Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

The Broken Oedipal Triangle: How Divorce Might Impact A Child

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on December 1, 2011


Shantay, twelve years chronologically and nine years in her behavior, is chronically angry at her dad for divorcing her mom. “He is a bad person?” She asks her mom. Maaki  responds  knowing that it is wrong to speak poorly about her dad, but also thrilled that Shantay shares her point of view about him. Maaki’s ex-husband, Albert, Shaantay’s dad, left the family three years ago, and although he denies having an affair while they were married, he quickly started a relationship with another woman and now they are married and starting their own family. Maaki is also remarried, but Albert reports that getting remarried did not stop Maaki’s resentment of him. Shantay sees the world from Maaki’s point of view. She is suspicious of her dad and protective of her mom. When Maaki is particularly mad at Albert, so is Shantay. Psychoanalysts call this identification. Shantay is so tied into Maaki’s point of view, that Shantay does not have an independent assessment of Albert as her father. As such, Shantay is deprived of experiencing a father/daughter relationship in a way in which she can come to her own conclusions about her dad and her family life. “Does this mean that Shantay will have trouble trusting men when she gets older?” Maaki asks me. “That is hard to say,” I respond, thinking that in a deep way, Maaki might want Shantay to have troubled relationships with men in order to show Albert how much he harmed his family by his behavior. I say to Maaki, “the best thing you can do is enjoy your life and help Shantay to enjoy hers.” Once again I tread the difficult waters of not being Maaki’s therapist, but as an advocate for Shantay, I know that if Maaki could work through her resentment towards Albert, then Shantay would be the better for it. Divorce hurts children when the parental alliance is broken. It is the cut in the respect and authority of the parents that is detrimental to children, not necessarily the marriage per se.  Shantay has to emotionally separate from Maaki; this could take a lifetime.


2 Responses to “The Broken Oedipal Triangle: How Divorce Might Impact A Child”

  1. Shelly said

    So what should Maaki have done to ensure Shantay’s future mental health, stayed with Albert? Even if their relationship was strained or broken, would this have been better for Maaki?

    • Maaki, in my opinion, needs to go to psychotherapy to work through her resentment of Albert such that she can allow her children to develop their own relationship with him. Maaki is acting out her anger towards Albert, rather than processing it internally. As such, she has an unconscious agenda to encourage Shantay to “hate” her father. Making this unconscious agenda closer to her awareness would help all involved. Thanks….

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