Strong relationship is best legacy parents can leave their kids

Tuesday's report ("Marital strife hurts children's mental health") talked about how the negative effects of divorce can affect children.

However, more recent research has shown that it is parental conflict that has the biggest impact on the well-being of children, regardless of whether the parents get a divorce or remain married.

Children with depression and conduct disorders usually show indications of those problems pre-divorce.

In fact, the damage of parents staying married while constantly having unhealthy conflict is actually far worse than that of an amicable divorce.

Knowing this, we strongly urge couples to seek out resources that can help them at any stage in marriage.

Couples must work on their marriages even in good times.

There are programmes for young families that seek to deepen friendships, increase fondness and admiration, and build a culture of honour and respect.

If a couple is facing difficulties in their marriage, marriage therapy can help bring clarity to the issues they struggle with, and help them understand the emotional impact and consequences of their behaviour.

Through therapy, couples can learn about their differences and how to work together to meet each other's needs, as well as pick up better conflict management styles and ways of coping.

When couples are unwilling to accept influence from each other and remain in gridlock, therapy fails and relationships end in divorce.

Going for marriage closure therapy will help them deal with the emotional issues of the split, enabling them to go through it more amicably.

Marriage closure therapy guides couples to take responsibility for their part in the marriage and the split. It also helps them work out co-parenting, facilitate grieving and establish clear boundaries.

For divorcing couples, divorce mediation can help them resolve issues such as custody and maintenance in an amicable manner, instead of in a vengeful or hostile manner that is traumatising to their children.

A neutral third party facilitates discussions to help couples uncover their true interests and needs, then helps them arrive at mutually acceptable decisions.

Ultimately, the best legacy parents can leave their children is a strong relationship. We spend too much on the "best strollers", "best milk formula", and fail to realise that the best investment in our children is loving each other well.

Diana Chandra (Ms)

Head of Counselling and Principal Psychotherapist

Eagles Mediation & Counselling Centre

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 14, 2016, with the headline Strong relationship is best legacy parents can leave their kids. Subscribe