Divorce — 23 December 2007
Downsides to divorce

Though the choice to divorce is rarely impulsive, it is often not fully thought through. Most individuals, who reach this decision, believe that they have given it some time, attempted to improve the marriage, considered the alternatives and resorted to this option only after experiencing ongoing feelings of discouragement and hopelessness. Yet, erroneous beliefs, misinformation and intense emotions contribute to some people’s decision to break up their marriage.

It is recommended that important decisions be made at a time of clarity, emotional stability and comfort. The decision to divorce is often made during great marital unhappiness, when the decider feels unloved, hurt and lonely, rendering him/her less able to accurately assess all the factors.

The immediate motivation for divorce stems from the need for relief from emotional pain. Though it is a very compelling need – pain-relief is a short-term perspective. The decider may believe that anything will be better than the state of isolation, unmet needs and pain that he /she is experiencing at the moment. Yet, as in many medical conditions, pain is a symptom of dysfunction and a call for treatment. In relationships getting help and resolving the causes of the estrangement can lead to healing and eventual happiness.

Though most people know that divorce is very hard for the children, they rationalize that kids are resilient and they will recover, or that children are better off with two happy parents living apart than two unhappy ones living together. E.M. Heatherington research cited in “For Better or For Worse: Divorce Reconsidered”, suggests that “Children of divorce are more than twice as likely to have serious social, emotional, or psychological problems as children of intact families—25 percent versus 10 percent”. Other studies by Amato and Dawson report that children in lower conflict families are better off if their parents stay together and in high conflict homes children fare better if their parents part.

Some people delude themselves that divorce will free them from the difficult mate. Actually, marriages with children never end and the relationship with the former spouse and the new family often becomes even more difficult. The necessary negotiations and compromises are fraught with ever-increasing stress, conflict, and frustration, greater than the ones they thought they left behind.

Those who divorce believe that they have done everything possible to ameliorate the situation and since it did not get resolved, it must be due to a partner’s flawed nature. Regrettably, it is only after another marriage develops natural challenges that the individual becomes aware that it is he/she who is the common denominator to both marriages.

Second marriages with children are often much more difficult and complex than the original marriage. The issue of being primary to the new partner is often compromised by the new partner’s connection to his/her children and former spouse, which strains one’s uniqueness to the new partner.

Some people complicate their lives by becoming attached to another person prior to the divorce. Affairs can never be compared to marriages, since they are two completely different contracts. An affair is a contract for mutual admiration and play, while a marriage is a contract for a shared life encumbered by many expectations. When comparison are made between the lover and the spouse, the lover seems to be the answer to all the unmet needs one has – only to be disillusioned when the affair becomes a marriage and the real life begins.

Those who choose to initiate a divorce have often researched the essential practical issues such as: division of assets, housing, spousal support etc. Yet, they cannot fathom the emotional implications of the divorce process. Michelle Weiner Davis in her book “Divorce Busting” states: “Too often the fallout from divorce is far more devastating than many people realize when contemplating the move.”

Losing the day-to-day contact with the children is an inevitable outcome of divorce. Missing your child’s daily challenges and successes is an irretrievable loss.

Morally, having selected one’s happiness over the dejection of a mate and heartbreak to the children- is an option that saddens many divorced individuals.

Becoming discouraged when relationships are unsatisfactory is understandable, getting despondent and quitting is unwise. With some exceptions, divorce is not an experience that leads to eventual happiness. Staying together and working through the difficult times can transform couples lives and create a joint venture loaded with great rewards.

Considering non-divorce options will be discussed in a future column.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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