Focus on the Family

Divorce

by Glenn Stanton

According to Divorce Magazine, "Statistics tell us that about half of all marriages now end in divorce."

1It's a statistic we hear regularly, but is it true?

Here's how the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Center for Health Statistics measure this question:

Marriage and Divorce (Data are for the United States, in 2003)

According to the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University (led by David Popenoe and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead), the most authoritative group tracking and analyzing these numbers:

The American divorce rate today is more than twice that of 1960, but has declined slightly since hitting the highest point in our history in the early 1980s.

3

We need to clarify these figures.

Sociologists correctly calculated the “50 percent” figure as a reasonably accurate projection of future trends.

Actually, marriages formed today have about a 41 to 43 percent chance of ending in divorce.

4(But this depends on important demographic indicators. More on this below.)

Some pundits have challenged the “50 percent of all marriages ending in divorce” statement. These skeptics explain that 50 percent is a flawed figure because people have wrongly arrived at it by comparing the number of marriages in one year to the number of divorces. They claim this 50 percent number is flawed because it doesn’t consider all the marriages that already exist and stay intact.

Scott Stanley, a leading marriage scholar from the University of Denver, explains why this explanation is wrong:

No serious demographer ever looked at the approx 2.4 mil marriages a year and 1.2 mil divorces a year to arrive at the 50% number. That is a misunderstanding that began early in the debate about what the divorce rate really is—a misunderstanding that is, unfortunately, widely perpetuated.

The calculation sociologists use to derive this 50 percent figure is very detailed. Stanley explains why 40 to 50 percent is a correct projection of divorce likelihood:

The 40-50% number comes from detailed analyses of various population demographics, including ages, divorce rates by ages, lifespan projections, etc. It represents a sophisticated projection—much like the projected life span projections for babies being born today. As with any projection, the number could change if conditions in society change, but it is a very valid projection under current conditions.

5

Some demographic groups have a much higher than average divorce rate, while other demographic groups have a much lower risk. But, taken all together, the projection of a marriage starting out today ending in divorce is 41 to 43 percent.


1Larry Frolick, "Why do people divorce?" Divorce Magazine, http://www.divorcemag.com/c/s3/?relationships/whydivorce* (30 June 2005)
2“Births, Marriage, Divorce, and Deaths: Provisional Data for 2003,” National Vital Statistics Report, Volume 52, Number 22, Center for Disease Control, June 10, 2004.
3“The State of Our Unions, 2004: The Social Health of Marriage in America” The National Marriage Project, June 2004, p. 18.
4"The State of Our Unions, 2001: The Social Health of Marriage in America," The National Marriage Project, June 2001, p. 23.
5Scott M. Stanley, “What Really Is the Divorce Rate?” http://www.prepinc.com/ (26 May 2005)

When Your Kids Divorce

It's a delicate situation, but there are things you can do to help.

by Robert Busha

The announcement comes with a thud, even when you may be expecting it. "Mom, Dad, my husband (or wife) and I are getting divorced!"

What do you say? What went wrong? As shocking as a divorce may be, you can navigate through the changes that come with your child's divorce announcement and help him or her through this trying time.

Reacting to the News

If there is any chance to help the couple receives counseling, seek reconciliation or postpone divorce through a separation period, encourage them to do so. Your stable wisdom in the midst of emotional turmoil could save the marriage.

Unfortunately, often the couple has already decided to divorce, and your reaction is important. First, you may want to have a good cry. You are grieving the loss of dreams and a marriage. You may also find yourself feeling shock, anger, guilt, shame and powerlessness. Get your thoughts and emotions in order before responding or reacting. Your child will need your stability.

Helping With Transition

Divorce seldom ends with a decree from a judge. Fractured emotions and fault-finding often get tangled with issues such as the division of property, custody of children and visitation rights.

Consider how your role could change with those involved. How can you stay connected? What will family mean after the divorce is final? Help make it as smooth as possible.

Invest healthy energy in deciding how you can be a positive influence by standing as a role model for them. This is a great time to illustrate what age, maturity and experience can do when melded with God's love. Carefully choose your words and actions in these volatile times and defuse the emotions, pain and confusion through your example.

Modeling Forgiveness

Battles regarding custody and visitation can be brutal. Your reactions can lessen the trauma.

Blame doesn't really matter or help. It just gets in the way. Blaming, and all that accompanies it, will thwart the process of forgiveness, reconciliation and healthy healing.

You may be the only godly example among everyone involved who shows what it means to forgive and forget. You can also show them how to learn from the past and build more soundly for the times ahead.

Setting Boundaries

There are practical considerations that may affect you and your household directly. Prepare for them in advance to avoid the consequences. The decisions you make can be the difference between enabling problems to continue or empowering your child to make healthy changes.

For example, what about your child moving back home? Some counselors caution parents about the implications that come with putting out either a "Vacancy" or "No Vacancy" sign. Perhaps your child should explore other options, such as moving into a smaller apartment or taking on tenants, instead of returning home.

How much financial or material support can/should you offer? Consider conditions on your help, such as whether your giving should be a gift or a loan, and for how long. Other legal and financial questions must also be considered, such as your will and raising grandchildren, directly or indirectly, if the need arises.

How you respond to these questions and what boundaries you set could make the difference in decisions your child must make, such as whether or not to reconcile if she knows she can't run back home. Can divorce be avoided if you say no to them in a firm and loving way? Seek advice from trusted church leaders or a counselor.

Advising and Praying

Harv Herman, pastor of the over-50 Prime Ministers at New Life Church in Colorado Springs, identifies two keys for parents helping children through divorce.

"First, give advice only when asked," Marv says. "It's too easy to want to tell them how to run their lives, and it can cause problems in your relationship if you do. Ask for their permission before speaking to them, even about critical issues.

"Second, pray," he says. "Intercede for them. Pray about everything, including whether or not to give them counsel. Your peace of mind, and theirs, is at stake.

"Pray like you've never prayed before for them," Marv says. "Your wisdom and knowledge of life give you a special perspective. Thus, your prayers can be more effective than anything lawyers, marriage counselors and judges can do."

Help them reconcile if at all possible, keep a stable mind, prepare for change, forgive and set boundaries as your child and grandchildren go through divorce. Then influence them for good as you model godliness, and you will make it through this season together.


When Your Parents Divorce

It's no easier if the split comes after you've left home. So what can you do to get through the tough times?

by Sandi Greene

My heart broke the day my mom told me she didn't love my dad anymore. It was June, without a cloud in the sky on that hot Arizona day. After completing my sophomore year of college in California, I decided to go home for a weekend visit with my parents. As always, it was nice visiting my family, but at the same time something didn't feel right. Shortly before I left to go back, my mom asked me to take a walk around our block. The walk was mostly silent, and then, without looking at me, she dropped the bomb.

My body felt numb. Was I dreaming? Her words repeated over and over in my head, but they wouldn't sink into my heart. Stunned and silent, my only thought was "why?" - why in the world was this happening to my family? Filled with anger, I got in my car and drove back to California. I cried almost the entire way.

Our Past

You have to know some things about my family to understand why this came as an overwhelming shock. Up until this point, I believed I had a perfect family. I know that sounds unrealistic, but my friends constantly told me how lucky I was to have parents who raised my brother and me in a Christian home. They were surprised my parents were still married and that we actually did "family things" together. They said we resembled something out of a 1950s television show.

No matter the situation, Mom was an optimistic person. I learned the importance of selflessness through the countless times I saw her extend a hand to friends, elderly, and the homeless. Dad had a wonderful sense of humor and no matter how busy he was, he always went out of his way to help people. Their marriage was no different. They hardly ever fought, and often they would kiss and cuddle in front of my brother and me just so we would get embarrassed. Although I hardly acknowledged it, deep within I appreciated their example of love.

As I started to prepare for college, this normality of my parent's life began to change. Mom often appeared distant and confused. Dad said she was having a "midlife crisis." I had no idea what this meant, but to try and solve the problem, Mom moved out of our house for some time away. One month later she moved back in, yet the next two years became a familiar roller coaster. As a teenager I couldn't comprehend what was inside her. All I saw was her walking farther away from God and Dad trying harder to stop her.

Divorce

After that walk around the block, Mom left again, only this time she never returned. Less than five months later, after 23 years of marriage, my parents were divorced. The people I had admired most throughout my life had broken my trust. As my life shattered to pieces, sorrow, anger, and a feeling of betrayal filled my heart.

Unfortunately, stories like mine are becoming too common today - even among the well known. In a recent article, top Christian female singer Jaci Velasquez told of her parent's recent breakup. When the interviewer noted how devastating it must have been, Jaci replied, "It was horrible. I secluded myself from everybody and everything, and was angry with God. I prayed, 'How could you let this happen?' I was sure it was my fault." For years people have shown concern for young children when they suffer a parents divorce. But what if you're a young adult, such as Jaci Velasquez, or myself, and your parents divorce? As a young woman you have enough to handle and adjust to in your life when abruptly you can be forced to deal with something you never expected, nor ever asked for. In my situation, I desired my reaction to be godly, but the divorce brought struggles I didn't know how to handle emotionally, socially, or spiritually. Following, are the five biggest struggles I encountered and the way God taught me to handle each one:

  1. The Pain. Out of all my struggles, this was the deepest and most difficult one. There were nights I cried for hours. I couldn't understand how this happened to my "perfect" family, and why it had to hurt me so badly. Desperate for answers, I pored over the Bible and found that the emotions I felt - betrayal, fear, anger, and hurt - Jesus felt too. He felt betrayed when his close friend Peter denied knowing Him; He agonized in a garden over the pain of His coming death; His anger ushered forth as He drove merchants out of temple courts; and He hurt deeply for the people He would die for on the cross.

    My heartache could have easily led me away from God, but instead I turned to Him and pressed on despite the pain. In return, His understanding of pain and the fact that He loved me comforted me and began to heal me.

  2. Isolation. When difficult things happen in my life I tend to keep to myself. The problem with this is that I found myself feeling depressed and growing bitter because of the anger I held inside. Eventually I started talking to a couple of close friends. Sometimes I talked so much I was afraid my best friend was getting tired of hearing about my problems, but she reassured me that she wanted to be there for me no matter what. It's important to remember not to isolate yourself from others. Talk with a trusted friend or adult and continue in your normal activities. Express your feelings because keeping them inside may cause bitterness and may damage your future relationships. Also consider recording your thoughts in a journal to God, honestly telling Him how you feel.

  3. Who's at Fault? Sometimes I wondered if the divorce was either my fault or God's fault. Through the counsel of friends I realized the divorce was not my fault, nor God's fault, but rather the product of a person's sin. Humans are selfish and sometimes make selfish decisions, forcing others to deal with consequences of pain. Once I understood this, my anger turned to grief and I found myself on my knees asking God to help my parents with what they were going through. Don't ever believe the lie that the divorce is your fault or that you should be able to somehow stop it.

  4. Taking Sides. Although I knew my parent's divorce was wrong, I couldn't stop loving either one of them. My parents said they would never get me caught in the middle of their divorce, yet whenever conflict arose I felt obligated to either take a side or to somehow "keep the peace" in my family. I also found myself feeling responsible for their emotional well being. I learned that I couldn't play referee, or gossip to one parent about the other. This also involved being honest with my parents about my thoughts and feelings.

  5. The Forgiveness Factor. Forgiveness is one struggle I still deal with today. After three years of heartache and confusion the pain hasn't completely gone away. Once in awhile a memory will pop into my head and I'll feel anger toward my parents, knowing the scars will always remain. But just as Jesus forgave those who hurt Him, I am also called to forgive those who hurt me. Repeatedly in the New Testament God stresses the significance of forgiveness. To Him forgiveness is not an option, but rather a command of obedience. Because in any case forgiveness can be a challenge, I pray and ask God for strength. I ask Him to change my heart to be graceful toward others, just as He is graceful toward me. Daily as I choose to forgive and not become bitter, negative feelings flow away and peace floods my heart.

Looking Ahead

I was married this past year, and while my relationship with my husband is amazing, sometimes I fear our marriage will end up like my parent's marriage. But just as I had a choice in how I reacted to my parent's divorce, I have a choice in how I will handle my marriage and my walk with God. When I go to prayer I ask God to heal families who are struggling to hold on, and to keep families strong who are already grounded in Him. I ask Him to help me love, forgive, and obey Him in all circumstances especially concerning my own family. I won't allow my parent's divorce to destroy my new marriage or to destroy me. Rather, I will allow it to change me into a person who bears good fruit so in the end I will have joy and God will be glorified. Despite the pain and the past, with God, I can face the future. And so can you.


My Success as a Single Mom

After a divorce, you can mend the torn fabric of your family's life.

by Lynda Hunter

Birds chirped outside the window in the branches of the flowering locust tree. Spring hung in the air but not in my heart. I sat in the second row of the classroom watching my oldest daughter, 5-year-old Ashley, file into the room with the other students dressed for their preschool graduation.

The ceremony began. I scarcely heard a word, however, as I watched my child and wondered how the events of the previous 18 months would affect her. Her dad had left our home when Ashley was 3, her sister, Courtney, was 1 and I was pregnant with her brother, Clint. My mind retraced the events. Afraid to face what lay ahead on my own, I had surrendered my life to Christ. I prayed, "I give You not just this situation, but I give You my whole life."

Then I had read everything I could get my hands on and pulled godly people around me for counsel. In Love Life for Every Married Couple, author Ed Wheat talked about three options every couple face during crises in marriage: get divorced, remain in a bad situation or stay together and make things better. I had chosen to stay, but eventually my husband served me divorce papers.

The teacher in front of me finished her words, then had the children stand to receive their diplomas: "Now students, take your diplomas to your parents."

Ashley stood, head held high. She reached with enthusiasm to accept her certificate, then she walked toward me, smiling. She stopped and turned toward the rear of the room where her dad sat. She headed toward him. She stopped again and turned back toward me. Her eyes met mine, and in that moment I saw every question and hurt and uncertainty she felt over her home breaking apart. What do I do? Whom do I run to? Where do I belong? I smiled and nodded for her to take the diploma to her dad, her quandary fixed for the moment.

Ashley has just turned 18. Long ago she outgrew her yellow bows, and her little curls have turned to long brown tresses. She will soon graduate again, this time from high school. How have I managed to raise her and her siblings by myself for more than 14 years?

God has truly remained faithful to me and my family over these years, and He will continue to guide us to the end of the journey. Yet there's still a degree of sadness in my heart. I've given my children the best of everything I could at home, school and church. But I can never give them solid tools for loving and for resolving conflict that come from two parents committed to keeping their home together. To try to mend the torn places in a child from a divorced home is similar to patching a torn piece of fabric: It can be repaired, but it will never be like new.

Ashley recently ran in her cross-country regionals and won first place. My heart swelled with the same pride I have known since my first hour of becoming a mom. But as I watched her cross the finish line, I felt another all-too-familiar emotion, which caused me to pause. Ashley stumbled toward her dad and leaned on his shoulder as he helped her walk out the strenuous race she had just run. She looked over at me, despite her pain, and I saw that same look of uncertainty I had seen in her face at age 5. What do I do? Whom do I run to? Where do I belong?

If I could accomplish one thing with my life, it would be to stamp out divorce. I have seen the devastation it causes. I know why God says in Malachi 2:16, "I hate divorce." He knows and I know that divorce is not the way it was meant to be — not for the mother or the father or the children.


Helping a Young Child Recover From Divorce

After a divorce a woman's four-year-old son acts out at preschool.

Answered byDr. Bill Maier

My husband and I separated, then divorced, almost 2 and a half years ago. Our son is now 4 years old, and he's asking questions about why his Mommy and Daddy don't live together anymore. His Dad and I both explained that we love him very much, that we still care about each other, but we just don't live together. My son visits his Dad every other weekend and talks to him regularly on the phone. But lately I've noticed that he's becoming angry about being separated from me for a few days. And now he's showing more aggressive behavior at the preschool. We don't want this to become a bigger issue -- what do you suggest we do?

Stacy

It's not unusual for children whose parents have recently divorced to have adjustment problems. Many kids experience anxiety or depression, and some even engage in aggressive or destructive behavior. If you think about it from your son's perspective, his world has been turned upside down. His sense of safety and security was severely compromised at a very early age, and now you are observing how your divorce has impacted him emotionally.

You may not want to hear this, but the research on the long-term effects of divorce on children isn't very pretty. A significant percentage of kids from divorced homes struggle with depression, academic difficulties, drug and alcohol abuse, and other problems. Many of them have difficulty establishing or maintaining intimate relationships.

I'll be straight with you, Stacy: The best way to help your son is to reconcile with your husband. You said you've been divorced for two years...the fact is that most couples who split up these days are involved in what we therapists refer to as "low conflict" divorces. In other words, their relationship didn't end because of abuse or unfaithfulness -- these couples simply say that they "grew apart" or "fell out of love."

I don't know if that's your story, but if it is, I would challenge you and your husband to consider what is best for your son. How much effort did you put into working through your problems? You obviously were in love once...is it possible that the two of you could put any pride or resentment aside and seriously commit to six months of counseling with an experienced marital therapist? Only you know the answer to that question.

If reconciliation is impossible or one of you has re-married, then you're going to need to do everything in your power to help your son adjust. He will need an extra measure of your love, your reassurance, and especially your time. You'll need to help him learn to express his feelings of anger and sadness in appropriate ways. My colleague Dr. Archibald Hart has written an excellent book that will help you guide your son through the healing process. It's titled Helping Children Survive Divorce. You can order this book online in our Resource Center or by calling our ministry's toll free number 1/800/A-FAMILY (1/800/232-6459).

Thanks for writing, Stacy. I pray that you will seek God's leading in the decisions that lie ahead.


Divorce

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