Divorce can be incredibly stressful for a family to go through and the result of those stresses may not be seen for years, particularly where children are involved. Not only can divorce have an impact on the immediate family going through it, extended family of friends and relatives may also feel a slew of uncomfortable emotions.
There can be a tendency to want “explain” why the divorce in the first place and this leads to talking about intimacies that need to remain private between the couple or comments made our of anger or hurt to harm the reputation of the other spouse. Talking with children, young or adult, to answer the inevitable “why” question is ill-advised expect to explain that they are loved even though Mom and Dad will no longer be living together. The very worst thing that can happen is for a child of any age to feel they are responsible in any way for the divorce. This can have deep and catastrophic results to a child’s psyche. Young children take on a guilt that is heavier than they are able to bear and the result can have devastated results throughout their lives. The older child, even whey grown and married, may intuit that this can be the result in their lives and result in a downward spiral of fear and anxiety.
The best course of action when two people are divorcing is for both parties to keep their mouths shut and speak of details only to therapists, counselors or attorneys – no one else needs to know details because they will not understand the context properly.
Impact On Children
Divorce can be very hard on children, but if there are irreconcilable differences between the parents that make the household volatile, it can be the healthiest option for the family. When couples are able to maintain an open and communicative relationship it creates the best environment for children in the home that is borne out by studies indicating these children typically adjust quite well to the new family system.
Younger children can have a variety of reactions to divorce which can impact the quality of their relationship with both parents, their siblings, friends and schoolmates. Parenting style and co-parenting abilities drastically impact how children adjust to this new dynamic. There are several relationship shifts that may take place:
One child will side with one parent and ostracize the other parent, otherwise known as splitting and may, depending on the character of the child be a form of manipulation to coerce the parents back together.
If the family has multiple children, one may side with one parent while the other sides with the other parent.
All children may side with one parent.
Studies have shown that high conflict parents increase the likelihood that siblings will have high conflict with each other and are less likely to do well in school.
Unhealthy situations result in chaos for the child or children, who become embroiled in the parent's unhealthy dynamic. As with adults, it is not unusual for one to take up an offense of the parent they believe, or feel, is the “guilty party.”
This negativity is not only unfair to the child but can cause layers of trauma that negatively impact the child when they become an adult. This sets them up to view unhealthy relationships as the norm and seek out partners who are reminiscent of their parents' relationship. The more toxic the home life as the child is growing up the more likely they will be to find themselves in toxic relationships as adults.
Relationship With Mom and Dad
Depending on the mental health of the parents, the relationship with the child's mother and father can take a drastic hit. Children may:
Favor the parent of the same gender
Favor the parent of the opposite gender
Blame one parent for the divorce
Favor the parent who is more permissive
Parents contribute to a healthy family structure post-divorce by never bad-mouthing each other in front of their child, by working to stay on the same page when it comes to co-parenting, and by maintaining a predictable schedule that accommodates the child's needs. Children tend to take sides when encouraged by the parents to do so. Parent's behavior can be subtle and unconscious, so it's important to pay close attention to what is expressed around a child, especially because they are sensitive to picking up on their parents' vibes and modeling their behavior toward the other parent.
Adults who learn about their parent's divorce may feel a mix of emotions. Often, a feeling of confusion and dishonesty cloaks their childhood memories. They may want to pull away briefly from their parents so they can process the situation. Adult children may lean on their siblings for comfort during this time. Siblings who have healthy relationships tend to support each other in times of stress. This can temporarily impact the relationship with their family until the experience has been fully processed.
In tricky circumstances where one parent cheats or betrays the spouse in any way, the adult child may begin to view their parent in a more negative light and may no longer feel the same way about them. This can create distance and shift the relationship in terms of closeness.
Divorce and The Extended Family
Extended family members and close friends of the couple may feel upset, betrayed, and confused by the divorce. They may take side with and ostracize them for not sticking it out in the marriage or “not trying hard enough to make it work.”
Ideally, extended family members provide support and learn to adjust to this new normal. If there are no children involved, extended family members may no longer wish to see or feel comfortable seeing the ex-spouse, which takes time to adjust to. If children or grandchildren are involved, it may feel awkward or uncomfortable at first to maintain the same relationship. Studies suggest closeness diminishes with the ex-spouse and a decrease in time spent with the ex-spouse in general following a divorce.
Doing What's Best for the Family
Divorce can have a massive impact on family relationships and dynamics. Although it can be challenging and stressful to go through, families that maintain healthy communication and loving relationships tend to adjust better.
Ultimately, doing what’s best for the family means doing what’s best for you. When members see that you are happy and adjusting well their relationship and the dynamics will begin to shift – the family will heal as you heal. So, focusing too much on doing what’s best for the family can delay your healing and moving on which will delay family members from the same.
If you are thinking of, or in the middle of a divorce, we want you to know you're not alone and we’re here to help. If you would like to discuss how we can assist you with your future plans, please give me a call at 469-556-1185.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this website and our blogs is not intended for legal, financial or mental health advice but is for general informational purposes only. While we endeavor to provide the latest information on a particular subject, future changes to the source Information is beyond our control.