Be as honest as you need to be. While your children shouldn’t get an earful of the marital transgressions, even the smallest of them knows something isn’t right. Don’t count on them asking you; they know. Your denying it is crazy-making. Something basic is all young ones need: “Daddy and I are having some arguments, but we’re talking things out. It’s going to be okay.” Older kids benefit from a little more information: “I know you’ve heard your mother and me fighting about money, and I’m sorry you had to hear that, but we’re doing everything we can to come to an agreement. You don’t need to worry about it.”  Saying everything is fine when it isn’t assures them they can’t really trust you to tell them the truth.

Watch for warning signs. Some kids will be satisfied with the explanations above. Others will still struggle. Be aware of any changes in their behavior. When my husband and I were having trouble, our three-year-old chewed all the feet off the Barbie dolls at day care.  Grades may take a sudden nose dive. Teenagers may decide it’s time to break curfew or take the family car for a joyride. Withdrawal is the hardest to deal with, and the most telling. Don’t buy, “I don’t want to talk about it.” That usually means, (a) “I’m afraid of what you’re going to tell me,” or (b) “I’m so angry I’m scared I’m going to hurt you with what I really want to say.” Take any unusual behavior as an opportunity to sit down and get it all out, even if it takes prodding, even if it results in emotional outbursts. They are children. Their feelings are fragile. Handle with care.

Remember, they’re kids, not confidants. It’s a real temptation, especially when you’re especially close to a son or daughter, or he or she is precociously understanding, to use that young’un as a sounding board. Not a good idea.  That puts a burden on a child, even a teenager, who has her own stuff to deal with in this situation. And once you get into that, it’s hard to resist running down your spouse, that child’s other parent. It’s a recipe for future resentment. 

None of us wants to put our kids through a marital mess, but let’s face it, we’re all there to some degree at some point in our relationships. It doesn’t have to be a disaster for our kids. It can instead an opportunity to teach them that even people who love each other have disagreements, that no relationship is ideal, and that sometimes it’s hard to sort things out.

Nancy Rue has written more than 100 books and is a frequent contributor to magazines such as Woman’s World, Focus on the Family, Brio, Breakaway, Clubhouse, Christian Living for Teens, Youth Teacher and Counselor, and Career World. She has won many national awards from the Evangelical Press Association in both the fiction and non-fiction categories. Nancy spends much of her time teaching workshops, conducting seminars and speaking at conferences hosted by Virtuous Reality Ministries, a national outreach organization that has reached more than 150,000 girls providing them the tools to navigate today’s promiscuous culture. Prior to becoming a full-time writer, she was a public school English and theater teacher for 16 years. She resides with her husband near Learn more at