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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

General Issues:

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 and Visitation:

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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Children's 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.

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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.

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Destructive Responses

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 him/her pay."

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.

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Constructive Responses

Constructive responses 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.

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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 others.

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.

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Disclaimer:  You know, we see a disclaimer like this in every ad that lawyers put out, and it probably is a good idea for us to use one, too:  "No representation is made that the quality of the psychological services to be performed is greater than the quality of psychological services performed by other psychologists.  The outcome of assessments or psychotherapy, or individual client satisfaction, cannot be guaranteed and is dependent on many factors.  Material on this site regarding symptoms, disorders, and treatment is informational only.  Diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders requires the expertise of a trained professional."

The information on this site regarding psychological disorders and treatment comes from many sources that cannot be credited, simply because they have been integrated over the years into our general knowledge base. However, one important source is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition (1994) published by the American Psychiatric Association.