Diary studies, in which parents log their day’s activities each evening, have shown that mishandled tensions between a couple tend to spill over into parents’ interactions with their kids, especially for fathers. Children whose parents are often hostile to each other blame themselves for the fighting and do worse at school, other research has found. In fact, a 2014 survey of 40,000 U.K. households revealed that adolescents were happiest overall when their mothers were happy with their relationships with their male partners. And this is for parents who stay together; the outcomes for kids of divorce–even in the days of conscious uncoupling–are, generally, darker. One of the best things you can do for your kids is love the heck out of your spouse.
If we ever knew this, we have forgotten. When Pew Research asked young people in 2010 whether kids or a good marriage was more important for a happy life, kids won by a margin three times as big as when researchers asked the previous generation in 1997. But betting all your joy on offspring is a treacherously short-term strategy. Cuddly toddlers turn into teenagers, who greet any public display of warmth with revulsion, suspicion or sullenness. Then they leave. Grown children do not want to be the object of all your affection or the main repository for all your dreams, just as you never really wanted to hear their full toddler recaps of PAW Patrol. If you’ve done your job as parents, one day your home is mostly going to hold you, your partner and devices for sending your kids messages that they then ignore.