Some parents come to me stating that they would like to get a divorce and they are unhappy in their marriage, but they want to stay together for the sake of their children. They believe that if they get divorced while their children are young, their children will be negatively impacted. We are not advocates for divorce, but we are advocates for healthy, happy parents and families.
Hal Arowitz and Scott O. Lilienfeld published an article in “Scientific American” entitled “Is Divorce Bad for Children”. They make the claim that children typically have adverse reactions for a year or two, but most kids adjust well over time. The responses to their article on social media are generally critical of the claim that children adjust and do well over time and people question the legitimacy of the study. Perhaps people are critical because no one wants to think divorce is ok. Their study suggests that 25% of children whose parents divorce end up carrying some long term relationship effects into adulthood, but 10% of people whose parents did not divorce have similar relationship issues, which would suggest there is an increased long lasting effect on 15% of the people whose parents divorced when they were children.
How divorce impacts children when they are young and into adulthood seems to be an impossible thing to measure. There have been many studies done on the impact of divorce but how can we ever know if it was the divorce itself which negatively impacted children, or if it was fact that their parents were unable to communicate effectively with each other, or the fact that their parents had opposite opinions on how best to raise their children? Who knows if these same children would have struggled if their parents had stayed together?
I would say, of course divorce is bad for children, but in some cases, is staying together better for children? I would like to see a study done on the following questions: What is the impact on children whose parents stay together in a loveless marriage where there is no mutual respect? I have had clients who spent years sleeping in separate bedrooms just to stay married “for the children”. They essentially live separate lives and only do things together when the children are involved. These people are unhappy and are perhaps unknowingly setting an example for their children that marriage is an unhappy experience. I have to believe this experience would have a negative impact on children but this is a much more difficult thing to measure because people who stay in loveless marriages tend to do so quietly and without letting others know.
When you are deciding whether a divorce is right for your children, the real question should be, is a divorce right for you? Just as the flight attendants tell parents to put on their own oxygen masks before their children, you have to take care of yourself before you can take care of others.