How a relationship breakup and divorce can affect your children

How to help your children get through and thrive

Part 1, Part 2

The process of separation and divorce is painful for adults, but at least they have some control. The process hurts children too - and they don't have any control. They depend on the decisions and actions adults take. They are at the mercy of their carers' moods. Thus it's particularly important to understand how the breakup of your relationship affects them, and what the consequences are.

If you're facing a divorce, I can so understand if you’re feeling ‘all over the place’ right now. The whole process can feel like a never-ending roller-coaster ride. You just want to grab hold of anything that can help you feel more safe and secure.

Despite all that, you’re also having to consider the needs and wants of your children. They doubtless feel ‘out of sorts’ too because of the breakup. Just as you’re at your lowest ebb, your children are most in need of your attention. They need you to be patient, understanding and willing to attend to their distress. It may not always be easy to spot that they're suffering, so it would be easy to think that all is well.

During this turbulent time, it’s all too easy for you to consider your children's needs last. The impact of a divorce can be one of the most life-changing and distressing things that will happen to them. The effects of your separation and divorce can affect them long after you and your ex have moved on. It makes no difference how old your children are. Even adult children often feel devastated by their parent's divorce, but at least they can help themselves.

Yet, as adults you have the power to minimise your children’s distress now and in the longer term. You can prevent or reduce any negative consequences.

I want to help you understand what you can do to help your children get through the process in the best possible way.

Let’s start with a look at the ‘landscape’...

In part 2...

This is what I'm covering in Part 2:

  • When your children are taking sides
  • Should you let your children choose
  • How to tell your children and what you can expect
  • What they may, or may not, tell you about their worries

17.5% lose contact with the other parent

Statistic: Reasons no legal agreements could be established for custodial parents in the United States in 2014 | Statista

10 Factors that determine how your children are likely to fare during your separation and divorce

  1. The child's age dictates what they're able to understand, how much you can tell them and how you'll dress it up.
  2. The way you and your ex approach the ending - a civilised one beats a 'divorce-by-force'. A long, ugly, legal battle comes with financial, energetic and emotional costs, with consequences for kids
  3. The way in which you as parents, or carers, communicate with each other. What do the children see, hear and feel when you and your ex discuss the situation?
  4. The way your children normally handle any changes. Are they naturally anxious or are they relatively confident whenever they face a new situation?
  5. Whether you make it 'okay' for your children to love the other parent. Don't let any of your jealousy (however understandable) get in the way of them loving their mum, dad or other carer.
  6. What your children make of conversations they've overheard. Think about your chats with friends and family on the phone, or your whispered conversations when they visit.
  7. How friends and family react and talk about the breakup of your relationship or marriage. Are they determined to wade in with their opinion or do they ‘just’ listen with empathy?
  8. What other pressures they’re already under - at school, at home, with their friends.
  9. How much loving support and understanding they get from you and other important people.
  10. How much control they have and what choices they face - depending on their age. Do they have to choose where they live? Can they have a little control over who they spend their time with?
Pictogram: However scared you are now, however much you're hurting - you ARE going to be okay again.

Making the process more manageable for your children

You're facing so many choices that involve your children too. So, it's important to keep their best interests in the forefront of your mind. This will also help you to explain your choices to them whenever the occasion arises. Your confidence will reassure them and is likely to make the process more manageable for them. You too are likely to feel better if you see your children cope and adjust. That, in turn, will also be of benefit to your children.

When you’re feeling okay, you’ll have more time, energy and patience for your children. Thus it’s paramount that you take care of yourself too. Let’s face it - a happier, more patient mum or dad is likely to make for more contented children. They'll feel better and are likely to recover and flourish - despite the circumstances.

I know, from personal as well as professional experience, that can be tough. So I understand you may want to talk to an expert - someone not connected with the circumstances. It’s best to find someone local to you. If you have no access to services where you are, you can always chat with one of the online experts via my website. Just click here. (I want to be upfront with you: it’s a paid service.)

Sign: LOST CHILDRENYou can help your children NOT to feel lost

Before all else...

Is it really too late to save your relationship?

If you're unsure about breaking up, then please consider taking my relationship test. It can help you to make sure you're making the right decision. Maybe you do need to separate, but perhaps there is a chance you can rebuild your relationship. You'll need to know what the real problem is though, not what you think it is. The test is a great aid to help you figure it out.

Second and third marriages have a 67 - 80% chance of ending in divorce. So, it really can be worth fighting for what you have now. Remember: the grass is not greener on the other side of the hill, but where you water it!

If your partner is less inclined to put in the effort and you feel like you're doing all the work, have a look at How to Save Your Marriage by Lee Baucom, PhD. Baucom developed a blueprint for repairing relationships. He made sure it could be effective even if one of the partners appears to have no interest in trying any longer.

The effects of separation and divorce on children of all ages

Children's drawing about family breakup

Unfortunately it's a fact of life that parental break-ups are common. Most children will be aware of others who are part of a multi-layered or 'blended' family. They may have had several step-fathers or mothers. They could have several step-sisters, step-brothers, half-sisters and half-brothers.

Considering your children's needs can be challenging. It's even more difficult with such a complex family situation. Aim to make it as manageable as possible by having a considered parenting plan.

Children can react in lots of different ways to the news that their parents are separating. Their behaviour and mood can also change at any time during the whole process.

I'm aiming to give you an overview of how your children might be feeling. I hope that the following information gives you the know-how to support them at this painful time.

It's complicated!

Divorce affects each child and each age group in a different way, but there are some common factors:

12 factors that play a role in your children's reaction

  1. Emotional age, rather than their date of birth
  2. Their relationship with you
  3. Their relationship with your partner
  4. Their relationship with their siblings
  5. Any significant health issues
  6. Any significant developmental issues (often linked with health problems)
  7. Any other significant childhood adversity
  8. Traits, personality, character
  9. Friendship circle - or lack of it
  10. Their relationship with members of their extended family
  11. The relationship history with you (their parents)
  12. The nature of any previous relationship or marital break-ups they have experienced

For children of all ages, the loss of consistency and constant change that divorce brings can be unsettling. But, the effect on smaller children is more severe, as they are less able to soothe themselves. Self-soothing is a life-skill that - under the right circumstances - develops with age.

It's particularly important that the arrangements you make for your children’s care are 'set in stone'. Arrangements which are or become inconsistent, 'punishing' and irregular have a detrimental effect. They lead to the kind of circumstances that are likely to increase the risk of your children suffering long-term.

I understand how difficult it can be to deal with it all. And you may feel that you're on your own with no-one ‘safe’ to talk to. Don't worry - I've got your back. You can talk to a relationship expert - in confidence. You can get some support and guidance, right from my site. It's easy to set up. Click here to learn more.

In Part 3 you'll discover ...

  • What kind of reactions (5) you can expect specifically
  • What kind of things would make it worse for your children
  • 5 Tips to help talk to your children about the breakup
  • 6 Things you should keep in mind when asking children to choose

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Part 1, Part 2

Related articles

Divorce Advice for Men
How to Improve Your Self-esteem
Divorce Tips
Children in the Middle
How to Get over A Relationship
My Partner's Children Don't Want to Know Me

Other helpful links

Emery on divorce - The Children's Bill of Rights in Divorce

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