Sheer, icy cold terror. That is the only way I can describe what I felt when I discovered my marriage was not what it seemed. It knocked the wind out of me. I found it hard to breathe and even harder to think. I wandered around my study, thoughts whirling in my head. What does this mean? What should I do? Numb with shock, I picked up the phone and called my pastor.
A Long and Painful Journey
That was just the beginning of a long and painful journey. The big surprise is that divorce continues to be painful off and on, in surprising moments.
Most people marry expecting “happily ever after” to be their story. And yet with over 50% of marriages ending in divorce, a marriage that goes the distance and lasts “until death do us part” is a very special thing. Not every marriage can be saved and, in some cases, not every marriage SHOULD be saved. Divorce is a tragedy, even if it seems like the only option.
Divorce is so common in our culture; it hardly draws more than a sympathetic shaking of the head. And because it is so common, we have developed a sort of numb complacency. “That’s too bad, but what can you do?”
My goal in writing this article is to press the pause button for those of you contemplating divorce in a marriage where a change of behavior or heart could make all the difference. I hope and pray you will use the following to reconsider and fight for your marriage.
For many in troubled marriages, divorce seems like a quick solution to a painful situation.
The truth is divorce has consequences for years to come.
Not What God Intended
In Micah 2 God says bluntly, “I hate divorce.” If you read the entire chapter, it becomes clear God is not critical of those who are victims of divorce, but rather of those who create the circumstances leading to divorce. Jesus elaborates further in Matthew 19 when he says Mosaic Law allowed for divorce because of “hard hearts” but it was never God’s design. Why? One reason may be because there are so many hidden costs.
What about the Children?
- Divorce is stressful for children. It upends the stability and security they need and brings major disruptions to their lives. Experts believe children from divorced families have an increased risk for psychological and academic issues, though much of this is affected by how well parents handle themselves and the family post-divorce.
While it is true many children are resilient, the effects of divorce don’t end after a few years. A study reported in the Journal of Family Psychology looked at distress among young adults from families who had divorced at least 3 years earlier. Despite relative success and stability, these college students reported ongoing grief and pain. 73% said they would be different people if their parents hadn’t divorced. 49% reported stress when both parents were at an event together.48% believed they had a hard childhood and saw their parents’ divorce as continuing to cause them problems. 29% wondered if their dads love them. 18% were afraid they would repeat their parents’ problems.
According to Robert Emery, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology and Director of the Center for Children, Families, and the Law at the University of Virginia, children do better after divorce if the marriage was high conflict, but not if the parents’ marriage was low conflict. In other words, children growing up in a low conflict, though imperfect, home would fare better if the parents remained together.
A big shock for many parents going through a divorce is discovering how much say the courts now have over their children. Judges now get to determine what is in the best interest of the children. Custody issues, related money issues, and even where you can live are all part of the legal fall- out from divorce.
Grieving Your Losses
- Divorce is like a death, but it is complicated to grieve. There’s nothing to bury in the ground. No services and rituals to mark the occasion and usher in desperately needed comfort and support. We may not even be fully aware at first of how deeply hurt and sad we are. Instead of accessing the sorrow beneath, we are raw with shock and pain; with our anger, we push away the very people we need.
- Grief is not limited to the divorcing couple. EVERYONE is grieving; children, in-laws, friends. And everyone grieves in their own way which can lead to misunderstanding and more pain.
- Loneliness and isolation can be a problem. People often don’t know what to say or how to help. The divorce may represent their worst fears; people tend to shy away. Some of my clients have voiced a sense of living in a lonely parallel universe inhabited by post-divorce singles.
Many things are lost when a couple divorces. Divorce may cause the loss of …
- control over what happens to your children
- your home
- your friends
- your social status
- your identity
- your connection to your in-laws
- hopes and dreams for yourself and your family
- financial security
Beside the fact that divorce is often very expensive, for many it brings an end to financial security. The U.S. Government Accountability Office, an independent agency that investigates federal spending, found after divorce the household income for women fell an average of 41%, compared to 20% for men. Many people have to significantly alter their standard of living and work status.
- Property division can be tense and complicated. Who gets the dog? Or keeps the CDs and other property? Who pays for what?
- Decisions about custody, let alone co-parenting, are also complicated. Who goes where for holidays? How do we handle family gatherings? What if we don’t agree? These issues will be a concern for years to come.
- Divorce continues to play out in messy ways when partners remarry and step-children or step-siblings are introduced to the picture.
Divorce is one of the most painful things an individual can endure. If you are contemplating divorce, consider the costs. Get help from a professional counselor before all the good will evaporates and it becomes even harder to consider fixing things. Make a sincere effort to own your part of the problem. Ask God to help you recover the love you once felt for the person you married. And ask yourself if it wouldn’t make more sense to fight for your marriage rather than experience the hidden cost of divorce.
I am a Licensed Professional Counselor, a nationally certified counselor, and a registered nurse with several years experience helping people with healthy, successful living.