Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Pain of Divorce

Morning radio typically does not make me weep. However, I found myself wiping my eyes as I was driving to work the other day. The show was previewing and discussing the documentary, "How to divorce and not wreck the kids".

The show is looking at effective ways couples can work to separate in a way that is child centred--with the general idea that if it is done well, the children won't be adversely affected. The counsellor comments to the little fellow, "Sometimes kids feel like it's their fault that their parents separate?" The little boy quickly responds, "No I never thought it was my fault." It was clear that the parents had explained it to the children effectively, and the children understood that this was about the grown ups.

The heartbreaking part was the unsolicited postscript that the boy added, "I sorta wanted it to be fault because then I could do something about it.". That honest plaintiveness was hard to hear.

While the documentary accepts the inevitable fact that approximately 50% of marriages end in divorce, there is this jarring dichotomy. The video features 3 couples who work to surmount their own personal resentments and pain in the separation and find ways to optimize the situation for the children. The general message is that children "whose parents put aside their differences and manage to work together grow up to be just as well adjusted as children of intact families".

However, the video itself challenges this as one child experiences "tummy aches", another cries at transition times from one parent to another, still another "bottles it up until bedtime and cries himself to sleep". The effects of divorce can be substantially mitigated by effectively working collaboratively towards solutions that will benefit the kids. No question on that.

However, it seems to me that this glosses over the pain that divorce creates for many, including or even especially, the children. There are certainly times when the pain of staying together is greater than the pain of dissolving the marriage.

However, society needs to not sugarcoat the pain and long lasting effects of divorce on the children.

The documentary itself points out that most of these marriages end in first 14 years. As a therapist, I find it important to find ways to help marriages maximize their chances of success. One way we do this at Bergen & Associates is the premarital package that couples can use. A few couples, with sober second thought, decide that they'd rather not get married. Many couples use the sessions as a chance to look at the patterns in the relationship which could turn into destructive ruts over the years. And each couple becomes familiar with reaching out and talking with somebody who can provide a compassionate third ear. The last session in the package happens in the first six months AFTER the wedding so couples can feel what it is like to work through a challenging time.

Preparing couples for the inevitable challenges ahead, and helping them anticipate and plan for those challenges is one way that we, at Bergen and Associates, work to help future children grow up in healthy families.

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