In her landmark book: “The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce,” Judith Wallerstein revealed disturbing evidence about the long-term affects of divorce.
For 25 years, Wallerstein (and her team) followed the lives of more than a hundred children from the time their parents went through divorce into their own adulthood experiences. The book details seven of those children who characterize the common experiences of the larger group.
According to the study, “adult children of divorce are telling us loud and clear that their parents’ anger at the time of the breakup is not what matters most. Unless there was violence or abuse or unremitting high a conflict, they have dim memories of what transpired during this supposedly critical period. It’s the many years living in a post-divorce or remarried family that count, according to this first generation to come of age and tell us their experience. It’s feeling sad, lonely and angry during childhood. It’s traveling on airplanes alone when you’re seven to visit your parent. It’s having no choice about how you spend your time and feeling like a second class citizen compared with your vacations. It’s wondering whether you will have any financial help for college from your college-educated father, given that he has no obligation to pay. It’s worrying about your mom and dad for years – will her new boyfriend stick around, will his new wife welcome you into her home? It’s reaching adulthood with acute anxiety. Will you ever find a faithful woman to love you? Will you find a man you can trust? Or will your relationship fail just like your parents’ did? And most tellingly, it’s asking if you can protect your own child from having these same experiences in growing up?”
This study destroys the myth that “… divorce is a temporary crisis that exerts most of its harmful effects on parents and children at the time of the breakup.” The myth is built on the mistaken notion that, “…if the children are distressed by the divorce, the crisis will be transient because children are resilient and resourceful and will soon recover.”
“People who believe this leap to the happy conclusion that the key to the child’s adjustment is the settlement of conflict without rancor.” This is the misleading notion that, “If the two parents don’t fight, at least in front of the children, and if they rationally and fairly settle the financial, legal, and parenting issues that divide them, why then the crisis will resolve itself in short order.”
Wallerstein indicates that a consequence of this myth is that, “…it has prevented us from giving children and adults the understanding they need to cope with the divorce experience over the long haul.”
Never an easy solution
Many who endure the unhappiness of a failing marriage consider divorce the only way out. Yet divorce almost always results in what one has called “an emotional bombshell.” Divorce is almost always more complicated and painful than imagined.
Divorce can shatter self-confidence; rouse guilt, anger and insecurity. Divorce complicates interpersonal relationships – especially when children are involved. Financially, it’s almost always lose-lose.
If you’ve been unable to resolve your marital difficulties, seek a wise marriage counselor. In my 28 years of pastoral ministry, I have seen a number of seriously troubled marriages become stable, satisfying relationships of love and companionship. In each case, it required time and effort but it was always worth it.
Jesus said, “What God has joined together, let man not separate” (Matthew 19:5).
* Even if a structured separation is needed, the primary goal should be to restore the marriage.