Most parents complain about their partner to their child once in a while, and it often is not a big deal. However, if the complaining becomes habitual problems arise.
Many times in a couple relationship when communication breaks down, one of the individuals will go outside of the relationship to complain about their partner. This is often referred to as triangulation. Triangulation can be problematic- especially if the third-party is a child. The boundaries in the family become blurred. No longer are the parents a united front, pulling together to co-parent the child. The primary bond is now between the child and one of the parents, leaving the other parent out.
This confusion of boundaries within a family is a form of triangulation. Triangulation may provide temporary relief to one of the parents, but the conflict within the marriage is not resolved, and the left out parent becomes more isolated from the family. The parents, knowingly or unknowingly, have allowed the child to interrupt the intimacy within the marriage.
This is damaging to the child on multiple levels. The child is robbed of the opportunity to be a child- a child parented by two emotionally mature adults. Instead, the child is burdened with adult concerns surrounding his or her parent’s relationship. The child is also more likely to become estranged from the left out parent and the parent child bond severed.
This type of triangulation robs the child of the opportunity to observe healthy boundaries within the family. What has been modeled for the child is likely to be repeated, and he or she may eventually have a difficult time forming healthy adult relationships. This impacts future generations. Triangulation may decrease anxiety temporarily between the partners, but it also destroys the couple bond and undermines the independence of the child.
In healthy families, partners are able to communicate with each other and work out differences without bringing the child into their relationship problems. If the parents are having a difficult time resolving conflict, they take their problems to another adult for counsel- not their children.
Parents need to be there to meet the emotional needs of the child, not the other way around. Children who are put in a position to comfort and counsel their parents are less likely to go to them with their own difficulties. This puts the child at risk for a whole host of problems.
Children may think that they like the special bond that they share with just one parent. They may feel special thinking that they are more important than their other parent. But as they grow, they grow to resent the family dynamics. They often grow angry at one or both parents.
If you think that your family boundaries have become blurred, seek professional help to set things straight. You are worth it, your child is worth it, your family is worth it.
The Essentials of Family Therapy, Nicholas, Michael. Boston:Pearson, 2007.