Previous Months' Topics

Divorce and (un)Happiness

Elizabeth Marquardt is a researcher for the Institute for American Values and author of the book about children of divorce called Between Two Worlds – The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce. A child of divorce herself, she has a rich mix of personal and professional insights into the topic of divorce and its effects on husbands, wives, children and society.

Fathers for Good spoke with her about who gets hurt by divorce and how they can become healed.

(Also see the Fathers for Good article about divorce from a man’s perspective, from a woman’s perspective, and order the Knights of Columbus informative booklet (#301) on annulments.)

Fathers for Good: The majority of divorces in United States are initiated by women. Can we really say that divorce is bad for them?

Marquardt: About two-thirds of divorces involving children are initiated by mothers. Quite likely their reasons vary – some perhaps are seeking divorce because of very bad behavior by their husbands, others for other reasons. Adult experiences can vary after divorce. Some do become happier but others don’t (see our report, “Does Divorce Make People Happy?”).

However, we do know that divorce has a negative impact on children, particularly on the children of those roughly two-thirds of divorces that end low-conflict marriages. As a mother and busy writer myself, my observation as I look at women a bit older than me is that the ones who were able – through grace and hard work – to raise healthy, successful children are freer now, as mothers and women, to pursue other vocations as their children get older. By contrast, those whose children continue to struggle into their young adult years often find themselves continuing to care for and trying to support their needy adult children.

It is in the interest of all of us for our children to do well. Marriage is the most child-protective institution we’ve managed to come up with so far.

FFG: If the main “casualties” of divorce are children, how much should parents consider their children in their decision whether or not to divorce?

Marquardt: Some marriages are plagued by extremely serious problems – addictions to substances or pornography, infidelity, and the like. Some parents understandably seek to remove their children from such situations through divorce. In most cases, however, divorce ends marriages that are troubling for one or both adults, but are not that troubling for the children. On the contrary the children rely on that marriage for providing them one secure home. Childhood is short. It is a difficult and sometimes seemingly insurmountable challenge to persevere in seeking to unite the parent-parent and parent-child bond through marriage. But we’re the adults. It’s what we must try our very best to do.

FFG: What advice would you give to grown children of divorce in seeking to heal and form good marriages of their own?

Marquardt: Do your “work.” Read the literature on the impact of divorce on children – in their relationships, their marriages, their moral and spiritual lives. Bring that work into conversation with your beloved, with your pastor, with your own parents and others who will be there to hear your public promise on your wedding day. Avail yourself of the excellent marriage education resources that help you to learn what you could not learn from your divorced parents – how to live daily with someone, to love and forgive them, to communicate well with them.

Most of all, don’t be threatened by the statistics on the divorce rate for the children of divorce. Instead, use it to prompt you to reach out and get the help that all of us – no matter our family background – need these days to form lasting, healthy marriages.