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The whole world now seems to know that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are getting divorced. According to news sources, Ms. Jolie initiated the divorce, and Mr. Pitt was subject to supervised visitation in some fashion.

Divorce is difficult, whether you are a celebrity or not. So, let’s stop the gossip and ask what we may all learn from this big Hollywood divorce.

Here are some pointers that arise from this famous case example.

Women and Divorce:

On September 26, Angelina Jolie initiated the divorce with Brad Pitt. This brings us to a compelling statistic recently published by Michael Rosenfeld of Stanford University. In his research of over 2000 couples, he found that sixty-nine percent of divorces are initiated by women.

Lesson: With greater psychological and financial independence, many women, including Ms. Jolie, are clearly willing to move on more than men. This is important especially if you are a man who tells himself that your wife will never leave—think again. The trend says otherwise.

Interestingly, divorce rates in China have surged over the last few decades for the same reasons. Women in China now have choices that did not exist years ago, and many are voting with their feet.

In the West, the advancement of women and increasing financial independence may be putting new strains on the institution of marriage, which is no longer a contract of mutual financial dependency. Marriage as an institution must adjust and be satisfying to both parties for it to work.

To me, this is all a call for better communication, and better marriages.

Divorce Statistics:

About two million adults get divorced every year in the United States, with well over a million children affected. If we consider that, each divorcing adult may have a set of parents, a sibling or two, a group of good friends, uncles, aunts, grandparents and co-workers. Then there are of course the children’s friends. So now we’ve quickly moved from two million adults affected by divorce to thirty million feeling its power. That is a lot of people.

Lesson: Why should we be surprised? Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are no different that millions of other couples. Marriage has many hazards along the way, and you never know what is going on inside another couple’s private life.

Outcomes:

Many children of divorce do very well, but there are those who don’t. E. Mavis Hetherington noted about twenty five percent of kids of divorce develop psychological problems, compared to a number like ten percent in the general population, so a large number of kids are truly at risk. Some become depressed, others become anxious. Some act out, particular teenagers with poor grades, drug or alcohol abuse or worse. And still others may have problems with relationships when they come of age to date or marry.

The key for better outcomes is to have an Intelligent Divorce. Not a happy, spiritual or even good divorce. If the children’s innocence is protected from parental acting out and bad behavior, they are remarkably resilient and often do very well. Yet if parents use kids as messengers, try to get them to hate their other parent, or share too much about money, legal proceedings or one’s own unhappiness, then watch out.

Lesson: Children of divorce are at risk, but most do well. Parents must step up to do their best parenting at the very moment they feel most down and out. Brad and Angelina are best advised to protect their children’s innocence and encourage love for both parents, when possible.

Psychotherapy:

According to People Magazine (October 17, 2016), Ms. Jolie, Mr. Pitt and the children are in therapy. Parents make bad mistakes because of the pain of divorce, and their children can suffer. Therapy gives parents a chance to process their feelings and come up with strategies that won’t hurt the children. And a child-centered therapy gives a kid a neutral adult to talk to. It seems like Ms. Jolie and Mr. Pitt made a good decision here.

Lesson: Therapy introduces a neutral party into a volatile situation. For the children, they have someone to talk to openly, without fear of retribution or having to take sides. For the parents, an experienced therapist will remind them that more is at stake than the best financial settlement or winning because you feel wronged.

The Intelligent Divorce:

There is such a thing as an intelligent divorce. It requires planning and taking the children’s needs into account. Divorce is the end of the family, as children know it. But, with the right intention, good communication (often with the help of therapy) and time, the children will have two loving parents, who no longer love each other, but can collaborate in raising them together.

Parents can end up with well adjusted, great kids despite a divorce. But, it has to be done intelligently.  I’ve seen it happen many times.

Mark Banschick, MD is the author of The Intelligent Divorce book series.

Compelling video: How Regressed Parents Can Hurt Their Children.

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