The D-Word

A close friend of mine has been asking me to write about this – it’s obviously a sensitive topic for some, so I’ll do my best to handle it as such. A broken family is an extremely personal experience, and in many cases the manner in which it occurs is unique to the individual.

As such, rather than talking in too much detail about the effects of divorce on my own family, I’m instead going to explore the effects of divorce on young people. How does divorce mould their own experiences and relationships?

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Growing up Fast

The biggest effect of a parents’ divorce on young people is the speed at which they achieve emotional independency from their families. Across adolescence (roughly 11-21) young people naturally become more disaffected and rebellious. In most families, divorce or no, you will see children begin to distance themselves from their parents affection – it’s almost a rite of passage.

These natural tendencies become amplified by divorce. Young people can feel betrayed by the broken parental commitment to one another, and pull away from family involvement. In speaking to my own friends who have experienced their parents’ divorces, it appears they’re often disillusioned with their parents.

And it is tough.

Growing up, many of us see our parents as a unified source of strength that can be relied upon. Divorce tends to pull this veil away, revealing the understandably very human nature of adults. As such, a sense of emotional independence comes along quickly for those involved.

There are three major dynamics that drive independence in young adults:

  • Separation
  • Differentiation
  • Opposition

Young adults affected by divorce tend to rely more on their social circle. They also tend to pronounce their individuality in a more intense manner, and are more opposed to their parents, having seen their imperfection at an earlier age than most.

But this acceleration through these 3 steps can lead to an effect much like skimming through a book. Sure you might think you know what it’s about, but you’re guaranteed to have missed some key pages, and these missed learnings tend to reveal themselves later in life.

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Relationships

Divorce will almost always have an impact on future relationships, whether we realise it or not.

A study from the National Institute for Health and Welfare found that children of divorce were more likely to get a divorce themselves, or to choose not to marry altogether. Unfortunately evidence suggests that those affected by divorce can experience less optimism, trust and satisfaction in their relationships than their more nuclear counterparts.

Understandable really. After all, many have already seen first hand that relationships don’t always last forever. In the case of an affair causing the divorce, these young adults have grown up with a role model who has shown that commitment is non-essential.

But this research all feels a bit doom and gloom. Are children of divorce really condemned to be emotionally detached future divorcees, or to not marry at all?

Imagine the scenario. Your parents have had a divorce, because your father has left your family for woman X. Eventually, your mother will get together with the man that woman X left to be with your father. Pretty crazy, right?

This actually happened to a friend of mine. But so far as I can tell, he’s not emotionally detached, or disinterested in marriage. What he sees for the future is rather contradictory to the research above. He’s committed to creating a supportive and healthy family environment when he does choose to have children. Having experienced what an affair/divorce can do to a marriage, he’s more driven than anyone else I know to ensure that never happens to his own family.

And this resonates with my own experience of divorce. Feeling the effects it can have on the children involved first-hand is a huge incentive to make things work in the future. Knowing that you are statistically at more of a disposition to divorce over other people is part of the solution. It’s similar to knowing you are more susceptible to certain health issues – you’re subsequently aware it will require your attention to manage the risk.

Reducing the Effects

How the parents interact post-divorce is a strong defining factor in how significantly the children involved may be affected. It’s never an easy thing to present a united front off the back of a failed marriage. But without a united front, elements of competition and resentment can creep in, which seep into the fabric of a young person’s upbringing. That’s why it’s so critical for parents to, at least on the surface, set aside any differences in aid of supporting the upbringing of the family members who don’t get a say in the divorce.

Ultimately, divorce is part and parcel of modern society – it’s what you make of it that counts. Yes, it’s unfortunate that it can force young people to grow up too quickly, or that it can affect their future relationships. However it can also bring with it a sense of responsibility, and an understanding that their future relationships will require nurturing. This understanding is a fantastic tool to have if similar events are to be avoided in future.

 

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