At its core, a loyalty conflict occurs when two parties expect a third party to side with them over the other because they either disagree or don’t like each other. Vying for their child(ren)’s loyalty may be one of the most prevalent challenges for parents during a divorce and the effects of divorce on children can be tremendous.

Considering the Children

A divorce is ripe with opportunities for the children to be put in the middle. It is often very difficult for the parents to refrain from engaging in the game of tug-of-war. But parents must come to realize that this is one of the most distressing situations they can place their children in.

Let’s consider a possible conflict scenario. Imagine a divorce situation where Parent ‘A’ decides to share with their children that Parent ‘B’ is “a no good, piece of crap.” In this case, the statement is justified by the fact that Parent B was in fact the cause of the divorce, but it shows no regard for the well-being for the children. No matter how many terrible and unforgivable acts Parent B has committed, he or she is still their parent, and it is their relationship.

Forcing Your Children To Choose

When you try to force your children to make a decision to either agree with you, disagree with you, or take a middle road, you are putting them in an extremely stressful position. According to Dr. Constance Ahrons, author of The Good Divorce, “Any time a child becomes triangulated like this, forced to take sides with one parent or another, it creates anxiety, stress and loyalty conflicts.”Consider the possible responses:

Option 1: They decide to agree with you. Whether or not they feel or show these emotions, you are increasing the likelihood that your children will feel guilt, shame or stress for having to make that decision about one of their parents.

Option 2: They decide to disagree with you. They now may be worried that they have lost your love or approval because they aren’t “siding” with you.

Option 3: They don’t say anything. They still may feel guilty for not taking sides with you.

It is understandably difficult to not impose your feelings of hurt, rejection and anger on your children after a divorce. Especially if you are the parent who was cheated on, abandoned or wronged. But the truth is, even if we do agree with you, forcing us to make decisions for or against a parent is a very risky game.

Taking The High Road 

My point is simply this: be careful when talking to your children about your divorce. At all costs, try to refrain from pulling them into your conflicts, and censor yourself from talking poorly about your ‘ex’ no matter how pissed you are about what he/she did to you. Take the high road by putting the needs of your children ahead of your desire for vengeance or revenge. It will be one of the best decisions you make as a cooperative parent.