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How Divorce Affects Children: The Good and the Not So Good

How Divorce Affects Children: The Good and the Not So Good

Wonder how divorce affects children? And how can divorce ever be good for a child?

Divorce can be good if there is emotional, physical, or substance abuse going on in the home. If a divorce can remove the child from an abusive parent, then divorce can be a good thing.

In most cases though, it’s not that simple.

In this article, we will look into the effects divorce has on children, and what parents can do to protect and support their children.

When Is Divorce Good?

Divorce can be good if there is emotional, physical, or substance abuse going on in the home. If a divorce can remove the child from an abusive parent, then divorce can be a good thing.

In most cases though, it’s not that easy.

Sometimes, even when one parent believes abuse is occurring by the other parent, custody is shared equally because of a judge’s decision.

Divorce is complicated and usually icky. It also does not remove the other parent from the situation automatically. It is a difficult road, but if there is abuse and the abuser refuses to change and seek help, then a divorce to protect the child may be wise.

Consider all angles of help and solutions before you head for divorce court though, because a divorce means that you may not have to live in the same household as the other person, but that is not necessarily true for your child.

Think of solutions and ways to get help for your family so you can heal, rather than run from the problem. Because you may indeed be sending your child to a bad situation in which you have zero control. The parent with the abusive problems may not change and you are sending your child to their home without your protection. That’s the unfortunate thing about divorce.

You can divorce the person from yourself, but you can’t always stop their contact with the kids, even if they are abusive. Seek legal help if the abuse is affecting your children and the person refuses to seek help or change. But, be aware that your battle is just beginning. Things may get worse before they get better. Do what is best for the child in the long term.

If you are already divorced, skip down to “The Good News for the Divorced Parents”.

The Good News for the Divorced Parents

If you are the part of the 50% of the population that has gotten divorced, know that you are not alone. Half of all marriages result in divorce. This isn’t the good news.

The good news is that up to 80% of kids exhibit zero negative effects from the divorce of their parents, according to a research study by Michael Lamb.[1]

That means that 20% will have issues when a divorce occurs. There is help and support for those who are a part of that 20%, so there is hope for you and your child.

Just keep reading to learn more and find ways to get the help your child may need.

What is Most Important to a Child of Divorced Parents?

Research, including that by Michael Lamb, shows that what’s most important to a child’s adjustment to divorce are:

  • The quality of the relationships the child has with their parents
  • The quality of the relationship of the parents following the divorce
  • The resources and support provided in the situation

These three factors make a difference on whether your child can be a part of the 80% of the population of children from divorced homes who are able to successfully adjust.

Parent-Child Relationships Following Divorce

When a divorce has occurred, the quality of the relationship between the parent and child will have an enormous impact on how a child copes with the divorce. The way that a parent reacts following a divorce matters.

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Parents who make the effort to have quality time with their child following a divorce are helping their child adjust to the divorce. Parents who move on with their lives with little regard for their children and the time they spend with them, will likely result in their children having problems adjusting to the divorce.

When maladjustment occurs (which is 20% of the population of children in divorce situations) the most common problems exhibited are (in no particular order):

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Behavior Problems
  • Anger, angry outburst, problems controlling anger
  • Physical violence toward others
  • Lower grades in school compared to pre-divorce
  • Substance abuse
  • Incarceration
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Feelings of guilt, shame, and blame (thinking the divorce is their fault)
  • Decline in health
  • Social problems

Parents who make the effort to have quality time with their child following a divorce are helping their child adjust to the situation.

Loving your child is not enough when it comes to divorce. Your actions matter. Make the effort to help your child through the divorce by spending quality time with them and fostering a positive parent-child relationship.

An Example of Good Parent-Child Relationships

For example, a child named Kate is 7 years old and is an only child. She has experienced the divorce of her parents. She adjusted to the situation well though.

The parents shared equal custody of Kate and they put in a great deal of effort to provide quality parenting time with Kate. Kate was able to get more one-on-one time and attention from each parent.

When she spent time at her Mom’s home, her Mom made an effort to do weekly cooking with Kate, so they could share the experience together and Kate could learn some cooking skills. Her Mom kept up with Kate’s piano lessons and took her to her scheduled karate classes, as did her Dad.

Both parents sought to spend time with Kate helping her process the divorce while still getting plenty of time and positive attention.

Both parents also maintained good discipline. They did not absolve consequences when she misbehaved because they felt bad about the divorce. Instead, both knew that discipline was important to maintaining Kate’s sense of structure and guidance in their homes.

Their extra efforts made Kate feel loved and cared for following the divorce. She may not have wanted her parents to separate and divorce, but the love, care, and quality time she is getting from both of her parents has helped her transition.

It is the consistency from both parents in providing love, quality time, structure, guidance, and discipline in their homes that has helped Kate adjust well to the divorce.

An Example of a Bad Parent-Child Relationship

Now look at the example of Eric. Eric’s parents divorced when he was 12. He too is an only child. His mother has retained custody and his father has visitation.

Eric goes to visit with his dad every other weekend. His dad has moved in with another woman. With his dad’s focus being on this new woman and that relationship, the visits Eric has with his dad leave him feeling dejected.

He yearns for time and attention from his dad. He is pained that his parents are no longer together and secretly wants them back together. With this new woman taking his dad’s attention, Eric resents this new woman in his dad’s life.

The visits become more and more strained until Eric no longer wants to visit his dad. His dad, feeling that Eric should be able to make the choice for himself about when he should see him, lets him off the hook. He doesn’t put pressure on Eric and their visits become less and less often.

Meanwhile, Eric feels rejected by his dad, who never even tries to convince him to come visit when he cancels. Eric’s relational problem with his dad causes anger to rise in him. He acts out at school more and has gotten into several fights at school.

His mom is doing her best, but she can’t force Eric’s dad to provide the attention that Eric needs. His dad loves him, but the quality of the time they have spent together following the divorce is less than mediocre.

The lack of a quality relationship and time with his dad has led to problems in Eric’s life including uncontrolled anger, resentment, and anxiety.

His adjustment to the divorce has not been good because of the failure on his dad’s part to make an effort to maintain a quality relationship. Eric’s mom is looking to get him in to see a counselor to deal with his anger, resentment, and anxiety.

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The Relationship Between the Parents Following Divorce

The quality of the relationship between the parents matters too following a divorce. The ability for both individuals to cooperatively parent their child matters greatly and affects the adjustment of their child following a divorce.

If the parents continue to argue, yell, and scream at one another when they interact following a divorce, then the child is going to be affected. It causes anxiety, depression, anger, and sadness (among other things) to have parents who cannot communicate well following a divorce.

Disagreements are likely to happen following a divorce. Parents each have their own household, their own rules, and their own way of doing things. This will lead to disagreements in parenting.

How the disagreements are handled matters. Parents who are divorced must make an extra effort to use good conflict resolution skills. The ability for parents to have civil and kind relationships with their ex using good communication skills makes a difference in their child’s adjustment to divorce.

An Example of Divorced Parents Who Get Along

Pam and Matt got divorced a year ago. While they were married, they argued and yelled a great deal in front of their kids.

Following the divorce, they went to counseling to work on their conflict resolution skills. They have both made an effort to not resort to yelling. They communicate primarily though texts regarding the children and both make and effort to keep the messages kind, about the children, and solution oriented.

They know that they can’t avoid speaking or seeing one another completely if they want their children to adjust to the situation. Therefore, they make an effort when they see one another at baseball games and other activities with the kids that they talk kindly to one another.

They don’t choose to ignore one another. Instead, they keep conversations on a surface level in public and maintain positive interactions in front of the kids.

They had some issues come up with the kid’s schedule and a need for change. Pam wanted to switch their schedule to week on and week off so that her workplace could better accommodate her schedule. The every other day schedule was not working well for her workplace.

Matt instantly balked at the idea of change. However, rather than argue he asked for her reasons and said he would keep an open mind. Matt decided to agree to the schedule change, as it was more than just helping Pam out. It was allowing for Pam to have more time at home with the kids during her scheduled weeks with them. This way, she wouldn’t have to worry about working while the kids were at her home.

Doing what is in the best interest of the kids and getting along together is important to both Pam and Matt. Their efforts to work on having positive conflict resolution skills has helped their children adjust to the divorce.

The kids no longer experience yelling matches between their parents. They are also no longer subjected to public arguments, which the couple had done while they were married.

They maintain positive, kind, and polite communications in public for the sake of their kids and the long term parenting relationship between their ex spouse.

Nobody wins in a situation of divorce, but you can get along. Matt and Pam are an example of a couple who are making the effort to get along for the sake of their kids.

They couldn’t make their marriage work, but they have set up new boundaries and learned better conflict resolution skills that have made their co-parenting relationship work well.

Not only is it working well, but the kids no longer experience the yelling, screaming, and arguing that they had in the past.

An Example of Divorced Parents Who Are Doing It Wrong

Mick and Jane were married for eight years. They have two children together. They both cheated during the marriage. They both have moved on with new relationships.

The cheating and new relationships aren’t the real problem though. The real problem that is affecting the children is how Mick and Jane treat one another in front of the children. The interactions, although few these days, are hostile, angry, and terse. The conversations tend to end with one person walking away because they can’t seem to agree on anything.

The lawyers are making a good deal of money on this situation because Mick and Jane want to go back to court for every issue including who gets the kids at Christmas, what school the kids should attend, should they be allowed to ride the school bus, and should the kids be allowed to spend time at their grandparents.

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Everything in their kid’s lives becomes a topic of debate. Not only between Mick and Jane, but also between their attorneys. Mick and Jane don’t make any efforts to keep these matters private either. Instead, they put the kids in the middle.

For example, Jane told the kids that she has a trip to Disney World planned for them at Christmas and their dad won’t let them go. In reality that is his scheduled time. However, Jane says it is the only time she was able to get off from work.

The battles are constant. In the mix of it all are two young children, ages 5 and 7. They hear the arguments, they feel the tension, and they are not adjusting well to the divorce. The 5 year old has begun to wet the bed and suck her thumb again. The 7 year old has become sullen and angry. He is acting out at school and at both homes.

The parents blame one another for the problems their children are having, rather than working to help their children. This family is spiraling down into more problems for both children.

They aren’t getting the help they need from their parents or a professional. They are witnessing arguments and battles between parents that they should never experience.

Mick and Jane are an example of parents who are failing at co-parenting. They are both so fixated on themselves and “winning” with their attorneys at the sake of their children. Their children are the ones who will suffer the most.

Children don’t get to re-do their childhood. The pain, anger, and suffering these children are experiencing will not change until their parents change their ways and all of them get the help and counseling they need.

How to Co-Parent Successfully

Parents who can’t get along after a divorce are setting up their children to be a part of the 20% of kids of divorce who don’t adjust well. They will develop problems socially, mentally, and/or physically that can’t be easily fixed.

The worse the co-parenting relationship, the worse it is for the kids. Parents and their ability to co-parent healthily matters to their kids mental, physical, and social well-being now and into the future.

If you are divorced and have issues co-parenting, read the article Coparenting 101: 17 Helpful Strategies for Divorced Parents. You will find tips on how to start co-parenting more successfully starting today.

If you struggle to get along with your ex, find a counselor or mediator who can help you develop a better co-parent relationship.

Resources & Support for Divorced Parents

The parent-child and parent-parent relationships following divorce affect a child and their adjustment to life and their new situation. These two factors are the most important when it comes to children surviving divorce successfully and adjusting in a healthy manner.

The third component that affects children and their adjustment to a divorce is the support provided in their situation. This is the support outside of their parents. Are the kids getting the counseling that they need? Every child who goes through the divorce of their parents should get help from a counselor, support group, or professional trained to assist children in adjusting to divorce.

Divorce Care 4 Kids is an organization that hosts groups all around the world for kids who experience the divorce of their parents. These groups are low cost and often free. The classes are typically 13 weeks total, meeting once a week. The groups help children adjust to divorce and address such topics as the divorce not being the child’s fault, emotions they may be feeling, and how to communicate with their parents about the divorce.

Go to their website and type in your zip code or country (if outside of the United States) to find a group near you. Your child did not ask for the divorce. Get them the help that they need to help them process and adjust to the situation.

Other support that matters to kids and can help them adjust to the situation is extended family and friends. Their support, kindness, and love in your situation is also helping your child. They need the support, emotionally, physically, and mentally, as much as you do.

Reach out for support from your loved ones. Not everyone will likely be helpful, but for those that are helpful embrace their help and thank them. Not only are they helping you, but they are also helping your child.

Check out my other article on this topic: How to Raise Happy, Healthy Kids After Going Through a Divorce for more tips and info on how to help your child adjust following divorce.

Bonus: Things to Consider Before Getting a Divorce

According to The Institute for Family Studies, which studied 2,000 divorced couples, the top three reasons that people divorce are:[2]

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  • A lack of commitment
  • Too much conflict or arguing
  • Infidelity or extramarital affairs

In reality, abuse being named as the cause for divorce is a small percentage.

If the reason is lack of commitment in your situation, then seek some help. Don’t give up on the marriage.

Seek Professional Help from a Marriage Counselor

Read “Everything You Need to Know Before Visiting a Marriage Counselor” for help in your search of a marital counselor.

Seek professional help before you seek out a divorce attorney. You may be saving a relationship and a family at the same time.

When the reason for divorce is arguing, many couples believe that getting divorced will help the children because they will be exposed to less arguing. The constant yelling, screaming, and arguments can cease with a divorce.

However, has healing or resolution really occurred? You may be teaching your child that rather than work through a tough situation, you leave.

Improve Your Conflict Resolution Skills

Who is to say you are going to get along better after a divorce? Are your conflict resolution skills going to magically improve when you get a divorce? What about the idea of working on your conflict resolutions skills before you pursue a divorce?

The problem is not the arguing. The problem is your conflict resolution skills.

You can have disagreements. Those are normal in any relationship. How you handle the disagreement is what is most important. It is important to you, your spouse, and your children witnessing the disagreement that good conflict resolution skills are practiced in your household.

If you can learn healthy conflict resolution skills for your marriage, you can become an example to your child of how to handle disagreements in a healthy manner. You may also be saving your marriage at the same time.

Check out this article for practical tips on conflict resolution: The Secret to Effective Conflict Resolution: The IBR Approach

Again, if you can’t seem to develop these skills alone or as a couple, then seek professional help from a marriage counselor.

Conclusion

There are no guarantees that your child will survive your divorce unscathed. However, 80% of all kids are able to adjust to divorce without any major problems. For the 20%, there is help available.

Professional help is imperative. What also will help your child are the two most important factors following a divorce: healthy co-parenting relationships and quality time with parent-child. Your job as a parent is to get along with your ex for the sake of your child.

If you struggle to find common ground, then involve a mediator and keep communications to a minimum outside of the mediator. Also, work to develop better conflict resolution skills to facilitate a better co-parenting relationship long term.

Your relationship with your child following the divorce matters. Making the effort to spend quality time with your child is important. It will affect your child’s ability to adjust to divorce.

Do everything you can to foster a healthy, happy, and functional relationship with your child. Not only for their sake and their development, but also for the sake of your long term relationship with them.

Featured photo credit: Annie Spratt via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Dr. Magdalena Battles

A Doctor of Psychology with specialties include children, family relationships, domestic violence, and sexual assault

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Published on April 7, 2021

6 Signs Of A Controlling Person To Be Aware Of

6 Signs Of A Controlling Person To Be Aware Of

Some of the most manipulative people are so good at what they do that their words and actions can convince you into thinking they truly care about what’s best for you when in reality, it’s quite the opposite. The most common signs of a controlling person are rarely obvious to outside observers. And for someone enmeshed in a controlling relationship or friendship, it can be incredibly challenging to stay away from this toxic person, even if you’re aware of their emotionally abusive tendencies.

While it’s ultimately up to you to decide whether to preserve or leave a lopsided, unfulfilling relationship, it’s nevertheless critical to understand the following six signs of controlling people so you can better advocate for yourself and mitigate the influence of their manipulative tendencies in your own life.

1. They Push Their Own Personal Agenda

Do you know someone who always tries to micromanage the words, behaviors, and attitudes of people around them? Does this person act like they have the right to know anything they want about you, including your location, what you’re doing in a given moment, who you’re talking to online, or any other private information about you? And when planning events and special occasions, does this person dominate conversations, steer plans in their own preferred directions, disparage others’ suggestions, and refuse to collaborate with anyone who might disagree with them?

If you answered “yes” to some of the above questions, then those are clear signs of a controlling person whom you absolutely need to be cautious around. Controlling people are reluctant to even consider alternative ideas, let alone enthusiastically work with people who have differing views. They prefer to be the captain of every ship—regardless of how much or how little an issue personally impacts them—and they have an arsenal of manipulative tactics to deploy if someone stands in the way of them achieving their own personal agendas.

In long-term relationships with controlling people, you may feel constantly pressured to meet their demands, follow their schedule, and focus on whatever they feel is most important. It’s not an exaggeration to say that these people act like the universe revolves around them, which can be exhausting to deal with for their family members, friends, and colleagues.

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2. They Make Everything Transactional

Controlling people aren’t always self-centered, but they’re not too empathetic either. Empathy for them tends to appear in the form of strategic concessions they use as a means to get what they want. They typically view interpersonal relationships as transactional opportunities to extract more value from people surrounding them, which can have a draining effect on those they interact with.

For example, one sign of a controlling person may be their insistence on “keeping score.” This can involve doing nice things for you with the ulterior motive of demanding something from you at a later date in exchange for what you thought was just an act of kindness or a friendly support.

Perhaps they shower you in praise (also known as “love-bombing”) or gifts then blow up at you if you don’t intuitively know they’re expecting something back from you. None of us are mind-readers, but controlling people behave as though everyone else should think and act like they want others to and those who fall out of line are punished for failing to meet their impossible expectations.

A controlling person may also threaten to withhold support if you don’t adhere to their demands, but they do so in such subtle ways that the guilt they impose blinds you from the unreasonable nature of their behaviors.

Some statements to be wary of include:

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  • “I did ___________ for you. What do you mean you can’t do ___________ for me?”
  • “Remember how I helped you with ___________? That took a lot of time and energy from me, but I guess you didn’t appreciate my help.”
  • “I always give you ___________. Don’t you care about my needs too?”
  • “You’re so selfish!” or “You don’t care about me at all!” (gaslighting if you respond with hesitation or politely decline their request for help for perfectly valid reasons, such as not having enough time or resources to assist them)

3. They Criticize Everything

One of the most common telltale signs of a controlling person is their capacity to criticize anything and everything, even small things that seemingly don’t matter. As with many toxic traits in relationships, these problems typically start out so small that you may not even notice. At first, you may even agree with their criticism or at least be able to understand their perspective when they bring up an issue.

However, the criticism tends to get more intense, more constant, and more perplexing for people who maintain relationships with controlling people. You’ll likely notice how they rarely seem to criticize something they do. It’s almost always other-oriented and these types of people are so manipulative that any rationale they offer can seem plausibly legitimate.

Some warning signs of a controlling person who’s overly critical to the point of abusiveness include:

  • Criticizing things about you that you have little to no control over (e.g., appearance, disability, family)
  • Criticizing your personal choices and interests, such as educational pursuits, career, clothing, favorite music, time spent on your hobbies, etc.
  • Punishing you for expressing vulnerability by invalidating thoughts and feelings you share with them
  • Attacking you whenever you express an opinion counter to theirs

4. They Balk When Someone Criticizes Them

We all know the adage, “what goes around, comes around.” But this statement doesn’t apply as much to toxic, controlling people. They’d much prefer to dish out criticism without ever having to take it in return.

For instance, if your friend constantly talks about your appearance with little regard for your emotions but flips out if you make just a single comment about their appearance, there’s a possibility that they could have some hidden controlling tendencies left unchecked. Remember, these people aren’t just controlling in their behaviors towards others. They’re also actively trying to stay in complete control over every aspect of their lives, which includes how others view them.

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This seemingly insatiable desire for control can prompt them to lash out against even the smallest bits of criticism, leaving people around them too weary or scared to speak up again in the future. While it’s possible they may suffer from something called rejection sensitivity dysphoria, this does not excuse them from the consequences of their words and actions. They should seek professional help to better manage their reactions to criticism.

5. They Socially Isolate You

Not all controlling people do this, but for manipulative narcissists, socially isolating victims is a go-to strategy for maintaining control because it’s effective at preventing people from truly understanding how toxic their partner, family member, or friend is treating them. Think of it this way—if you don’t talk to many other people in your life, there’s less of a risk that you’ll damage their reputation by revealing their abusive tendencies.

Socially isolating others also gives the person more control over you and your life as it becomes more difficult to break away from them if you don’t have other healthier channels of communication and interpersonal support to turn to.

This process doesn’t happen overnight, nor is it something you can readily recognize as abusive. At first, it may seem reasonable, such as asking you to stop engaging so often with family members with whom both of you disagree on major social or political issues. As the social isolation progresses, they may suggest cutting people out of your life—especially if they don’t like that person, regardless of how you personally feel—or even conjure up high-stakes problems like “it’s me or them” under the guise of saving you from people in your life whom they don’t like for whatever reason.

In a controlling person’s life narrative, they’re always the protagonist who’s incapable of any wrongdoing. The blame is always redirected at someone else, whether that’s you or other people in your life. The more they isolate you from other supportive people in your life, the more susceptible you’ll be to falsely believing that they’re right and you “don’t need” your other friends and family when you have someone as perfect as this person.

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6. They’re Emotionally Abusive

It’s hard enough to be in control of your own emotions but when someone else is constantly belittling you and your interests or leveraging guilt and shame to manipulate you into saying or doing what they want, this can make it even more challenging to stay in control of your own life and emotional well-being.

Emotional abuse is another sign of a controlling person that is often overlooked in relationships. After all, human personalities vary widely in terms of passivity, and it’s not uncommon for one person in a relationship to be significantly more passive than the other. This becomes an issue when the controlling partner or friend exudes signs of emotional abuse, which can start subtly and become much more pronounced over time.

Concerning signs of emotionally abusive language or behavior to watch out for include:

  • Dismissing your needs and/or belittling your interests in counterproductive ways
  • Privately or publicly shaming or humiliating you
  • Making you feel as though you can never live up to their expectations or do anything right (according to their own vague, subjective standards)
  • Gaslighting you into thinking they said or did something that never actually happened (making you question your own reality)

Final Thoughts

It’s sometimes hard to see the negative things about someone with whom we have a relationship. We may sometimes unconsciously overlook the signs of a controlling person, especially if that person is someone we have known for a long time or are close to us. However, cutting them off your life is the best thing you can do for yourself. Just watch out for these six signs of a controlling person and take immediate action when you spot them.

More Tips on How To Deal With a Controlling Person

Featured photo credit: Külli Kittus via unsplash.com

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