Psychological Self-Help

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passed on to the children, may increase the risk of divorce). Divorce is
serious business (especially in light of the fact the divorced parents
often aren't any happier either). Stevenson and Black (1996) have
recently summarized the short-term and long-term effects of divorce. 
Perhaps the capstone study of 30 years of impressive research has
just been done by the outstanding researchers in this area,
Wallerstein, Lewis & Blakeslee (2000). They followed 93 children of
divorce well into adulthood and compared them to similar children who
had not experienced divorce (but some had lived with their parents'
bad marriage). The conclusion: in spite of trauma for the child at the
time of divorce, the strongest impact of divorce is during the child's
twenties and thirties! Having parents who have divorced arouses fears
of relationships failing, fears of change, fears of disloyalty and
abandonment. These fears, plus the lack of successful models of
handling marital problems, disrupt the establishment of comfortable,
lasting intimacy. By age 25, only 1/2 of the women and 1/3 of the
men who were children of divorce had a successful personal life. One
third had been in therapy, and they had experienced many failed
relationships. Only 60% of these children of divorce, now into their
30's or older, had ever married (compared to 80% of their peers who
had not been through a divorce). 
(Note: critics have observed that Wallerstein's original description
of the divorced parents included "moderately disturbed [mental illness,
bizarre behavior, bipolar, paranoid] or frequently incapacitated by
disabling neuroses or addictions." This is hardly typical divorcing
Americans; therefore, some of the problems observed in the children
of divorce studied may be due to family pathology and genes, not just
the divorce experience. However, there is no doubt that the problems
following the divorce of one's parents can be prolonged and difficult,
and that the parents' divorce probably caused or contributed to some
of those problems.) 
Thus far, we don't know much for sure about how to avoid these
negative consequences of growing up in a divorced or unhappy family.
Wallerstein suggests that, as much as practical, the causes of the
friction be discussed by the parents with the intention of teaching the
children how to cope with conflicts themselves...and to reduce their
fears and skepticism of marriage. Her research group also suggests
that schools offer support groups for children going through divorce.
Some children may need therapy as well. Every divorce court should
certainly require every parent seeking a divorce to take a course
describing the common problems of children and encouraging
cooperative, civil, effective parenting-attitudes and methods after
Wallerstein, Lewis & Blakeslee (2000) make it clear that they fear
our society has put too much emphasis on enabling parents to be
happy...and free...while being unaware of the serious consequences of
unhappy marriages to the children of divorce. We had the illusion that:
"if parents are happier, the children will be happier too." Marriages,
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