Dealing With "Divorce Poison"


As a therapist, I see first-hand how divorce can cause many hardships for children whose parents are divorcing. Therapists sometimes refer to these effects as "divorce poison." Common issues that arise from divorce include brainwashing children, badmouthing and bashing the ex, and parental alienation. Going through a divorce may bring up negative feelings about your ex-spouse, but your children mustn't get tossed into the middle. Parents who talk about their ex in a hateful way or try to get their children to turn against the other parent can induce confusion and long-term consequences for their children. So, here are some tips to help prevent these adverse outcomes in your kids.


Recognize early warning signs


If your children begin to protest spending time with you, this may be an early warning sign of alienation. Alienation results from one parent withholding, making negative suggestions to or brainwashing the child to end up resenting the other parent. Repetition of negative comments that your ex may have said about you is another example. It is essential to address these concerns immediately. Don't dismiss your children's feelings but explain how they are allowed to love both parents. Talking with your kids about these concerns can help to prevent divorce poison.


Recognize early warning signs


If your children begin to protest spending time with you, this may be an early warning sign of alienation. Alienation results from one parent withholding, making negative suggestions to or brainwashing the child to end up resenting the other parent. Repetition of negative comments that your ex may have said about you is another example. It is essential to address these concerns immediately. Don't dismiss your children's feelings but explain how they are allowed to love both parents. Talking with your kids about these concerns can help to prevent divorce poison.


Remind your kids of the fun times you've had together


It is essential to refresh your children's memory with positive times you've had together. Reminding children of positive memories can reduce the likelihood of becoming alienated. For example, bring up a trip to the zoo that your child really enjoyed. Say things like, "aren't we having so much fun together?" Using positive adjectives will help your child remember these times as good memories and prevent your ex from skewing those memories.


Don't badmouth your ex in front of your kids


Keep your negative thoughts and feelings to yourself, don't involve your children. Your children should not be put in the middle of arguments or hostile discussions. Don't ask your kids to be the messenger between you and your ex, spy on, or snoop around the house of their other parent. If you're feeling upset or angry, talk to friends or family to get it off your chest. Therapy sessions are also an excellent time to express and process negative feelings.


Hold your ground


Don't give up if your child stops taking your phone calls or doesn't respond to a letter you sent. If you, as the parent, stop reaching out, your child may take this as a rejection or that you have given up on them, even though they are not giving the same effort in return. If your kids refuse to see you on your scheduled weekend, don't immediately agree with it. Remind them of the activities you had planned. Get your lawyer involved if you need extra support to help you navigate custody and legal matters. Never give up on your relationship with your child.


Think about your motives


Think about the reasons for your behavior. Is what you are saying or doing benefiting your children? If not, keep it to yourself. You should always keep your children's best interests in mind. Think about whether the benefits of revealing something to your children outweigh the risks of harm. Think about how you would handle the situation if you were still married to your ex. Remember that getting back at your ex is not an acceptable reason to hurt your children.


Involve a third party


Sometimes asking a family friend, favorite uncle, or grandparent to talk with your child about the hostility taking place can help open their minds. These individuals can advocate for how much you love your children and be there for them no matter what the other parent says. Keep in mind not to badmouth one parent or the other. Remain neutral. Having a third party attest to your parenting can also help you during court hearings.

Take responsibility


If you have had a part in alienating or brainwashing your children, own up to it. It is essential to recognize and admit to your mistakes. Doing so can help you begin to mend your relationship with your child. Apologizing may not be enough at first but working on changing future behavior is essential. Understanding your role in divorce poison can help you prevent further issues.


Seek professional help


Reach out to an experienced therapist for help dealing with divorce poison. Lawyers may also need to be involved in matters that cannot be handled outside of the courtroom. Remember that it is okay and encouraged to ask for help. Therapists can help you understand your behavior and help your children work through the effects of divorce poison. The Neurofeedback and Counseling Center of PA has many experienced therapists who can help you overcome such hardships.


Divorce poison is not something that has to affect you or your relationship with your child. It can be easy to fall into a defensive state when going through a divorce, often wanting to get back at your ex. However, the one who loses, in the end, is your child, causing them stress and confusion about which parent to listen to or align with. Go through the divorce process with your child in mind. If necessary, seek a third party to handle arguments or even drop off or pick up your child from your visitation. Divorce is never easy for a family unit but remember that being vindictive towards your former partner may negatively affect your child.


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