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The Impact of Divorce On…

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

Case: (All identifying information has been changed).

“The couple was married for seven years when it finally ended in divorce. There were no children and the only issues between them was dividing the remaining assests whic was accomplished with little or no conflict. Everything was done in very friendly and amicable ways. However, for the relatives, it was quite different.

Both the mother and father of the daughter found the experience very wrenching. Very warm and affectionate feelings had blossomed among the three. In addition, the mother of the wife and the wife’s mother in law, a very close friendship had been established. In other words, both sets of families experienced a real sense of grief and anger as a result of the dissolution of this marriage.”

Discussion:

When examining the research on divorce and its impact, there is an understandable focus on children, grandparents and the divorcees. They are the people most influenced and disturbed by, the dissolution of a marital arrangement. However, there is little or not information on how divorce influences other people.

What about the ways in which divorce impacts on in laws, friendships and extended families? Is it only in those cases of divorce where children are involved that major emotional adjustments must be made?

The fact is that divorce has major ripple effects across all types of relationships that people tend not to think about. For example, most couples form friendships with other couples. They go out together, dine together, share personal stories together and provide mutual support and comfort. When one of the couples separates and divorce, the intact couple must make major adjustments to the ways in which they live. They experience a sense of loss. Even if they manage to remain friends with one of the now divorced individuals, things are not the same because the entire foundation upon which these relationships were built is now changed.

With regard to friends, it may be that remaining friends with a newly single person may present problems for the couple that remains married. It is not difficult for suspicions and jealousies to arise if the divorced individual is perceived as a threat to the marriage. In fact, I have known of cases in which family members of the intact marriage caution that the “friend” is flirting and attempting to break up the marriage.

Other family and in law relationships also suffer as a result of divorce. During the course of a marriage, regardless of how short or long it lasted, and regardless of whether or not there were children, relatives and in laws go through a mourning period where they experience the death of a marriage. Someone is now missing. People do not simply marry one anther. They marry into a family where bonds and ties are made. Once a divorce occurs, those bonds and ties are broken and a real sense of mourning occurs. This is what happened in the case above. Former husband and wife were fine with the results. It was each of their families that experienced distress over their divorce and broken relationships. There was also a sense that there was no way to continue these friendships after the marital breach was final.

Very often, the individual who married into a family is demonized once the marriage is over. This demonization has a lot to do with feelings of anger at the “outsider” for disrupting the family. On the other hand, friends and relatives sometimes align themselves with the former kinship tie against the biological relation.

Another way of describing the changing landscape of a family that is now “divorced” is that major shifts in alliances occurs, with individuals taking sides, one against the other. The result is that powerful feelings of resentment and betrayal can happen because of these realignments.

When children are added to the variable of family politics, both before and after divorce, everything described above becomes even much more exaggerated.

What are your experiences with divorce above and beyond the obvious but painful forces of children and custody issues? Have you experienced the loss of friends as a result of your divorce, the divorce of friends or both? What was it like for you?

Your comments and questions are strongly encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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