The Dilemma of Divorce

In a comment to a previous post, ‘sm’ raises the question of whether divorce is better for children than having to live in a home where the parents are constantly fighting. This is a very complex issue, and I am always wary of anyone who claims to have a simple answer (even if it’s Dr Phil, sm). You must factor in the needs of the parents, their ability and willingness to forget their own troubles and focus on giving their children their needs, their tolerance level for unhappiness and so on. Yes, if a parent is so desperately unhappy that they are contemplating a murder suicide of the whole family, there is definitely a strong case for separation! The same goes for a very abusive parent (either to the children or the spouse) who is putting his/her family members’ lives, physical health or emotional health at serious risk. But these are rare and extreme cases. What about the ‘average’ unhappy couple?

The common wisdom in recent decades has been that it is better for a child to grow up with one parent in a peaceful home than with two parents in a home full of conflict. You can see the logic in that. It seems to make the best of a bad situation for all parties involved. Except for one thing: it is not true.

Objective studies, properly designed and carefully carried out among large numbers of participants are showing over and over that divorce is worse for children than non-divorce, regardless of the problems between the parents. Here’s an example:

“Based on the findings of this study, therefore, except in the minority of high-conflict marriages it is better for the children if their parents stay together and work out their problems than if they divorce.” (

For a child, the family unit is by far and away THE most important factor in their sense of security. It is the fixed point in the world of a child that gives them the steadiness to be able to deal with life. A sense of security is a critical ingredient in the healthy growth and development of a child’s emotions, personality and character. Divorce shatters that security. If the two people who have loved you and protected you and solved all your problems cannot solve their own problems, your childlike world is shattered. If one of those pillars of your young world is removed from your home, how can that not leave a huge and gaping hole in your life?

Interestingly, the children of divorce have a higher rate of divorce themselves in later life. It would seem that the example set by the parents plays the crucial role here. There is no marriage without problems, but the child learns from the parents how to deal with problems. If the parents gave up and divorced, the child will feel it is OK to do so in turn. But if a child sees the parents doggedly working to solve the problems and save the marriage, then they too in turn will feel the responsibility to do the same.

One widely reported major study followed families where the parents were experiencing major problems with the relationship over a period of time. After five years, the ones who stuck to their marriage were on average happier than those who divorced. In fact, the majority of those who stayed together were found to have made significant progress in resolving their issues, or at least to be significantly happier with their relationship. The message is clear: if you stick it out, things get better.

An article in the Washington Post demolishes the myth of “Happy Divorce”, something that has been a staple of the movie and TV industry for some years now.

It would seem that there is no such thing as a happy divorce for the children. As the Washington Post article points out, even a divorce with minimal anger and tension is severely damaging for the children. At least, when the parents have been constantly fighting, the children can sort of understand why they might be leaving each other. But when the divorce comes almost out of the blue, the children lose their sense of security. Things seemed to be going so well – how could I know so little about my parents? What other disasters might be lurking unguessed, just around the corner?

The only people who think divorce is a better option tend to be the adults, who see it as being good for themselves, and then find all sorts of reasons as to why it must be better for the children. An example of this may be found at:

But sadly, reality will not be so easily pushed aside. The evidence continues to mount that divorce, in general, is worse for children than staying in a home with an unhappy marriage.

Kids need both their parents.

When a parent is lost to illness or accident, we consider it a tragic event, and feel great sympathy for the poor parent who is left alone to take care of the children. But the parents have no choice in the matter, and must accept the situation and make the most of it. When parents choose by their own free will to create that situation for their children, isn’t it that much more tragic for being avoidable?

Fr Ant

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4 Replies to “The Dilemma of Divorce”

  1. Always there is an old saying “Happy wife means happy house “….the big problem these days people know and stick to their own rights good and they want to know nothing about their obligations and needs towards one another ….anyhow the rates of domestic violence , separation and divorce are too high in our Coptic community !!??more higher is the rate of separations and both couples most of the time left hanging in limbo and most of the time they join other churches and get remarried .. ???!! why not our church do the extra mile and do some work in prevention by developing some compulsory pre- marriage counseling ???!! why not to have an early intervention in such issues of concern by a certain uniform mechanism like the other churches ??!! currently a lot of families and children usually become at the end of the day victims of such different types of abuse and you can name it ???!! children stay or not stay in an unhappy family makes no difference as the result i believe is the same at the end of the day ….i believe it is time that our church in this part of the world to do something positive in this area of great concern ….we have got a lot of qualified people born and grew up and educated in the relevant area and i believe they would be very happy to facilitate ….may God guide us to praise his name all the time ….

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  2. Abouna,

    I have found in my experience, that there are many people who get a divorce after the children graduate/move out of home etc.

    There seems to me that after the kids move out, perhaps because the kids do not really involve the parents in their lives, parents seem to have increased instability in their relationship, or “find out that they were only in the relationship for the kids”- so they say. Most divorced people I have seen are in this category.

    I wonder what your thoughts are- for the Christian and for the secular?


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  3. ‘children of divorce have a higher rate of divorce themselves in later life’

    then doesnt it also follow that children who remain in an unhappy marriage will also end up in unhappy, unfulfilling marriages?

    yes it is true that ‘kids need both their parents’and yes it is true that it would be better for parents to work out their problems…if only for the sake of the children..however, how can it be said that it is healthier for a child to remain in a home which is constantly unstable, and in which there is fighting, or other conflicts?…

    i am no psychiatrist, but being in a constantly unstable home, could most surely cause a child emotional, mental and relationship problems in later life…

    Children, as has been said, need above all to feel secure and safe…an unstable home does not provide that!!

    ask any child in Sunday School how they feel when their parents fight, then imagine if this feeling became a never ending one, in a constantly unstable, conflicting home…surely in later life this child could develop mental and emotional problems and not be able to sustain a healthy relationship…

    i am not speaking as one with experience as having grown up as a child of divorce, but i grew up half my life in a single parent home, having lost one parent to illness…not once did i ever feel deprived of nuture, neither was my subsequent home an unstable one..the feeling of a crumbled family unit is a completely different thing…one which although devastating for a child, from my experience, has little mental impact…

    the problem is, in our community, divorce is completely taboo…an unhappy couple are pushed to always stay together, not being given a church sanctioned divorce…
    however, if the couple are unable to solve their problems, this then will cause one of two problems..either they seek a civil divorce, subsequently being then cut off from the church..or they stay together, creating an unstable, unhappy, un-nurturing environment for their children, where if we are not careful, then in later years we will have many emotionally unstable children…

    that’s my cynical view of the world anyway..

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  4. Dear Father , Nat and all ….well said Nat ….i believe if not something soon would be done and implemented by our church in a lot of issues of concern it would be a lot of more irreversible disasters in our Australian Coptic Community for more years to come ……….i believe ,like a lot of other honest people in our community that a lot of our crisis problems in our community are preventable if our church start to adopt those programs of education of the whole community from the bishop , priests and all levels of our church congregation and hence a uniform mechanism of approach to be adopted and implemented by our church in prevention and early interventions ……..for the first time in this part of the world and within my thirty years around i came across a course ran by a bunch of our boys and girls , well mannered , well knowledge d and well educated …they know our Australian way of life and our system , they know our culture , they our orthodox belief and they are well educated in the field of counseling ,psychology , clinical psychology and psychiatry ….they volunteered in conjunction with our theological college to facilitate and guide us and equip us with tools and christian life skills in team work , problem solving , conflict resolution , communication ,and you name it ….they covered christian counseling , domestic violence , grief , crisis , suicide ,parenting ,drug and alcohol ,depression ,theories of counseling , couple therapy , Egan counseling , secular verses christian counseling etc. the good thing that a lot of young Sunday school servants attended, few old ignorant people in this field like me and a couple of our priests …our lecturer in christian counseling lecture was one of our qualified priests in the relevant field , he was great …the others were great too … the bottom line that we as a community we need to work in prevention and early intervention to minimize those crisis in our community … the general statistics and figures and specifically in our community are scary !!!?????….we need real spiritual leadership approach by our church ,all our clergy and servants to involve and prevent ….our lord Jesus is our great councilor…he set the great example for us in this area of concern …may the holy spirit guide us all to love our God from all our heart and soul and to love our neighbor as thyself ,amen ….

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