Conflicted Divorce: What to Do?

“I hate my ex, but I love my kids!”

Conflicted divorce. Research makes it very clear. The more parents fight with each other the more psychological problems their children experience. This is especially true when children witness or overhear the conflict. Or when they are put in the middle of a dispute. Even very young children feel tension, torn loyalties, and mixed messages when their parents are struggling. Obviously, disagreements are expected between divorced partners. Different philosophies about raising children can become difficult to manage. And old hurts and new jealousies can create many reasons for anger and pain.

Getting angry often feels good to a parent – at least for a while. But children benefit the most if their parents cooperate. The solution usually is not for former spouses to be friends. But it often works better if parents have a polite, businesslike approach to working together in rearing their children. The point is that although some fighting may be good for a parent, it is not good for children. Therefore, a simple and very important rule about fighting is: Keep children out of the middle.

What Happens to Children in Conflicted Divorce?

Some children develop psychological problems following their parents’ divorce. But many more have trouble making an adjustment. Crying, worrying, and constant questions about the divorce are obvious signs. Yet increased aggression, disturbed sleep, spending more time alone, or lower grades also can be warning signals. Parents often have a hard time being objective in evaluating how their children are coping, and obtaining an outside opinion can be a great help. Child-care providers or teachers, for example, see many children and can give valuable feedback. While this is a private situation, it may help to alert those closest to your children that there is a divorce proceeding. Ask them to let you know if they notice any changes in behaviors or actions of your child.

Ongoing Problems…

All children are upset to some degree when their parents first separate. But if your children have ongoing problems, their upset is frequently tied to continuing problems in family relationships. The parents may still be fighting. One parent may be inconsistent in spending time with the children. Or the schedule may be too complicated. Alternatively, one or both parents may be disciplining the children ineffectively. The children may not be getting enough affection. Or perhaps the parents may be putting too many emotional and practical burdens on the children.

Friends and relatives rush to aid a family during a crisis, but many people do not know how to react to a conflicted divorce. As a result, instead of helping out, many potential supporters move away from the divorced family. For this reason, parents and children often have to ask for help in coping with divorce. And this is the time to ask. In addition to seeking the help of friends and relatives, many parents also find self-help books useful at this time. Parents should call on professional helpers, too, if there seems to be a need.

How about Divorce Mediation?

Divorce mediators usually specialize in helping divorcing or divorced parents negotiate their own legal agreements in a more cooperative manner. They assist you in finding solutions and compromises to get your family to the next step, whatever that may be. They will not tell you “what to do” but help you both work through difficult conversations and find the right solutions that match your needs and values as best as possible. Therapists who are familiar with divorce and comfortable in offering direction also can provide objective opinions, support, and advice to individuals, to parents and children, or to former spouses. If you want more clarity between a counselor and mediator, check out this article from The Huffington Post.

Your children are your legacy. Be sure to make the best decisions in this trying time for everyone. You may have a slew of negative emotions toward your former spouse, but that person still holds a very valuable piece of your child’s heart. Do you find that you are struggling with managing emotions after or during a divorce? Would you like to talk to one of our family counselors about your unique situation? If you need help and support, know we are here to do just that. Cristina Panaccione and Associates Counseling has locations in the South Hills of Pittsburgh and Robinson Township. We also offer Virtual Therapy Sessions. We are currently accepting a limited number of new patients. Check out our services pages to learn how we can help you.

* This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Please contact a medical professional for advice.

(Works Sited: Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies)

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