For better or for worse: Would you stay in a toxic marriage for the kids?

Couples therapy is advised to help parents resolve conflict in a mature, civilized and kind manner. / Net photo

Stella and David dated for six months before they got married. Their friends said their relationship was ‘goals’ (slang for ‘something others wish to achieve’). 

The wedding was also ‘goals’. They looked happy, solid — ready to start their lives together. And in the first year of their marriage, they were. Then things took a sour turn. Years in, Stella found herself with an abusive husband and the need to protect her children and herself. ‘Hang in there for the kids,’ she was told. And she did. She tried. But it got worse. 


Author Susan Pease writes that exchanging vows of being together forever is a very powerful exercise. And that it is wonderful that most people do take this commitment seriously. 


But seasons change. Tides change. People change. Relationships change.


And what happens when the person who once made you happy, like the case of Stella and David, becomes the source of all your agony? And the once happy marriage has left you heartbroken and depressed? 

It becomes a conflicting situation for a number of couples when it comes to deciding whether to stay or leave a toxic marriage, especially when there are children in the picture.

But Paul Rwakahungu, a compliance officer, says this shouldn’t be an issue to consider since marriage is for better and for worse.

He says that for him, staying in a marriage wouldn’t only be for the kids, but because he made a vow and that he has to honor it.

“Marriage is not a seasonal trip where you go to only for the good times, he says. It is important to note that marriage is an institution where God connects you to another being forever,” he says.

Wilbur Bushara, a husband and father of one, says that deciding whether to leave or stay in a bad marriage would depend on a number of factors.

“Personally it would depend on some things, how old the kids are, what I hold with the partner, and the reason for separation,” he says.

However, he believes that in case a marriage is at that level of unbearable toxicity, the safest thing would be to leave.

“Because there will be no communication and love between the two could have faded, children will be the ones to suffer the consequences,” he adds.

Sylvia Elizabeth Nabiwemba, a customer care agent, says she wouldn’t stay in a toxic marriage for the kids. This, she says, would be the safer option for both the kids and the parents.

She believes that a bad marriage can have a lasting impact on the kids, hence, leaving would be the only way of protecting the children. 

“First of all, kids might always look oblivious and innocent about things, but they always know and see. This toxicity eventually affects them mentally, spiritually and physically. We have seen kids grow up and fear marriage, not because they want to but because they fear to go through what their parents went through, or they fear they may act like their parents,” she says. 

“Some men and women don’t even want to think of the idea of marriage because of this. So I would rather leave a toxic marriage and give my kids all the love and support, than stay and show them that side of marriage,” she adds.

Other factors to consider 

Counsellor Damien Mouzoun says each child deserves the love and interest of both mother and father and must be treated fairly. 

He says that a marriage can be beautiful with all its joy and love if it’s safe, “In marriage, all of the worthy yearnings of the human soul, all that is physical and emotional and spiritual, can be fulfilled.” 

However, Mouzoun says some marriages are little more than an amicable truce, but if such couples were to lay the foundation stones of commitment and trust, of consecration and love, they could build a safe place where individuals can be heard, and where love can grow and can encompass and integrate different points of view, he says.

“Some marriages have failed, in spite of all that one partner could do to hold it together. While there may be faults on both sides, I do not condemn the innocent one who suffers in spite of all that was desired and done to save the marriage,” he adds.

From that point of the paradigm shift, the counselor says a couple can seek permanent counseling and do whatever it takes to make the relationship work.

“One important thing to note, however, is that marriage is not without trials of many kinds. These tests forge virtue and strength. The tempering that comes in marriage and family life produces men and women who will someday be exalted. However, the immense transgression frequently places heavy burdens upon little children. Marriage being the shelter for the kids; some parents will rather stay in a toxic relationship because of their children.

Pease notes that too many couples (especially those with kids) hide behind misguided reasons to remain married, believing they are doing the right thing.

While I agree that there are important considerations and should be seriously pondered, I do not believe these reasons, alone or in combination, are enough to warrant remaining in a marriage that is based on anything short of true happiness and mutual fulfillment, she writes. 

“Instead of being motivated by fear, guilt, or inertia, I would like to see people begin to make choices based on trust. The movement toward a goal rather than away from fears is a much more powerful place to live from.” 

She quotes Neale Donald Walsch’s book, Conversations with God: An Uncommon Dialogue, where he talks to God about the whole concept of marriage. 

Walsch notes that the intention of joining two people together was never about binding them, rather, quite the contrary. It was about letting the other person be true to themselves while being true to yourself. Joining with, not attaching to, another soul. 

He adds that “Until you can predict your future, you cannot promise anything truthfully.” 

While the contents of this book may be controversial due to the fact that this is simply Walsch’s interpretation of what God said, anyone who is aware of what it is to be a conscious, mature, self-actualized adult, would agree that healthy relationships are not about controlling or imprisoning others, rather quite the opposite, Pease remarks.

The trick in any relationship is to change and grow on your path while allowing your partner to change and grow on his or her path, she adds.



I didn’t know that people still do that. What is that you are teaching these kids? They are learning that it’s okay to stay in toxic relationships.  This just messes up one’s entire life, self-esteem, self-worth and how they see the world. It’s just wrong, ignorant and selfish for one to do that. Because at the end of the day, you are busy damaging the same kids you want to rescue.

Nina Umuhoza, Musician


Well, I think it’s not wise to stay in a toxic marriage because of the kids, because children can always cope with the separation /divorce and adapt to new living arrangements. It would be worse if these kids grow up seeing everyday fights between their parents. Kids sometimes end up living a very unpleasant life or even take terrible decisions upon their lives. Therefore, it’s not the separation /divorce that causes all the damage, but the ongoing high level of conflict that would actually end up hurting you and the kids. 

Belinda Umurerwa, Businesswoman


I think it depends on how well one can control their emotions, and the level at which they love their kids. But it’s important to realize that a toxic marriage will affect your kids as well, so in order to save your kids, it's better you quit that marriage. However, if the marriage is not that bad, that is, if parents don’t argue in front of the kids and there is no domestic violence, I guess it’s important to reconsider. 

Victor Rukotana, Artiste


There is no reason for staying in a bad marriage. As long as a relationship turns toxic, it’s always best for everyone to move on. Yes, the kids can be affected, but they can always understand as they grow up.

Sam Mugisha, Businessman

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