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Saturday, 29 November 2014

Breaking the Dysfunctional Family Cycle

As many who have read my past posts know, I am a divorced parent. A woman who lived in a relatively loveless marriage brought on by circumstances. Though we did have our moments when life seemed to be ok and even a little enjoyable, we had many more down times and as the years went on the bitterness and resentment  grew along with the level of dysfunction and emotional damage. As I have been dealing with the fallout of this "failed" marriage, I often think that I should have left years before because staying together for the kids or because you feel trapped or because the alternative seems to be worse doesn't work, and guess what? I think that children are extremely intuitive that they will sense a false marriage and be affected by that far more so than a "failed" marriage. They will not only grow up with a false reality that may make them question many things as adults, but they will also base their idea of relationships on a faulty and dysfunctional model, which will in turn make it more difficult to maintain healthy adult relationships in the future. As parents we think that our children will grow up in the false security of staying together for the kids type of marriage, and will be thankful and grateful when they are adults for sacrificing themselves for the children. Actually, that too is exactly the opposite type of role model we want for our children, someone who is false and untrue to themselves. In fact, I think that most children from such fake households will grow up and feel resentful at being lied to. 



In this excerpt from   the author is correct in saying that "unhappy parents make for unhappy offspring" :  Dr Penelope Leach has been a passionate defender of babies and children since the 1970s. But she is no upholder of the idea that adults should stay together regardless of the measure of misery; unhappy parents make for unhappy offspring. "Divorce and separation is a safety valve for marriage and cohabitation," she tells me. "And society cannot do without one." So when the break occurs she advocates what she calls "mutual parenting". It doesn't have the slightly sexual, semi-spiritual, yogic-infused ring of "conscious decoupling" but it amounts to something similar, albeit with the celebrity varnish scraped away.

Another article in The Guardian, also states that parents who stayed together for the kids until they were a little older, actually did more harm to the children:  "Some of the most messed-up kids I have seen are precisely those of couples who waited until they went off to university to divorce. It meant that their entire childhood and adolescence had been a kind of lies."

I think I should have left my husband years before I did instead of remaining in the co dependant relationship and feeling as if I needed to be a martyr. If I had done so, I believe that our son would have been far less damaged and may not have had as much emotional pain that was one of the driving factors for his need to escape through drug use. My sister often says to me that if I did, I would not have had my other two children, who I could not imagine life without. However, I believe that I may have had more children with someone else after leaving and my children would not have been the same as the ones I have now, but I still would have had them. Not only is my son a drug addict but he is also very angry at me that I stayed with his father for so long. My son and my middle child both have very cynical views about relationships and neither say they ever want to have children (I know they are very young and their ideas may change as they grow). I also wonder how all the subtle messages that our children surely picked up on while my ex husband and I were together will affect their future relationships. My son has very skewed ideas of relationships i.e. you need a man of the house, children need strict discipline, men are aggressive, men make the decisions etc.. Though this was not what he necessarily saw while growing up, these are the unspoken ideas of his father and our son picked up on his father's true feelings.

My husband and I were very unhappy, but it was not a physically violent relationship and though he was very controlling and somewhat emotionally abusive to me, it was done in a very indirect way and his control was there without having to be "in your face". We did not yell and scream very often at each other, but the tension was always there and could be felt by others. My ex husband's actions and emotional numbness were also very powerful tools in his establishing power over us. He was very emotionally abusive to our son and those were the times when there was lots of shouting. When it came to our second child he wanted to destroy her wild spirit and lust for life by constantly telling her not to do the things she was doing and threatening her with punishments. My ex husband did not know how to communicate and would not be chatty with us, he reserved this for nights out with his male friends when his friendliness would come alive after a few drinks.


Our two older children have been very affected by the way they were raised in an unhappy marriage and most of the influences were due to subtle behaviours, unspoken words, decisions that were made, the lack of love and affection between their parents, tensions, frustrations, avoidance etc. It was not the stereotypically portrayed bad marriage, but it did consists of lies and guilt and feelings of obligations and sacrifices. All those unspoken feelings and emotions were picked up on fully by our little sponges, for that's what children are, sponges and intuitive sponges they are!

Some of these ideas I have that a FALSE marriage is much more detrimental to children are penned in the following article in a nice and concise manner:

I can understand though how if the marriage is unhappy and false, with the idea of "staying together for the kids" but ALSO burdened with one partner having any mental, emotional or substance misuse issues, the guilt and the feelings of obligation to stay becomes so much stronger. My ex-husband was physically and emotionally abused as a child, My husband also had alcohol issues, I still believe him to be a "functioning" alcoholic. These elements create a profoundly strong co dependent relationship which makes it even more difficult to leave and clouds our judgement as to what is ultimately the best decision for the children.


This link explains the "signs" of a co dependant marriage, and as co dependency is indeed a learnt behaviour, staying in a co dependant marriage has all the negative implication I have already discussed, but has the added ingredient of teaching your children to be in co dependant relationship! Who wants their kids to learn that? I don't and another reason why I wish I would have left earlier.

We can not fix our partners, and I made the mistake of thinking I could fix my ex because I felt sorry for all he had been through and felt responsible to help him. Wake up, no one can do that!

Sometimes being true to our inner selves and recognising that bringing up children in a marriage devoid of love and passion and mutual respect will ultimately create more problems for them, is a very hard step to make. I think that it is because our society treats divorce in marriage, as divorce from the family. And though there are cases that once the couple is divorced, one parent becomes almost non existent in the children's lives, that is not what most parents want. This is because of the way we treat divorce and also because in trying to create stability in the child's life by keeping them with one parent while the other parent may have the children on the weekend or every other weekend. We should look at the option of shared custody more. The children would have regular contact and stability from BOTH parents and feel the love of both parents and be reassured that the marriage split was not because of the kids!

As this excerpt states:  "Research has determined that when children have experience of shared custody they have better relationships with both parents and are more satisfied with their lives. It’s also shown that even when there’s strong animosity between the parents, shared custody works well for the children."

Taken from:

And this article is interesting on how shared custody benefits society on a more political and financial level:

Joint custody seems to be the best option in which both parents still want to be involved with their children, of course when one parent is abusive or neglectful than that would not be in an option. It would also mean making changes and sacrifices in each parent's lives, but not at the negative cost as staying together, and rather would actually benefit the children most.

Well, all I know is that hindsight is always 20/20 and I can not do anything now except to be true to myself so that I influence my children in a way that will make them feel more able to be true to themselves in the future and hopefully stop the cycle of codependency and dysfunctional families!