Dr. Bill Maier on Divorce

man and woman facing away from each other
Dr. Bill Maier addresses the issue of divorce, including children, reconciliation and low-conflict divorce.

How Will Divorce Affect My Child?

Dear Dr. Bill: In the middle of marital struggles with my husband, we became pregnant. Despite this, my husband announced that he’s leaving me and wants a divorce. Since I am originally from Europe, I am considering a move back home rather than staying in this country where I have friends but no family. But I wonder if this is the best decision for my child.

Is it better for children to know their father and possibly build a relationship with him? Or should we simply ask this man to leave our lives and not be involved with him at all? That’s my preference, but what do children who grew up with divorced parents think about this?

My heart goes out to you in this very difficult situation. But I would encourage you not to give up hope. Because you are under such a great deal of stress, now is not the time for making major decisions. Give yourself some time and space to think through all of the alternatives available to you.

The research on divorce shows that if couples will slow down the process and seek outside professional help, many marriages can be saved. Although it may feel to you or your husband that divorce is the only option, in reality it’s not.

You asked about the impact on your child. The research shows that children do better on every measure of well-being if they grow up in a home with a married mother and father. Even if a marriage is less than perfect, staying together is always better for your kids than getting a divorce. Many studies on adult children from divorced homes confirm this. The one exception would be if there is physical or emotional abuse occurring in the home.

Even if your husband has no desire to reconcile, if he is willing to take an active role in your child’s life, I would encourage you not to move back to Europe. Fatherlessness has profoundly negative impacts on children, and your son needs his dad.

On the other hand, if your husband wants nothing to do with his child and refuses to take responsibility for him, moving back to Europe to live with your extended family could be the best option. A loving, involved grandfather or uncle can’t replace your son’s father, but can certainly give him the male attention and affirmation he so desperately needs.

What I would do is encourage you to contact our counseling department. You’ll receive caring, godly advice form one of our licensed Christian therapists. They can also refer you to a Christian counselor in your local area. I pray that your husband will be willing to consider marital counseling, but even if he won’t, you’ll find the support of a caring therapist invaluable during this difficult time in your life.

Reconciling a Broken Marriage

Dear Dr. Bill: My husband and I are both Christians and know the right things to do, but we were still divorced recently. My husband is full of anger, hurt, pain, and bitterness, and he won’t even consider counseling. I’m very concerned about our 3-year-old son and I pray every day that God will change my husband’s heart. But I’m also wondering if you can give me some suggestions on positive things I can do to reconcile this marriage?

Unfortunately in situations like this there isn’t a whole lot you can do. If your husband is angry, hurt, and bitter and won’t consider counseling, your options are somewhat limited. The Bible tells us that God hates divorce, and clearly His will would be for the two of you to reconcile. But God also allows each of us free will, and at this point it seems obvious that your husband has no desire to continue the relationship.

You mention that you pray every day that God will change your husband’s heart, but are you also praying that God will change your heart? Have you asked God to show you the areas in which you need to change, and how you contributed to the breakup?

I realize it may be difficult for you to hear, but when separation and divorce occurs it’s common for each of the spouses to focus on the changes that the other spouse needs to make, rather than engaging in the honest self-evaluation that is necessary for true growth and healing.

One good place to start would be to join a therapy group led by a Christian counselor or a divorce recovery group at a local church. In a small-group setting where honesty, openness, and vulnerability are stressed, you will begin to see some of your own blind spots. You’ll be exposed to personality characteristics and behavior patterns that others see, but that you may be unaware of.

The Bible refers to this as “iron sharpening iron.” It can be a painful process as God “burns off” the rough edges of our heart, but if we’re willing to stick with it, it can lead to tremendous growth and healing.

I’d suggest you contact the Focus on the Family counseling department. Ask them to provide you with the names of Christian counselors in your community. Then call some of these individuals and ask them if they can suggest a good therapy group or divorce recovery group in your area.

I’d also like to recommend an excellent book that you’ll find helpful. It’s called Safe People and was written by two Christian psychologists I respect, Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend. You can order it through most Christian bookstores or online booksellers.

Low Conflict Divorces

Dear Dr. Bill: I have a question about my son who’s been married for two and a half years to a woman he lived with for several years prior to marriage. My son has recently asked for a divorce because he says there’s no passion in their relationship. He also says that his wife depends on him for all her emotional needs, which he thought would change in marriage. Basically he is very unhappy and doesn’t want to spend the rest of his life with this woman. I don’t know how to help my son — he’s resistant to counseling, and it looks like they’re simply going to throw their marriage away. Do you have any suggestions for our family?

Thanks for writing. I appreciate the love and concern you have for your son and his wife. It’s interesting that you mentioned that they lived together before marriage. Couples who cohabit before marriage have a 50-80% higher divorce rate than those who don’t.

Unfortunately, the majority of divorces in this country are what psychologists call “low conflict” divorces. That means there are no huge fights, no domestic abuse, couples simply say they “fall out of love” and that their spouse is “no longer meeting their needs.” That view of marriage is extremely self-centered and individualistic. People who get divorced for these reasons don’t understand that marriage is much more than getting your personal needs met. God created marriage to be a life-long commitment that involves self-sacrifice., forbearing with one another in love, and putting your spouse’s needs above your own. I don’t know if your son is a Christian, but it sounds like he doesn’t see it that way. Sadly, there’s probably nothing you can do that will change his mind. The fact that he’s resistant to counseling indicates to me that he’s unwilling to look at how HE has contributed to the marital problems. All you can really do is pray for him and speak the truth in love.

By the way, there’s some interesting new research that you might want to share with your son. It shows that if people who are in unhappy marriages will just stick it out, a large percentage of them go on to describe their marriages as “very happy” five years later. On the other hand, folks who say they’re in unhappy marriages and get divorced describe themselves as just as unhappy divorced as they were when they were married.

If your son does get to the point where he is willing to consider counseling, please encourage him to contact our counseling department. We have licensed Christian therapists who will offer him a free, confidential counseling session over the phone and then refer him to a marriage counselor in his local area.

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