Q. My wife and I have an unhappy marriage. I love my wife but I wonder if we should get divorced. I know it would hurt the kids but isn't our unhappiness and bickering also hurting them?
A. There are many misconceptions about divorce and it’s effects on children as well as adults. The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce by Dr. Judith Wallerstein, Julia Lewis and Sandra Blakeslee describes a study of the effects of divorce. Dr. Wallerstein interviewed sixty families at the time of their divorce and re-interviewed them five, ten, fifteen and twenty-five years later. The results reveal a number of major misconceptions about divorce.
The study showed that children are not happier after parents divorce even though they are no longer exposed to bickering and even if their parents may be happier. The facts show that children of divorce suffer greatly from anger, fear, sadness, depression, worry, rejection, conflicting loyalties, lowered self-esteem, anxiety, loneliness and even suicidal thoughts.
The study also showed that divorce is not just a temporary crisis at the time of the divorce. Dr. Wallerstein says she did not see the whole picture until she interviewed these children as adults. She found that the child’s life was “profoundly altered by the divorce experience.” The child of divorce experiences many new relationships and changes: stepparents, step-siblings, second marriages, second divorces, and often a series of live-in lovers. The child experiences “a series of losses as people come and go.” Adult children of divorce say, “The day my parents divorced is the day my childhood ended.”
Another misconception this study exploded was the idea that the best time to divorce is when children are very young. The facts show that the youngest children suffer the most. Young children are at an age when they need almost constant attention, protection and nurture. The turmoil of divorce does not provide this.
A fourth misconception is that the major impact of divorce occurs in childhood or adolescence. Wallerstein’s study showed that children of divorce suffer the most in adulthood. Due to the pain of their childhood losses children of divorce bring baggage into their intimate relationships. They may make poor relationship choices, give up too easily when problems occur, or avoid relationships.
In addition adults are not immune to the pain of divorce. Even the person who most strongly wants out of a marriage will experience a period of grieving. Chris Cox, columnist for the Asheville (N.C.) Citizen Times, wrote about his own experience of divorce, “Divorce is a bomb that blows to shreds your sense of who you are and what you have become. It is a series of land mines, going off in your face when you least expect, the shrapnel of memories searing your heart.” He goes on to say, “You cannot escape the reality of loss. Rather, you must...soak in it, swim in it, absorb it..- in addition to letting go, once and for all, of the life you thought you had and the future that life implied.”
Divorce affects friends and extended family relationships and brings pain and loss to friends, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews. Divorce is never a pain free solution.
What can you do to begin to solve things? Watch five videos called Choosing Wisely Before You Divorce available free on www.beforeyoudivorce. Each video shows film clips of experts talking interspersed with couples telling their experiences. Ideas for resolving differences are also presented. Some couples who have watched these videos have decided to stay together. Those who have decided to go ahead with a divorce have had a more peaceful divorce as a result of considering the effects of divorce before hand.
Counseling with a Christian counselor or pastor along with The Third Option group for couples on the brink of divorce can help you work out the differences and conflicts in your marriage. Don’t give up. Divorce will compound your problems, not solve them.
“Change your ways. Encourage each other. Live in harmony and peace.” 1 Cor. 13:11 NLT