As I’m sure you’re aware, the most serious damage done to kids is being exposed to conflict between their parents. Conflict experienced in an intact family is just as toxic as conflict experienced in a divorced family. In my opinion, staying in an unhealthy or abusive relationship for the sake of the children is misguided and in many ways more damaging to kids than divorce. It’s critical to set an example that it’s more important to be safe and accomplished than to remain in a dependent or unhealthy relationship.
The crucial piece is to make sure, when you discuss the divorce with the kids, that they understand they’ll always be loved by both of you. And they need to hear that it’s not their fault that you’re separating. You can’t tell a child too many times that they didn’t cause the divorce and they can’t cure it. Kids automatically take responsibility for hardships in their lives as a way of achieving a sense of control over the situation.
A top stressor
Few life experiences rival the pure day-to-day stress and emotional intensity of the process of separation and divorce. It’s not uncommon to see parents turn to substance abuse or other self-destructive means of coping with these intense emotions. Not only is this bad strategy for dealing with the legal issues you’ll need to negotiate, it’s a very psychologically unhealthy way to get through this major life transition.
The shock and anxiety of divorce can lead you to become dangerously distracted, resulting in injuries or stress-related illness. It’s not uncommon to feel extremely sad, anxious and depressed and possibly suicidal. I want to stress the importance of therapeutic and legal support during this time of crisis, because of the compounding emotional stress that’s likely to occur.
Opportunity for transformation
Divorce, as painful as it is, holds tremendous potential for transformation. I’ve heard countless clients tell me that they emerged from their divorce stronger, more aware and better parents. This, clients will readily admit, is hard-won growth. But the transformational power of divorcing in a healthy way cannot be underestimated. The total devastation brought on by divorce forces us to face our deepest fears and meet tremendous challenges.