How to Deal with Divorce

The dissolution of a marriage is almost always an upsetting event, at the very least marked by disappointment and the loss of dreams and expectations.

In addition, there are usually many legal, financial, parental, emotional, and practical challenges that require time, energy, and changes in responsibilities. It can take people years to regain equilibrium. Nevertheless, divorce serves an important function in legally and emotionally freeing people to form a more satisfying and more stable relationship.

One of the most significant events of the 20th century was a change in the roles women could take on in private and public life, allowing women more  opportunities for satisfaction and happiness. With a shift in roles inside and outside the house came a necessary—and often contentious—shift in the division of responsibilities inside the home, one of many factors fueling a highly publicized rise in divorce rates and liberalization of divorce laws.

Infidelity has long been a leading cause of divorce, along with financial upheavals. But one consequence of liberalized attitudes to divorce is a major addition to that list —the search for emotional closeness. Indiviuals today have high expectations for relationship satisfaction.

Fifty year ago, divorce carried too much stigma for couples to dissolve their relationship if the partners had grown emotionally distant, experienced disappointments because of unmet (and often unrealistic) expectations, or developed separate visions for their lives. And women had few means of support outside of marriage. Today, dissolution of marriage for emotional reasons is commonplace.

It is commonly believed that 50 percent of marriages in the U.S. end in divorce, but that is not the case. It is now estimated that only a third of marriages will face dissolution over time. Divorce is on the decline especially among those with higher levels of education.

Experts believe that education delays the age of marriage, so that individuals have some degree of maturity and relationship experience when they formalize their partnership. In addition, those who are highly educated are likely to marry others of similar education, and such similarity is a stabilizing factor in relationships.


The Emotional Cost of Divorce

Divorce is as much an emotional process as it is a legal process, and It takes courage to start the process of splitting. One or both partners may experience waves of self-doubt. Both need an array of skills to work out the inevitable conflicts and disappointments that arise.

The liberalization of divorce laws has fueled non-adversarial approaches to marital dissolution, such as negotiation and mediation. Such practices not only minimize conflict and emotional upset for the adults, they are especially beneficial for children, for whom divorce is almost always deeply distressing and whose needs can be overlooked in the process.

During divorce, two people must come to terms with the relationship failure, set up emotionally and usually financially independent lives, and put the relationship firmly in the past. It is important to understand and accept the role each partner played in the relationship breakdown. It is often helpful for divorcing partners to set up rules of engagement to limit contact with each other.

Since divorce can be an emotional roller-coaster—there are likely many good memories as well as the pain of loss—it is usually helpful to seek the support of friends. Divorce is also one of life's transitions where people can especially benefit from the outside perspective of a professional counselor.

Eventually, the emotional turbulence subsides and it becomes possible—and necessary—to incorporate a richly nuanced story of the relationship, its failure, the divorce, and the resulting emotional growth into one's identity. Many exes find it helpful to adopt some kind of ritual—such as an exchange of letters or gifts—to mark the end, acknowledging a past together and moving toward a future apart.


Marriage, Relationships, Parenting

The Effects of Divorce on Children

No child dreams of having divorced parents. Divorce usually breaks up a household and its routines. Parents who are warring are often not paying as much attention to their children as they once did. Further, they divide children's allegiances. Children feel the losses acutely and can spend considerable time silently worrying about the well-being of either parent.

Children need assurance that they are still loved by both parents and that they will not be abandoned. They also need to be spared any conversations in which one parent denigrates the other for any reason. It is not the actual divorce that harms children but seeing their parents fight and in distress.

Because every child reacts differently to divorce, parental response is best tailored to the needs of each child. Often, kids are scared, confused, angry, or disappointed in one or both parents. The stress of the split and readjustment to change—especially if a household move is involved—can heighten anxiety, increase irritability, create behavior problems, beget social withdrawal or difficulty sleeping. There may be a drop in classroom attentiveness, and grades may suffer.

Many of the effects of divorce on children are short lived and resolve within a year or two. But others may be longer lasting and play out in later attitudes toward romantic relationhips. Researchers report that young children often adjust well. Teenagers tend to internalize their feelings and may be especially disappointed in a parent's alleged moral failings.


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