There’s no denying that it can feel good to vent, but you need to make sure your frustrated rants are left to coffee with your friends and aren’t overheard by little ears. Trash talking your ex can have lasting psychological effects on your kids — and can end up making divorce, an already painful process, even more painful for your children.

The Psychological Effects of Venting

Venting, when done right, can be a healthy coping tool. It’s better to release negative emotions than to keep them bottled up. When you let negative emotions bottle up, your higher order thinking goes out the window, leaving you impaired and feeling out of sorts. By venting, you can discharge some of the emotional mess you’re feeling and allow yourself to see, think and approach a situation more clearly.

Choosing the right person as a sounding board can even help you sort through your emotions and figure out a sensible way to handle your feelings and approach the problem at hand. Counselors, therapists and psychiatrists serve this function well. Choosing the wrong person — a gossiping friend, for example, or your child, can have negative consequences.

When you talk badly about your ex where your children can hear, you start down the dangerous path of parental alienation, where your child begins to mistrust and dislike your ex based upon your opinions. Bad mouthing your ex doesn’t just damage your child’s relationship with their other parent, but can also damage their own sense of self, leading to diminished self-esteem, diminished ability to trust others or their own perception of a situation and even self-hatred and depression. It can also make them resent you.

Why Does Venting Hurt Your Kids?

Your kids have an opinion formed of your former partner — good or bad. They’ve formed a relationship with the other parent based on what they know of that parent’s actions and words towards them. Even if your child’s opinion of your former partner isn’t a positive one, they’ve been allowed to form that perception for themselves. Confidence in their ability to assess a person and judge their character — for better or worse — is a valuable life skill that’s learned through trial and error.

When you vent about your ex, you’re planting the seeds of self-doubt in your child’s head. Your child might come to the conclusion that if they were so wrong about their other parent, they may be wrong about everyone in their life — including you. Their ability to trust their own perception of a situation becomes shaky. Their ability to trust anyone is shaken. If not addressed, this spiral of self-doubt and mistrust can lead to more serious problems down the road.

Divorce is already difficult, especially for kids who have little to no say in the major changes in their lives. By venting about your ex, you’re only making a tough time even more difficult. Their world has already changed in ways they never imagined. As a former law clerk in Family Court, I still recall numerous times when my judge interviewed children. They often told her that they really hated hearing their parents talk bad about each other because it made them feel like they had to choose a side.

Minimizing the Effects of Venting on Your Children

In any divorce, your children’s well-being should come first. Whether it’s seemingly harmless venting to a friend of the “you’ll never believe what s/he did!” variety or offloading about the more egregious details of your relationship with your former partner, there are some things your children don’t need to be privy to.

Refraining from trash talking your ex in front of your children isn’t lying or sugar-coating the reasons you’re getting a divorce, it’s about allowing you to address any questions or concerns they have in an age-appropriate manner that preserves a working relationship with the other parent.  

If your former spouse is venting about you where your children can hear, tell them that they need to stop immediately. If you’re going through a divorce and have an attorney, they can intervene on your behalf (and that of your children).  While you cannot control what your ex says and does, you can help mitigate the effects of any venting they may do within earshot of your children by seeking the help of a counselor, therapist or psychiatrist. Doing this for your children individually or as a family are both valid options that can help. Sometimes individual and family counseling are both necessary — and helpful! — during a divorce.

Choosing a divorce is a major life step, both for you and your children. It’s so important that you don’t talk bad about your former spouse in front of your children.. At Rodríguez Family Law, we’ve helped lots of people work through divorce with children.  We can help you, too! Give us a call today at 862-241-1228 or you can send us an email. We’re here to help.