Data on Divorced Adults

Nearly half of all marriages now end in divorce; and from 1970 to 1992, the number of divorced adults in America quadrupled.

  • Remarriages after divorce tend to be unstable, break up more often, and end more quickly than do first-time marriages. Remarriages are 50% more likely to divorce in the first five years compared to first marriages.
  • Morbidity studies-rates of particular diseases among distinct population groups-showed that divorced persons exhibited consistently higher rates of acute medical crises, chronic medical conditions, and highest physician use rates.
  • Rates of psychiatric illness were highest for divorced persons vs. any other marital group. Men were affected the most.
  • Clinical depression rates overall were highest among divorced women, but divorced men showed the highest rates among those who had not been previously depressed. Depression was most acute among those divorced who did not have consistent relations with their children, among ex-spouses who continued in on-going conflict, and among those who were socially isolated.
  • Alcohol abuse and alcoholism affected divorced men at a rate 4.5 times higher than married men. Social isolation, depression, and suicidal struggles were all shown to contribute to the abuse of drugs.
  • Women and children suffered most economically. Only half of the divorced men in America pay their full support responsibility; one-quarter make partial, inconsistent payment, and one-quarter pays nothing.

Data on Children of Divorce

Numerous longitudinal studies that have been following children over the past 20 years and more are showing a dark and difficult picture of divorced children, with long-term adverse effects lasting well into adulthood.

  • One million American children experience divorce every year.
  • Single parent families increased from 13% of the U.S. family population in 1970 to 31% in 1994.
  • 56% of divorced children had no contact whatsoever with their fathers in the first year after divorce, and 23% had no contact after five years.
  • Divorced children had the deepest feelings of anger, fear, and rejection of any childhood group, and were three times as likely to receive professional help as kids from intact families.
  • Suicide rates for teenage males increased 557% from 1946 to 1988. The single best predictor of teen suicide was parental divorce and living in a single parent household.
  • Rates of depression, low self-esteem, drug and alcohol abuse, and juvenile delinquency were all significantly higher for children of divorce.
  • Divorced children drop out of school at twice the rate of children from intact families. They were twice as likely to be suspended or expelled from school, and consistently showed lower test scores, lower grades, and more placement in special and remedial classes.
  • Early sexual behavior was more frequent among divorced children.
  • Divorced children were far more likely to cohabit and not marry.

Using an analogy to medicine and the FDA, the authors point out thatphysicians are required by law to inform patients if a drug has a major side effect in just 1% of cases. Shouldn’t counselors, in line with our duty to informed consent, outline the myriad harms of divorce to those we counsel who are seeking one?

Children and Divorce: Becoming Aware of Possible Consquences

Writer Pat Conroy has declared that “Each divorce is the death of a small civilization.”

Over the past forty years these “deaths” have become a regular part of life within our country. The U.S. Census Bureau has stated that between 1990 and 1994 the fastest growing marital-status classification was “divorced persons.” This agency has also determined that the number of divorces has quadrupled from 4.3 million to 17.4 million during the same 24-year period. Divorce-related research has consistently indicated that approximately 50 percent of U.S. marriages, one in two, end in divorce. As distressing as these statistics may be, it is more unsettling to know that Christian organizations, such as the Family Research Council, report that Christians’ marriages appear to be just as likely to dissolve as those of non-Christians. Some experts report that the prominence of divorce has influenced the way we look upon marriage. Marriage may now be perceived by many as being too risky an undertaking and not necessarily a desirable life goal. This attitude was evident in preliminary results from a recent Rutgers University study. The researchers reported that a review of their data suggests that never-married individuals ages 21 through 29 are choosing “casual sex” over a loving, committed marital relationship.

Children, of course, are intimately involved in the divorce process. As the most powerless members of society, they are the most vulnerable to the divorce’s harmful effects. The requirement that we value, nurture, and protect children is strongly supported throughout Holy Scripture. Many religious and secular writers maintain that the manner in which a society treats its children provides a powerful gauge of its success and viability as a culture. If one accepts these views, the divorce statistics would then indicate that we have done an exceedingly poor job. Social research analyst Glenn Stanton addresses us all when he writes, “Think about the children living in your neighborhood. What social pathology touches these young lives more directly than the fact that their mothers are no longer, or never were, married to their fathers?”

Indications as to just how poor a job we have done in protecting our children is readily available. Information from the 1994 U.S. census indicates that the number of children in the U.S. living with both of their parents declined by 18 percent between 1970 and 1994. Related statistics show that during the same time frame children living in homes with only one parent grew by approximately 127 percent. Further, a significant number of children may have little or no contact with the non-custodial parent after the divorce is finalized. The post-divorce economic consequence for children is dramatic. Data from 1993 indicate that the poverty rate for children living with divorced mothers is almost four times higher than for children living with both parents.

Divorce is accompanied by important psychological injury. Social commentator Barbara Dafoe Whitehead has written that as painful as experiencing the death of a parent is, “at least it is final.” In comparison, divorce is anything but final for children. It is typically associated with continuing conflict between important people in the child’s life, as well as other ongoing undesirable influences and distressful experiences. These persistent struggles mean that the grief and distress (as well as behavioral changes) that usually accompany divorce may be much greater and last much longer than those associated with the death of a parent.

Biola University/Rosemead School of Psychology and Harvard Medical School researcher, J. William Worden, Ph.D., A.B.P.P has conducted research on children who have lost a parent through death. As with Dafoe Whitehead, Dr. Worden’s research permitted him to make some comparisons as to the effects on children of loosing a parent through death as opposed to loosing a parent through divorce. He writes that there are important similarities and uniqueness. We are called by God to assist those in need. An awareness and sensitivity to some of the potential child-related problems generated by divorce may help us to adequately respond to children’s needs. The following is a brief summary of some of Dr. Worden’s findings.

Dr Worden writes that children may maintain “fantasies” of reuniting their divorced parents, some for a considerable period of time. A failure to succeed in their efforts to create a reunion may undesirably influence their adjustment to the divorce and generate important losses of self-esteem. Additionally, some children tend to inappropriately assume responsibility for the divorce. Feelings of guilt and blame are typically generated within these individuals. Children of divorce may conceal their sorrow more than those who lose a parent through death. This may come about due to a lack of support and encouragement as to the loss by family and friends. Prolonged mourning may result as well as persistent reunion fantasies. Ongoing disagreements between parents and extended family members may generate “loyalty conflicts” as well as persistent stress for the child. These may especially be the case if family (and friends) criticize one of the parents in front of the child. Feelings of blame for causing the divorce may be worsened for a child is caught in a loyalty conflict. Tension, conflicts, and accompanying anger between divorced parents and their children will likely stimulate additional child-parent struggles and worsen the child’s adjustment to the divorce. Problems here are intensified due to the process of family restructuring. Custody and living arrangement decisions, visitation scheduling, decisions as to school and church, how to handle holidays and the extended family all contribute to massive adjustment needs.

These may all provide opportunities for additional emotional and behavioral difficulties. Community support, so vital to appropriate adjustment to the divorce, may be less than adequate or unavailable. Dr Worden cites research that indicates that less than ten percent of children of divorced parents had an adult approach them in a supportive manner. Important support and compassion may be especially unavailable in surroundings where divorce is strongly criticized or where the child may be led to feel that he or she is different than their peers. Deficiencies here will interact with other problems to intensify the cycle of psychological and interpersonal problems. At some point children whose parents divorce may begin to fear that they too will have problem relationships. The latter may include concerns that they too will divorce a future spouse. The child’s may, as cited above, become wary of marriage as well as relationships in general. Lastly, children whose parents establish a dating or live-in relationship prior to an adequate adjustment to the divorce may develop emotional and behavioral difficulties. This may be especially true for those children who continue to hope that their parents will set aside their difficulties and reunite.

Parents, extended family members, friends and the church can strive in numerous ways to attempt to minimize the damaging effects of divorce, some of which may beyond their control (i.e. abandonment and/or abuse by one of the parents). Parents can communicate to their children in a clear, consistent, and age-appropriate manner about the divorce and reaffirm their love and commitment to the children. They can provide opportunities for children to ask questions and if appropriate, take responsibility for poor choices they may have made that played a role in the divorce. Additionally, parents can be proactive in addressing many of the typical issues children struggle with, such as feeling responsible for causing the divorce. Individuals can provide important social support by being understanding, nonjudgmental, and permitting children to express themselves as to their thoughts and feelings. All concerned, including friends within the church, should work to eliminate harmful conflict, criticism, and corrosive gossip. Family and friends can give these children an important break by including them in family activities, especially when their parents are unavailable and during holidays. Churches can help by mandating extensive pre-marital counseling. Churches can also help by promoting marriage seminars, retreats, parent training, and other educational programs that can sustain the marriage and/or offer needed support services for all families who go through a divorce. These, and encouraging individuals to seek marital counseling in a proactive manner in an attempt to salvage the marriage, can often times reduce the numbers of divorce. Finally, encouraging parents to get counseling for their children before and/or after a divorce can help children make the necessary adjustments more readily.

In sum, divorce can generate a multitude of problems for children. It is vital for parents, family, and friends to be aware of the potentials for psychological difficulties in children.

It is hoped that this awareness will enable everyone involved to make efforts to work together in the best interests of the children to minimize problems and promote as good an adjustment as possible once problems occur.

The Parent Trap

John is now a 20-year-old college sophomore, but when his father left the home, John was trapped into becoming the 8-year-old “man of the family.” His siblings and his mom, Sarah, depended on John to play his father’s role. John enjoyed going off to college but also felt guilty for not being at home to help his family. What should he do? And what could Sarah have done to prevent this problem?

Many children from single-parent families find themselves in John’s situation. When a spouse leaves, the oldest child often fills in the missing role. The family does not make a conscious choice in the matter, but child/parents emerge nonetheless. Still, a child needs to be treated as a child, especially in single-parent homes where kids are often hurting and needy. As John learned, making a child into a miniature adult can cause tremendous insecurity, anxiety and depression.

John needs to know that his feelings are normal; he should enjoy his new freedom, not feel guilty for it. John also must realize that he is responsible to his family as a son and brother but not responsible for their well-being. That’s Sarah’s job.

How can single parents keep their children from assuming adult roles? Parental breakups trigger certain emotions in children, and the effects ripple through families for at least two years. (Most children’s emotions stabilize three to five years after the split.) Smart parents guide their kids through these changes. Decide if your children have expressed some of these common feelings, and consider how well you have responded to them:

  • Shock. After a breakup, children initially feel anxious, fearful and abandoned because their future seems uncertain. During this phase, parents need to show affection and discuss their plans with their children. Statements like, “We will get through this” are more helpful than, “What are we going to do?” Moreover, because adults often share their children’s fears, parents must draw their support from a person or group other than their kids.
  • Depression. Children may cry or withdraw in this stage. If kids feel that they have to comfort a parent, they will stuff their true feelings, and healing will not take place. As a result, parents should encourage their kids to use any means—tears, speech or drawing—to vent their depression.
  • Anger. Like depression, anger demands expression. If it’s repressed, children can become anxious, rebellious and self-destructive. When children’s rage surfaces, parents should assure their kids that such emotions are normal and accepted. Consequently, it’s not helpful to tell your children, “Don’t be angry.” They are angry. Instead, encourage them to share their feelings openly, but not aggressively (no tantrums allowed).
  • Fear of rejection. Recently, a friend tried to comfort a dog that had been hit by a car; she received a dog bite for her trouble. The dog wasn’t mean but was reacting to the pain and fear it felt. Sometimes children who fear rejection act that way. I advised one of my clients to continue telling her 9-year-old son how much she cared for him even though he repeatedly hissed, “I hate you.” The mother’s loving words eventually broke through her son’s pain, and he fell into her arms. When you keep loving your kids, despite their hurtful actions, your children will realize that you won’t reject them, a key step in the healing process.

Besides helping your child deal with his emotions, the following tips will help you avoid Sarah’s mistake: Set aside time for your child to express his feelings. Reassure him that his feelings are normal. Recognize your child’s hurt, even if he withdraws or lashes out. Do not take his actions personally; he needs your support now more than ever. Try to maintain as stable a home environment as possible; the less change, the better. Do not expect perfect parenting from yourself; do the best you can with God’s help.

These steps will help your child re-establish trust with you and a sense of well-being for himself. It will take time, so be patient. Eventually emotional healing will come.

Helping Children of Divorce

Ten years ago my husband and I ended our marriage. Our small son, Jared, suffered through our bitter quarrels and our inability to avert the disaster that lay ahead. Neither of us had the Lord to help us, and two non-Christian counselors recommended separation because of “irreconcilable differences.” Jared became the innocent victim.

A year after our divorce, my ex-husband moved to Oregon, 1,500 miles away. Five-year-old Jared cried in my arms, “Why did Daddy leave?”

I took my son to a counselor. During the counseling session, he turned all the sandbox figures face-down in the sand as the counselor urged him to talk about the divorce. He drew a picture of our family with his father and me on one side, our pets in the center and himself on the far edge. He was dressed in black and had a confused look on his face. When the counselor tried to talk to him, Jared hung his head over the end of the couch upside down and giggled. A hurt little boy was crying for help.

We have a big job as parents, but as divorced parents, our job grows even bigger. Jared’s healing would take a lot of time. In her book Helping Children Cope With Separation and Loss (The Harvard Common Press), Claudia Jewett says healing from major loss takes a minimum of two years but usually between three and five. How much time Jared’s healing took would largely depend on my own healing and my willingness to let go of anger. I watch my son heal more every day, and I have learned much in the process about how divorced parents can help their kids.

  • Pray. Prayer is the greatest tool we have in helping our children heal. Pray in private for the pains you see your child go through. Pray out loud, letting her see you verbalize her needs to God. Pray consistently. Then teach her how to pray on her own. Prayer allows our children to express their sad feelings and give them to Someone who can make a difference.
  • Listen. Parents should lay aside their own hurts while listening to the pains of their children. Jared “talked” about his pain through the pictures he drew and the figures he placed in the sand. I listened and helped him put words to the pain he expressed through his actions. “You’re really sad, aren’t you? When do you feel that way the most?”A parent can pick up a young child and hold him. With an older child, we can encourage conversation by listening, validating, affirming, and giving feedback. We should guard against interrupting, putting words in his mouth, or talking him out of his pain.

    The biggest roadblock to attentive listening is our fear of our children’s pain. It can make us unable to hear what they are saying. Look him in the eyes. Touch him. Let him know that you really hear.

    When Jared says he misses his father, I know it’s time to listen. I usually feel threatened that he misses his dad. Through practice, however, I’ve learned to quiet those inner voices and listen to the pain my son expresses. I say, “I’m sure you miss him. I’m sorry.” Quiet tears fall from a little boy becoming a man, still filled with the pain of a divorce that tore his parents apart. These tears say, “I am powerless. I miss my daddy. Why can’t you make it okay?” And I listen and stroke his 14-year-old head as I did his 12-year-old head, his 7-year-old head and his 4-year-old head. And I say, “I’m sorry.”

  • Set boundaries. Jared threw temper tantrums until age 10. These reactions kept me intimidated and off-balance. But what my son was asking for was a boundary for the out-of-control feelings he was experiencing. Because I was trying to compensate for his loss and because my own feelings were out of control, I was unable to provide the boundaries we needed.As I dealt with my pain, I was able to help him with his. I provided clear boundaries that helped him get his emotions under control. When Jared was older, a counselor assisted me in shedding my anger and helping my son to do the same. Both my son and I learned that anger held us in bondage and created bitterness. As we both learned more, stronger boundaries grew.
  • Tell the truth. When Jared was 8, I took him to an eight-week divorce-recovery group sponsored by a local church. The children attended classes upstairs while the parents met downstairs. Each week leaders led the children through a series of games and exercises to help them understand their feelings about the divorce. One exercise involved making “rose-colored glasses.”The children made cardboard frames and pink-plastic lenses. Then they talked with the children about “seeing life through rose-colored glasses,” especially their desire to see their parents back together again. In fact, their parents weren’t going to reconcile, and the leaders helped the children come to terms with that.

    Jared did. The pain didn’t go away, but he felt free from false expectations and crushed dreams. Upstairs, the parents learned how to reinforce the message that was being taught to their children. Each session opened the door to more truth, understanding and healing.

  • Repent. When Jared was 11, I realized that I had never asked his forgiveness for the stupid, hurtful things I had done. One day we sat down, and I shared those areas that I needed to ask his forgiveness. I had already asked his forgiveness for the divorce. But there were also times that I had yelled at him or lost control. I asked for his forgiveness for those things. A huge weight lifted from my shoulders when I said, “Will you forgive me?” I did not say, “If I hurt you, I’m sorry.” Saying “I’m sorry” didn’t say “I seek your forgiveness,” nor did saying “If I hurt you” acknowledge the fact that I knew I had.This took courage, but Jared respected me for doing it. After I had asked forgiveness for the big stuff and acknowledged, “Yes, I did that to you,” it became easier to ask forgiveness for the day-to-day things like misplaced anger, an insensitive remark or impatience with his behavior.

    As a result, it has become easier for Jared to ask for forgiveness for his own shortcomings. He is growing into an adult who is able to acknowledge his own unwholeness and seek healing and forgiveness in his life — in spite of what he has been through.

Divorce is never an enjoyable road to travel. But with perseverance, it is possible to help guide our children through these rough places. Jared and I are doing it, and so can you.

Prayer and help from God is very important in healing from a divorce. For more reading on a true relationship with God, the article “A New Relationship With Jesus” might help answer some of your questions.

Life Counseling Center Inc. | 2019