High-conflict divorce has its repercussions, and the conclusions are clear. The more extreme your conflict with your spouse or ex, the more your children will suffer in the short and long term.
While some of the research dates back to the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, the findings suggest that children are not necessarily negatively affected by living in a single-parent family. This may surprise you. However, much research has shown that family conflict, especially parental conflict, can have an adverse effect on your children’s mental health, adjustment, success in school and future relationships, self-concept, and self-esteem. The rate of depression and anxiety that children suffer goes up when parents – married or divorced – continue their battles. Long-term problems may include academic difficulties, problems in relationships, and behavior issues.
Here is How High-Conflict Divorce Affects Kids
It is the conflict that is damaging, whether you are married or divorced.
What is “high-conflict divorce”? This refers to the verbal or physical altercations that are witnessed by children. It also refers to divorcing parents in continuing litigation and those conflicts that children sense without necessarily witnessing. Children know when their parents have been fighting. They see it in their parents’ faces and feel it in the way the parent hugs them.
This isn’t just about divorce. The mental health of children suffers when their parents stay married but have frequent and intense arguments. They feel helpless, caught in the middle, often compelled to align with the parent whom they view as “wronged.” The loyalty bind is a trap because children know they are “part mom and part dad.” So the child turns against the part of himself that is the parent he blames.
When parents in conflict end their fighting, whether married or divorced, the children experience stress relief.
You can see why it is so important to end (or at least minimize) this conflict. But when you are flooded with emotions and overwhelmed by the difficulties with your partner, how can you end the conflict?
How to End Conflict During Divorce
Focus on stabilizing your kids. Provide stability and reassurance that “we will all get through this and be okay.” Support your children’s need to love both parents.
Minimize contact as much as necessary when you are easily triggered. Use emails and texting to communicate in a neutral tone. Communication should be brief and informative, without provoking an angry or defensive response. If you like, you can ask a good friend to edit your emails to ensure that the tone is not hostile.
Transferring the children with minimal contact is essential. When possible, the transfer can happen at school: one parent drops the children off in the morning, and the other does the afternoon pickup. If exchanging in person, keep comments cordial and neutral and avoid all substantive topics. “Hi” and “Have a nice day” are enough. Children are especially vulnerable during transfers, fearing an altercation between their parents at the front door.
Try to Stay Out of Court
When you divorce, stay out of court! Few parents need an outside decision-maker, such as a judge. The judge doesn’t know you, your kids, or your family. Judges are guided only by the law and will not enable you to gain “justice” or revenge on the spouse that has betrayed or disappointed you. Judges don’t have the time to dive deep into your marital history or family circumstances. With the help of divorce coaches, therapists, or mediators, find a way to solve the divorce issues in a respectful way. These professionals will help you stay focused on the well-being of your children as they guide you through the divorce process. This will accelerate your healing as well as your children’s healthy adjustment to “one family under two roofs.”
Create a realistic, detailed, and documented parenting plan. This reassures your children that both parents will be involved, even if divorced. Many templates for parenting plans are available on the internet.
Get professional help and support to learn to manage your own reactivity and emotions. Whatever you do to reduce the conflict will benefit your children, and that is more important than any argument you might have with your ex.