master bedroom is actually a great step to spicing up romance as well. Nothing will kill the mood more than heading to bed while stepping around piles of stuff and seeing other clutter in the corners.

  3. Astyn

    I really liked this post. It is good for me to remember that my children will pattern their relationships after our marriage. I know this is true because I have done the same with my parents and my husband did the same with his parents. We had such great role models of marriage and relationships, and I want my children to be the benefits of great examples as well. I am off to call my husband at work just to say hello.

  4. Sandra

    Great topic. My own marriage was certainly the opposite of my parents, they are still married after 49 years and still hold hands. I wasn’t so fortunate. After my daughter was born, my ‘x’ wasn’t really interested in being part of the “family”. He didn’t cheat, lie, drink, or beat us. He just wasn’t part of US. Didn’t participate in family activities, no dinners, christmas parties, birthday parties, outings, nada.
    I decided to divorce, because the example of FAMILY she was seeing was not what I wanted her to remember. Now, we may be a ‘fractured’ family, but she isn’t learning that benign neglect is acceptable.

    • Jen

      I would love to chat more with you about your divorce. I am feeling the same but yet a little different.

  5. JJ

    It’s all fine but, there is one option – unfortunately in most cases the only possible one – that’s not stressed in this article: break up. In my honest opinion in (too say the least) multiple cases, any solution other then a break up is impossible. Whatever your efforts you won’t enforce your marriage to become the better one. I got to know over 300 couples in my “career” and only 3-4 of them were build on the right foundations! As N. Branden says: good relations are build around positive aspects, such as: common goals, views, positive attitude, and above all level of self-esteem.

    What you write here is of course true, and you aren’t risking much writing this “common truths” (talk, declutter etc) – it’s all good if people are together for a right reasons… .which unfortunately is an exeption. With people with completely different levels of self-esteem and goals in life, views on important things such as: reson, love, children, money etc – you can’t do nothing. In some cases – of realy loving relationships, build on “good and clean” foundation, that “slipped” a little bit off the track, this ideas will work, for most it’s going to be more sophisticated and advanced, yet still superficial technique of covering up, and self delusion.
    It’s truth of course, that in most of the cases children will model their lifes after their parents, but divorce is not a bad thing for some couples, don’t you think?

    Sorry for my english – it’s not my first language, but I’m very familiar with the subject matter and wanted to share my experiences with it.

    .-= JJ´s last blog ..7 Nawyków Dobrego Żywienia =-.

    • Corey - Simple Marriage

      You are correct in that this idea will not work in every case and in some instances, staying together is MUCH more complicated than I layout here. In these instances it’s best to seek out help from a trained professional. Perhaps it is best to break up, I just hope couples will give everything they’ve got before they reach that decision.

      One study I know of found couples in the midst of crisis and then interviewed them again 5 years later. 2/3 of the couples that stayed together rated themselves as much better, overall happier, and glad they stuck it out. The point is, marriage is worth fighting for.

      Thanks for your comment.
      .-= Corey – Simple Marriage´s last blog ..6 Steps to a Simple and Successful Financial Life =-.

  6. jenni lee

    the movie Fireproof is a great idea for those who are struggling or NOT struggling!

  7. Danielle

    My marriage is definitely worth fighting for. I think one of the biggest challenges people face as they enter into marriage these days is the way that marriage is portrayed in the media. We’ve come to think that it is a fairy tale, filled with love and rainbows. The truth is, it can be those things, but only with a lot of work, communication and compromise.

    Marriage, staying in a long-term monogamous relationship, is a choice. That kind of love is one we must choose again and again. Each day I choose to love my spouse, even if he left his pajamas on the bathroom floor, again!

    • Caro

      Danielle, I agree 100% and often tell people that I support divorce because if there isn’t a choice, staying together doesn’t mean anything. I choose my husband every day. And let me tell you, some of those days are a challenge to both of us.

  8. kim

    I once heard Dr. James Dobson say that the best advice he could give about raising children was to put your marriage first. Something to think about?

    • Corey - Simple Marriage

      Absolutely great advice. There’s even some new research coming out confirming this idea. Put your marriage first and everyone in the family benefits.

    • JJ

      I’m 100% with Dr. Dobson on that one. It’s something I’d call a law of consequence – the best thing a man can do for his children is to truly love a woman, and the best thing woman can do is love a man.

  9. Denise C.

    Great post!

    As long as the marriage is healthy (not abusive, violent) the marriage is worth fighting for.
    My husband and I are in a rough spot right now, and are working together to get back on track. When we are happy, everyone around us (kids, friends, family) benefit. =)

    • Sandra

      But a marriage is not necessarily healthy just because no one is abused or violent. Complete and total dis-interest in a ‘family’ life (what I termed ‘benign neglect’) does nothing but show the children that it is okay to have a parent that lives in the same house, but doesn’t care to participate. Believe me, I tried and tried for years, but you can’t make someone interested.

      • JJ

        I agree with you.
        I – for one – don’t believe in healing marriages that shouldn’t happen in the first place. And I don’t believe we neccessarily need to stay with one partner for our whole life. Someone once said, that we’re with someone because we feel better with him then being alone – I have to agree. When we don’t feel good with someone, when we are criticized, neglected etc – there is no point of continuing the reliationship. On the other hand – just my opionion – if someone “didn’t grow up” as a human being, and is not responsible for himself, then there is no partner in the world to make him happy. First the one have to be happy with himself, then with someone else.

        Again – just my personal opinion


  10. Lisa @ WellGrounded Life

    It is wonderful to read your articles because they challenge us to put in the work, effort, humility, and time necessary for a great marriage– and it is the best gift you can give your children, in my opinion. I love the quote (similar to the Dobson sentiment) that “The best thing you can do for your children is to love your spouse.”

    I just read an interesting article on an expat living in France and her take on how the French vs Americans view childrearing and marriage– her point was that American women straddled themselves with an all-consuming obsession over how to raise their children well (transformed every room of their homes into baby-proof romper rooms, read countless books on the topic, signed up for umpteen mom and me classes, and traded away any semblance of their previous adult life for this new role as mother)– her argument was that what is sacrificed (a healthy meaningful ADULT level marriage and personal growth – not to mention a home that all members felt was equally comfortable and appropriate) was to the detriment of being a strong, well rounded, healthy Mom in the first place. It gave me a lot of food for thought!

  11. The Pursuit of Mommyness

    Put God first, Spouse second and children 3rd.

    AND wake up every day thinking, “what can I do to make my spouse happy today?”

    If both husband and wife are doing this every day, despite how difficult it can be sometimes…the marriage can last and sustain.

    It’s the selfishness that destroys.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking article!

    • Corey - Simple Marriage

      Actually I would alter this ranking slightly.

      Put God first, self second, spouse 3rd, children 4th. By self being higher up the list, I’m not proposing an individualistic, selfish approach, instead I believe that you must take care of yourself in order to have anything to give or serve to others.

      I don’t think my spouse is there to take care of me. I have to do this on my own – that way when I’m a better person, and she’s doing to same for herself, what we choose to share and give to each other is more whole.

    • JJ

      BTW: what if someone is not religious? Anyway – for me it’s a kind of an organic thing. Sort of a law that everything comes from inside. It’s not about what’s first and what’s second when you’re in the relationship. It’s about what it is BEFORE. For some reason – in my experience – everything comes down what kind of person you are. You have to love yourself first to be capable of give love to another human being – be it your spouse, children. If you don’t love yourself before you go into the relationship with someone, then – I believe you’ll never be able to love someone else. S. Covey (religious guy btw)in the “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” identified three levels in human development: Dependency, Independency, Interdependency. I believe – it’s the result of my observations – most of the people are trying to go from the phase one: dependency, right into to the phase no3: interdepenency, passing over the phase no2: independency. In this situations theire relationship are doomed to be incomplete. The question some psychologists and psychoterapist are trying to anwer is: is it worth fixing something if it’s foundation is wrong? But my take on this article is, that we’re talking about those relationships build on the healhy foundations. Another thing – just my observation again – I don’t like the use of words: “fight, struggle” related to any relationships, if it doesn’t mean: fighting together against something. Not fighting against each other.

      I think in most of the cases, people are trying to simplify the things that are complicated in it’s nature, and complicate those really simple. In the majority of cases, ust by looking how people are together you can tell how good a couple they’re: if they smile a lot, if their convesation flows ( one listens and the other talks), their body language (if they’re trying to be close, touching each other) – etc etc.

      I think one of the most interesting people in the “couples therapy” field is J. Gottman, who can predict with 91% accuracy if marriage will end up in divorce in the long run. But again – it might be very delusional, as not every “bad” relationship ends up in break up. In my country – due to the tradition and religion – marriage itself (regardless if couples are fighting or not) is sacred, and saving it is the priority, not the quality of it.
      And don’t get me wrong: every couples have arguments from time to time. It’s not about the arguments and differences itself, but the way they’re being solved.

      Uff:) This subject is very complex and depends on so many conditions…..

  12. Dustin | Engaged Marriage

    Great post, Corey! Our marriages MUST come first, just behind God in my opinion. I grew up in a totally whacked out household full of abuse, and in hindsight I see that my Mom probably stuck it out in what she perceived to be the best interest of her children. I can also see now that this was a terrible mistake, and I am lucky to have a healthy marriage and family life after having such a screwed-up model!

    Maybe that’s why I get so fired up about sharing the goodness of marriage and how we can work to make it as great as possible…

  13. Meredith from Penelope Loves Lists

    Love the candor here. I’ve always lived by the mantra: you get the love you give. It’s true 100% of the time, but it mostly is a true statement.

    It tells me I need to take the time to be as loving as I want to be loved.

  14. Anony

    I don’t know…don’t judge someone’s relationship till you’ve been in it.

    I have drug my husband to marriage counseling numerous times, and even forgiven after an affair. Now, after children, he has confessed to me that the “one time” that I knew about wasn’t really one time, but that he “loves me and wants to be with me.” pretty much all my trust for him is gone. I have no desire to go back thru any counseling, yet i don’t see that dragging the kids through a divorce would do any good would do….so we are at an impasse right now.

    Am I staying for the kids? yes and no… I don’t really know what the future holds…

    • Corey - Simple Marriage

      My heart goes out to you and to any others who are in similar circumstances. The best counsel I could give is do what you need to do for you. If that means you go to therapy on your own, then go. If that means you choose to leave, then leave. If he truly wants to be with you, the more you take care of you, the more pressure it puts on him to be with you.

      God bless on your journey and decisions. I’d be happy to assist in any way I can.

  15. Kiwi Chick

    It is very true that your children view marriage from what they see and experience. Both of my sons are very anti-marriage after having seen their parents do battle and ultimately separate.

  16. Melanie at Parenting Ink

    Wow–thanks for your candor.
    We’ve definitely had highs and lows in our marriage, but the one thing that my husband always says to me is, “We’re a team, remember?” This team mentality, us together against whatever’s the culprit (even if it’s internal), is powerful.
    I would add that turning off the t.v. and other useless distractions after our kids are in bed can create meaningful time for us as a couple.

  17. Charis

    As my own wedding anniversary rolls around tomorrow, I am encouraged to read this post. Having our first child this past year has changed so many things in our relationship and not all of them have been good. BUT… this IS worth fighting for and this year we are both committed to the fight. Thanks for this post.

  18. Jen

    Great post! I think you make a very valid point about the influence our parents’ marriages have on us – whether they were good or bad. My parents ultimately divorced when I was in early university and my sister in late highschool. Thankfully I was old enough to have a fairly realistic idea of what they were doing wrong (and right) and my husband (whom I have been with since Highschool) and have discussed their choices on more than a few occasions. I think I learned a lot of things from them, even if it was not to do! I am never happier in my marriage than when we have gotten past a conflict or a rough spot by communicating and working hard to fighting for the things that make “us” great!

  19. Becca

    I have talked to several people just today about this…when you get to the point you are only staying for the kids, is that helping them learn wrong/right messages about a marriage? I don’t want them to think this way of life is ok. still sorting through all this mess, but I just don’t know what to do with all the hurts and abandonment even while we live together to figure it out. I want my kids to see me happy and loving. That seems not to be happening. trying counseling, but it almost feels too late. Communication is a huge factor for us…but neither one of us trust the other currently for good reason…one day at a time.

  20. Anonymous

    I believe that finding a good counselor is of utmost importance.

    In my experience, a good counselor is serious, they listen for a long time without speaking into a situation, and they never turn you against others, but help you to see yourself and the ways you yourself can change. I have to agree with Corey- you have to take care of yourself the most, and try to change yourself (be changed) the most… even if you’re being mistreated. If you are being mistreated, perhaps a counselor could help you discover why you allow others to mistreat you. You can still be the one to change, in any situation. Your humility will make the biggest impression on the other person. I’m fortunate to have a very humble spouse and I can’t think of a better quality than that…
    .-= Anonymous´s last blog ..Thoughts on Reflection, Continued: Margaret’s Musings =-.

  21. sharongilo

    Very good post! As a marriage therapist for many years, I do think that most couples will need some professional help when they reach the point of thinking they’re staying together for the kids … it’s so, so complicated and therefore tremendously helpful to have an objective therapist helping you though the difficult discussions.
    If you’re trying on your own, do read and read and reflect individually and then together on your thoughts. My little book, “A Short Guide to a Happy Marriage” (Boston Globe #1 pick) can help you along in the following way: if you and your spouse cannot commit to implementing, at least some of the behaviors, it is doubful the marriage will evolve in a positive way. Come by and visit @

  22. SeattleGirl

    Forgive my bluntness, but this post and the comments all seem to use such harsh, action-oriented phrases…”Marriage is work”…it’s “worth fighting for”…you have to “put effort into it.” Is it naive of me to think that when you’ve found the right person, being married to him or her just isn’t as hard as those phrases indicate? Are we not choosing our partners well to begin with? Are too many people simply dating for x years, and then deciding that the next logical step must be marriage since after a certain period of time, you either break up or get married?

    (As an aside: I’ve never understood couples breaking up and getting back together or going through counseling before getting married; it seems to me that if there’s something there to cause a break-up, there’s surely something that’s going to be a problem later on in their marriage.)

    My husband and I started dating in college and married eight years later (after spending part of that time dating long distance while figuring out our careers). We’ve been married for nine years and have journeyed through most of the major stresses in life: several moves, buying our first house, my father’s death, starting a business, raising a 2yo, and now, battling my stage III cancer. My marriage has been one of the easiest and most supportive things in my life. I don’t feel like we have to wake up and think “what should I do for my partner today?” before doing it, we just DO it.

    I see so many marriages around me that (to my outsider eyes) are still strong and loving, and since divorce is pretty rare among my circle of friends (we’re all in our mid 30s with 5-15 years of marriage), I just don’t get how a couple changes to the point that one member wants to leave. Are people changing and growing apart or are we just not asking enough questions to *really* learn about one another before saying I Do?

    If I come across as naive or judgmental, I hope you’ll blame it on my chemo brain. It just seems to me that if we choose well to begin with, being with a partner and wanting the best for our relationship as we mature should be the easy part.

    • Corey - Simple Marriage

      Hey SeattleGirl- You don’t come across harsh or judgmental, or even naive.

      Instead, I would think that your experience is also quite common, just not talked about often or referred to in this post. For some couples, while the marriage is still work, it’s just so natural that they don’t even notice the work or effort they make towards and for their marriage. And in your case, it sounds like you both have been supportive of each other through life’s struggles, which I would term working on the marriage for each other. Going through a crisis, especially with someone you love, makes the relationship bond more and at a deeper level.

      Blessings on your journey and healing. And your marriage. Thanks for the comment.
      .-= Corey – Simple Marriage´s last blog ..Ask The Readers: Sex Is … =-.

    • Sandra

      I’m not sure that I would characterized you as naive or judgemental, but I think that unless you ‘walk a mile in my shoes’ it is easy to “decide” that I didn’t aske enough questions? or how does a couple change? It is human nature to change and evolve. It is the fortunate couples that make the effort, do the work, or have the luck to change together. But please remember, no matter how hard one person tries, you can’t force someone to care.

      God bless, and you are in our prayers.

      • Judy

        I have been “amening” these comments but your last comment hit me between the eyes because a one-sided relationship I now believe is not fixable. I am turning 54 tomorrow and have been married to my high-school boyfriend for 32 years and it wasn’t until last year that I admitted to myself that he simply does not love me the way I love him. He doesn’t love himself, our children or our grandchildren the way I can pour love all over my friends and family. I have spent my entire life trying to fix us but finally had to face the cold facts that he is so closed up inside his self-loathing that only a God-given miracle could make him smile. I have always worked extremely hard at making our home a happy place for our family but last year realized that his attitude was changing me in a very negative way. Our youngest will finish college next year and this house can be very quiet. At this point I am so torn between finding someone that is capable of loving me just because I’m loveable or staying to the end and trying to keep smiling for other reasons. I would like to know what it is like to truly be loved before I die because I am positive that tomorrow will be just like yesterday no matter how hard I try to fix us.

        This site has helped me to realize that I am not alone out here.

        God Bless Us One And All,


        • JJ

          Very sad but true.
          I don’t believe in “changing” in relationship.
          In this kind of cases, we’re dealing with two possibilities:
          a/ Most common of all. Both parties are not responsible = they can’t love. In this case we’re dealing with a kind of relationship I like to call ‘negative’. Why? Because both couples are attracted to the other by similarities of their weaknesses. In this case if one of them/both grow up, the relationship is finished. The only way to keep it going is to stay at the same level of symbiotic co-existence.
          b/ Very rare. Relationship is build around positivities in both parties, but still – they don’t have to neccessarily be “made” for each other. This relationship can also “burn-out”.
          c/ Aboslutely rare. two responsible, loving persons are making a decision of “joining forces” in their journey through life
          If we want to change our life we start with our selves, but in many cases the bigest roadblock is our second half. It’s very unfortunte that people spend so much energy in trying to resurect something that in reality never existed. Or existed only in their heads.
          Another unfortunate thing is waiting with decision until children grow up. It’s making sure that they’ll repeat exactly the same error in the future (there are exeptions – but very rare talking out of my experience)

          All the best


  23. Megan

    As a newlywed, I really enjoyed this article. I am fortunate to be involved a new, yet positive marriage but sometimes it is easy to become complacent and feels the effect of the complacency. The idea of decluttering really isn’t one I hadn’t thought of yet and it really makes sense. I thought this article had ideas that every marriage could benefit from, even a brand new one like mine. So thank you for bringing attention to ways that I can improve and grow as a spouse and partner.

  24. Danny Grubb

    I have been with my wife for 8 years (although we’ve only been married for <1 year). I saw cancer take my wife's dignity one embarrassment at a time. We stayed together when infertility tried to steal our spirit over and over again. Then I saw my wife take her dignity back one fight at a time. I was there when after 6 years of failure after failure we finally had our twin girls in March of 2009. During all of this we had literally every reason to just give up. The strain that those two things can do to a relationship separately is bad enough, but in combination?

    But to my surprise something quite different happened. We both got more flexible with our expectations, we both became more patient, and we learned how to support one another when we needed it most. We fought and we became stronger.

    Its been nearly a year since the birth of our twins and I love my wife more than ever. If something ever tried to challenge our bond again I know that we would both fight to keep our relationship strong.

    Thanks for the great post.
    .-= Danny Grubb´s last blog ..Prepared Dads: 3 Steps to Keep Your Home Secure =-.

  25. paige

    I have been married for 17 years, I am 40 and my husband is 41. We have 4 beautiful daughters, 16,14,12, and 8. While we have gone through some tough and rocky times in our marriage we have never ever contemplated divorce…we just always knew “and this to shall pass” we knew inherently when we met that we were soul mates and right for each other. We love unconditionally each other and our daughters. I feel very blessed because most days it is very easy to be married and honestly and these days are few it is honestly tough to be married…but we never ever think about leaving we just say…you need a little space I’ll go here…you go there…and if resoect is there then space will be given. Our daughters see us argue but they see us love more than anything and through our arguments they see the love we have for one another. I hope everyone can have this…it is not perfect but it is what makes us happy and there is so much love.

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