For divorced parents trying to minimize the effect on their children, the news is bad. Author Elizabeth Marquardt’s groundbreaking national study of adult children of divorce (ages 18-35) concludes that there are no such things as good divorces.
While good splits are better than bitter ones are, the best divorces still leave children with lasting inner conflict, says Marquardt, a Chicago-based affiliate scholar at the non-partisan Institute for American Values in New York City and herself a child of a good divorce. Her study makes her case in the just published Between Two Worlds.
There are No Good Divorces
Q: Much has been written about the low impact of “good” divorce. Your study says otherwise.
A: Good divorce is a theory, not a fact. The grown children of divorce will tell you there is no such thing as a “good” divorce. Despite parental love and good intentions, divorce creates insurmountable problems for a child.
Q: How so?
A: The parents can both be good people, but they are different. In a marriage, it’s the job of the parents to make sense out of their two worlds. Divorced parents have two different versions of truth. The child sees these worlds as polar opposites. The children grow up traveling between two worlds. They start to feel like a different person with each parent. It really hits the child in their identity formation. With divorce, all of a sudden the child has to say: “Who am I?” and “How do I make sense of this?” This is a huge developmental task that is handed to children of divorce that is not part the lives of children of intact families.
Q: Eventually we all have to answer those questions.
A: Yes, but it happens on the divorce timeline, not on the timeline of the child’s own needs.
Q: Shouldn’t it comfort a child when both parents attend the child’s games and school events?
A: In a “good” divorce, parents get to get together on the soccer field, but because the only connection is the child, that’s hard. It’s the child alone who maintains these two relationships. They are the only common link to both worlds. That’s a big job. It makes them self-conscious. It makes them feel they have to watch both sides. Even surrounded by people, they feel much more isolated.
Q: Other fallout?
A: There’s a lot of loss that comes with divorce. There is this theme of loneliness. Children of divorce are three times more likely to say, “I was alone a lot as a child.” It makes them feel grown up too soon, like little adults. It makes them guarded and can make them secretive. These are the kinds of things that make it really hard to be honest with themselves from being their honest true self with the person they are most intimate with their spouse. These are huge losses that impact their spiritual lives.
Most are much less likely to be religious than those from intact families, but others look to God as the father they never had in real life. The cost can be in their relationship with the parent. One huge finding: Only one third of children of divorce say they went to one or both parents for comfort. Children of divorce are more likely to say they went to peers or handled it alone.
Q: If one is settled on getting a divorce, is there a better time in the child’s life to do it?
A: I don’t find that there is, but the earlier you do it the more complicated it is for the child.
Q: Your advice?
A: Two thirds of divorces end low-conflict marriages. Most are not these abusive, fighting like cats and dogs marriages. People just want out. For parents who are married and have considered divorce (and who hasn’t?) it might be the midlife blahs or boredom. But this good divorce talk is incredibly misleading. We hear the stories about how many kids end up brutally damaged by awful divorces and then hear this good divorce thought: Your child will be fine. But you don’t want to just prevent awful damage in your child. You want them to thrive.
Q: So right the marriage at any cost?
A: No. With chronic infidelity, abuse, addictions, we have divorce. These marriages have to end, but it’s not easy.
But for low-conflict marriages there are great resources, including on the Web: Smartmarriages.com and Marriagefriendlytherapist.com.
This article came from the magazine, U.S. NEWS AND WORLD REPORTS, 9/26/05, written by Katy Kelly, written as a book review for the book, Between Two Worlds, written by Elizabeth Marquardt, published by Three Rivers Press.
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8 responses to “For Children There Are No Good Divorces”
(AUSTRALIA) Divorce CAN be the best thing for the kids. If one parent is being abused by the other parent (emotionally, financially, socially, spiritually, sexually or physically abused, or any combination of the above) then divorce is often for the kids better than living in the pernicious, scary, demoralising, terrifying, confusing atmosphere that the abuser creates. It is better for the good parent to take the kids and get away from the abuser (or have them put out of the home). This brings peace. Even putting up with post-separation abuse from the abuser is usually not as bad as living under the same roof with him all the time. I know. I’ve been there.
Or course divorce is sometimes better. Would you say a mother should not divorce if the dad is sexually abusing the kids? Or sexually abusing her, and making her life a living hell? Come on! Get real.
Barbara, You are taking the article out of context. This article is talking about “low-conflict” marriages. Please re-read the last answer in the article. It’s not saying that a parent is to stay in an abusive situation; it’s saying that it’s not easy, even if there has to be a divorce. It’s tragic when a divorce happens –no matter what the reason. Yes, you have to protect your children, but that doesn’t mean that it’s easy on the children. Again, you’re taking the article out of context.
She stated all that you just complained about; she stated it in her article; she stated unless there is any type of abuse. Also the Bible states that only sexually immoral abuse is grounds for divorce, i. e adultery infidelity without consent underage minor etc.
I am a father of two beautiful children and I just signed the Divorce papers for my wife today of almost 10 years. I was a great strain on her thru the years as a non-believer, but now saved. I never abused, drank, or cheated, but I would lie about my time so I could go do things I wanted to do without getting in trouble (movies, carting, time at the park, etc) but I fractured the trust one lie at a time. Now I saw today my beautiful 6 year old girl is going to have to sit thru a class for children of divorce, by herself, listening to why mommy and daddy are separating. I pleaded with my wife to try counseling as she has refused on so many occasions, but my words fall on deaf ears.
My suggestion to ALL of you out there is BE HONEST and open with your spouse, remember they are part of your body. Would you tell your toe it was ok if it was the size of a grapefruit? Love unselfishly, when your wife asks for help do it if you can and do not try to throw in something you want to do… otherwise you invalidate her. Remember they are to submit to us husbands, but we in turn are to submit to them.
Thank you Bradley, for sharing your painful experience with others. I pray it brings some good. I also pray the Lord works within your heart and life and your wife’s, to focus on helping your children in the way they need it. Of course, I pray for reconciliation for your marital relationship –that you are given the opportunity to prove your change of heart and honesty standards, so that you and your wife can rebuild your marriage and love relationship. But IF your wife won’t listen to the Lord’s promptings to forgive you as she has been forgiven for so much by God Himself, I pray the Lord helps you to live a life of integrity, none-the-less –blessing your children by having a father that is there for them in whatever ways you can. May you grow in Christ in all ways. And may God continue to help you to grow to be the man of God, that HE has ordained that you become.
Divorce = Legal Child Abuse. Bottom line. If someone seeks an unbiblical divorce against another spouse, who is repentant, wants to work on the marriage –then the divorce-seeking spouse is a TERRIBLE and DISGRACEFUL PARENT. I’m not trying to throw judgments around lightly. I just have to state the obvious, that the only things you can do worse to children are all felonies, as they should be.
Unless my wife were to abandon me and choose to not believe or commit her life to unrepentant immoral fornication, I could never divorce her. I couldn’t do it to my babies.
Divorce = Legal Child Abuse ONLY if there is no child abuse. Divorce = salvation for the child when there is child abuse.
Although the author says in the very last paragraph that not all marriages should be saved, the title is implying that there are NO good divorces. I actually know of kids who are so happy their parents divorced. In fact, one threatened to divorce his mother if she didn’t divorce his father! Yes, they are not in the majority, but not acknowledging those cases is irresponsible, and may cause children to be kept in marriages for far longer than they should (often resulting in permanent psychological and brain damage), simply because parents have been told that there are no good divorces.
Please provide guidance for my situation. I’ve been married for 26 years. I cannot recall that we have ever had a happy year together. He is dominating, controlling and mean (verbally, and has threatened physical harm). I feel as if I’m in prison. Why have I stayed? Denial of the existence of my husband’s abuse, my strong beliefs in the sanctity of our marriage vows, not wanting our children (ages 14 and 15) to have to endure the devastation of divorce, and maybe even for fear of his reaction if I do leave.
I’ve sought counseling (from various sources: my minister, independent Christian counselor, independent psychologist, personal physician, women’s shelter counselor), and have asked my husband to accompany me. He refuses, but I’ve gone anyway. Counseling helps, but is not effective without his input or effort. Currently, I avoid him just to keep peace in our household, and am counting down the years until my children leave home so I can separate myself from him. However, the desire to escape becomes stronger every day. The strain is beginning to take a toll on my health, whereas my husband is thriving and looks 8 years younger than me (but I’m 8 years younger than him).
What is the right thing to do from a Christian standpoint? I will continue to stay if what I am enduring is part of “in sickness and in health, for better or worse.”