Kelly Spencer - Happy Healthy YOU
(A wellness column by Kelly Spencer: writer, life coach, yoga & meditation teacher, holistic healer and a mindful life enthusiast!)
In a perfect world, we meet our perfect partner and have perfect kids and live perfectly happily ever after.
The problem with this, besides sounding like an annoying scene of Stepford Wives, is that it’s impossible. There may be perfect moments in life but none of us are perfect and we each show up in a relationship with a collection of accumulated lessons, beliefs and experiences.
Through my adult years and through my own divorce I heard many people throw conclusions at marital failures such as: “people quit too easy anymore” or “our grandparents just made it work.” Then of course there is the ultimate martyr reason for not divorcing... "we are staying together for the kids.”
Last week’s article discussed the affects divorce can have on children as they grow up and embark as adults on their own love journey. Obviously everyone is affected differently and it is not to say all kids of divorce will walk away with the scars or defense mechanisms that I spoke of. In fact, some kids wished they were children of divorce, as the opposite scenario of witnessing conflicted, dysfunctional unions can impact them perhaps even worse in some cases.
“Many studies suggest that children do better after separation from a high-conflict marriage.” - Robert E. Emery, Ph.D., divorce mediation expert.
It seems fairly obvious to say that children fare best if they grow up in a happily married family but what about the children that don’t have this blessed experience? What about the married couples whose best intentions have hit a wall or even gone to a deteriorated and decayed structure?
Deciding to end a marriage is, without question, one of the most heartbreaking decisions a parent will face. And if the marriage is diseased and dysfunctional it may be difficult for the parents to see through a lens of clarity, as they deal with their own coping strategies.
Susan Pease Gadoua, therapist and author of the book Contemplating Divorce: A Step-by-Step Guide to Deciding Whether to Stay or Go, states more and more evidence is showing that divorce doesn't harm children as much as parent’s fighting and the exposure to even mild levels of ongoing tension between parents.
Through my experiences working with children and adults, I have witnessed the ill-fated repercussions for children as they grow up raised in a home modelled with ongoing disharmony and disease. Here are just a few of the various outcomes I have encountered:
1. They settle. The bar is not set high for their own love life. They will often settle with someone that shows even the smallest amount of love towards them despite the healthiness of that love and regardless if their own personal needs are being met.
2. They stay. Long after the relationship becomes unhealthy, they will stay invested as they have been shown that you just live the relationship you have chosen despite happiness and health compromises.
3. Attachment disorders. Unhealthy attachments in their own relationships such as codependency, ambivalent/anxious attachment can motivate the adult-child of the past disharmonious home. They can be highly self-critical, seeking approval and reassurance with no relief of their self-doubt. A lack of confidence and trust can drive them to act clingy and overly dependent with their partner.
4. Poor Communication. Whether they have been mirroring exampled communication techniques such as “the silent treatment,” or dishonest agreeance to keep the peace, or vindictive verbal battles initiated with the smallest trigger, unhappy marriages often model unhealthy communication techniques to their children.
5. Drama. Growing up in a dramatic home full of disharmony can lead to different end spectrum comfort zones and anything in between. On one end of the spectrum, they can’t handle any drama without crumbling. On the other end, drama and conflict is their knowing, their comfort zone and therefore find themselves enmeshed in it often.
6. Hypersensitivity. Children are highly intuitive, sensitive, and incredibly astute. They know when the tension is building and they have witnessed when the pressure lid is about to pop. This can make them hypertensive to common situations mutating regular and natural stress to debilitating anxiety disorders.
7. Emotional misalignment. Our emotions are natural responses to situations in life that lead us to take appropriate action. Unhappy or even angry/sad parents that stay together despite their emotional needs display an emotional misalignment rather than demonstrating healthy actions implemented for corresponding feelings.
8. Self-Esteem. When partners are consumed with fighting, tension and unhappiness in their marriage, it is highly difficult to be a loving, affection and attentive parent. The kids suffer when the parent suffers. Not only is the child witness to the unhappiness of their parent, but the normal attention and devotion they would normally receive is skewed or void. This can affect self-esteem and self-worth.
9. Fatalism/Defeatism. Developing an attitude of acceptance to defeat rather than develop strategic resistance. There can be a lack of something called self-efficacy which is the knowledge that your actions can affect your life positively. An attitude of pessimism with a state of mind in which one anticipates hardships and struggle rather than contentment and ease.
10. Addiction. The Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University website discusses children growing up in prolonged and frequent adversity can develop a toxic stress response affecting the child physically, emotionally and spiritually. Dysfunctional homes and lack of strong attachment to parents and siblings have been linked to higher risks of addiction.
This being said, for all the parents that are reviewing their own circumstances, risk does not equal cause. It is not a forgone conclusion that these things will occur. Resiliency is a wonderful ally for minimal impact caused by family adversity. The biggest factors in resiliency are having someone who believes in you, encouraging you to speak your truth, teaching you about self-efficacy and respects and loves you. And if you are debating not staying together for the kids, I implore you to avoid turning your high-conflict marriage into a living post-marriage nightmare, but that is a whole other article.
Until then, live authentically by listening to the wisdom within you and take appropriate action that will lift you to a happier, healthier place.
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