15 Sep Your Gift to Your Children and the World
September 15, 2016
If you guessed “Divorce,” you would be right.
If you are searching for answers regarding your marriage, you are not alone. Today’s insightful alert by Michael and Jenet Erickson provides some answers — and some hope. And hope is often the very nourishment a marriage needs to succeed.
You may also be interested to know that the overall divorce rate is actually lower than you think! For years we have heard that 50 percent of marriages end in divorce. But that number came from projections. The actual number of first-time marriages that end in divorce is closer to 20-25 percent. Sometimes we feel influenced by a culture-wide feeling of futility regarding marriage, but many of those messages simply are not true.
So take heart. Though surely imperfect, perhaps your marriage is a “good enough marriage” — your precious gift to your children and to the world.
by Michael and Jenet Erickson
In 1969, California became the first U.S. state to permit no-fault divorce, other states followed, and divorce rates skyrocketed in the 70s and 80s. At the time, the pervasive belief was that divorce would have little effect on children. The logic was that kids would be happy if their parents were happy. And certainly parents would be happier if they were “free” from the pain of unhappy marriages.
But decades of research since then suggest a different reality. Judith Wallerstein “touched off a national conversation” in the early 1990s with her 25-year-long, in-depth study of children of divorce. Sheconcluded, “Divorce is a life-transforming experience. After divorce, childhood is different. Adolescence is different. Adulthood—with the decision to marry or not and have children or not—is different. Whether the outcome is good or bad, the whole trajectory of an individual’s life is profoundly altered by the divorce experience.” As hundreds of studies have shown, in every area of development—social, emotional, physical, academic, and spiritual—children whose parents divorced are two to three times more likely to struggle than those who do not go through a divorce.
Many married couples face a grueling crossroads in which spouses might ask: Should I keep trying to work this marriage out? Can this marriage ever be happy again? No one marries thinking they will come to this place, but the reality is that many do. In decades past, such couples might have been counseled just to move on and look for more happiness elsewhere. But today, with a little more knowledge about what divorce means in the lives of children and adults, the answer would be different.
In certain situations, divorce may be the best answer. Hawkins and Fackrell offer this advice in their “Guidebook for Individuals and Couples at the Crossroads of Divorce,” “Individuals have the right to be physically and emotionally safe in a relationship. And society has the right to try to protect the moral boundaries of marriage to preserve the integrity and even sacred nature of such an important institution as marriage.” And children in high-conflict marriages (yelling, screaming, throwing things, sometimes violence and abuse) do appear to be “better off, on average, if their parents decide to divorce, compared to children whose parents stay married and continue to experience high levels of conflict.”
But half or more of all divorces happen in marriages that are not experiencing high levels of conflict. Children in these broken marriages generally “do worse” when their parents divorce. Indeed, “the children who seem to be hardest hit by divorce are those whose parents weren’t having a lot of conflict.”
Equally important, couples who were at some point very unhappy can become happy again. Research that followed low-conflict, unhappy marriages over five years found that of the 85% who stayed married, two-thirds were happily married 5 years later. Given such findings, Hawkins and Fackrell conclude, “If you are in a low-conflict but unhappy marriage there may be ways to make your marriage happy again. If this is possible, this will probably be best for your children.”
In a culture of no-fault divorce, the grueling decision of divorce is often taken out of the hands of one or other in a marriage because one decides they don’t want to be married any more, or cannot live in a way that respects the dignity of their spouse. But in many other cases, there is hope for happiness to return to a marriage – a hope that is worth holding on to for both children and their parents.
Michael Erickson is an attorney, and Dr. Jenet Jacob Erickson is an Affiliated Scholar at the Wheatley Institution. Together Jenet and Michael are enjoying their family life journey with their two young children. This article has been adapted by the authors from an article printed in the Deseret News, September 4, 2016.