Dear Dr. Bill,
My husband and I are separated due to a difficulty in our relationship. We are in counseling and don’t want to divorce. We feel this time apart is important, because we’re concerned that our constant fighting may impact on our 3-year-old son. Sometimes he will spend the night at my husband’s apartment in town — but how do we explain to him what is going on?
A three-year-old doesn’t have the ability to understand concepts like marital separation. You will need to keep your explanations concrete and simple. You also should be completely honest with him about what is going on.
You might say something like, “Honey, Daddy and I love each other but lately we have been having some arguments. We are trying to learn how to get along better with a special helper. While we do that, Daddy is going to live in a different house for a while.”
For a three-year old child, the most important thing you can do is make sure that he feels safe and loved. During this time of instability you will need to reassure him that mommy and daddy love him very much and that you will always be there for him.
You and your husband should also do all you can to act appropriately toward each other when you are around him. Swallow your pride, and put his needs ahead of your desire to criticize or snipe.
I’m encouraged to hear that you have made a commitment to attend counseling together and work on your relationship. I pray that you are able to work things out for the sake of your son.
Thanks for writing Denise. If you have a question for me about family issues or Christian living, click the “Questions” link on the Family Expert page.
Click here for the audio version of this article.