By: Tess Worrell
Only the lucky few avoid. Most people going through divorce suffer–deeply. A sense of betrayal and mounting losses often combine to make it hard to think about a soon-to-be-ex-spouse with anything but anger. It can be hard to hide those feelings when talking about an ex–but there are good reasons to try, especially in front of the children.
- Children hear negative statements about a spouse as criticisms of them. Children know they are the combination of Mom and Dad. They know the traits they share with each parent. When Mom decries Dad’s focus on detail as overly controlling or Dad proclaims Mom’s spontaneity to be reckless, children”who share the traits” internalize the comments. They not only feel devalued by the criticizing parent, they lose trust in that relationship. If Mom could come to despise Dad’s focus on detail, she could come to despise daughter’s as well.
- Loss of trust leads to loss of credibility. The more one parent criticizes the other, the more children begin to tune out. Children need to believe in their parents. The fantasy of parental-infallibility forms the basis of childhood adoration and trust. While children learn that parents are fallible as they mature, typically they grow naturally into the lesson. When one parent forces the point by continually pointing out the other parent’s faults–children tend to blame, and distrust, the person wrecking the fantasy. No matter how accurate the criticism, the damage will be to the relationship with the child–not to the other parent.
- Overly negative statements now burn bridges for the future. Though hard to imagine, there will likely come a day where present anger gives way to acceptance and even healthy interactions. As individuals move into the variety of opportunities that come with a new stage of life, they often relate better to their former spouses. Yet, negatives statements made to children tend not to fade as easily. Children can get stuck in believing the criticisms and confused by the change of tune. This impacts the credibility of both parents making it difficult for children to relate to either.
A better way–
In front of the children say only what is useful for building them up and helping them understand how to relate to both parents in the healthiest manner. Save criticisms for private conversations with the ex. Couch even these in the in terms that focus on the goals you share for the children and how to work together to achieve them.
The hope–respectful, honoring language will rescue both of you from the suffering and create a working, post-divorce relationship for all the issues you still face together.