How Does a Divorce Affect a Teenager's Ability to Trust?

by Anna Green

Parental divorce can affect teenagers' emotional and psychosocial development in significant ways. Adolescents whose parents have divorced may feel anxious, insecure or depressed. They may also develop significant trust issues. Adolescents may direct this mistrust toward family members, but an older teen exploring romantic relationships may direct this mistrust toward her romantic partner.

Personal Relationships

Marcia Lipman Lebowitz, who has a master’s degree in social work, explained that after a divorce, a teenager might question his own ability to have “meaningful relationships.” Further, in the teenager’s personal relationships, she might be guarded, reluctant to make commitments or she might behave in manipulative ways to keep her partner from leaving her. Likewise, some teenagers whose parents have divorced may choose to engage in romantic partnerships with the idea that they can end the bonds if the relationship does not meet their expectations. In short, divorce can affect a teenager’s ability to trust both herself and her prospective partners.

Parental Relationships

Divorce can also affect the parent-child relationship. Psychologist Carl Pickhardt explains that teenagers may lose trust in their parents during the divorce process. Teens may direct this mistrust toward the parent who moves out of the family home, because this parent may become less available, which could anger the teen. Further, adolescents may feel pressured to side with one parent or another. This dynamic may be more pronounced if the divorce is adversarial and if parents display mistrust toward one another.

Lifestyle Instability

Because divorce generally brings major changes to the family lifestyle, a teenager might not trust that her parents can meet her basic needs -- in particular, the teen’s emotional needs. This can be particularly painful for a child of the same sex as the parent who has moved out of the family residence. In addition to emotional instability, if the family’s financial situation changes drastically because of the divorce, the teen might not trust her parents’ ability to provide a secure, basic living environment.

Control Issues

Teenagers with younger siblings may try to assume parent-like roles during their parents’ divorce. Teens might also feel uncertain and that they do not trust in their parents’ ability to fulfill their former roles is caretakers. This dynamic may be more pronounced if one or both parents is experiencing depression, anxiety or other significant distress over the divorce. Additionally, teenagers may feel mistrustful of their parents because they perceive their parents putting their own needs above the needs of the family.

About the Author

Anna Green has been published in the "Journal of Counselor Education and Supervision" and has been featured regularly in "Counseling News and Notes," Keys Weekly newspapers, "Travel Host Magazine" and "Travel South." After earning degrees in political science and English, she attended law school, then earned her master's of science in mental health counseling. She is the founder of a nonprofit mental health group and personal coaching service.

Photo Credits

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