When all other options and efforts to remain married have been exhausted, divorce is an act of kindness. However, many couples presume that their lives after divorce will be easier and happier, offering a second chance at love. Unfortunately, statistical evidence clearly demonstrates that divorce is infinitely more complicated and painful than people expect. Even in the rare instances in which divorce is amicable, research indicates that divorce seldom supplies the solutions that the divorcing partners seek.
Marriage brings together two individuals with different histories, perspectives, temperaments and expectations – although often with the same mistaken assumption that each shares the other’s notion of what marriage should be. Unforeseen challenges and conflicts arise, forcing couples to re-orient or re-define themselves. Transitions such as parenthood, career change, financial difficulties, loss of employment or health, the departure of grown children, or bereavement may create turmoil and lead one to question basic suppositions/premises. A partner may become so overwhelmed that he or she stops investing effort in the marital relationship, or so desperate that he or she believes that fulfillment can only be attained outside the marriage.
Other reasons for which couples seek divorce include poor communication, heated arguments, perceived character flaws, loneliness and lack of emotional satisfaction. What needs to be made clear to a couple contemplating divorce is that, in the vast majority of cases, the best response to these problems is to renew the marriage, not to terminate it.
Short And Long Term Affects Of Divorce On Children
Children expect and deserve to grow up in a safe world. Their parents’ role is to nurture and protect them, and to provide reassurance. The dissolution of the family is the single greatest threat to a child’s emotional – and often financial – well-being. Having his parents publicly declare that they cannot love each other enough to stay together causes a child’s sense of security and his view of the world to shatter completely.
Although clearly it is preferable that parents resolve their differences, studies have shown that children can thrive even in homes where there is marital conflict. From a child’s perspective, divorce only exacerbates the problem rather than resolving it, forcing him to adjust to a new and more difficult situation. He now must travel between two homes, often between parents who are still resentful and fighting with each other even though they no longer are living together. Carted back and forth, and confronted with two distinct sets of house rules and parenting philosophies, one teenager commented, “I feel like I’m being torn apart. I’m in the middle of a tug-of-war between Mom and Dad.”
Children often find themselves caught in the middle of arguments between ex-spouses and forced to take sides. Even the most conscientious parents can unintentionally compel a child to decide between Daddy and Mommy. As one nine-year-old child reported, “Holidays are the worst. If I’m with my Mom, then I miss my Dad and know Dad is sad. If I’m with my Dad, then I miss my Mom and know she is home crying.”
When there is no viable alternative to divorce, parents must ensure their children’s emotional well being by arranging some form of therapy. Divorce does not condemn a child to a lifetime of unhappiness; many children of divorce consciously strive to attain committed, loving relationships.
How Divorce Affects Men and Women
Divorce has long-term repercussions for both men and women. In one study, half the women reported feeling lonely and being diagnosed with depression, despite having divorced up to ten years earlier. Surprisingly, fifty percent of these women had been the partners who initiated the divorce. Similarly, the vast majority of men reported some confusion even twenty years post-divorce; they were no longer sure what they wanted out of life.
The expectation that Mr. or Mrs. Right is waiting in the wings is a fantasy. Forty percent of women over the age of thirty never remarry. The dating process is usually experienced as being difficult and discouraging.
When there are children involved, second marriages become even less likely; many people do not wish to assume responsibility for someone else’s children. Their concern is not unfounded, as an almost infinite number of issues regarding the children’s future will need to be determined. Visitation rights and schedules, diet, discipline, education, religious holidays and vacations, medical issues, expenses, weddings, and possibly even grandchildren all require discussion; contact and negotiation with your child’s other parent may continue for the rest of your life!
Even when a second spouse is found, the divorce rate for second marriages is an astounding sixty percent. The difficulty of managing a “blended family,” with its myriad complex interactions with children from a previous marriage, undoubtedly accounts for much of this statistic. Of the forty percent who remain in their second marriages, only twenty percent report marital satisfaction. Men and women in second marriages commonly lament the fact that they delayed addressing their own recurring issues until they had remarried. More painfully, when they honestly look back, they wonder whether they might not have saved their first marriages, had they devoted the same amount of effort they are now expending to make their second marriages work.
Encouragingly, a recent study of 5232 couples who considered divorce but decided to stay married (because of children, finances, or other considerations) said five years later that they were glad they had not divorced. Crises and stressful issues, such as depression or financial troubles, had eased or been resolved with the passage of time, and their marriages had improved.
Where Do We Go From Here?
When husband and wife become mired in negative patterns, not knowing how to forgive and to devise a new scenario, their energy is consumed in perpetuating the status quo while nursing their resentment of their partner’s shortcomings. They must relearn the skills necessary to establish a healthy environment and to restore good will, and a spirit of loving acceptance.
Dr. George Pransky, Ph.D, suggests an analogy to illustrate how couples resolve conflict. Imagine a couple spending a romantic evening in front of a fireplace in their old home when, suddenly, they become aware of a chilling draft. They may elect either to search for the cracks allowing cold air to penetrate and then install weatherproofing, or to throw another log on the fire, thereby producing more warmth.
I have found that people considering divorce invest most of their emotional and intellectual resources in “weatherproofing” their marriage or wondering how to do so. Yet, just as weatherproofing will lessen a draft but will not generate warmth, a critical approach to problems may halt unwanted behaviour but will not engender intimacy.
Focusing intently upon their concerns and disappointments, spouses forget to enjoy their marriage and to invest emotionally in this crucial relationship. When one partner is dissatisfied with the marriage, an entirely new strategy is necessary. Spouses must resolve to renounce old anger and presumptions, to stop thinking “If he (or she) would only do what I want.” They must assume responsibility for becoming proactive, rather than passive or merely reactionary, in envisioning and realising a productive marriage
Learn how to listen attentively to your spouse’s needs and views without superimposing your own “agenda,” and to respond appropriately. I have seen many presumably unsalvageable marriages transformed when partners began to feel that their needs were being recognised. This sense of “validation” replaces resentment with respect, understanding, love and hope. When pathology and blame are exchanged for a desire for health and growth, relationships mature and the bond between the spouses strengthens and deepens. Marriage should, and can, be fulfilling and holy.
While I recognize that the sobering divorce statistics cannot found a good marriage, my prayer is that the above information will reach those couples that have given up trying to improve their marital relationships. Adopting a new approach, even to problems that seem intractable, will enable them to embark upon the rewarding process of re-inventing their sacred bonds.