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Marriage

Divorce - The Right Perspective

Working on a marriage takes just as much effort as ending it

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Even though our Sages censure any divorce not absolutely necessary (see Gittin 90, that even the Altar cries. See also Sanhedrin 22), to our dismay this option has become, in recent years, a quick and easy solution in the eyes of many couples experiencing difficulties in their marriage.

They take this drastic step without considering that if they invested even half the energy, effort, and expense they’re putting into getting a divorce towards working on their marriage, they could enjoy true shalom bayit for the rest of their lives. They would save themselves and their children from the pain and suffering, and avoid the huge outlays of money for lawyers, hearings, alimony, and child support.

Working on a marriage takes just as much effort as ending it, but the methods are so different: conceding to each other, compromise, sympathy, consideration, and just generally improving the way the couple relates to each other. Without making any generalizations — indeed, there are times when divorce is warranted — getting divorced is not a decision to be made lightly. It can only be done after a tremendous amount of thought and consideration and with the assistance and support of a Torah scholar with experience in marriage counseling.

Consequences of Divorce

Studies have proven that those who have been through divorce generally experience negative side effects in their personal lives. Among them:

• Loss of identity
• Diminished standard of living
• Declining self-respect
• Extreme changes in quality of life
• Damage to healthy communication with their children

It has been determined that divorced men and women experience far fewer moments of happiness and joy than those who are married. They exhibit symptoms of emotional distress that tend to worsen with time. They are also prone to more health problems and have a higher rate of mortality than married couples. 

Depression

A study of 200,000 divorced men revealed that a man who has been through a divorce, even if he has remarried, is likely to suffer from varying degrees of depression, with a high percentage requiring treatment with anti-depressants. According to the researchers, divorced men experience difficulty maintaining relationships with their children from their first marriage, and with adjusting to new relationships with the parents and family members of the second wife.

This is aside from general feelings of failure they experience — especially if their children are living with their former wife — and the lack of natural flexibility and easygoingness that exists between a young couple starting out on their first marriage. Even if it seems that a relationship with another woman in a second marriage will be better and more successful, it appears that it is much better to put as much effort as possible, at any price, into saving a first marriage than giving it up and settling for a second one. 

The Effects of Divorce on Children

Many studies point out the tremendous, short- and long-term emotional damage to children of divorced parents. According to psychologist Dr. Ofra Ayalon, the stages a child goes through when his parents divorce are similar to the stages of grief for those who have suffered the death of a loved one.

Denial: The child attempts to deny the reality of what he is experiencing. He may act out the denial by pretending he is unaffected by the divorce.

Guilt: Children tend to blame themselves, believing that their “bad” behavior caused their parents to divorce.

Anger: Divorce is threatening for a child because he is afraid he will not be loved. He feels abandoned and neglected by his parents and may develop anger and hostility towards them.

Despair: After the child has more or less accepted the reality of the divorce, he may experience grief and depression. At this stage, a child may begin to suffer from physical disorders, crying for no observable reason, loss of interest in school and friends, and a greater tendency towards solitude.

These reactions have been observed in most children regardless of age, developmental stage, personality, relationship with parents, or previous experiences. In addition, studies also show that children of divorced parents suffer more from social rejection than children of married parents. They also tend to suffer from learning disabilities, negative behaviors, poor self-image, and problematic relationships with their parents.

Explosive anger, a tendency towards depression, and aggressive behavior have also been observed. They are also more prone to spend more time in the “street,” in order to distance themselves from the house (especially during the teenage years), and the helplessness they feel there. Another study found that 41% of children of divorced parents, by the time they are teenagers, are already suffering from anxiety. They are underachievers, suffer from low self-esteem even when they are truly capable, and are occasionally violent.

Children who were evaluated by researchers as relatively well adjusted after divorce are more likely to suffer emotional breakdown when they reach marriageable age. Researchers call this the “Sleeper Effect,” wherein children essentially anesthetize their feelings at the time of the divorce, only to have them “reawaken” later on, to great detriment.

Says S. Smilansky, a senior researcher for The Henrietta Szold Institute for Research in the Behavioral Sciences: “Children who have been exposed to circumstances of instability and uncertainty respond with fears both real and imagined, and more than 75% of the children express fear of not having their needs met, of fear that their fathers will abandon them, and a third feel that their mothers may abandon them as well, sleep disturbances, nightmares… More than half of the children were visibly depressed, and more than a third revealed a variety of symptoms of depression, including trouble sleeping, difficulty concentrating, feelings of emptiness, overeating, deep sighing, and complaints of physical discomfort.”

How, then, practically speaking, can we heal a broken marriage? We will provide more practical guidence for marital harmony in the coming weeks.

Adapted from 'Happily Married - The Complete Guide to a Successful Jewish Marriage' For Men, by Rabbi Zamir Cohen. Click Here to Buy Now