Divorce is the termination of marital union, the canceling or recognizing of the legal duties and responsibilities of marriage, thus dissolving the bonds of matrimony between married couple under the rule of law of the particular country or state. The dissolution of a marriage is a legal act that may not always coincide with a couple’s emotional tearing asunder. It is typically a painful process for all concerned. While it can take adults time to regain psychological equilibrium, whether or not children ever recover a stable perspective continues to be debated.
Not only do parents divorce each other, a divorce or ‘mini’ divorce happens between them and their children. The primary effect of divorce and the conflict that leads to divorce, is a decline of the relationship between parent and child. Divorced mothers, despite their best intentions, are less able to give the same level of emotional support to their children. Divorced fathers are less likely to have a close relationship with their children.
Divorce permanently weakens the relationship between children and parents. It leads to destructive ways of handling conflict, it diminishes social competence and it diminishes young adults’ sense of masculinity or feminity. It also leads to and creates more troubles in dating, to more cohabitation, to higher divorce rates later in life, to higher expectation of divorce and to less desire for children.
Divorce decreases the capacity of children to handle conflict. The difference between marriages that stay intact and those that end in divorce lies primarily in the couple’s ability to handle marital conflict and move towards agreement. Children of divorced parents acquire the same incapacity through the modeling of their parents. For instance, children from divorced families use violence more frequently to resolve conflict, and are more likely to be aggressive and physically violent with their friends, male or female. Later on in their own marriages, children of divorced parents are more likely to be unhappy in their own marriages, to escalate the conflict, to reduce communication with spouse, to argue frequently, to shout when arguing and to physically assault when arguing. This is the likelihood of divorce transmitted across generations. Adolescents who have the ability to get along with peers have a significant social skill that will lead to greater happiness in their own family life and in workplace. The marital conflict that accompanies parents’ divorce places this competence at risk.
When parents divorce, the conflict between them is often accompanied by less affection, less responsiveness and more punitive towards their children, and leaves their children feeling emotionally insecure and more likely to believe their social milieu is unpredictable and uncontrollable. The worst trouble maker in school, the child who engages in fighting and stealing is far likely to come from a broken home. According to Gerald Patterson, “Poor social skills, characterized by aversive or coercive interaction styles lead directly to rejection by normal peers.
Divorced parents make dating and romance more difficult and tenuous for their children as they reach adulthood. Broken homes increase the frequency of dating, the frequency of failed romantic relationships and the turnover of dating partners. They lead to a greater number of sexual partners, which in itself is a grave risk for acquiring incurable sexually transmitted diseases. When the divorce takes place during the child’s teenage years these effects on dating seem to be deepest. The effects carry into adulthood. Young adult children of divorced parents have much lower trust in their fiancées and to love their partners less altruistically. The fear of being rejected and due to lack of trust, frequently hinders a deepening of their relationship.
Child abuse is intimately related to later, delinquency and violent crime, and here too, divorce is implicated. A higher level of divorce means higher levels of child abuse. Remarriage does not reduce this level of child abuse and may even add to it. Serious abuse is much higher among step-children compared with children of same parents/families.
Adults who were sexually abused as children are more likely to be raised in stepfamilies. The rate of sexual abuse of girls by stepfathers ranges from six to seven times as likely. The fatal abuse of children of all ages occurs frequently is stepfamilies than intact married families. Stepparents always have a difficult time establishing close bonds with new step children as even traditional fairy tales recount. The rate of bonding between stepparents and stepchildren is rather low. 53 percent of stepfathers and 25 percent of stepmothers may have parental feelings toward their stepchildren, and still fail to love them.
Finally, there is no doubt that divorce has pervasive weakening effects on children. It is necessary to sufficiently contemplate this bleak picture that we are moved to change it. Let us set the task of rebuilding a culture of family based on marriage, a culture of love and belonging, with all the props, protection and supports necessary to make this commonplace again.