Kids who live with high-conflict co-parents often report feeling what we call the “chameleon effect,” requiring them to take on the ideas, attitudes, opinions, etc. of each home, so they can get each parent’s approval.
This can work quite well and help kids survive their relationships with both parents. In fact,
learning to be a team player and adapt to circumstances is a great career skill, but it tends to be detrimental to future adult relationships.
In the research about this, adults who grew up with high-conflict parents described their careers as successful, but their personal relationships as suffering.
Of course, there are many variables that could play into that, but one of them is that they were in the habit of being what their latest dating partner or spouse seemed to want them to be, instead of being themselves, which led to depression, anxiety, and unhappiness. They reported they didn’t really have a sense of self because they were never allowed to explore it as children.
Think about it…
If you have to be the color red at mom’s because that’s what mom prefers, but at dad’s you have to always look yellow, then you never get to explore your true color, which might be kind of orange. Daring to be a shade of red at dad’s, or slightly yellow at mom’s, might cause you to be shunned or dismissed. In essence, survival requires you keep the boundaries clear and never let the colors bleed. Unfortunately, the only thing allowed to bleed is your self-worth.
Want your children to be better at choosing a partner than their parents were? Let them be orange, or whatever combination of both parents’ colors they choose. Otherwise, they end up unhappier versions of you.
For more practical co-parent advice, go to www.CPDilemmas.com, or wherever you listen to your podcasts.