Ours is often called the throwaway society. Our foods are packaged in beautiful containers designed to be thrown away. Our cars and household appliances are planned for obsolescence. Plus, our furniture is given to the Goodwill shop not because it is no longer functional but because it is no longer in style. Our unwanted pregnancies are even “thrown away.” Business relationships are sustained only so long as they are profitable to the bottom line. Thus, as we give it an honest look, it is no shock that our society has come to accept the concept of a “throw-away marriage.”
If we are no longer happy with each other and our relationship has run upon hard times, the easy thing is to abandon the relationship and start over.
An Honest Look at Divorce
I wish that I could recommend divorce as an option. When I listen to the deeply pained people my natural response is to cry, “Get out, get out, get out! Abandon the loser and get on with your life.” That would be our approach if we had purchased bad stock. Get out before the stock falls further.
But a spouse is not stock. A spouse is a person—a person with emotions, personality, desires, and frustrations. Our spouse is a person to whom we were deeply attracted at one point in our lives. He/she is a person for whom we had warm feelings and genuine care. So deeply were we attracted to each other that we made a public commitment of our lives to each other “so long as we both shall live.” Now we have a history together: We may even have parented children together.
We cannot walk off from a spouse as easily as we can sell bad stock. Yet divorce as a solution to marital problems has proliferated. Divorce now is so widespread that sociologists have been able to complete extensive long-term studies on the effect of divorce upon the couple and their children.
Judith S Wallerstein, director of the largest divorce recovery center in the country has done extensive research following divorced couples for fifteen years after the divorce with regular interviews and inventories. She was seeking to determine the effects of divorce. Her findings are radically different from what she supposed. Wallerstein entered her research with the commonly held idea that divorce is a painful. But she thought it was a short-term experience that leads to greater long-term happiness. She theorized that divorce indeed provided a second chance for one who had made a poor marital choice. Her research led her to a far different conclusion.
According to Dr Wallerstein, the couple and their children never outlive the scars of divorce. Her findings are chronicled in the classic study Second Chances: Men, Women and Children a Decade After Divorce.
Couples have various goals, Wallerstein concluded, but they are rarely realized, for divorce greatly complicates things.
“Whatever the reasons behind the decision, most people ending a marriage hope to improve the quality of life for themselves and for their children. They hope to find a new love, a more enriching relationship, a more responsive sexual partner, a more supportive companion, and a better provider. Failing that, they hope to establish a single life that will provide greater opportunity for self respect, contentment and serenity. Or at the least, they hope for less turbulence, intrusiveness, and hurt.
“People want to believe that divorce will relieve all their stresses. They think, back we go to square one and begin our lives anew. But divorce does not wipe the slate clean. Few adults anticipate accurately what lies ahead when they decide to divorce. Life is almost always more arduous and more complicated than expect.”
Here are some of the revealing statistics of Wallerstein’s fifteen-year study, and the researcher’s response to the findings.
“Incredibly, one-half of the women and one third of the men are still intensely angry at their former spouses, despite the passages of years. To our astonishment, divorce continues to occupy a central, emotional position in the lives of many adults, 10 and 15 years later. A third of the women and a quarter of the men feel that life is unfair, disappointing and lonely.
“I knew that divorce is not an event that can be gotten over if one simply waits long enough. But even I was surprised at the staying power of feelings after divorce. There is no evidence that time automatically diminishes feelings or memories, that hurt and depression are overcome, or that jealousy, anger, and outrage will vanish. People go on living. But just because they have lived 10 more years does not mean they have recovered from the hurt.”
Children of Divorce
And what of the children of divorce? When parents divorce, children lose something that is fundamental to their development-the family structure. Typically, children feel intensely rejected when their parents divorce. Wallerstein agreed. She noted, “Children get angry at their parents for violating the unwritten rules of parenthood. Parents are supposed to make sacrifices for children, not the other way around. Some keep their anger hidden for years out of fear of upsetting parents or for fear of retribution and punishment. Others show it.”
She concludes: “Children do not perceive divorce as a second chance, and this is part of their suffering. They feel that their childhood has been lost forever. Although children need parents and parents want to continue good relationships with their children, parent-child relationships are forever altered by divorce.”
Because we are creatures of memory and relationships, we carry the pain of broken relationships for a lifetime. Children whose parents have divorced put themselves in a different category. They refer to themselves as “children of divorce.” They recognize that the parents’ divorce has made its mark on them emotionally. Many fear for their own future marital happiness. And, in fact, the divorce rate for children of divorce is higher than those whose parents remain together.
Only a small percentage of divorced individuals claim to have found greater happiness in a second or third marriage. In fact, whereas the divorce rate in first marriages is 40%, the divorce rate in second marriages is 60%. And in third marriages, it is 75%. Thus, the prospects of finding a healthier marriage diminish with each remarriage. The hope of the grass being greener on the other side is just a myth.
Their Contact Continues
Divorce, unlike death, does not end the partners’ contact with each other. Most end up living in the same city, particularly if children are involved. Each parent wants to continue a relationship with the children. Thus, they find themselves having regular contact with each other whether they want it or not. The nature of these contacts often keep the wounds of a broken relationship oozing with infection for years.
Financially caring for the children is an obligation that cannot be discarded by a caring parent. Differences of opinion on handling the financial needs of the children often becomes a constant source of irritation between ex-spouses. Then there are the piano recitals, the ball games, the graduations, are the weddings. All of these are filled with tension as two parents seek to be there for their children. They do this, even while not being there for each other. Many of life’s joyous occasions are dampened by the attitudes of two ex-spouses who have different opinions about how the celebration should be conducted.
Nor is divorce a pretty picture financially. The Wallerstein study found that 73% of divorced women experience a decline in standard of living after divorce. Evelyn was sitting in my office two years after her divorce from Bill. “Our marriage was bad,” she said. “But our divorce is even worse. I still have all the responsibilities I had when we were married. But now I have less time and less money. When we married, I worked part time to help out with the bills. Now I have to work full time. This gives me even less time with the girls. When I am at home, I seem to be more irritable. I find myself snapping at the girls when they don’t respond immediately to my request.
Divorce Can Make Things Worse
“I hate being the kind of mother I am, and I get no support from Bill. When he does take the girls, which is about every third weekend, he makes it a party time for them. There are no chores, no work, no responsibilities, just fun with Dad. They come home resenting me for expecting them to do anything. Sometimes I wish that he’d just get out of our lives. But I know that the girls need to have a relationship with their father. It doesn’t seem to get any easier, and I don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel.” Thousands of divorced moms can identify with Evelyn. Divorce doesn’t treat them fairly. The stresses of meeting the physical and emotional needs of their children at times seem overwhelming.
Not all who undergo divorce experience such hardship. Yet, all find the adjustments painful, even when divorce is followed by remarriage. Wayne was all smiles when he said to me, “I finally met the love of my life. We are going to get married in June. I’ve never been happier. She has two children, and I adore them.
“When I was going through my divorce, I never dreamed that I would be happy again. I believe now that I’m about to get my life back on track.” Wayne had been divorced three years at the time of our conversation. However, six months after his marriage to Beverly, he was back in my office complaining about his inability to get along with Beverly and her children.
Struggles of the Blended Family
“It’s like I’m outsider,” he said. “She always puts the children before me. And when I seek to discipline the children, she takes their side and disagrees with me. I can’t spend a dime without her approval. I’ve never been so miserable in my life. How did I set myself get into this mess?” Wayne is experiencing the common struggles of establishing a “blended family.”
There are no “and they all lived happily ever after” divorces. The effects of divorce linger for a lifetime. This is not to say that there is no life after divorce. It is to say that life after divorce is always impacted by life before the divorce. Because the marriage relationship is unique among human relationships and involves deep emotional ties on the part of the husband and wife (at least at some juncture in the relationship, because they have shared their lives with each other for a period of time), there’s no “walking away without pain.” The good and bad memories of the past will be ours forever. And whatever contact we may have with each other in the future, the reality of our problems will still exist.
Divorce Should Be a Last Alternative
Through the years I have counseled enough divorced persons to know that while divorce removes some pressures, it creates a host of others. I am not naïve enough to suggest that divorce can be eliminated from the human landscape. I am saying that divorce should be the last possible alternative. It should be preceded by every effort at reconciling differences, dealing with issues, and solving problems. Far too many couples in our society have opted for divorce too soon at too great a price. I believe that many divorced couples could have reconciled if they had sought and found proper help.
This article came from the book, Loving Solutions by Dr Gary Chapman, published by Northfield Publishing. Unfortunately, this book is no longer being published, which is unfortunate, because in it Gary Chapman offers loving solutions to the most complicated and stubborn marital problems, which many could find helpful.
— ALSO —
An article written by Paul Byerly, posted in The-generous-husband.com web site, gives the top reasons sited for divorce and Paul’s take on the real reason:
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