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Divorce revolves around conflict, and conflict, like a churning tornado, has a way of sucking others into the middle of it. People tend to align themselves with one side of the argument or the other, taking sides with one spouse over another. So be prepared for this possibility.

Family members may take sides in the divorce, and not necessarily according to biological ties, either. You should expect conflict to arise not just between you and your spouse, but among secondary family members as well. Close friends, too, may also be prone to siding with one person or the other. If you have shared mutual friends that you made during the marriage, this is likely to create friction among them.

Those who do take sides may insert themselves into the conflict or look for ways to “punish” the other spouse in whatever way they can. Divorce can reduce grown adults into acting like a bunch of 7th grade girls, tormenting each other according to their cliques. Do your best to keep your head above it all, and recognize that bickering with them in return is not going to help the situation. You’re not going to make them see the error in their ways (at least not right now); it’s just going to add fuel to the conflict.

When children take sides in divorce

As if the conflict between you and your spouse wasn’t enough of a dagger in your side, many parents find themselves facing an allied front against their own children. In one study sample, it was reported that at the time of the breakup, around one-fifth of the children developed an alliance with one parent against the other. (Wallerstein, Lewis & Blakeslee, 2000, p. 116)

These alliances may form naturally without any coaxing from the other parent. In most such cases, children will tend to align themselves with the parent who wants the relationship restored. (ibid) Yet this can depend on the situation surrounding the breakup. In cases where infidelity or other problem behavior by one spouse contributed to the divorce, and children are aware of these things, they may blame the parent who they feel is responsible for breaking up the marriage.

It’s also not uncommon for vengeful, abusive or controlling spouses to co-opt the children as a way to try and lure their spouse back into the relationship or maintain control over their ex, or simply as a means to hurt their former partner. Even in situations of domestic violence, where the other parent is what we refer to in psychological terminology as a wildly abusive prick, children may readily go along with the alliance. The conniving spouse can be very manipulative, convincing the kids that they’re the good guy or that they have their child’s best interests in mind. (Read more on this topic in our chapter on parental alienation, if you haven’t already.)

If you find yourself caught up in this situation, two things are needed: A cool head and patience. Kids will eventually get tired of being angry, and if they’re being manipulated by the other parent, they’ll eventually wise up to this, too. The worst thing you could do is get angry in return. And if you’re the favored spouse, don’t encourage the kids to take sides, and correct them when they do.

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