Divorce is generally defined as dissolution of marriage that ends all rights and obligations that stem from it. While it is a well meant definition, it avoids the emotional aspect which makes the divorce such a horribly nerve-wrecking experience. It is excruciating to the formerly married couple and even worse for the children. Numerous consequences appear: changes in schedules, living conditions, income, romantic relationships and overall quality of life.
Historically, societies and religions frowned upon divorce. It has been considered detrimental to the community as a whole, and this image persists even today due to the trauma caused. Religions have had strict rules for divorce, defining strict procedures for it (Judaism, Islam) or banning it outright (majority of Christendom). However, in the ages past, divorce was rarely (if ever) seen apart from a cause for divorce, which usually included adultery, impotence and infertility. Emotions have never played a role in the divorce of the past; however, in most modern divorce cases, divorce is caused by simple cooling of mutual love that existed in the beginning of the relationship.
This is directly tied to the no-fault divorce, which contributed to increasing divorce rates. In the past, one of the spouses had to prove the ‘fault’ of the other partner in order to obtain divorce. However, the introduction of no-fault divorce in all the states of the US made divorce open to everyone. The divorce rates got to an all-time high. This corresponds to sexual revolution, decline in church attendance and faster pace of life.
It is estimated that first marriages, on average, last about eight years, with median time between the first and second marriage being three and half years. Women tend to file for divorce tad more often than men; however, if there are children present, the rates of women-filed divorces increase to two thirds. In general, 40% to 50% marriages end up in divorce, annulment or separation. There are multiple factors to be included, and interracial and interfaith marriages are more prone to divorce. For example, divorce rate between spouses that belong to different Protestant denominations is around 20%; however, in Jewish-Christian marriages, the rate increases to staggering 40%. Despite this, the general divorce rates show a decline.
Children are a special problem in all divorce cases. There are three aspects to be considered here. First of all, divorce is especially stressful to children as they see their parents as a community of people, not as two separate individuals. Divorce ultimately shatters a child’s worldview, and he or she questions both parents’ love for each other (rightly) and their love for him or her (wrongly). Second, majority of parents use children in their struggle with the former spouse, either by presenting their own needs as child’s or trying to turn the child against the other parent. Third, due to all the stress and socioeconomic problems, numerous studies have shown that the children of divorced parents have poorer social skills, are considerably more likely to experience divorce themselves or engage in cohabitation that ends even before the marriage takes place.
Divorce has an effect on child’s academic performance as well. Children of divorcees tend to have poorer academic performance, and are twice as likely to drop out of high school. In part, general performance of children of divorced parents is due to a lower economic status of a single parent. However, bear in mind that all the effects of the divorce could just as easily be the effects of a bad marriage.
Aftermath of the divorce is a different issue. People are left hurt, betrayed and/or angry. Emotions experienced during it are usually linked with mourning – not surprising, considering that the person one is divorcing from feels so different from the person with whom one was wed. Majority of people feel migraines, insomnia, anxiety and obsessive thoughts regarding their former partner. The obsessive thoughts are different in their subject and intensity, but usually deal with feelings of vengeance, getting back together and could’ve/should’ve scenarios. Getting back to workplace may present a daunting task, but as with mourning, it might be of utmost importance when dealing with the sense of post-divorce loss and family rupture. There are no easy fixes for the turmoil after stress, but support groups may help immensely.
Different studies have generally shown that there are five stages of dealing with the aftermath of a divorce.
- Anger. The first stage is anger, which is generally aimed at the former spouse or at oneself (“How could he/she do this to me?”). Occasionally, this emotion might even be aimed at the people who are trying to help the divorcee to cope (“You don’t know how it’s like!” “You have no idea how I’m feeling right now!”). Boys are much prone to excess anger than girls, usually by throwing temper tantrums or picking up fights.
- Guilt. As mentioned before, the divorcee will go through different scenarios of what could have been done differently in order to prevent the divorce. Self-esteem will be at an all-time low. If the marital trouble that caused the divorce lasted for a longer time or was especially damaging, this phase may not even occur.
- Denial. The feeling of denial is usually experienced in waking hours. The divorcee will have a difficult time facing the fact that the marriage has failed. It is during this time that reconciliation is attempted by one of the divorcees.
- Loneliness. The duration of this phase depends mostly on the length of the marriage itself, especially if children are involved. The feeling is even more pronounced on parents who have lost custody of their children.
- Regret. This phase will occur regardless if any or both spouses are to blame for the marriage failing. The should’ve/could’ve scenarios, akin to those of guilt phase, are even more pronounced here. Some spouses will regret different decisions made during the marriage – others will regret entering into marriage entirely.
- Grief. Regardless of who caused the divorce, the divorcee will miss the partner. Due to the perceived change in other person’s character, this phase is very akin to mourning.
- Letting go. Once the person got used to the new routine, letting go can commence. The earlier marriage will be seen as another event in life, with its high points and low points.