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The ‘Ying and Yang’ of divorce

Changing tide

Demographic and social changes in the last three decades have resulted in families that are more diverse and complex in their structure. More couples are cohabiting and becoming parents, bringing
with it a higher risk of separation than married parents. Though we are seeing divorce rates remaining relatively constant, the number of stepfamilies is growing fast. Whether it is ‘separation’ or ‘divorce,’ the impact on close family members can be a devastating or positive experience, depending on your perspective.

It is well documented that the stress of divorce and separation can have a detrimental impact on couples. It is also true that it can be a helpful and cathartic process, relieving long term tensions and conflict.

This week we are looking at the Ying and the Yang of divorce and its emotional and psychological impact on the people around us, particularly our children.

For better

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation was among the first to challenge the idea that a “good divorce” is better for the family than a bad marriage. Their 1994 report found that constant fighting between
parents had less adverse effects than parental separation.

Since then, the Centre for Family Research at Cambridge University and the Institute of Economic Affairs have weighed in with similar findings. However, more recent studies have painted a very different picture. For example, the National Family Mediation Group recently released the findings of a qualitative survey asking 11,400 children born in 1958, what impact divorce had during childhood, and in their adult lives.

Against the current flow of expert opinion, many grown-up children of divorce say they were well aware of their parents’ unhappiness, and were relieved when the tension at home was eased. Many of
these people said that staying in a broken relationship is pointless and remember the sadness and stress associated with it.

Others pointed to the fact that their relationship with their parents actually improved after divorce, because both parties were much happier. The research also emphasised the fact that all parents are likely to damage their children in some way. Your parents mark you for good, in some ways that are positive and some that are negative, whether they split up or not. There are plenty of couples who would never dream of divorcing, who are passing on problems that can be as detrimental as those caused by divorce.

One of the overwhelming themes coming from the research is that, although the subjects stated that divorce and separation is an agonising process at the time, divorce made them emotionally stronger once they had recovered from the initial trauma.

In adulthood, a significant number of children enjoy well-established careers and cited being more sensitive towards their relationships, particularly intimate ones. Since they lacked stability in their childhood, they tried to make up for it by building a strong financial and social network, becoming self-reliant in the process.

For worse

There is no doubt that post-divorce, family relationships are irrevocably changed. It can take some time to come to terms with the changes in relationships and expectations. The animosity of the past
often spills over into future romantic liaisons. One or both partners may face emotional, psychological and financial troubles. The end of their marriage can often make them feel lonely and rejected.

Divorce affects the housing arrangements, health and economic status of both partners. Parental love and support is key to the healthy physical, emotional and psychological development and well-being of a child, but when a single parent has to play the role of ‘mother’ and ‘father,’ while juggling a job, something has to give.

Separation from either of the parents can breed a psychological muddle of issues such as insecurity and uncertainty about the future, which can have a psychological impact on the children caught in the
middle.

In a post-divorce scenario, some children are at risk of becoming estranged from their relatives, neighbours and friends.

Moving forward

Divorce brings about many changes for spouses and children and these changes take time to process emotionally and practically. As with any change in the lives of children and adults there are losses and possible gains to be experienced. With the right support children and adults alike are naturally resilient and most adapt well to change and loss in time.

Whilst parents are in the best position to support their children come to terms with this change in their lives, this is a challenging time in the life of a parent when their own resources may be running low. It is essential that parents seek support from friends and family as well as considering seeking support from a specially trained relationship counsellor/family consultant both for themselves and their children.