The truth about the financial, emotional, and parental hardships of divorce
"10 Things Divorce Attorneys Won't Say" is the title of a piece in a recent issue of "SmartMoney," the financial magazine of The Wall Street Journal. Nine of the 10 are about financial issues: The fact that one rarely imagines how much divorce will cost, how it can potentially change a lifetime of income, and so on.
All good information.
But, interestingly, there was only one item about the biggest cost of divorce being, perhaps obviously, its emotional toll. So maybe that's worth revisiting at a time of year, summer, known for its weddings.
Hopefully, every bride and groom getting married in this — or any other — season wants it to be for life. I've opined in this space many times about the sanctity of marriage. As I happily get ready to remarry, after having my first marriage unwillingly end, I stand by all of that.
But while it's helpful to focus on what marriage is or should be, it's also worth reiterating the truths of why divorce stinks so much.
Whether it's one or both people who want the marriage to end, those choosing to leave tend to be excited at first over what or who awaits. There may also be a sense of relief at the end of the stress, the subterfuge, the fighting.
Over and over again, I've seen people choosing divorce romanticize the split as much as, or more than, they ever romanticized their marriage! And we have family therapist Marilyn Wedge writing, in the March 2012 issue of "Psychology Today," that "divorce doesn't have to be damaging to children." Of course, you can only buy such nonsense if you believe marriage itself isn't important to the children.
In her top-10 list of dos and don'ts for divorcing parents, Wedge writes, among other things:
"Do renegotiate a healthy co-parenting relationship after divorce" and "Do get on the same page with your ex about all rules concerning the children — bedtime, homework, amount of screen time, curfew and so forth."
The reason people get divorced is because one or both have decided they won't get along/don't want to live together/are willing to live apart from their kids full time anyway. The idea that these same people can now "renegotiate a healthy co-parenting relationship after divorce," from different households, still feeling the acrimony of the split and perhaps with new romantic partners in tow, is nothing short of idiotic. If they could do that, they could have stayed married. So why not encourage the latter?
Unfortunately, people considering divorce listen to such advice and think, "See? It will be better when we are apart."
No, it won't. At least in marriage there is typically some level of influence with your spouse. When the marriage is over, the influence is gone — but very often the fighting continues for years. Talk about the worst of all worlds.
This impacts the children, whether they're very young at the time of the divorce, or even adults; as well as in-laws, siblings, future sons- and daughters-in-law, grandchildren and friends. Even after you're gone, there may be consequences for generations of family fellowship broken by your divorce.
In addressing this, I've written that when you choose to divorce, you choose to throw a pebble into a pond. You have no idea where it will go. But, as I've since had someone share with me, it's probably better thought of as throwing a stick of dynamite onto a pile of kindling.
So back to those brides and grooms. This isn't the kind of thing they want to hear, I know. But there is a positive side to all this: Divorce is only as damaging as it is — and it is damaging — because marriage is designed, for our good, to matter so much. To be such a significant and lasting relationship. Let's rejoice in that! In fact, I'm increasingly convinced that if our culture celebrated the truth of marriage more, we wouldn't have to lie about divorce so much.
Betsy Hart is the author of, "From The Hart: A Collection of Favorite Columns on Love, Loss, Marriage (and Other Extreme Sports)."
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