The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change. Carl Rogers

@ Peace Counselling Blog

Thoughts and ideas on mental health.

What happens to children and young people when their parents are having difficulties in their relationship?


“Every day in a hundred small ways our children ask, “’Do you see me? Do you hear me? Do I matter?” Their behaviour often reflects our response”. - L R Knost


Children take in so much more information than we realise, especially when they are in the pre-verbal stages of development. They take in information from the environment around them and are highly sensitive to moods, tensions and atmospheres. If you are having trouble with your relationship and you don’t want your child to be affected by negative emotions, then it is a good idea to try to avoid letting your children carry the weight of your anger, pain or frustration.

Of course, this is easier said than done.


“When little people are overwhelmed by big emotions, it’s our job to share our calm,

not join their chaos.” – L R Knost


What young children need from their parents who are having relationship difficulties, is to know that they are not losing a parent, that they are not to blame for the difficulties in their parents’ relationship and that they are not responsible for making either or both parents feel better. What they don’t need is to feel as though they are collateral damage in the breakdown of their parents’ relationship, that they can be used as bargaining tools, or that their role has changed from that of child to confidante. They do not need to know who said what to who, or who did what to who. They do not need to be witness to whispered conversations or to open conversations between their parents or their parents and their friends about the break up or difficulties. What they do need is for both parents to act in a very adult manner when it comes to negotiating relationship breakdowns, with their children. Ideally both parents should have a conversation between themselves about how they are going to work together to explain the situation to their children, how they are going to minimise the inevitable pain, how they are going to manage confusion and anger, and how they will negotiate with each other to maintain a sense of safety for their children. The worst thing that could happen, is for children to be in a position of not being able to express their own hurt, anger or grief, because they feel the need to manage the feelings their parents may be projecting onto them.


“The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.” – Peggy O’Mara



Honesty about how the situation is impacting the whole family, is essential, along with continued reassurance for the children, that whatever happens, they will still have two parents who love them, and that this fact will never change. It is vital that children are given the opportunity to ask their parents any questions about aspects of the relationship that relate to them.

Break-ups are equally trying for teenagers. This is the time when they will be negotiating and attempting to establish their own independence so will need a secure base to be able to do this from. Ideally, they should be able to negotiate their way through the adolescent minefield without being concerned about the safety and security of the family unit. This can lead to emotional or behavioural problems for the young person at home and/or at school, and it’s possible this can add to the discord within the family. Again, it is vital for them to know that their relationship with each parent does not have to change any more than it would naturally as they go through their own emotional transitions.

It’s also possible that the breakdown of a relationship can have an adverse effect on grown up children, or children who have already left the family home.  Again, it is with honest, frank communication that any harmful effects can be minimized.

When you are going through trying times in your relationship it is good to have a trusted friend or a family member to support you through these emotionally trying times because sometimes you just need someone you can vent with; someone who will listen to your gripes and moans, who won’t try to be the voice of reason, or encourage you to gain some perspective. These friends will be quick to jump to your defence, vilifying the partner that you are in conflict with and supporting you as you complain and moan about and blame your partner for the things that are going wrong in your relationship.

While it’s great to have this kind of support and friendship, it is also beneficial If you have someone you can turn to, who will be balanced, philosophical, realistic and measured in their view of what has happened between you and your partner. Most importantly, they won’t have a vested interest in the outcome of your relationship difficulties, but will support you as you decide for yourself what is best for you in the long-term.

As a friend, it’s hard to stay balanced, just and fair, to both parties when your friend is angry and hurting. Your instinct is to agree with all their grievances, to blame the other party for everything that has gone wrong between them, to tell your friend that they are better off without them, whether you truly believe this to be true, or not. You say the things you believe your friend wants to hear.

If you’re going through a break up or difficulties in your relationship, this can be an extremely stressful time for everyone involved. It can even be tempting to see your children as confidantes in this situation, and to inadvertently start to rely on them for emotional support.    It’s always a good idea to have emotional support through this difficult time. This is where an outside agency can be useful.



“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you”. – Maya Angelou


Whether you opt for couples’ therapy to try to reconcile with your partner, or individual therapy to address your own personal issues to do with attachment, relationships or family history, taking care of your own mental health is always a good idea. If you are in a good place emotionally it will be easier for you to help to build up and maintain your children’s emotional well-being.






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