How Did This Happen to Us?                 
The Impact of Divorce on Families Part I

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This is the first in a two part series on divorce.

Last year, nearly 270,000 divorces were granted in Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Michigan. As a couple’s counselor, I work with many individuals, couples, and families who are effected by divorce. I see the harmful effects that breakups can have and I am dedicated to helping people develop the skills to cope with experience of divorce. 

Divorce is a turning point that affects a person’s identity. Individuals no longer maintain the role of husband or wife and at the same time they must rethink changes in their roles as parents, workers, and caretakers. Here is a look at some of the major disruptions.

How Life Changes with Divorce

The decision to divorce causes major changes in the lives of all family members. Some upheaval is inevitable. The main trouble areas are:

Financial: Money becomes a significant problem for most people. The cost of a divorce is extremely high, and two households cost more than one.

Career: Being less focused at work and spending time away from the job for divorce-related appointments takes its toll.

Logistics: Running your home is more difficult because you no longer have a partner to help with daily chores.

Emotional: Most people have periods of depression, sadness, anger, and fatigue around the loss of their relationship.

How Divorce Effects Adults

Marital separation and divorce can be two of the most difficult events in an adult’s life. Much of the stress comes from the need to reorganize daily tasks and responsibilities, the loss of a significant relationship, and the need to establish a new identity as a single person. The following complaints are also common:

Behavioral Changes

  • Crying
  • Withdrawal from others
  • Aggression
  • Substance misuse ( drugs, alcohol, tobacco, food)
  • Agitation
  • Exhaustion
  • Restlessness
  • Disrupted sleep
  • Emotional changes
  • Sadness
  • Guilt
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Tensions
  • Irritability
  • Fear 
  • Fatigue
  • Mood swings

Thoughts and Feelings

  • Thinking you cannot cope.
  • Feeling frightened for an unknown reason.
  • Feeling helpless.
  • Worrying about everything, large or small.
  • Feeling afraid that something bad will happen.
  • Having nightmares.
  • Feeling that you are about to fall apart.
  • Having the same worrisome thought. 
  • Having a negative view of the world.
  • Having a negative view of yourself.
  • Feeling bored with everything.
  • Being unable to concentrate.
  • Feeling worthless.
  • Feeling unable to make decisions.

How Divorce Effects Children

Divorce deeply effects children. The fundamental perspective of a child’s life changes. The parents needs and wants move into the forefront and the children often become the backdrop. Young and adult children often describe feelings of sadness and loneliness, fear, confusion, rejection, divided loyalties and anger.

There are several types of risks that may contribute to children's difficulties. These are: 

Parental Loss
Divorce often results in the loss of contact with one parent and with this loss children also lose the knowledge, skills and resources (emotional, financial, etc.) of that parent. 

Economic Loss
Another result of divorce is that children living in single parent families are less likely to have as many economic resources as children living in intact families. 

Increased Life Stresses
Divorce often results in many changes in children's living situations such as changing schools, childcare, homes, etc. Children often also have to make adjustments to changes in relationships with friends and extended family members. These changes create a more stressful environment for children. 

Poor Parental Adjustment
Generally how children fare in families is due in part to the mental health of the parents, this is likely to be true for children in divorced families as well. 

Lack of Parental Competence
Much of what happens to children in general is related to the skill of parents in helping them develop. The competence of parents following divorce is likely to have considerable influence on how the children are doing. 

Exposure to Conflict Between Parents
Conflict is frequently part of families and may be especially common in families that have undergone divorce. The degree to which children are exposed to conflict may have substantial effects on children's well being. 

The symptoms that many children may have during the divorce process can either lessen or end after the divorce (it is important to note that some divorce proceeding can last for many years). Of the symptoms that remain, the most common are manipulative behavior and depression. 

Symptoms of Depression in Children Include:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Sadness
  • Mood swings/Irritability
  • Secretiveness or Isolation
  • Self-blame
  • Eating disorders
  • Behaving perfectly
  • Accident prone
  • Stealing
  • Skipping school
  • Underachieving at school
  • Sexual acting out

How Divorce Impacts Extended Families

A client put it to me best this way, “I lost my son-in-law overnight...he was like a son to me.” During the separation and divorce process connection with extended family and friends must be re-examined. Family members and friends usually take sides, disrupting relationships and removing potential sources of guidance and comfort.

The stress of divorce creates emotional wounds in most extended family members and friends. The difficult, painful social process of reorganizing the relationships and alliances of family and friends who are divorcing effects all grandparents, In-laws, Siblings, Aunts, Uncles, Nieces, Nephews, and Friends.

Grandparents often become a family’s first line of support in times of crisis. Grandparents act as caretakers for children, role models, teachers, and help establish self-esteem and security for children and their parents.

One potential aspect of divorce is the disruption or severance of the grandparents-grandchild relationship. This complicated change causes a system of losses (broken bonds) in adults and kids that require a long term accepting environment in which to grieve those losses.

Anyone who is experiencing the effects of divorce would benefit from counseling. Strongly consider finding a therapist to work with if you feel:

Overwhelmed by your children
Overwhelmed by your feelings
You are sleeping too much or too little

Part II of this article will include a list of survival strategies for people who are experiencing divorce.

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Considering Divorce or Separation?
 Consider Discernment Counseling First

 Couples Counseling Today
    ...Courage, Compassion, Connection

Julienne Derichs LCPC

Couples Therapy and Marriage Counseling Serving  
Highland Park, Lake Forest, Deerfield, Lincolnshire, Illinois
Julienne B. Derichs LCPC


773-562-3074                  Office in Highwood, IL 60040                 
                                   (between Lake Forest and Highland Park, IL)