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To Leave or Not To Leave

To Leave or Not To LeaveSooner or later, most couples experience pain and dissatisfaction in their marriages. They come to a crossroads where they must decide to follow one of three options in their relationships: (1) To leave it as it is, without trying to improve it, (2) To work on it and make it better, or (3) To leave the relationship.

Most people who choose the third option do so because they think it will enable them to be free from the tension, stress, loneliness and constant conflicts. The thought of divorce sounds appealing, because it appears to be a better alternative than staying in the painful situation they are in. It’s not that they don’t take their marriage vows seriously, most of them do, and they don’t want to hurt their spouse or their children. But they start entertaining the idea of leaving, and whether or not that would be the right decision. They begin to rationalize and say to themselves:

“I could get away from the pain. Yes it would be lonely, but I’ve never felt as lonely as I do now.”

“Perhaps it would be better for the children. It’s not good for them to live in an environment so full of tension. Besides, they’re resilient, they’ll bounce back”

“Does God want me to stay in a loveless marriage? Does God really want me to be unhappy?”

“People break up all the time; they seem happy, and their children seem to be doing fine.”

But is it true that divorced people really get along fine? Are they better off after the divorce? Will it really be better for the children? Those are important questions to consider. When you are desperately unhappy, there is a tendency to rationalize. But, when your future is at stake you want to know the truth. I’ve heard people considering divorce say they wish they had a crystal ball, so that they could see into the future. Actually, experience and research has given us that crystal ball.

Let me ask you to set aside your opinions and pre-conceived notions for the moment, and approach it from a purely pragmatic viewpoint. Does divorce accomplish what it is supposed to? Does it bring long-lasting relief from the pain, anxiety and disappointment of an unhappy marriage? Does it offer a new lease on life, providing a fresh start, unhindered by the past? Lets take a look.

Would a divorce be better for the children?

During the “divorce revolution” of the past three decades, many marriage experts have promoted the promise of “freedom” to unhappy couples, assuring them that children are resilient and will quickly adjust. But thirty years later, in the aftermath of the divorce revolution, a reappraisal is taking place. According to a summarized thesis of experts, in an article for the March, 1990 issue of The American Enterprise:

“There is a mountain of scientific evidence showing that when families disintegrate, children often end up with intellectual, physical and emotional scars that persist for life.”

According to a report by The National Council on Families, the emotional and psychological impact of divorce has been found to be very damaging to children. Children from broken homes have two to three times more behavioral and psychological problems than children from intact families. Children who grow up in single parent homes are three times more likely to drop out of school than children from intact families. They are four times more likely to develop drug problems and/or commit a crime or suffer abuse. 1

The terrible thing about divorce is that it not only destroys families, but it also inflicts severe damage to the human soul. A sixth-grade elementary teacher in a public school tells of a 12-year-old named Todd who wrote a brief essay in class one day, describing his perspective of his parent’s divorce. This is exactly how Todd penned his description:

“Families are beautiful.(sic)
One thing I care about is my family.
Something you want to hold on to.
Families are like glass,
You let go it will break.(sic)
My glass slipped …And I’m trying to catch it.”

Todd’s family did slip and was shattered by divorce. Then his world began to unravel. When he was 15, Todd took his own life by shooting himself. 2

Many people, regardless of their age when their parents divorced, speak of divorce as having left a “hole in their heart.” I see it in the lives of my own two daughters, who endured the agony and pain of their family breaking up. More than twenty years later, I can see the lingering look of brokenness in their eyes. I can still hear the distant sounds of the piercing pain in their hearts. Even to this day, they struggle as children of divorce, with the related problems, difficulties, and adjustments stemming from the breakup of their family.

Sadly, the injury suffered by children of divorce is neither superficial nor temporary. Rather, these children commonly end up with a multiple of complex and far-reaching emotional and psychological problems. They often experience self-esteem, security and trust issues, behavioral difficulties and painful adjustments that last their whole life through. In his book, My Parents Got A Divorce, Author Gary Sprague documents the experiences of children who had to endure the heartrending consequences of their parents’ divorce:

“It feels like a hurt that won’t go away. I felt like my mom was pulling on one arm and my dad was pulling on the other arm.”3 Kelly, age 11

“When my parents got a divorce it hurt bad. I thought I was going to die. I took the blame on myself. That was what made me mad. It was like my family was falling apart.” 4 Chris, age 11

” I feel sad that my mom and dad are separated. I don’t have two prayers at night, I just have one prayer at night. I feel scared at night.” 5 Joseph, age 9

A 1996 Gallup Poll showed that 79.1 percent of Americans believe “the most significant family or social problem facing America is the physical absence of the father from the home.” In fact, numerous studies have shown that children who grow up without a father face more troubles than their peers who live with both parents do:

90 percent of all homeless and runaway children did not have a father in the home

70 percent of juveniles in state-operated institutions come from fatherless homes

85 percent of all incarcerated youths grew up without a father

63 percent of youths that commit suicide had absent fathers

More than 1.1 million couples divorce each year, and most of those couples have children, leaving hundreds of thousands of women and children poorer, and at greater risk than ever before. The best solution remains to stay married, if not for the sake of marriage vows, then for the children. 6

We try to convince ourselves that our children will be okay, or even better off! We want to believe that we are not a “broken family” when we go through the hardship of divorce. However if you can see the other side of it, you can see the pain and damaging effect that a divorce will have on your children.

The trickle effect goes much further than you might think. Years after, you can still hear the pain in the voices of adult children of divorce. Rock singer, Tom DeLonge of Blink 182 laments his parents’ breakup in his song, “Stay Together For the Kids.”‘ He sings,

Rather than fix the problems,

they never solve them.
If this is what he wants,
and this is what she wants,
then why is there so much pain?

Art Alexakis, of the rock group Everclear, in his hit song “Father of Mine,” resonates with anger against his father who, “Gave me a name then walked away.” Thirty-five years later, the walkout still stings for Alexakis whose song resounds with pain:

I will never be safe,
I will never be sane,
I will always be weird inside,
I will always be lame.

Several researchers now find that what might be liberating for adults, can sometimes have unsettling long-term effects on children. Sociologist Judith Wallerstein, in her book, The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce says, “We’ve been wrong in thinking the main impact of divorce occurs at the breakup.” Wallerstein began a long-term study of the effects of divorce in 1971. She interviewed people from 131 families whom she first met in the 1970s, as little kids, whose parents divorced. Her study, which followed the children of divorced families for 25 years, emphasizes that the major impact on children takes place when they reach their 20s and 30s. “That’s when the ghosts rise from the basement,” she says. “It’s in adulthood that children of divorce suffer the most. The impact of divorce hits them most cruelly as they go in search of love, sexual intimacy and commitment. Their lack of inner images of a man and a woman in a stable relationship, and their memories of their parents’ failure to sustain the marriage, badly hobbles their search, leading them to heartbreak and even despair,” she says.

In their 2005 annual report on “The Social Health of Marriage in America,” Barbara Dafoe Whitehead and David Popenoe, speak of the breakup of marriages in America and how it affects children, “They (children) are highly dependent for their development and success in life on the family in which they are born and raised, and a convincing mass of scientific evidence now exists pointing to the fact that not growing up in an intact nuclear family is one of the most deleterious events that can befall a child.”

If you’re seriously considering divorce, and you have kids, you can see, the odds are pretty poor for them. Their world will be torn apart. The foundations they once thought were strong, will crumble and turn to sand. Their sense of security will faulter, and their confidence will be shattered.

We know that God has a special place in His heart for children. Scripture points out that God places a high value on them, and intends for them to grow up in a family where they can be reared and protected by both of their parents. It’s no wonder God says He hates divorce, when you consider the harm and pain it inflicts upon children. And Jesus’ words about the person who causes harm to children are harsh: “…it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea.” (Mark 9:42b).

Most people that are unhappy in their marriage, and considering divorce assume that once a marriage is unhappy, it will stay that way. This is an unfortunate assumption. Much has been learned today about what it takes for a marriage to be successful and happy. There are now many valuable relationship skill-building classes where couples can learn how to turn a lifeless, unhappy marriage into a more loving one. It isn’t a mystery, and it takes work. When you have children, you owe it to them to give it your all if you are considering dissolving your marriage. Once a marriage dissolves, so does the family…forever.

According to therapist, and best selling author, Michelle Weiner-Davis, in the September 10, 2000 edition of theChicago Tribune, “Research tells us that children rarely ever benefit from divorce except in cases where there is extreme abuse. It is estimated that only one third of all divorces fit this criteria. Research bears out that in all other cases, children lose out in many ways when their parents split. Even when the adults feel happier as a result of divorce, research shows that this has little effect in terms of how the children fare.”

With only minor exceptions, anyone in an unhappy marriage can do something about it. You don’t have to, and shouldn’t live in misery. Once you choose to bring children into the world, divorce should not be a solution to an unhappy marriage. Fixing it is.

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