Did you know that? I sure as hell did not. If I had heard this (or been informed of the other numerous risks) before my husband and I got a divorce, you can bet your sweet litigation papers we would’ve paused at the flashing yellow light and looked both ways. We might have even rolled to a complete stop. Put the car in freaking reverse.
And, if that weren’t enough to give you Voldemort-worthy chills, did you know that, “It is well documented that children are at significantly higher risk of abuse after their parent’s divorce.”? This from Elizabeth Marquardt’s Between Two Worlds: The Inner lives of Children of Divorce. She writes, “More than seventy reputable studies document that an astonishing number—anywhere from one-third to one-half—of girls with divorced parents report having been molested or sexually abused as children, most often by their mother’s boyfriends or stepfathers. A separate review of forty-two studies found that ‘the majority of children who were sexually abused…appeared to come from single-parent or reconstituted families.’ Two leading researchers in the field conclude, ‘Living with a stepparent has turned out to be the most powerful predictor of severe child abuse yet.'”
One-third to one-half of girls from divorced parents report sexual abuse? This is a huge number. It’s the kind of number that you just want to ignore because it’s terrifying in the same way rape is terrifying. It shuts us down. It’s numbing. And it begs the worrying question: Just how many girls out there don’t report it? (I didn’t)
Even as one of those girls myself…when I divorced years later, I had no idea of this risk for my brood, or the baby bunny rabbits of the other families involved, all of which are girls. I didn’t know it was a universal, predictable post-divorce experience. No one talks about that.
Did you know about it when you divorced? Would it have given you pause?
Heck, most of us muggles are—like my husband and I were—either totally unaware of, or barely starting to glimpse the ruins of this heretofore invisible battlefield. Even if we grew up in divorced families ourselves, like I did. We were, we are, uninformed. And, in some cases, willfully so.
For starters, there’s only been a generation, give or take, so severely rife with ruined unions. Where our grandparents were the Greatest Generation, the Baby Boomers—the parents of my Gen-X cohort—could be called the Greatest Divorced Generation. They’re the ones on whom the “half of all marriages end in divorce” statistics are based. For that generation it was like a nuptial mass exodus—lemmings to a cliff.
I grew up in an era when nearly half of my cohort survived the rupture into split homes; learning to subsist in two different worlds. We didn’t know to question it, to ask whether this might not be such a good thing. And because it was so accepted and understood as a part of life, us kids couldn’t really talk about it—or even orient to it as an ordeal, let alone as a trauma. Yet now, in hindsight, the term “Baby Boomer” takes on a whole new meaning when seen through the lens of what science has shown us of the impacts of divorce on children.
(If you want a riveting expose’ of the mechanics undergirding this sweeping experience of the Gen-X-ers, read the devastating new memoir,In Spite of Everything by Susan Gregory Thomas, in which she documents the evisceration of her own marriage. Having survived her parents’ divorce as a child, she grew up compelled to avoid the same for her own children. Yet, in spite of everything, she ended up divorced.)
But to be fair, we muggles honestly didn’t really realize what was happening during the last 40-ish years as marriage upon marriage toppled like pawns under the militant advance of an army consisting of the following brigades:
- The 50-state onslaught of no-fault divorce, a legal change that can unilaterally shrivel decades-long unions in a matter of days;
- Shifting and unrealistic cultural beliefs about what marriage issupposed to be, heralded by the siren call of Hollywood’s sparkly, half-truth-riddled “happily ever after” myth;
- Unexamined and hostile reactions to affairs and infidelity that make sport team rivalry look like nursery school incidents with unruly puppies (and that make it all but impossible to be honest—with ourselves or our spouses—about our human needs for sexuality);
- A profound erosion of community support along with the related attrition of simple intimacy and communication skills;
- And, most disturbing, the Dementor’s kiss—the skewed and dangerous reimagining of the good-old-American notion of “the pursuit of happiness.” Individual happiness that supersedes the security and safety of family and loved ones is not as American as apple pie. But we have come to tell ourselves that, in fact, it is. This expectation of individual happiness has locked arms in pursuit of the so-called American Dream, and driven expectations for marriage to a rarified and nearly unachievable pinnacle of impossibility. The Dream has become The American Nightmare. And it may help explain everything from those lemming-leaping divorce rates, to unhappy marriages, to skyrocketing increases in depression and the general level of unhappiness and malaise of ourselves and country-mates.
Like carbon monoxide—the invisible killer—the dark spell of our divorce culture has wafted across our nation in an imperceptible quick-step; hustling in the battalions while we try to behave as if everything is normal. We go to work driving alone, take the kids to soccer practice, try to deal with the bewildering news of the world, come home, driving alone, fail to avoid another late-night-fight about who was supposed to do the dishes and who was supposed to read the bedtime story, laugh with a discomforting grimace about the hypnotic allure of Eat, Pray, Love (the epitome, by the way, of the Dementor’s kiss I mentioned above), scramble to maintain the finances, deal with the ex and the damn custody schedule and the child-support payments, change the oil in the car, get the trash out, send the project in, late, again, and now do you seriously want me to tackle climate change, war, and the vanishing of the freaking bees?
Then, once in a very blue moon, we come up for air with a whimsical glass of wine (or whiskey) in hand and wonder, What the hell has my life come to? Is this really all there is?
Are we living like the Dursley’s?
It’s no wonder we’re getting divorced…
We already are.
We are divorced from ourselves, from one another, from our own humanity, and from the rest of life on this planet. We are more isolated from our own needs and from each other than, perhaps, we even know; than we’ve ever been.
We’re living in a closet under the stairs, subconsciously aware that we are trapped and that there must be something more out there, but because this is all we’ve ever known we have no idea what that could possibly be.
We fail to realize we are wizards of the highest order.
We are too unhappy. Too alone. Too numb.
We have come to believe—in part because of a wholesale stress response to our culture’s move away from the magic of our humanity—that we are powerless to emerge from the closet under the stairs.
Heck, we don’t even see the closet for what it is.
We are divorced from our own basic needs—and our own shared humanity—because our culture has inadvertently duped us into believing that our closet is our home. When, in fact, nothing could be further from the truth.
Getting a divorce is not going to fix this. But since we don’t see the real problem for what it is, and we see no other options (but boy-oh-boy, do we see a lot of lemmings…), we believe that maybe it will fix things. And for a few joy-filled moments, we don’t feel powerless anymore. We’ve done something Big, something Powerful, something to Fix The Problem.
Then the train wreck hits. And we and our children join the wounded ranks of the survivors of divorce.
Could it be that divorce is a tragic symptom of our collective human stress response to a culture gone wrong? Are we wizards living in a muggle-ish world? Are we toiling away, scrambling to adjust to a world of isolation and expecation that even our grandparents wouldn’t recognize? Are many of us so depressed and dealing with other serious stress reponses to this universal isolation that we end our marriages without realizing that mental health is a part of the breakdown; let alone having the tools to deal with this?
Maybe we really aren’t so alone in this experience after all. Maybe it’s not really about our marriages…
Could this American Nightmare—to ask the obvious—explain those lemmings? Could it be the reason for the dark spell of divorce and unhappy marriages that has swept the country in the last half-century?
It’s no wonder we won’t fess up and say it out loud: Vol-divorce. What will happen if we admit its perils?
We might have to take responsibility for own true happiness. To address the failings of our culture as it stands. To admit how wildly awry our lives—locally and globally—really are. To deal with the vanishing of the freaking bees…
We might have to go all Harry Potter.
So rather than seeing Vol-divorce for what it is—or to name it as such—we flee. We seek greener pastures, thinking we’re escaping the closet under the stairs, when in reality,we are moving to far more complicated and risky closets.
And, in spite of everything, we teach others—especially our children—to do the same.
What do you think? Does our culture nurture our basic humanity? Do you think divorce—or marriage for that matter—aligns with who we really are as human beings? How has divorce impacted your life or your children’s?
Vol-divorce and its dangers [This list was adapted from results specific to the Longevity Project (which I have likewise reviewed) that appears in similar form at the Coalition for Divorce Reform.]
- Children of divorce die, on average, five years earlier than children from intact families.
- Parental divorce during childhood is the strongest social predictor of early death, many years into the future.
- Having your parents’ divorce during childhood is a much stronger predictor of mortality risk than the death of a parent.
- Parental divorce in childhood is strongly linked to earlier mortality from all causes, including accidents, cancers, and cardiovascular disease.
- For boys whose parents’ divorce, the risk of dying from accidents and violence is considerable–they grow up to be more reckless.
- Children’s standards of living decrease, on average, when their parents’ divorce and the psychological effects of this go beyond the economic changes.
- Girls and boys from divorced homes tend to end their education earlier than those from intact families, with the expected problems that ensue.
- Boys and girls from divorced homes are more likely to smoke and drink when they get older, as compared to their peers from intact families. Girls are 100% more likely to become heavy smokers.
- Those who live through their parents’ divorce when they are children are more likely to have their own marriages end in divorce, thus perpetuating the cycle.
- A positive family environment-having positive feelings about one’s family-does not ameliorate the detrimental effects of divorce. In fact, boys with positive family feelings live shorter lives, as it is especially traumatic to have a seemingly positive, functional home torn apart.
- Men who divorce are at much higher mortality risk than those who remain married. Even remarried men don’t live as long as those who stay steadily married.
The Longevity Project is a unique life-span study that dramatically extended and confirmed similar (but shorter-term or less intensive) findings in this area by researchers such as Drs. Rena Repetti, Paul Amato, Judith Wallerstein, Andrew Cherlin, Jennifer Lansford, Robert Anda, Elizabeth Marquardt and others.
If you like my blog, check out my earlier posts and bio. You can also follow me on Facebook and Twitter. Please do share if you are inspired. If our story can help avert the pain and trauma of even one unnecessary divorce or inspire another couple’s reconciliation, our heartache will have been worthwhile. For more information and a place to effect change, visit The Coalition for Divorce Reform.