Divorce Stress  
Getting ourselves through and raising our children in "Dignity with Divorce"
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Divorce Stress - The Impact of Divorce on Families and Individuals - Making Good Decisions for Everyone
 
Divorce Stress   The Impact of Divorce on Families and Individuals

Divorce or separation is considered to be one of the most stressful events that one can experience. This is a difficult time and we wrote this article to help you through this process.  We have seen many clients experience divorce stress and subsequent negative impacts along with healthy change.   Divorce and separation can induce a wide variety of emotions.  Some include failure, anger, loneliness, fear, sadness, loss and possibly even relief.  There may also be financial and practical worries.  There are questions about child custody, child care, working, relationship and friendships.  We hope that our series of articles will help you through this bewildering process and prepare to start building a new future.   We also hope that these articles will help you understand the legal system and prepare you to be guided by our attorneys through this labyrinth of the legal process.

It is important to realize the power an individual has through conscience and careful decision making that impacts the lives of so many.   It is critical for all that are experiencing a divorce that they constantly keep in check their individual contribution and health.  For instance, a doctor probably never anticipated that his divorce stress would lead him to physically assault his terminally ill mother-in-law because he was resentful and did not want to drop the children off to her at his former home.  But the experience of not having his emotions in check, left him with being prosecuted for assault and his children witnessing trauma between people that they loved.  This is an example that high conflict divorces can easily turn out of control if one’s emotions are not continually balanced while experiencing this kind of stress.

Relationships and Perspectives
 
   When a marriage breaks up, often the attachment style of one partner to the other partner will contribute to their coping strategy and mental health.  (Birnbaum 1997).  Birnbaum, in his study of 120 participants, learned that the attachment styles that struggled the most with how people react to the crisis of divorce were avoidant and anxious-ambivalent.  Attachment styles examined were secure, avoidant and anxious-ambivalent.  Avoidant attachment styles are overly sensitive to social rejection, humiliation, shame, low self-esteem and are very upset by the slightest disapproval of others.  Anxious-ambivalent attachment styles are co-dependant, have difficulty making decisions and are nervous and anxious.
Another personality aspect that may affect coping is a constantly critical and negative perspective.  This individual will have a difficult time examining the contributions they negatively contributed to the relationship because they spend most of their time being critical of the other partner.  The negative perspective is a hindrance to progress because one needs to focus on the new positive options that are waiting to be taken advantage of and they never see it because they are focusing on the negative energy from the past.  This type of personality can easily slip into the victim role and spend endless hours thinking of how they were misaligned and not focus their energy on building a new life.  This individual often has a difficult time coping and moving on and can inflict significant damage to children and family members involved by maintaining this mentality. 

Recommendations to Reduce Stress

It is critical that one maintain balance to reduce emotions and stay in check during a divorce or separation.  Keep a journal to organize and express emotions.  Keep another journal to document all interactions with your ex-partner.  Exercise, eat good foods and surround yourself with a healthy social support network.  Tap into financial resources to support yourself financially and obtain legal counsel.  Obtain a job or additional education to occupy oneself and increase self-esteem.  Pay your bills meticulously – deal with your debts.  Balance your emotional side with your physical and spiritual side.  Talk to a therapist, counselor or psychiatrist.  Get on medication if needed to help you and your children during this time of stress.  Educate yourself with the stages of loss to understand where you are in the process of accepting this change in your life.  Take responsibility for your contribution to the split in the relationship.  Listen to good music and surround yourself with inspiring things.  Dream and focus on building a future of endless possibilities.  Take time for yourself.  Keep a sense of humor.  Develop new and healthy hobbies and interests.  Be adventurous and try something new. 

Avoid making your problems your childrens’ problems.  Don’t use your children as a therapist.  They are not to be burdened with adult problems.  Don’t use your children to exchange information between the two parents.  Don’t allow the children to see you fight with your ex-spouse.  Don’t put the children in the middle; they are innocent victims.  Protect your children from overwhelming them with your anger and emotions.  Show your children that you love them.  Spend quality time with your children to build confidence in being a good parent to inevitably feel less threatened by the other partner and to help your children adapt to the new changes in their lives.    Become confident in yourself and your parenting that you do not have to undermine your ex-partner to your children.  Don’t criticize the other spouse in front of the children.  Encourage your children to respect and love their other parent or new step-parent.  This will reduce stress in their lives and help them to feel at ease.  Even if this other parent messed up completely, they can still love them.  Compliment the other parent to your children on fantastic gifts, excursions or help with homework.  Have exchanges between you and the other parent reasonable with the children around so they do not feel nervous or fearful of embarrassment.  Create predictability and a routine in your children’s lives – this includes your schedule and moods.  Do not allow guilt to overindulge your children – we knew of a father during his visits with his three daughters that they would not agree on a restaurant for dinner.  His guilt of not being there led him to take them to three different restaurants rather than stepping up and being the adult to make a reasonable dining decision.  Keep your emotions in check so you are not overreacting to your children’s behavior and doing something that would jeopardize your parenting position.   Help your children through this difficult time.  Help them understand their feelings, emotions and anger.  A child will most likely thrive when their parents are thriving and doing well.  Your child will most likely experience many disappointments throughout their lives this is a time when you can do it together and model for them how to handle disappointment and readjust in a healthy way.  This is a critical time that may lay a firm foundation for them to rely on when you are no longer there. 

Don’t allow yourself to become so angry and out of control.  Anger is a stage of the grieving process.  If you get stuck in the anger stage you will not be able to move forward and improve your situation and increase your happiness.  Resolve your anger privately; get past it and work through it.  Some obstacles to resolving anger include that you have to face the real problem at the core or you have no one else to blame.  Remember that anger can be used either constructively or destructively.  Don’t allow your ex-partner the control in your life by allowing your anger to negatively impact your life.  Avoid bitterness and focus more on problem solving.  Anger can motivate action to get a job, set limits or boundaries or push through fears.  Take an accounting of your behavior regularly with the goal that you act like an adult – don’t regress and react like a five year old.  Remember that three different drivers can be in a traffic jam all at the same time.  One can be singing and experiencing pleasure, one can be talking on the cell phone and be energized or one can be hitting and cursing experiencing anger.  The traffic jam is the same trigger but there are three different emotions.  These different emotions are caused by a basic belief system and thought process.  Focus on readjusting or beliefs and thoughts.  The belief system or judgments that we have on others manipulate our responses.  Our negative thought process will also manipulate our response.  Take time to process frustrations and react very carefully and slowly.  Learn communication skills and the process of how to create solutions.  Learn how to manage and contain conflicts with your ex-partner.  Try to be accepting rather than judgmental.  Try to always focus on the positive.  This will greatly influence your feelings and surroundings.  Establish healthy co-parenting patterns with your ex-partner.  Perhaps start a relationship of emailing your ex-partner so conversations do not get so heated.  Be very careful and conscience of what you write or how you respond.

Get educated with your state statutes regarding divorce and parenting time.  (For example, visitation is not related or dependant upon the paying of child support.  You can not withhold visitation with the children because child support is not being paid.)   This education with the legal system and a close relationship with your attorney and his office staff will give you the confidence that you are doing your best for you and your children. 

Stay away from alcohol or drugs completely.  You will jeopardize your parental rights. Don’t bring home casual dates and expose your children to many companions. Don’t become sexually promiscuous.  Many divorcing couples find themselves lonely and seek constant or intimate companionship of the opposite sex.   You may possibly want to delay dating to get yourself back on your feet emotionally.  Be weary of things that you may be seeking out to make yourself feel good and perhaps become addicted or unbalanced.  This is a very difficult time; recognize your vulnerabilities.  Protect your vulnerabilities and guard yourself from making detrimental decisions during this difficult time.  Energize your social life to include healthy and positive people.  As you socialize and feel comfortable with others this will help build your feelings about your self-worth. 

This is an opportunity to discover and reinvent oneself take advantage of this to learn more about yourself.  Ask yourself the question, would you jump into an ice-cold stream to save a drowning child or would you give up one of your kidneys if it would save your child’s life.  If you love your children so much that you are willing to make those kind of sacrifices then you need to be willing to forgive yourself or your partner for the divorce and let go of the past to give your child a positive future.  Be open to change, let go of dreams associated with that companion, build new dreams for yourself and your children.  Although you might be lonely right now, you don’t have to be lonely.   Although you might now be financially secure, you can make an effort today that will lay a foundation to be I the future.  Identify those dreams and write them down, become aware of damaging behavior that might interfere with those goals and replace it with an alternative positive.  Focus on your strengths, positive attributes and good things in your life.  Focus on what is left in your glass and try to refill it with new healthy items.  This will help you to feel strong and this strength will enable change and power from within.   Have you children help around the home and teach responsibility.  Do not take upon yourself all of the burdens that you have to bear.  Spend time each day on your spiritual and physical self, this will greatly impact and balance the emotional side and help your perspective.  One of the best things that you can offer your children is the best you – a you that is stronger and deeper.   You can get through this – give yourself time. 


Our Response to Obstacles of Life

 It is always something difficult that we will be experiencing but what matters is our response to the difficulty.  Life is not fair; hopes, dreams and aspirations may be crushed.  We need to not take on the position of being a victim and look to the future and what we can achieve, how we can develop and become.  We empower ourselves during situations when we are facing challenges through our decision making.  It is so critically important that we understand the vulnerabilities that face us when going through a divorce and how our health and well being affects our lives and the lives of others.  One going through a divorce needs to arm themselves with a healthy lifestyle, seek strong sources of mental health while carefully and cognizantly make decisions for their future.  When we experience a curve or difficulty in life, we need to focus on how we will learn and grow from it.   Life is not fair but we can work hard at making some of our dreams come true.   The social health of divorce truly impacts our culture, social network, family system and individual development.  By examining the risk factors and implications one can identify patterns that can be adopted to reduce the negative impact of divorce.  By individually concentrating on creating a healthy culture to raise children within divorce our social structure may shift to have less of a negative impact and future health of our society.  It is critical that we maintain a positive focus and attitude.  When you feel yourself slipping and becoming negative, try to correct yourself and focus on the blessings in your life.  Keep a gratitude journal to remind yourself of what is positive and good.  Take time to extend service to those in greater need than yourself.  Volunteer at the homeless shelter or children’s hospital.   It is important to keep a perspective that looks into the future and is not based on the moment at hand.  

Children

 Approximately one half of all American children must cope with divorce in their lives.  A lot of evidence shows that children from divorced families do not fare as well emotionally, socially and academically.  In 1989, Kent University found that children of divorce were more likely to repeat a grade.  (Guidubaldi 1996)  It was brought to light that they also did not perform as well on standardized English and math tests.  (Wisconsin 1994)  In a more recently published book and study, Maggie Gallagher, studied adult children of divorce.  She learned that adult children of divorce are three times more likely to disagree with the statement “I generally felt physically safe” as a child.  One-third of children of divorce strongly agreed with the statement that “Children were at the center of my family” compared to 63 percent of children whose parents stayed married.  The study by Gallagher also raised to light that children of divorce are three times more likely to be expelled from school or become pregnant in their teens.  The statistic showed that these children are five times as apt to live in poverty.  A 2002 study by Sun and Li showed that divorce has a serious negative impact on the psychological well being of children and that these negative effects could not be attributed to the pre-divorce conditions within the family.  (Sun, Y. & Li, Y. 2002)  Sadly, suicide rates for children of divorce are much higher and this is attributed to the family instabilility, disruption and perceived rejection.  (Nelson 1988)
 Family dynamics shape a child’s identity well into adulthood.  With a family being a complex adaptive system, it is critical to understand the impact that this dysfunction has on a child’s life.  Divorce may free adults to make choices but it does at the expense of forcing children to grow up too soon.  Even so called “good” divorces cause harm and stress to a child.  Tremendous energy needs to focused and expended to try to offset and decrease this impact. 
Another aspect that needs to be examined is the subsequent guilt that a parent feels from having their child go through this process.  Many of these parents are then known to overindulgence a child’s will.  This phenomena needs to be kept in check and balance to try not to a child in an attempt to compensate for what they feel they have inflicted on the child and to assuage their own guilt.   
 The parental alienator is a parent that attempts to alienate a child from the other parent.  This behavior is caused by malignant self love, unadulterated arrogance and stems from intolerance, denigration, prejudice and deep-seated dysfunction. (Summers, 2006)  This narcissistic cruel abuse is very deceptive and needs to be documented.  The American Journal of Family Therapy (2006) states that the parental alienator lies, manipulates, speaks in mixed messages and can often never abandon their illusions of the other parent. 
The thought process when going through a divorce becomes basically instinctive and going into a self preservation mode.   They even develop a feeling of persecution and borderline paranoia.  One becomes so subjective that they no longer think objectively because it is so fiercely personal and the pressures of divorce and custody drive them to the bitter edge.  It is critically important to slow down to objectively and consciously react to make decisions when going through a divorce. 


You are Not Alone

 According to the United States Census Bureau, in the last 50 years, the percentage of U.S. married households has fallen from nearly 80 percent to a low 51.6 %. (Census 2005)  More households are single parent households than ever before in our documented history, in fact tripling since 40 years ago with the percentage of marriages ending in divorce jumping from 25% to 45%.    (Masci, David 2004).  There are obvious patterns that are adopted subconsciously when going through a divorce that negatively impacts our culture, social networks, family system and individual development.
 Family systems are a complex adaptive system that influences all those involved including partners, children and extended family.  The family system and dynamics also influence decision making and are impacted dramatically by the decisions of those going through a divorce.  The family system can be one of the most influential forces in individual’s development and the individual is what influences the entire family cycle. 
By consciously adapting particular patterns, the negative impact of a divorce can be diminished.  The main categories of negative impacts discussed in this article are violence and abuse, emotional damage, physical health and lifestyle changes.  The effects of these negative impacts are far reaching on the social health of our children.  This is especially detrimental to our children in that they are now being raised in a culture that may negatively affect their individual development. 

Relationship Dynamics

 Compared with Northern Europeans, American still have a higher marriage rate.  In Denmark, 60 percent of all children are born out of wedlock, compared to 34 percent in the United States.  (National 2003)  In the United States, cohabiting couples now represent 4.3 million in 2002 from 2.8 million in 1996. (Masci 2004)  Even though these couples may not marry, paternity and custody actions can be just as difficult or stressful as a divorce. 
Our culture is different and unique from much of the world but it is important to point out that American culture is also diverse within itself.  For instance, some relationships are very patriarchal with the husband dominating the relationship.  A divorce within a marriage of patriarchal culture is distinctive from one that has decision making from both partners.  A man from a patriarchal marriage will become more frustrated and angry with separation and divorce through the perception that he is entitled to an ongoing relationship of female obedience, loyalty and dependence.  When experiencing stress, this marriage is most at risk for post-separation violence when the wife leaves the marriage.  


Violence and Abuse

One of the most drastic negative impacts that divorce has on our culture is violence and abuse.  We very frequently are shocked to see news stories of homicide by one’s partner.    In September 2006, a 44 year old Wisconsin man was sentenced to 35 years in prison for strangling and murdering his wife after she requested a divorce with their children sleeping in the room next to them.  Often by examining the most extreme behavior set we can have insight into the motivation and implications of other negative decision making in divorce.
Post-separation violence is a relatively understudied topic that deserves a more thorough examination within our culture.  Most research on domestic violence examines violence prior to separation.  (Anderson & Saunders, 2003)  It is important to seriously recognize the risk of violent behavior after separation and make considerable efforts to reduce this outcome.  Research shows that there is a high risk for violence after separation of couples that have lived together. (Brownridge 2006)   
A study in 2001, found that out of 1693 women that presented to either a medical clinic or WIC food program in 9 counties in Minnesota,  16% of married women, 31% of divorced women and 58% of separated women reported physical, emotional, verbal and/or sexual abuse. (Kershner, Long and Anderson, 2001)  It is poignant to note from these statistics that more domestic violence is experienced after separation.  The stress of separation or divorce can at times lead to violent and abusive behavior.    
 The three most common motives defined by Douglas A. Brownridge for post-separation violence are retaliation, restoration of power and control, and reconciliation. (Brownridge 2006)   Violent retaliation is seen when one feels betrayed, abandoned, angry or enraged.  These are emotions that need to be taken seriously and managed in a healthy way.   One may try to regain power and control over their partner by being violent.  This type of behavior is unacceptable and different patterns need to be adopted, although there is a high incidence of violence post-separation.  The third possible motive for post separation violence is a desperate attempt to force reconciliation and make one feel vulnerable. 
 Some risk factors identified that may stimulate these violent rages include the culture and dominance of the relationship,  female social isolation, type of intervention and timing of support, male dependence, female independence, duration since separation, availability, pre-separation violence, presence of a new partner, stress, children, anxious attachment and alcohol/drug abuse.  
 We also see violence and abuse not only directed to the spouse but to themselves such as in July of 2006 when a physician in New York City blew himself up in his brownstone apartment; to judges when in June of 2006 a Nevada man attempted to shoot his family court judge; to attorneys as in the case of a St. Louis man that killed his wife’s attorney and in the most sad and unfortunate cases of violence directed to the innocent children by their own parents. 
Not only do we see violent and physical acts of abuse but also sexual abuse. For instance an Utah man going through a divorce who became so emotionally distraught that he solicited and engaged in a sexual and romantic relationship with his thirteen year old daughter to placate his loneliness and emotionality.  This kind of abuse is long lasting and extremely difficult for one to get through and has negative implications on our society not to mention criminal implications with the outcome of a jail sentence and loss of parental rights.  These actions affect not only himself, but the daughter, siblings, ex-spouse and community. 
We as individuals need to embrace a healthier set of patterns to get through the stress of divorce.  The majority of people may not be resorting to intimate femicide or incest to manage their stress but there are different spectrums of this behavior and the negative implications often result in some form of child neglect or emotional abuse which ultimately affects our social health. 

Your Social Network

 Your social system is very influential in the health and outcome of your  divorce.  For instance, does the individual have extended family and friends to help them financially to retain an attorney and emotionally encourage them throughout the process?  In a patriarchal marriage, the husband may have isolated the wife to the point that she has no friends, education, family, work or financial resources to rely on.  In this circumstance the husband will be very successful influencing the end result of the divorce.  In a situation opposite from that where a wife can tap into family and friends for encouragement or temporary financial assistance or perhaps already has a college education the outcome may be drastically different.  Is the individual able to tap into social services that are available like legal assistance or medical care?  The social system that one has access will influence a divorce, an individual’s decision making and opportunities.   

Drug and Alcohol Abuse

 If on the other hand, an individual turns to an unhealthy social system that choice or exposure will in turn adversely affect the divorce and children.  For instance if an individual seeks the support of friends that abuse drugs or alcohol and subsequently develops those same habits to cope negative results will most likely follow.  There is an example of a Salt Lake City man that had it all.  He had a great family, home, executive job and more.  This man sought the comfort and companionship of a co-worker that abused drugs and alcohol and adopted these same habits to cope.  He eventually lost his job, home, parental rights, and eventual mental health.  In fact, his beautiful $350,000 home became a meth lab and was deemed unlivable by the health department.  There is also a correlation of drug and alcohol abuse with violence, emotional abuse and suicide.  Divorce mingled with illegal stimulants it not a good combination. 
Along with drug and alcohol abuse comes lifestyle changes.  It is important to cling to a healthy lifestyle and surround oneself with good things.  It is not a time to embrace new habits. 

Legal Arena, Health and Lifestyle

 Not only is the entire emotional situation overwhelming but to suddenly be in the middle of a foreign legal arena is often the straw that breaks the camel’s back.  In the legal arena, we now are required to navigate a whole new world and interact with many different sets and groups of people that become involved in the process.  There will be attorneys, paralegals, judges, court clerks, mediators, guardians ad litem, child protective services, or Office of Recovery Services to now communicate with. 
 The July 2006 Social Science & Medicine issue explained that the physical health of divorced mothers is less than that of married mothers.  They attribute this difference to the amount of stress that a single parent has to experience as they solely take on the burden of breadwinner and greater child rearing tasks.   This is particularly difficult in cases where the father is financially able to provide but manipulates the court system or outright refuses to financially support these children. This source of chronic stress causes both mental and physical health consequences as a result of the prolonged stressful conditions and frequency of negative life events.  (Wickrama at al. 2006)  Divorce in and of itself is considered one of life’s most stressful events that is likely to cause depression. 


There Is Much That You Can Do to Influence Your Experience

 These statistics and thoughts may be very overwhelming, but by understanding these dynamics how everything interrelates, one can become much more cognizant and aware of how they are influences the lives of those around them.  There is much that can be done to influence a positive outcome through carefully decision making, understanding vulnerabilities and balancing ones life. 

If you need Legal Assistance in Utah contact Cory R. Wall, Attorney at Law at (801)274-3100 or click here for his website at www.walllegalsolutions.com/Bio/CoryWall.html

Or you can email us at deanna.wall@walllegalsolutions.com or cory.wall@walllegalsolutions.com