The issue of divorce is
really tough. It is usually extremely painful and stressful for all concerned. At its
best, both partners act maturely and amicably, and move on to better things in life. At
its worst, it becomes a nightmare of rage and revenge.
We think divorce can be the best alternative for people who have no
real hope of finding happiness, safety, and security with each other. It is true that
divorce can take its toll on the children, but it is doubtful that living in a toxic
family environment is any better.
We encourage you to read more in the following topics:
The Impact of Divorce on the Children
Children and teenagers
face a number of significant changes when their parents divorce, forcing them to make
major adjustments in their lives.
Some changes are concrete -- moving to a new place, changing schools,
losing friends and having to make new ones, and facing a lower standard of living.
Children of all ages, but particularly young children, often blame
themselves when their parents get divorced. They think they are somehow responsible, that
if they had been a better kid things would have been okay.
The children might also think that a parent's departure means that
parent is angry with them or does not love them. They might never say these things out
loud, but they might be suffering a lot of anguish inside. It is important to talk with
them about the divorce, and to reassure them it has nothing to do with their behavior or
how much they are loved.
If a parent remarries, the children have to adjust to their new
step-parent and step-siblings. Often, this is particularly difficult because it provokes
concerns about loyalty to the other parent. Also, the child might have to deal with that
parent's negative response to the remarriage. There is also the reality that they simply
might not like or fit in with their new step-family.
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Custody battles can be extremely hard on the children. Certainly, there
are times when a parent needs to fight for custody (or against the other parent's custody
and visitation), but only when the child's safety is concerned.
When the other parent is abusive or neglectful or abusing drugs, a
custody fight can be necessary. But when a parent is simply enraged over being rejected, a
custody battle is not warranted. Even if the other parent has a new lover who sleeps over,
this does not make them unfit to be a parent, and does not justify putting a child
throughout the trauma of a custody battle.
Visitation arrangements can be very stressful on the children if they
are not well-planned and implemented. We sometimes see situations where visitation is used
as a weapon against the former partner, often as an expression of rage, and sometimes as
blackmail to get financial concessions. In these cases, one parent refuses to comply with
the visitation rules or makes it excessively difficult on the other partner. It is very
harmful to the children, who are used as pawns in the battle.
Another problem that arises with visitation occurs when a parent does
not pick the children up as scheduled, cancels visits, or shows no interest in spending
time with the children. In these cases, the child's sense of rejection is enormous.
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Reactions to Divorce:
Children react to divorce (as to any major change) with diverse
behavioral changes. Signs that a child is struggling with the divorce include increased
anger, behavior problems, a decline in school performance, withdrawal, becoming
"clingy," and sleep disturbances. They might need more reassurance than usual
(especially if they think the divorce is their fault). Also, they can express jealousy and
resentment toward new step-parents and step-siblings.
We encourage you to read more about possible problematic reactions on
our Adjustment Disorders, Child Behavior,
Depression, and Anxiety pages.
The Impact of Divorce on the Adults
It is realistic for
people going through a divorce to feel hurt, rejected, angry, and scared. No matter how
mature you are, it never feels good when someone you thought was there forever no longer
wants to be with you. And the upheaval, uncertainty, and changes in standard of living are
bound to provoke stress, anger, and anxiety.
When we are hurting, we are rarely at our best. We might want our
former partner to hurt as badly as we do and we might act in ways that are petty and
childish. Fair enough. As psychologists, we understand the hurt and anger, but we also
believe people have to take responsibility for themselves and limit how much they act on
their emotional impulses. To do otherwise is too costly to themselves and to the children.
Our response to this hurt and upheaval can be handled in different
ways, some constructive and some quite harmful.
Some common destructive
responses include seeking vengeance, bad-mouthing your former partner, putting the
children in a position where they have to take sides, threatening suicide, self-medicating
with alcohol and pills, refusing to let go and move on, and stalking. Some people even go
so far as to murder their former partner. A more common destructive response is forcing a
custody/visitation battle, not when the safety of the children is the issue, but simply
because you are enraged at your former partner and you are determined to "make
The underlying belief of
destructive responses is, "How dare he/she leave me! How dare he/she upset my apple
cart! He/She has no right to want something else but this (me)!" There is an
assumption that, once someone marries, they can't change their mind.
Now, we know it is a great idea for people to take their commitments
seriously. But the reality is that people change -- they change their minds, and they
change who they are and what they want in life.
There are no guarantees in relationships. Anything that you want to
last takes mutual effort, wise choices, and a fair amount of luck. When any of those are
missing, divorce can occur.
include acknowledging your hurt, anger, and anxiety; seeking support from friends and
family; maintaining some degree of mutual respect and amicability with your former partner
(for the sake of the children); coming to terms with your partner's desire to leave while
still maintaining a sense of self-esteem; and re-asserting your own goals and plans.
The Role of the Psychologist
A psychologist can help
you handle the process of divorce and recovery. The goal of divorce adjustment therapy
with adults is to deal with the feelings and the losses,to adapt to the changes, and to
move on with life in some productive way that restores your self-confidence and trust in
The psychologist can
help children and teenagers come to terms with the divorce, clarify their misconceptions,
and help them deal with their feelings. In addition, the psychologist can help the child
manage the adjustments he has to make, such as dealing with a new step-family.