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.