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.
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.
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.