depressed woman laying in bed awake

Staying in a Toxic Relationship Impact on Kids

Many moms staying in a toxic relationship, marriage or otherwise, justify their own unhappiness and fears to keep a nuclear family together for the kids. The truth is that staying in a bad marriage or toxic relationship has a negative effect on kids. Kids see and hear just about everything, no matter how much we try to hide it.

There are many long-term effects that include learning negative patterning, depression, withdrawal, and isolation. If you are staying in a bad relationship for your children, as admirable as it might feel, it might not be the best for either or you in the long run.

Here are the main impacts your toxic relationship has on your children:

Fear of Intimacy

When children see mom and dad unable to maintain a healthy relationship, often with mom crying or dad yelling, they may fear getting close to others. This often starts with isolation behavior in social scenarios with peers and can grow into a fear of intimacy.

Children coming from toxic relationships will view intimacy as a way that people get hurt. In order to protect themselves, they reject any form of a close relationship. Even when they desperately want to be loved and in love, they will engage in relationships extremely guarded. As the relationship continues, they may replay what they say mom and dad do in arguments.

Learned Aggression

Children develop habits based on what they see. Boys (and girls) and see dad belittling or even physically harming mom will learn that this is the normal way couples interact. Kids who see mom cowering at the sound of dad’s keys in the door will feel they need to hide from those who supposedly love them.

These patterns are developed subconsciously and take a lot of work to undo. As a single mom raising a boy, the last thing you want is for him to raise his hand to you when he is getting punished. As a single mom of a girl, you want your daughter to feel strong enough to stand up for her feelings, safety, and happiness. This is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to accomplish when staying in a toxic relationship.

Undefined Sense of Self

Every parent knows that the mind of a child is very impressionable. The reason for this is that children are developing their sense of self, based on what they see and experience. Children want to be loved, have close friends, and explore their talents. However, children who live in a home where a toxic relationship is prevalent are constantly fighting their own inner dialogue and impulses.

They will get close to someone and then stop being friends without warning. In many cases, they will just end a relationship without an explanation. They will sabotage their success in school, art or sports. All this arises from watching mom and dad in constant conflict and the child’s emotional development is hindered. 

Chronic Tension and Fear

No one likes to be in a room where two people are constantly fighting or not getting along. Even though a child is watching an external situation, the tension of the toxic relationship becomes an internalized issue. Some may never overcome the anxiety and fear that comes from growing up in a toxic relationship environment.

Children who experience chronic tension and fear will develop other neurotic tendencies, mental illness, and physical ailments. The most common effects of a bad relationship on kids are depression, chronic fatigue, despair, anxiety attacks and aggression.

Mood and Psychological Problems

Left untreated, chronic issues resulting from living in a toxic relationship will lead to other issues that can include mood disorders such as dysthymia. Dysthymia is a disorder where children (later adults) experience both highs and lows. It is similar to bipolar disorder but of a lesser degree.

Many children coming out of these types of situations will also turn to drugs, alcohol or sex abuse to find an escape. Some children may start cutting or potentially have suicidal thoughts and tendencies.

ominous fog around playground swings

Reducing the Impact of Toxic Relationships on Kids

Reducing the impact of toxic relationships on kids starts with getting them out of a bad situation followed by the right type of support and counseling. Parents need to decide what the true cost of staying together is for their children in the long run.

Getting Out of the Toxic Relationship

Protecting your children is a top priority for moms. If you find yourself in a toxic relationship, understand that you have options that will make everyone healthier. Some moms feel that if they aren’t in a physically abusive relationship, they should stick it out. This couldn’t be the furthest from the truth.

If you are getting yelled at, belittled, controlled, or otherwise emotionally abused you need to get out not just for you but also for your children. Both you and your children will be able to take a breath and regain the ability to see what healthy relationships are. It may take time and you will likely need some help.

Counseling For You And The Kids

If you are in or just got out of a toxic relationship, family counseling is a good idea. You can get counseling for you and your kids or, if resources allow for it, getting individual therapy may help you and your children have the space to really explore your feelings and develop new ways of thinking.

Support groups are another way to work through some of the daily issues you experience once you break free from a toxic relationship. Having a place where other single moms with similar experiences hang out and chat is a great way to build your network and support system. Knowing others have been where you are at and emerged on the other side is very empowering. Laugh, cry, vent and hug. A support group is a perfect place for you and your children to grow and get back to living in a positive and healthy way.

Looking for a safe space to make new friends? Check out the Single Mommy Tribe private Facebook Group.


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man and woman sitting on opposite park bench sides breaking up

9 Reasons We Stay In Toxic Relationships

The question always arises whenever anyone sees a woman in a toxic relationship: why do you stay in a toxic relationship if you are unhappy? Unfortunately, the answer to the question of why we stay in toxic relationships is not as clear cut. Women remain in harmful, toxic relationships for a variety of reasons including fear or their partner, fear of the unknown, a desire to protect their children, and learned helplessness.

Mental health professionals often try to address both the fear and the self-worth issues a woman faces when trying to break free of a toxic relationship. Friends work hard to not only empower someone to leave, but provide a sense of safety. However, many women stuck in a toxic relationship feel isolated and alone, unsure about what the first step is and the resources available to them.

Toxic relationships can be mentally and physically abusive or could be something that holds a person back from finding true happiness, leading to despair or depression. Toxic relationships can happen with any friend or family member but are most damaging when they are a significant other who you have built a life with. Toxic relationship rob you of the emotional energy and strength to tackle life’s little problems let alone the major things that inevitably occur in life.

Here are nine reasons we stay in toxic relationships:

1. We Are Afraid Our Partner will retaliate

Fear of retaliation is a big reason women stay in a toxic and even abusive relationship. Women fear not just for their own safety, but for the safety of their children and other loved ones. Someone in an abusive relationship often protects their abuser even after being admitted in an emergency room to get treatment from wounds they received from them.

Threats and abusive actions give many women enough reason to think that they have no other choice but to stay and appease their abuser. The hope is to keep them at bay and not antagonize the situations to a point where the abuser will snap and go far more extreme than they already have. If you are in this type of a situation, there is help. Organizations such as Doorways in Virginia will help you find a safe place to stay and regain control of your life.

2. Being With Someone is Better Than Being Alone

No one wants to be alone and this can mean that we sometimes choose a bad situation rather than be alone. This was certainly a big factor to how I got into a bad relationship; 9-11 had just happened and I realized that there was more to life than career ambition and monetary goals. Because I was coming from a fearful state, I found myself easily swayed into a relationship by someone I previously rejected.

If you don’t feel that there is anyone else out there for you or anyone better than what you have, staying put seems like a good option. After all, why not wait until you have better prospects before venturing out on your own. However, your relationship isn’t a job that you should keep until you get a better offer. Staying in a toxic relationship because you are afraid to be alone or don’t have better prospects saps your energy and often your identity preventing you from finding your next better prospect.

3. The Unknown Is Scarier

The fear of the unknown is enough to keep many people stuck in life paralysis. There is no fight or flight activity but instead sitting to wait for someone to rescue you or God to take you. Seriously, the fear of the unknown means that things could be worse after you leave and this might have indeed been the “best you could ever hope for.”

Our brain is hardwired to protect us and if it can’t perceive something as being a better alternative, it will choose the survival mode for the current situation. You must find a way to override your mind to see that there is something bigger and better out there waiting.

purple image of brain

4. Protecting Our Children is the Priority

Staying together for the kids is a big component of why women stay in a toxic relationship. Most of us look at our children and remember the promise we made to them when they were born (maybe even in our womb). A promise to do right by them and protect them is a common promise moms make and fear that they are breaking it if they leave.

The truth is that by staying in a toxic relationship, we encourage our children to continue the negative cycle of a dysfunctional relationship. They see us stay and start to believe that toxic is normal. Sons will develop unhealthy relationships with women and men. Daughters will not know that they can expect to be treated with love, respect, and kindness by men. Remaining in an unhealthy relationship teaches by example without any other input.

Realize that you can change how you keep that promise to do right by your children and protect them. Taking a leap to break out on your own and rebuild your life is a lesson sons and daughters can take many positive things from.

5.  We Are Accustomed To Being Treated Badly

Learned helplessness is often one of the primary reasons women can get themselves to make a move out of a toxic or unhealthy relationship. Learned helplessness is a psychological condition created through trauma that leaves a person feeling powerless. It often leads to depression and low self-esteem.

Trauma in a relationship could come from a variety of situations such as physical abuse, the death of a loved one, unexpected pregnancy, an abortion, or another emotionally scarring event. Even if your partner is not responsible for the traumatic event, say for example if a woman has a miscarriage, his attitude and perhaps even manipulation of the situation compounds negative feelings. Learned helplessness can happen over extended periods of time but doesn’t always.

6. Unworthiness Overrides Our Desires for Joy

If we don’t see ourselves as worthy or having value, being confident or courageous to leave will be difficult. Women with worthiness issues are likely to be drawn into a toxic relationship that only sucks what little confidence and worth they have. When you are already criticizing yourself and allowing your self-talk to beat you down, taking it from someone else is a pretty simple transition.

Ultimately, until we can believe that we are worth someone being kind and caring to us, giving us compliments and doing nice things for us, we are not going to leave. It starts with changing our own self-talk.

7. Memories of Earlier Loving Ways

For many who were once deeply in love with their toxic partner, you may still have strong emotional feelings about that person. You think about the times early in the relationship when you became conditioned to associate this person with great feelings. There is a dissociation that happens between your current negative thoughts that should lead to negative feelings.

It’s understandable. You want the person you fell in love back or maybe you see moments that are glimmers of the way it used to be. If you still love your toxic partner, it will be hard to rationalize the negative things as being toxic. Often, women will justify things by saying, “No one is perfect. It’s just his way but he loves me.”

8. Manipulation of Our Emotions

When a toxic partner senses or is told that you are leaving, many types of manipulation is often employed to keep you. Manipulation can start with minor things such as emotional manipulation that could include public and private demeaning, belittling, and threatening actions. Your partner may take to social media with a picture that shames you to friends and family. Physical manipulation includes withholding affection or sex.

9. Don’t Know How

It’s a big step to leave a toxic relationship. Many women find themselves not sure what to do first after being with their partner for years, if not decades. Sometimes it’s a matter of finding work or child care. Sometimes women just don’t know how to overcome the emotions of taking that first step.

Moving Day: The Big Step

Having gone through this myself, I remember the day that I left with the million little details that happened. It’s like a movie that will never be erased in my mind. While I had finally gotten myself to a point of action, the entire day was wrought with fear, uncertainty and doubt.

I had one friend who could help me the day before I left to gather things and a friend to watch my son the day of. The actual move was my burden to bear, in part because I couldn’t muster the courage to ask anyone to be in a confrontational situation with me. The day ended with my completed exhausted in every manner: physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally.

But, when I got the kitchen unpacked the next day and made my son his first meal in our new home, a new sense of self emerged. There was pride, that no matter how tiny and simple our home was, it was ours. It was the start of me becoming the mother in a new way; being emotionally free to love.

Get Yourself Ready To Get Out

Maybe you want to leave; maybe you know you need to or want to help a friend find security, safety and joy. It starts with doing the work that will help you realize that you are going to be safe and okay. That first step may be the most difficult thing you ever do, but once you are standing on your own two feet in your own space, you will realize just how capable you are.

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The College Planning Road Trip

Planning for your kids to go to college should be exciting as the world opens to them to find their path, their tribe, their niche. College planning can also be overwhelming. There are a lot of decisions to be made with even more details to keep track of. That time has come in my life a single mom of a son entering his senior year of high school. None of this feels easy.

It seemed like a simple trip to plan: the college scouting trip. It’s not like I didn’t know we would be heading off the rock to look at schools this summer but I’ve been waiting for some definitive ideas on where my son wants to go. The truth is that I’ve been putting this off because of what it means; he’s leaving.

Empty Nest Syndrome Before an Empty Nest

Empty nest syndrome is the feeling of incompleteness when your child moves out of the house. With fewer responsibilities, caretaking, and even the nagging, parents miss having their children home. While I am excited to see him tackle this next milestone of his life and I feel good that I have done what I can to prepare him, I feel selfish wanting more time with him home.

As a single mom of one, the idea of him leaving sets off a whole series of empty nest feelings long before he ever leaves. I start to look at the way my life is now and the next stage to make sure there is no hiccup for either of us with a healthy transition.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like my teenage boy spends a ton of time with me. I’m a single mom with a teenager who is busy living his life with his friends and being a healthy normal 16-yr old guy. I’m busy with writing, rehabbing my knee, spending time with family along with all the cooking and cleaning that comes with a raising a teenager.

Still, I don’t look forward to the quiet I know will be in the house. I know our dog will wonder what’s going on after all, if I just ask him, “where’s Matt?” While on a walk, he starts to race home to search the house. He loves his boy as do I.

The College Scouting Trip

Now this trip – looking at schools he isn’t even sure he wants to apply to. The schools he has on his list literally span coast to coast: New York, California, Illinois, and Boulder (Boulder is my alma mater and my hopeful choice for him). First, this single mom isn’t looking forward to the chunk of change this will cost. The idea of a high-ticket trip to send him out the door is about as enticing as interviewing and hiring a handyman in my opinion.

My inner circle of friends tell me I should forgo the practical college scouting and enjoy a summer with my son. A last hoorah of his youth before he takes on the world. There is a lot in that notion that I love, yet I can’t keep myself from the responsibility of making sure he has a good sense of where his next steps might take him.

image of university sign

A Road Trip

Even though I know we need to look at schools, there is a big part of me starting to feel like a cross-country road trip is the best solution. The insight my friends offer makes sense. Spend time with him because everything else will work out. Sure, look at schools but there a lot of people who love schools they went to without ever visiting ahead of time including me.

As I think about the road trip idea, I begin to fall in love with the notion that my son and I will have hours to talk, the opportunity to camp on a diversion, and spend the one-on-one time that hasn’t been readily available over his busy high-school career and isn’t likely to change.

Driving Being Our Thing

It’s funny because my son and I have never really taken a road trip, even when living in Southern California. We did a lot of day trips and local drives, but nothing out of state. Yes, we have this thing started years ago during my divorce. At times when my son was stressed and withdrawing himself from his friends and me, we started a game: Left Right Straight.

This was really out of frustration on my part with not having a clue about how to get him to talk about his feelings One day we just got in the car said, “Where to.” He didn’t have an answer so I gave him instructions that at every stop sign, traffic light or freeway entrance he had to choose, left, right or straight. We’d go on a little adventure, the initial ride being very quiet. Eventually, he would open up and start chatting about everything.

Taking the Wins Where They Come

As a single mom, I know I don’t have all the answers. But, this one game has changed the way my son and I communicate. To this day when we are in the car, we talk. There have been times we have planned to do one thing and my son instead says, “Let’s just drive and explore.” These moments still melt my heart and make me feel a connection that I hope to always feel with him no matter where his explorations take him.

Hopefully, he will not just remember our drives, but what they have come to mean. In life, you have to always keep moving. Sometimes you go straight while other times you may turn. If you realize you went the wrong way, that’s okay. You can change direction at the next stop.

Yep, a road trip it is. How many schools we see is a bit up in the air, but my tribe is right, it’s time for us to just have a blast on the road with all the craziness that comes with it. He’ll see things he hasn’t and I’ll gain the confidence to let go.