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Navigating The Negative Impact of Family Coalition in Divorced Families

family coalition

Divorce is a challenging and emotionally charged process that impacts not only the couple but also their children. As families navigate this significant life change, it's crucial to be aware of potential dynamics that can emerge, including the concept of family coalition.

Family coalition refers to the formation of dysfunctional alliances or partnerships within a family, often resulting in the exclusion or isolation of certain members, usually the other co-parent. Many times where coercive control is present the high-conflict co-parent will form secret coalitions with the children against the other co-parent (also known as parental alienation). They may also attempt to form coalitions with only specific children against other siblings as well. This can be further broken down by enmeshed family dynamics and roles within the family dynamics based on hierarchy and control.  

In the context of divorced families, a family coalition can manifest in various ways, impacting the relationships between the healthy parent-children relationship. Here are some signs:

  • Triangulation: Triangulation occurs when one parent involves a child or children in parental conflicts or seeks support from the child against the other parent. This can lead to unhealthy alliances and power imbalances within the family and relationship with the protective parent. The coercive parent may even use the children as pawns to undermine the other parent in executing their control.

  • Parentification: Children may be burdened with responsibilities or roles traditionally held by adults. This parentification can be a coping mechanism but may hinder the child's emotional well-being and keep them psychologically manipulated by the high-conflict co-parent. 

  • Communication Breakdown: A noticeable breakdown in communication between parents and children, with secretive alliances forming, is a clear sign of family coalition. There is a lack of open dialogue between the protective parent and children. They have been told to keep secrets about what occurs at the other parent’s home which can contribute to misunderstandings and tensions with you and your children. 

  • Isolation: Family coalition may result in isolating the protective parent or making them the scapegoat for the family dysfunction. This isolation can be emotional, social, or even geographical, affecting the quality of relationships. The high-conflict co-parent may prevent you from moving closer to support systems or attempt to manipulate the parenting time by stacking theirs with vacation time resulting in you being isolated from the children for lengthy periods. 

  • Emotional Distance: Children may exhibit emotional distance or loyalty conflicts when caught in parental disagreements. They might feel pressured to take sides, leading to internal struggles and distress. When children become withdrawn, depressed, or even overly anxious they are often put in a position to align with the coercive parent. They feel a sense of responsibility for that parent’s emotions and agree to disparaging comments being made against the protetive parent creating an emotional distance between you and your children. 

family coalition

Tips for Navigating Family Coalition:

  • Open Communication: Foster open and honest communication between you and your children. Create a safe space for dialogue about feelings, concerns, and trust to flourish without feeling betrayed if they tell you something the coercive parent is engaging in 

  • Establish Healthy Boundaries: Clearly define roles and boundaries within your home for mutual respect, as well as with your co-parent. Address disparaging, infringement, and other ways they attempt to disrupt your parent-child relationship. 

  • Seek Professional Support: If family coalition dynamics persist or escalate, consider seeking the guidance of someone with a background in family psychology. Professional intervention can provide tools for effective communication and conflict resolution.

Navigating family coalition in divorced families requires awareness, communication, and a commitment to maintaining family boundaries. To further understand family coalition check out our blog of family enmeshment here. Or, if you would like to do further research on the topic and learn more about dysfunctional family dynamics then refer to the Structual Family Therapy guru Salvador Minuchin. 


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