August's Ask An Expert:
My parents are getting a divorce and are constantly saying bad things about each other to me. What do I do? It sounds to us like your parents may be 'triangulating' you. Triangulation basically means that they are making you feel like you have to pick sides or agree with one parent vs the other. By shifting their attention on you instead of resolving their problems, they can avoid dealing with their own issues and they may not even realize they are doing it. If you are feeling angry, confused, rejected, depressed, anxious or resentful, it's understandable because you are being put in the middle of your parents' conflicts.
Do any of these things sound familiar to you?
You Become the Problem Solver...you may feel as if you have to provide advice for “grown up” sized problems. You have to come up with solutions for your parents' problems even though you aren't an adult, they are not your problems to solve, and you don't have the skills to handle that stuff.
Impacts Your Sense of Security & Safety… you may feel you have no one to rely on. You're being forced to figure out and handle your life all on your own. Your parents fighting all the time leaves you feeling powerless, lost, and/or alone.
Unable to Express Your Emotions…you may be bottling up your own emotions to avoid adding to your parents' problems. But bottling up your feelings can often lead to anger, anxiety, low self-esteem and you may be learning unhealthy skills to manage them which might work for a while but may be harmful in the long run.
Learning Unhealthy Behaviours…when you see your parents acting in passive aggressive or manipulative ways with each other or with you, you start copying what they do, sometimes unconsciously. If you're learning these unhealthy behaviours, you may use them to deal with your own relationships with friends, family and others.
What can you do if your parents are 'triangulating' you?
If you feel you can talk to your parents, let them know how you feel. Your feelings are important! Try starting a conversation with your parents by using 'I' statements instead of "You' statements. You can say things like:
'I love you both and I don't want to be put in the middle.'
'I feel angry or hurt when I hear bad things said about my [mom/dad].'
'I feel powerless when I'm expected to support your feelings against my [mom/dad].'
'I want to feel safe in both households.'
'I don't feel like I can talk about my problems because there are so many problems with my [mom/dad] and there's no room for mine.'
2. If you don't feel safe saying these things to either of your parents, go to an adult you trust and ask them to help you advocate for yourself with your parents, such as a family member, a teacher or coach or family friend.
3. If you don't feel you can go to anyone you trust to help you in this situation, you can call or text the Kids Help Phone - Text: 686868 or Phone: 1-800-668-6868 for support. 4. Remind yourself that it's ok to feel the emotions you are feeling as a result of your parents' conflicts or fighting. Instead of bottling up, think about healthier ways to cope, such as:
doing some things that make you feel good in positive ways like going for a walk, reading a book, hanging out with friends, journaling (writing down your feelings), listening to music, etc.
when your parents are fighting, walk away or leave the room if you can. You don't have to be a part of their arguments.
talk to a teacher or school counsellor to see if there are resources available to you to help you deal with this situation such as books, podcasts, online videos and groups on healthy relationships.
We know this is a difficult situation to be in and you don't have to feel alone or deal with this all by yourself. Asking for help is ok and we hope you feel you can.
** SAIF offers a free youth counselling program for those 12-17 years of age dealing with abusive situations. Please call 780.460.2195 ext. 301 to learn more or book a phone consult.