The Effects of Distressed Relationships on Families:
Parents are more likely to be rejecting, disengaged, authoritarian, and inconsistent when they are in unhappy relationships. Marriage problems create a general negative mood in the home that spills over into the parents' relationships with their children. A parent who is already irritated with his significant other is likely to blow up when one of his children misbehaves.
When couples are fighting, they also are unable to support each other as parents. Parents who work well together give each other feedback about their parenting. Often one parent understands some aspect of the child's behavior that the other does not. When one parent is being unreasonable or has overly high expectations for the child, the other parent can point this out. Happy married couples reach a consensus about their children and how best to parent them. When parents are fighting, feedback usually is taken as criticism. The child can become another topic to fight about or another example of the different ways in which the partners see the world.
When parents fight a lot, the family tends to be less close and less flexible; this is linked to depression in both sons and daughters. However, girls are more vulnerable than boys to all kinds of family stress and conflict. So it is not surprising that girls are particularly at risk for depression when their parents have marriage problems.
One possible reason is that marriage problems change the daughter's relationship with her parents. Unhappy married fathers withdraw from their families, especially from their daughters. They may spend long hours at work and be uncommunicative when they are home. A father's apparent lack of interest in his daughter may increase her attachment insecurity in her relationship with him. In contrast, an unhappy married mother often turns to her daughter for emotional support.
Unfortunately, children usually do not know that their parents are angry, rejecting, detached, and authoritarian because of their unhappy marriages. Children see things almost exclusively from their own point of view, so a child who feels rejected by a parent is most likely to conclude there is something wrong with him or her. One of the important tasks of marriage counseling is helping to understand that much of what their parents did while they were children had little to do with them and a great deal to do with the parents' relationships and marriage problems.
Kaynaz Nasseri is a psychotherapist specializing in the effects of distressed relationships on families. Her psychotherapy practice is located in Newport Beach, but she helps patients that visit her from all of Southern California, including Orange County, San Diego, and Los Angeles, such as: