When you decide to both stay and go!
‘Parenting marriage’ describes two people who are married or in a long-term relationship, but no longer share a romantic or sexual connection. Rather than following the traditional path of separation and divorce, they make a conscious mutual choice to stay together, usually based on a desire to project and raise their children together.
The optimal word here is choice. Rather than just “staying together for the children”, a parenting marriage is created by design, intended to build a healthy home for all the family.
When a marriage crisis reaches a breaking point, the process normally plays out with a process that leads to separation and divorce. However, the core component of a parenting marriage is to put the needs of the children front and centre.
This is a life changing situation for everyone involved. It is unquestionably more challenging when children are involved. Sometimes the unexpected legacy of divorce is children blame themselves for the breakdown in their parents’ relationship.
Parenting marriage is a creative alternative solution
In many cases, divorce is still the best solution. If there is contempt or any form of physical, emotional or psychological abuse or an ongoing and untreated addiction or compulsive sexual behaviour, then divorce is probably the best outcome to protect both the adults and children involved. The potential trauma for ongoing exposure to such a situation can be deeply harmful and is best avoided.
However, when these conditions are not present, divorce may not always be the best option. Often couples who have “fallen out of love” and no longer share a sexual or intimate connection, can still be best friends. In this situation they may choose to focus less on their own needs and more on giving their children the love, stability and security they need. These are the parents who are increasingly embracing an alternative approach in the form of a “parenting marriage”.
In the past two years divorce rates have been declining throughout the western world. This is partly due to the impact of Covid and the insecurity that has created. However, another significant factor is that more and more parents are seeking alternative creative solutions to the traditional divorce path.
Choosing a parenting marriage is a choice for a marital partnership without the romance or the sex, where parents remain together in various different ways, usually for the sake of the children. For friends and family looking in, not much will change. The couple would still get together as a family and attend school and family events. Maybe the only way to tell would be the different sleeping arrangements. However, in my experience that situation is often in place well before either divorce or a parenting marriage is ever contemplated.
There is no doubt that a parenting marriage can be challenging for the couple, but the benefits it can deliver to the children are immense. It ensures that all the family shares a stable and consistent experience together and that both parents are always present during the critical milestones in the lives of their children.
A parenting marriage is not for everyone
I’m well aware that this type of arrangement is not going to work for many couples. Sometimes the circumstances leading to the end of the marriage are just too overwhelming to enable any continued cohabitation.
When that is the case, another alternative is CO-PARENTING. With this model, the parents reach an agreement to live apart or divorce, but to raise their children together. Like a parenting marriage, effective co-parenting can offer children the stability and connection they most need for their own healthy development.
Thank you for all your creative solutions. I was so relieved to hear that we can give what we are doing a name and call it a parenting marriage without all the shame. It is so helpful to have this option. Thanks for helping us understand make this an effective reality.
Couple married for 15 years who chose a parenting marriage over divorce, Melbourne: 2020
Both of these solutions require couples to be grounded in their own emotional regulation and capable of exercising restraint and wisdom in their interactions. The ability to reduce stress and anxiety in themselves and engage in effective communication is critical and an important contribution to the behaviour their children emulate.
what do children really need?
After more than 40 years of attachment theory research, we know that what children need most is a secure base, together with predictable and attuned responses from their caregivers. They need to be confident that when they are in need of comfort, this is available in abundance and without conditions.
Whether you adopt the traditional solution of divorce or an alternative approach like a parenting marriage or co-parenting, or some combination of all three, what matters most is that your children experience the childhood they most deserve.
If you are at the crossroads and unsure how to proceed with your marriage or your approach to parenting, I can help you with counselling services to discern the best path forward and help you to make that happen in a way that works for you, your partner and especially your children.