Published on March 6, 2024

What causes relationship breakdown? This is a question that Cyrenians Scottish Centre for Conflict Resolution (SCCR) has been working on since our service was launched in 2014. As we mark our tenth anniversary this year, we’ve been reflecting on the role conflict between parents and carers and their young people plays in the breakdown of relationships within families.

Anyone who looks after young people or was one themselves, no matter how long ago, will remember teenage years are difficult. It’s a time of highs and lows, a period in which we struggle to define ourselves as our bodies grow and change in ways that can unsettle the child becoming an adult.



This is a time when the structure of our brains develops with knock-on effects for mood and behaviour that can be as bewildering for parents and carers as it can be for the young people themselves. To give an example of a change in behaviour caused by the growth and development teenagers undergo that is often misread as laziness – teenagers often sleep longer and later than adults. During puberty, teenagers produce melatonin at a later time than younger children, and so aren’t ready to sleep until later. It’s important for a parent or carer not to interrupt a young person’s sleep even if it’s lasting longer than you’re comfortable with as its during sleep that young people’s brain’s produce human growth hormone.

So, what causes relationship breakdown? While the science of conflict is fascinating, and when shared with caregivers can take some of the heat out of a conflict situation, readers of this blog might be after some advice right now that can restore an element of harmony to a household.


Here are five tips parents and caregivers can try with their young person to reduce tension.

  • Active listening

Both parties should actively listen to each other without interruption or judgment. This means paying full attention to what the other person is saying, acknowledging their feelings, and paraphrasing their words to show understanding. This helps create an atmosphere of mutual respect.

  • Express feelings constructively

Encourage each other to express feelings in a respectful way. Emphasize the use of ‘I’ statements to communicate personal feelings and experiences without blaming the other person. For example, instead of saying, ‘You never listen to me’, one could say, ‘I feel frustrated when I don’t feel heard’.

  • Identify common ground

Look for areas of agreement or shared goals that both parties can agree on. Finding common ground helps shift the focus from the conflict to solutions.

  • Brainstorm Solutions Together

Encourage open-mindedness and creativity in finding solutions. Brainstorming allows both parents and young people to contribute ideas without judgment. Aim for win-win solutions where both parties feel their needs are met to some extent.

  • Seek Compromise and Negotiation

Be willing to compromise and negotiate to reach a resolution that is acceptable to both parties. This may involve making concessions on certain issues.

SCCR’s specific mission is to work towards reducing levels of youth homelessness in Scotland caused by family conflict. Relationship breakdown remains the leading cause of youth homelessness in Scotland. Early intervention is key. What we do at SCCR is try to get ahead of that point where mediators are needed to come in and work with families.

While our work is centred on Scotland, our website and online events can be accessed by anyone anywhere in the world as long as they have an internet connection. Our digital resources, which are free to use, offer practical advice on how to deal with conflicts related to subjects such as money, relationships and respect.

Over the past decade, SCCR has contributed to a change of culture in Scotland where we’ve moved away from the stigma associated with asking for help towards a culture where parents and carers feel encouraged to seek support. There’s still much work to do, but the direction of travel is encouraging. Come join us on our journey.

You may find the publication ‘Split Survival Kit’ a useful resource for young people dealing with a family breakdown.

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And is in relation to the topic…

The Early Days Of Separation

Humans are designed to cope with many onslaughts, but change continues to prove extremely challenging. How you manage the early days of separation or divorce has the potential to set the tone for the rest of the process.

When couples separate, they are often thrown into a period of uncertainty. Identities are changing from couple to single, from mum and dad together as a family unit to mum with children and dad with children. Depending on the circumstances and who decides to leave the family home, there are many questions that arise during the early days of separation. “Will we have to sell our home?” “I haven’t worked since we had children – how will we manage financially?” “What will our friends and family think?” “How much will divorce cost?”
“Will I cope on my own?” There seems to be so much to sort out both practically and emotionally and it comes at a time when at least one of you will be ‘all over the place’ emotionally due to the loss you are experiencing. This can make decision-making seem impossible. Who wants to agree the practicalities of legal issues and more importantly organise the children when they are devastated, angry and confused by loss? It can turn otherwise rational, clear-thinking mums and dads into what appears to be belligerent, stubborn, unreasonable people.

Take Your Time!

In those early days of separation or divorce, take your time if you can. Seek support from friends, family and professionals. Try not to make any big decisions too quickly.
Bear in mind that communication problems with your ex and all the pressures on family life you are now experiencing, like for many separating couples, will get better with time. It’s important to recognise that you and your ex will more than likely be in very different emotional places at the moment; different stress levels and anxieties will be making communication difficult. Taking the time to sometimes do nothing, to not react, give things a day or two, can prove very useful techniques.
What you have to remember is that if you have children, your ex is always going to be part of your life. That can be hard to take on board when you are feeling hurt and angry. If you can find a way to communicate with each other that focuses on the children, you will all benefit in the years to come.

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