There is almost no misery like the misery of a failing marriage.
Life becomes much harder when a relationship meant for love and companionship becomes one of conflict and distance.
But is divorce the only escape from a troubled marriage?
In the US, almost 50% of all first marriages, and 60% of second marriages end in divorce.
One survey indicated that about half of those who divorced later wished that they or their ex-spouse had tried harder to work through their differences.
Getting a legal divorce is relatively easy; the experience of divorce is far more painful.
Divorce diminishes self-confidence and multiplies a mixture of guilt, anger, and insecurity. It also complicates interpersonal relationships — especially when children are involved.
Divorce is not an easy solution for a troubled marriage, but it’s far worse for the one million children each year in the US who share the experience of their parents’ divorce.
In “The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce” Judith Wallerstein presents sobering evidence of the long-term negative effects of divorce on children. Those questioning whether they should keep their marriage vows for the sake of the children should read this book.
For 25 years, Wallerstein followed the lives of more than a hundred children from the time of their parents’ divorce into their own adulthood experiences. Wallerstein focuses especially on seven of those children who characterize the common experiences of the larger group.
This study exposes the long-standing notion that ending an unhappy marriage is better for the children. This myth says, “If parents are happier, children will be happier.” It’s misguided to suppose that children who are distressed by divorce will soon get over it because children tend to be resilient.
Equally misguided is the notion that “… divorce is a temporary crisis that exerts most of its harmful effects on parents and children at the time of the breakup.”
The authors of this study state that, “People who believe this leap to the happy conclusion that the key to the child’s adjustment is the settlement of conflict without rancor.” It’s 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.”
A sad 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.”
“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 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 friends in intact families who have some say about how they spend their weekends and their 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 relationships 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.”
We must be patient and work harder at relationships. Too many couples marry with unrealistic expectations of ease and sustained happiness. We must help young people understand that maintaining a good marriage requires effort and commitment. But the rewards are worth it. They must know that marriage is not about being in love but an agreement to love.
If you’ve been unable to resolve your marital difficulties, seek help from a counselor. With God’s help, through caring people, deeply troubled marriages can be turned around to become satisfying relationships of love and companionship.