High-conflict divorce is not only painful for sparring spouses it can cause emotional consequences if there are children involved. A study published in Child Development found that conflict between divorced or separating parents is linked to an increased risk for children developing mental health problems. Researchers found a connection between parental conflict and higher fear of abandonment in children, regardless of age. One of the more surprising discoveries in this research is that even having close parent-child relationships didn’t buffer the stress for a child caught in the middle of divorce warfare. Children who witness nasty fights between parents have an increased risk of suffering from anxiety and other mental health issues. Fighting over alimony and child custody can leave psychological scars. It’s important to take steps that can significantly reduce the tension within your family during and post-divorce.
It’s easy to spiral into heated arguments during the divorce process. Before flying into a reactive rage, take a few deep breaths and try to stay calm. By taking deep, mindful breaths you can dial down the immediate trigger response allowing you to think more rationally. Try to release negative emotions and defuse the situation.
Control your behavior
Refrain from badmouthing your spouse behind their back. Never ask your child to spy on your ex or to pass along messages. Try to communicate in a non-confrontational way regardless of any pent-up emotion or grievances you may have. You’ll want to pick your battles and figure out what issues are real priorities rather than contest every issue that arises.
Create a Parenting Plan
A “parenting plan” is the foundation of any successful co-parenting relationship, which can help your children feel secure and adjust to a new family arrangement. This plan outlines the agenda for a wide range of issues, such as holidays, birthdays, vacations, decisions about schools, extracurricular activities, screen time, chores, extended family relationships, and other matters that might arise. A parenting plan provides a stable, predictable schedule that offers some flexibility when needed but also ensures the security your child craves in knowing who they are staying with and when. In my experience, it’s much better when parents can reach an amicable agreement that both parties can honor than having a judge make the decision for them. A parenting plan is filed with the court as part of a Marital Settlement Agreement.
If you’ve hit an impasse with your spouse and are struggling to keep your emotions in check, you may need to seek support from a marriage counselor, a therapist, or a divorce attorney. It’s okay to ask for help to resolve difficult issues. Finding a trusted professional to work through these challenges will help make the process more productive and less painful. Family therapy is a good option that offers a neutral place for parents and their children to share their concerns, fears, and anger. A therapist can offer strategies on how to keep your relationship with your former spouse civil, respectful and courteous. This will help guide your family towards a less stressful and more loving environment.
By Debra Schoenberg