Looking after yourself when your parents don’t get along

It can be stressful when your parents don’t get along. Aoife has some advice on things you can do that make a big difference.

Written by Aoife Hynes


Parents don’t always get along. My parents split eighteen years ago, but the scars are still there. The argument isn’t fresh but they simply can’t move on. They rarely speak over the phone, communication usually flows through myself and my brother. When they are in the same room they don’t look at one another, and if they are near each other for too long it descends into bickering. It’s inevitable. At this point I find humour in a lot of their interactions.

It’s hard to grow up with parents who hate one another. You can end up caught in the middle, a bit like a chew toy between two dogs. Sometimes there’s pressure to take sides, sometime you choose one. There can be an irresistible urge to try patch things up. Based on my personal experience, I don’t recommend putting yourself through that. The battle seems endless and soul-crushing. You probably won’t ever win. Your parents are adults and it isn’t your responsibility to make them act like it.

Coping mechanisms are unbelievably important. Remember you are the priority. The below are coping mechanisms that have worked for me and helped me in the past.

Take a step back

So first take a step back. Distance yourself from their issues. Maybe you feel guilty because you are the tie that holds them together. Try to detach from those feelings for a few seconds, and take a look at the situation. You are not in charge of them. Like I said before, they are adults. Their issues are not your issues. This was never your problem.

Talk to someone you trust

Find a method of sharing your feelings. A problem shared is a problem halved. Think of someone you trust completely. This person should be an open ear and understanding. Just expressing what you are experiencing can feel like a weight off your shoulders. If you aren’t comfortable telling someone you know there are helplines such as Samaritans (116 123) or Childline (ring 1800666666 or text 50101). There are many places to turn to and a brief search on-line will help you find them. They listen to the big and small things and provide an excellent service. Or if this doesn’t appeal to you you could keep a journal. It can be a summary of your day, a piece on how you feel, or personal poetry. I prefer the last one myself.

Find ways to have time and space to yourself

Living in the midst of constant tension can really damage your health. A tense atmosphere increases stress levels. Adrenaline rushes through your body and you can feel like you’re waiting for the predator that never strikes. It’s essential to get a break from it all. Make a safe space. Mine was always my room. Somewhere to read a book, watch YouTube, play guitar. A haven of retreat. Find hobbies that will get you outside of the house for a bit of fun. I find sports or walking especially good as they help alleviate tension built up in your body. Time out of the house will make you feel less trapped, particularly if you spend that time with supportive people.

Talking to your parents

Then there’s the toughest step. Often it can be the most necessary measure. Try talking to your parents if you think it will help. Parents are people too, it's easy to forget that. Just like us they can lose sight of how their behaviour affects those around them. They may be upset to realise that they have hurt you. If you approach them in a mature way it can make it easier to have an open conversation.  For some of you it could be your first time starting an adult conversation with them. This is daunting. To take away some of the fear, plan out what you want to say. Think about starting the conversation. Which parent do you approach first? Who is more available? Who’s the better listener?

Whatever you choose to do remember that where possible, curing the problem is always better than treating the symptoms. So if it is possible to communicate your feelings to your parents, do try. No matter what, I think it’s important to put yourself first. Look for healthy ways to deal with the hard parts. And hey, you’re here looking for answers. That’s already a step in the right direction.

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