At face value it seems like an odd question. Through a Christian lens the words seem almost blasphemous. So with the many negatives that surround a divorce and the biblical position on it, why would someone ask if their parents should have divorced? More peculiar are the two seemingly-opposite types of people that pose that question to me. One group has parents that are divorced. The other group is comprised of those whose parents are still married, but the marriage is a hollow shell of what it should be.
Typically, this query comes after I’ve finished a teaching or workshop related to the issues that impact adults with divorced parents. Afterward, when people gather to speak with me individually, there will often be a person who hovers on the fringes and waits for the group to disperse. Now that they’ve heard me discuss the problems that adult children of divorce face, this secret but burning question is forced to the surface. And with lowered voice and an almost apologetic tone it comes, “What if my parents should have divorced?”
True Feelings Finally Come Out
Interestingly, once it’s out and the burden is momentarily lifted, statements start flowing like water through a broken dam. “They were polar opposites.” “I don’t see how they made it as far as they did.” “They hate each other.” “They married too young.” “They were really different people.” “Dad drank and got mean when he drank.” “They never should have had kids.” “Mom had serious issues.” “Sure, they say they’ll never divorce, but they have no marriage.”
The tone of voice varies from person to person, but the tone of their eyes is the same. Behind the color of the iris is the reflection of a soul that bears deep regret. It’s back there that the what could-have-been’s, what should-have-been’s, and unanswered questions live. It’s there that the search for good memories—any good memories—continues with few, if any, results.
The pain is palpable, but I’ve learned that their initial inquiry subtlety masks the real question. The person with divorced parents is really asking, “Am I better off because my dysfunctional parent’s got divorced?” The one whose parents didn’t divorce is actually asking, “Would I be better if my dysfunctional parents had divorced?”
And the Answer is…
Unfortunately, the answers vary as much as the people who ask them. However, there is a basic trend that is noteworthy. Research, like that found in The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce by Judith Wallerstein, indicates that unlike divorced families, troubled intact families still tend to come together during life’s critical events. Weddings, funerals, graduations, or even times around a serious illness can become calm waters in the troubled family’s normally boisterous sea of daily life. There might be cloudy and stormy skies for weeks and months at a time in a home with dysfunctional parents, but shafts of warm, life-giving sunshine can press through during these special or traumatic times.
While this “advantage” may seem slight to those who have survived the toxic atmosphere of the divorce or non-divorce, it can be significant. Let’s use a grandchild’s birth as an example. It can bring joyous celebration in an unhealthy intact family—even if just for a short time. And this type of family will still indulge in the new baby joy-filled pie with many forks simultaneously (in-laws, extended family, etc). Conversely, a divorced family can mar the same event as conflicting and competing family splinters not only try to grab as big a piece as possible, but may attempt to deny others a taste as well.
Admittedly, when I speak with those bravest enough to ask and share this perspective, the glimmer of hope in their eyes seems slight and fleeting. Dealing with parental divorce can be a rough ride even in the best situations. The ride in the “should have divorced” household may not seem much better. In either case, “What if my parents should have divorced?” is a heart-wrenching question. But at this point in our lives, the key to healing is not found in the answer to this question. It’s found in taking intentional steps to deal with the damage that has resulted from either the divorce or non-divorce.
The first step is to share how you felt, or still feel about your parent’s divorce with God in prayer. The pain, anger, frustration, hopelessness, and everything else is all fair game. “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about what happens to you.”1 And don’t be afraid to share how you really feel. The psalmist wrote, “I pour out my complaints before Him and tell Him all my troubles. For I am overwhelmed, and You alone know the way I should turn.”2
Next, learn more about how your parent’s divorce is impacting you by checking out the helpful books, videos, articles, and links that are available on this website.
Finally, enlist your spouse, a trusted friend, pastor, or counselor to walk with you as you start the healing process. You may think you want to do this on your own, but outside counsel is important for the objective and educated insights that will be necessary to help you heal. And healing greatly lessens your own chances of divorce and your kids asking, “What if my parent’s should have divorced?”
11 Peter 5:7 NLT
2Psalms 142:2-3 NLT