Being a licensed marriage and family therapist, I have helped many couples over the last 15 years to save their marriage, or in some occasions, to go separate ways. In most cases, the breakdown starts with lack of communication which can lead to lack of intimacy, extra-marital affairs, substance abuse, and even domestic violence.
According to the article, as many as 60% of marriages end in divorce. Regardless of the socioeconomic status or cultural background, a child has the potential to be affected long-term by the divorce of his or her parents. At the very least, most children experience short term developmental disruptions and undergo a certain degree of emotional distress (Palosaari and Aro, 1994). Children of divorces often exhibit certain psychological, social, academic, and behavioral problems, as well (Amato, Loomis and Booth, 1995). While some of these impacts are short term others are long term and can continue well into adulthood (Amato, Loomis and Booth, 1995).
The age of children matters and it is not the same for all children and each age group has its own challenges (California study on divorce, Wallerstein and Kelly). The pre-dominant feelings were anger, anxiety, and fear of abandonment. There was a pervasive sense of loss. One-half of the children were tearful and moody. In addition, one-third showed depressive symptoms such as sleeplessness, restlessness, and difficulty concentrating.
For preschoolers, there might be fear of abandonment so it is key to provide them with additional reassurance and feelings of security. Younger children may regress developmentally, such as wetting the bed or sucking a finger.
Most sadness was experienced by 6 -8 year olds as they didn’t use the fantasy as younger children to avoid the reality. They missed their fathers intensely and were also grieving the loss. It is important to talk to them and acknowledge their intense feelings of grief and loss.
Nine to twelve-year-olds reacted predominantly with anger which was typically directed toward the parent who appeared responsible for the divorce. What may help is let them express their anger in a constructive way, including drawing and art therapy.
On the other hand, teenagers (thirteen to eighteen-year-olds) reported being angry with their parents who started dating again, which they experienced as competition with their own emerging sexuality. They also felt anxiety about whether the break up and how this would affect their own relationships.
It is interesting to note that children who grew up in low-conflict marriages had a more difficult transition as they couldn’t understand why their parents are getting divorced. On the other hand, children in high-conflict marriages were somewhat relieved that their parents are separating as they felt some relief from tension and arguments.
In summary, children can be severely affected as a result of the divorce. Key is for parents to provide nurturing and support and put their differences aside and instead focus on well-being of children and learn about co-parenting. Consistency is extremely important so that children don’t experience two set of rules which can be confusing for them.
This article was adopted from
Bayside Continuing Education and Developmentbaysideceu
For more information:
Amato, Paul R.; Loomis, Laura Spencer; Booth, Alan. (1995, Mar 1). Parental divorce, marital conflict, and offspring well-being during early adulthood.(Children and Generations), Social Forces.
Gillespie, Nick. (1997, Oct 1). The Divorce Culture: How Divorce Became an Entitlement and How It is Blighting the Lives of Our Children.(book reviews), Reason.
Parks, Paula Lynn. (1995, May 31). Breaking Up Is Hard To Do: Helping Your Kids Cope With Divorce, Health Quest: The Publication of Black Wellness.