by Debbie Altman
Both my husband Craig and I come from divorced homes, so I have experienced first-hand the effect divorce has on families. We have also ministered to adults and teens for over 30 years, and seen the heart-breaking effects of divorce in the lives of others.
The last thing I want to do is to put anyone who is already divorced under condemnation. And I do believe that there are Biblical and moral justifications for divorce in specific types of situations such as infidelity, abuse and chronic addiction. However, with the alarming increase in the amount of divorce that we see all around us, it has been on my heart to write out some of my thoughts on this subject, based on Biblical scripture, scientific findings, and again, personal and ministry experience. This is a difficult subject to cover in a short blog, but I pray that it might cause some to re-think.
Unfortunately, in today’s culture, too many feel that divorce is an easy answer without thoroughly considering the deep and lasting spiritual, generational and practical costs of this decision. In writing this, my hope is not to judge, but to encourage great pause, intense prayer, and accountability to anyone contemplating divorce.
Truth #1: Divorce hurts children
More than 30 years of research continues to reveal the negative effects of divorce on children. Most of these measurable effects are calculated in increased risks. In other words, while divorce does not mean these effects will definitely occur in your child, it does greatly increase the risks.
Research comparing children of divorced parents to children with married parents shows:
- Children from divorced homes suffer academically; are more likely to be incarcerated for committing a crime as a juvenile; experience more illness and recover from sickness more slowly; are much more likely to engage in drug and alcohol use; and view premarital sex and cohabitation more favorably.
- Divorce can affect quality of parenting. Some parents become overly close, inappropriately elevating the children to the role of companion to replace the lost spouse. Other parents can become authoritarian as they direct the stress, anger and loss they feel toward the children, doling out more negative and punitive discipline. Children might be unsupervised for longer periods and see parents less. Parents can feel more exhausted and overwhelmed and have little left to devote to their children, which can lead to disruptions in affection, discipline, and even the daily household routines, such as meals and bedtimes. A hallmark of parenting after a divorce is that it is more erratic and inconsistent. As psychologist Judith Wallerstein observed, “It’s not that parents love their children less or worry less about them. It’s that they are fully engaged in rebuilding their own lives – economically, emotionally, socially and sexually. Parents’ and children’s needs are often out of sync for many years after the breakup.”
- Anxiety and doubt regarding marriage, leads many adult children of divorce into making bad choices in relationships, giving up hastily when problems arise, or avoiding relationships altogether.
- Children of divorced parents suffer more frequently from symptoms of psychological distress, and the emotional scars of divorce last into adulthood. Getting caught in the crossfire of bitterness and revenge between parents after divorce only increases this distress.
Divorce is a loss that will affect children forever. It is like a grief that is never over. All special events, such as holidays, plays, sports, graduations, marriages, births of children, etc., bring up the loss created by divorce as well as the family relationship conflicts that result from the ‘extended family’ celebrating any event.
Divorce is no small thing to children. It is the ripping apart of their parents, and a loss of stability. While we often think of children as resilient, going through such trauma is a lot to ask of our kids.
Truth #2: Divorce has devastating financial effects.
- The process of divorce is expensive. The income that used to support one household is split and now must support two households. The possibility of extensive litigation regarding finances and child custody further depletes financial resources.
- Researchers estimate divorcing individuals will need more than a 30% increase in income, on average, to maintain the same standard of living they had prior to divorce.
- About one in five women fall into poverty as a result of divorce.
- Three out of four divorced mothers don’t receive full payment of child support.
- Most men experience a loss in standard of living in years after divorce as well, of about 10%-40%.
“When it comes to building wealth or avoiding poverty, a stable marriage may be your most important asset,” say Drs. Linda Waite & Maggie Gallagher, noted marriage researchers.
Truth #3: Divorce affects health and well-being
While there are some positive benefits to divorce for some individuals, the overall picture documents how hard the process of family breakdown can be on adults, not just children.
- Yale researchers concluded that being divorced is almost as detrimental to a person’s health as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. And both men and women suffer decline in mental health after a divorce.
- Divorced individuals, especially women, are more vulnerable to depression. They have higher levels of psychological stress, lower levels of psychological well-being, and poorer self-esteem.
- Divorced individuals see a doctor more often and are more likely to suffer from serious illnesses.
- Divorced individuals are more likely to die at earlier ages.
Truth #4: Statistically, divorce does not make people happier
A study conducted by University of Chicago sociologist Dr. Linda Waite, found no evidence that unhappily married adults who divorced were typically any happier than unhappily married people who stayed married. Even more dramatically, the researchers also found that two-thirds of unhappily married spouses who stayed married reported that their marriages were happy five years later.
Why doesn’t divorce typically make adults happier? The authors of the study suggest that while eliminating some stresses and sources of potential harm, divorce may create others as well. The decision to divorce sets in motion a large number of processes and events over which an individual has little control that are likely to deeply affect his or her emotional well-being. These include the response of one’s spouse to divorce; the reactions of children; potential disappointments and aggravation in custody, child support, and visitation orders; new financial or health stresses for one or both parents; and new relationships or marriages.
Perhaps it is for all these reasons, that Malachi 2:16 says, “… I hate divorce, says the Lord God …”
“For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and the two shall become one flesh; consequently, they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let no man separate.” Mark 10:3-12
The tearing of one flesh into two again is not without pain and lasting scars.
Obviously, there are times when divorce is truly unavoidable, and in those situations, God will provide the grace and provision needed through the difficult times. But, in light of the fact that most marriages heading for divorce can be salvaged and turned into great marriages, parents should take a long pause before choosing divorce. While it may initially seem like “everyone is doing it” and the logical choice, it is not an easy out for you or your kids.
In conclusion, divorce is one of the most serious and consequential decisions we can ever make, and I plead with anyone contemplating divorce, to do everything in your power, including consistent professional Christian counseling before you make that kind of life and generation-altering decision. We have seen many couples who were in extremely difficult marriages who have enlisted professional Christian counseling, entered into the life-giving community of the church, weathered the storms, and find themselves contentedly married years later. Unfortunately, we have also heard far too many divorced people express regrets that they did not work harder to make their marriage work.
And lastly, if you are considering marriage, I implore you not to enter into this most holy of institutions lightly, flippantly or quickly. Seek Godly counsel and accountability before you make this most important of decisions.
Debbie is the wife of Pastor Craig Altman, and together, they founded Grace Family Church 18 years ago. She is a former RN and mother of a 27 year old married daughter and 26 year old son. She is also known as “Nona” to her precious granddaughter. Debbie enjoys family, reading and the beach, and is inappropriately competitive at board games.
Editors Note: Debbie has compiled a paper on divorce which features the information and references from this article and additional research she has conducted. She is happy to provide the document anyone who may be interested in reading more on this topic. If you would like to receive a copy, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Debbie, what a great blog! If people could actually see the other side of divorce I believe they would fight harder for their marriage. Satan is working hard to destroy what God designed as beautiful but can only win when we allow him to. I pray the Holy Spirit speaks to all who read your words.
Perfect timing for me to read this, which was forwarded to me by a friend this morning. My husband and I have been separated for 6 months now. Just this weekend, we began to have “respectful” conversation and I can finally see just a small glimmer of hope. Godly counseling is the key, but my advice to anyone reading this, is when you are seeking Godly counsel – Do not reach out to your friends. Reach out to either pastoral or outside counsel.
I can respect what is mentioned from Joy in your blog here saying that “If people could actually see the other side of divorce, they would fight harder for their marriage.” I have to disagree with that, because when you’re in the midst of your storm (this storm being separation) – even though you are trying your utmost to stay right next to God – seeing the other side of divorce is the last thing on your mind. The only thing you (I) could see was pain, deception, fear and many other feelings. With that comes anger and then you want to do almost anything just to get these emotions to go away. All this to say that God is good and that I believe even the healing is in God’s time, not mine. Even though I want to be healed instantly, I know there’s a lesson in this for me and I am going to weather out the storm with my Lord no matter the outcome. Thanks for the blog – You never know how many people this may touch. It certainly touched my heart.
I would like to zero in on your fourth point because I see lies in general as the biggest issue…. Specifically that we believe the lies that Satan has sold to us personally and to the world.
In most situations that I am aware of the root cause of divorce is that we believe lies before and/or during the marriage. Like you I want to emphasize that this is not directed at those who are experiencing habitual infidelity, abuse or chronic addiction. I’ve walked in their shoes and it’s not an easy road and God has nothing but love and grace for you if you are in that situation. Now back to my point about lies, here are some examples I’ve seen of lies destroying a marriage:
a) Lies before marriage: When we are wounded and haven’t yet met God in the place where he heals us, we can make awful choices based on the lies that we have accepted from the deceiver and therefore the world. One example is that God’s plan for us to find a worthy spouse just isn’t realistic for us. For instance we may lower our standards because we really want to get married … ‘if he’s a nice guy does it really matter if he has committed his life to Christ? Won’t he come around later’? Or we may believe that we are not valuable or desirable so if any person wants us we are lucky to have been picked and should just hold onto them while we have the chance. Either scenario can set us up to marry someone who will give us biblical reasons for divorce. Unfortunately I believed too many lies and married someone the first time who gave me a firm biblical reason to divorce him and that divorce was hard and heart breaking, wounding me even further. But through God’s grace and mercy I finally met God in a place where he has healed me and taught me the truth so that in my current marriage I am much more aware of the lies that Satan tries to sell me and I am much better at blocking those lies immediately and do not let them grow into false truths.
b) Lies after marriage: these are almost endless … a spouse may believe the lie that the value he/she has is what they see through other people’s eyes which causes spouses to wander away from the marital vows in order to keep seeking renewed approval. Or either spouse may believe that ‘he/she just doesn’t understand/love/care/respect me’ when there really is ample proof that they do, they just have a different love language and the deceiver convinces us we have proof that the marriage is a mistake and we deserve to be happy so WE need to fix the situation by making a change, any change, including a divorce. Another common lie I have seen cut its destructive path through a marriage is that ‘he/she will never change’ so we should just cut our losses and move on.
The hope I give people is that it is never too late to get to know God’s word and God himself so you have the wisdom to turn away from the lies and the people who are not giving you Godly advice. I’ve been given such bad advice from people who do care and love me but who are not aligned with God’s word and God’s will and before I really knew God I was easy pray to bad advice. So whether you are married or not I pray that you will surround yourself with Godly people, seek advice and counsel from those who know and follow God’s word, and never think that God is too small to fix your problems or heal your wounds.