Effects of Divorce On Children-The Unexpected

On the first page of the prologue in her book, The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce, Judith S. Wallerstein writes: “The major contribution of this book has been to recognize, for the first time, that when children of divorce become adults, they are badly frightened that their relationships will fail, just like the most important relationship in their parents’ lives failed.” What does it take to overcome the effects of divorce on children?

ALT="Young adult in conflict - from the effects of divorce on children in their adulthood."

It is a terrible myth that the effects of divorce on children is minimal.  I have often heard parents say their children will be OK and simply bounce back from the divorce of their parents. The truth is, the effects of divorce on children are very negative for years to come if not the entirety of their life. Why?


As Wallerstein uncovered in her research, one of the greatest and unexpected effects of divorce on children is that they fear their longstanding relationships will likewise fail.

When married, grown children from a divorced family will tend to be affected by fear in one of two ways. They will tend to cling to their spouse or keep them at a distance.

Those who cling, do so for obvious reasons. Profound pain is all too familiar as they recall their own parents’ failure. The possibility of rejection and the loss of their spouse creates great anxiety. As difficulties in the marriage mount, they frantically do whatever they can to make things right. More often than not, their clingy behavior is met with a growing disdain and pushes the other away.

Those who keep their spouse at a distance, also do for obvious reasons. Because they fear the marriage won’t work, they refuse to give their whole heart to their spouse. Their experience of intimacy over time grows faint. Ultimately the relationship becomes stale, or ends.

What counteracts the effects of divorce on children when they marry?


I John 4: 17,18a in The Message Bible says: “God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and matures in us, so that we’re free of worry… Well-formed love banishes fear.”

Fear causes us to frantically demand from the other or pull back to avoid pain. Mature love invites, rather than demands. It moves towards the other for their good at the risk of great personal pain.

Giving way to fear will always result in loss and no gain. Moving towards another in love always risks loss – but also creates the greatest potential for gain.

How does one mature in love?

Think of a person you wanted to be like at some point in your life. What did you do? You spent time with them; learned from them; and sought to emulate them in every way. It is the same in our relationship with God.

Read the verse above again. It says “God is Love.”  When we “live in God and God lives in us…love has the run of the house…and matures in us…(which)…banishes fear.”

The more time we spend with God and He with us, the more we become ruled by mature love rather than fear. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it does happen.

A FINAL WORD: Don’t believe the lie that if your parents didn’t make it, you can’t either. Do all you can to get near God. Read the Bible. Become part of a church or small group community where you get to know God and experience His love. Look around you for one or several couples who seem to know God and have a strong marriage. If you don’t know anyone, then keep looking. My parents have been married 57 years. My wife and I have been married 32 years. I know of a couple who has been married over 60 years. They are out there. Believe me.

Additional helps:

See my blog post HERE on the resources I most recommend. Also consider reading a great book I am currently reading by a former professor of mine, Dr. Larry Crabb, called Fully Alive.

How do you react to what I wrote?  What help and hope can you offer for the couple wondering whether or not they can make it?  You can leave a comment below:

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