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Divorce the Solution, Not the Problem

February 18, 2010

Almost three decades ago psychologist Judith Wallerstein Ph.D. announced her results of a media-grabbing study – later found to be flawed due to its limited and anecdotal nature – that directly attributed a host of adjustment and addiction problems suffered by a select group of California adults to their parents’ divorce.  What followed since then has been a widespread assumption that divorce is to be blamed not only for ruining the lives of children, but also in doing so undermining society as a whole.

As I write in the chapter entitled “Banish the Naysayers” in Happily Ever After Divorce: Notes of a Joyful Journey, the last thing that divorcing parents needed was an additional mountain of guilt heaped upon us for what was an already difficult process.  Unfortunately, Wallerstein’s study is still often cited by the misinformed as a reason for unhappily married couples to stay in their dysfunctional marriages. 

This is why I was so thrilled to read the following in this morning’s New York Times an op-ed piece by marriage and family therapist Ruth Bettelheim, called “No Fault of Their Own.”  Writes Dr. Bettelheim:

Studies conducted in the past 20 years have shown that on all meaningful measures of success — social, economic, intellectual and psychological — most adult children from divorced families are no worse off than their peers whose parents remained married.

Researchers have found two explanations for this. Children who have to cope with their parents’ separation and post-divorce lives often grow resilient, self-reliant, adaptable and independent. And children benefit from escaping the high-conflict environment of a rocky marriage. After their parents’ separation, as conflicts fade, children recover.

click here for full article

I could practically hear a cheer rise from the ranks of my cohorts who have shepherded children through divorce.

That divorce can be regarded not as the problem, but the solution to family unhappiness, comes as no surprise to me. I have watched my three sons thrive in the years since my divorce from their father. The two oldest graduated from great colleges and are both now productively employed; and the youngest has just been admitted to his first choice school. All have great relationships with each other, with friends and girlfriends, with their father, and with me.  I am convinced that thing would have turned out far differently if our divorce hadn’t rescued them from a household marked by tension.

Here’s what my 22-year-old son Rob said to me when he stopped at home this weekend to bring me a bunch of Valentine flowers:

Of just about all of my friends, I’m the only one who has absolutely no memory of my parents fighting – regardless of whether our parents stayed married or not. That means a lot to me, Mom.

Perhaps the tide has finally begun to turn in the harmful and misguided anti-divorce rhetoric that has kept so many families imprisoned in unhappiness for so long.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. February 18, 2010 9:04 pm

    I wholeheartedly agree, Jessica! It’s so wonderful to receive support for how our children are thriving after divorce. We knew it, but having the data to support makes it that much more valid for the naysayers.
    I love what you son said about your mothering skills. What a beautiful testament to who you are as a mom!

    • February 18, 2010 9:11 pm

      So kind of you to comment, Sandy. You have much to be proud of, as well.

  2. February 19, 2010 12:40 am

    Yes! That was a great article. I saw another study recently, from the UK, that said:

    “The difference between a young person’s family getting along – and not – explained 20% of the variation in overall happiness with life, whereas differences in family structure only explained 2%.”
    http://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/whats_happening/media_office/latest_news/19895_pr.html

    It’s so refreshing!

  3. Christine Pakkala permalink
    February 19, 2010 1:12 pm

    As an adult child of divorce, I wholeheartedly agree with the article. Being removed from a toxic environment is the most important ingredient for a child’s happiness..for anyone’s happiness!

  4. February 21, 2010 10:36 pm

    Fabulous post! As a child of divorce, I can attest to the fact that we can thrive after our parents go through a divorce. I am living proof of that and my parents were anything but amicable during the process. It’s definitely nice to see an article in print about this subject.

  5. March 12, 2010 3:48 pm

    I think it’s wonderful that you said they have a great relationship with both you and their dad. It sounds like the two of you really worked to reduce tension and create stable lives for them, and it shows. Well done! Divorce can (and is) be very, very painful, but it doesn’t have to define kids’ lives. I look at someone like Evinda Lepins, whose Clicklit Power website I enjoy. She’s taken the pain of her divorce and other past traumas (including abuse, and bad relationships and bad choices) and confronted it, to let the healing begins. Now she’s happily remarried, has a wonderful blended family, and she writes funny, insightful things. She’s thriving, like so many people are able to do, once out of a bad situation — and DEALING with the bad situation. She says she feels blessed that despite a painful childhood, she is not a victim but a victor. She wants to get others out of the victim mentality and into a “destination joyful.” I enjoy blog a great deal.

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