By Tzippora Price
Judaism has always recognized the necessity of divorce. In certain situations, when marital therapy and other avenues have been exhausted, divorce may be the responsible option. An environment of smoldering resentment, open hostility or complete emotional detachment is harmful to all involved—both parents and children.
However, divorce can leave scars, and these scars can last for years. For adults who experienced their parents’ divorce, these emotional scars can influence their own experience of dating and marriage.
Children of divorce have learned first-hand the painful lesson that relationships can dissolve. They may be fearful of their own ability to establish a relationship that will endure throughout their adult life. They may experience their marital relationship as particularly fragile. They may fear normal marital conflict and view every argument as a serious problem rather than a natural occurrence. If these feelings spur one to work harder at achieving and maintaining shalom bayit (and not take his marriage for granted), then a negative experience can be transformed into hard-earned wisdom.
If, however, these fears create a barrier to intimacy, and lead one to avoid open discussion and honest disagreement—necessary ingredients in a true exchange between two people—then these feelings should be regarded as childhood scars. Scars can prevent one from risking becoming vulnerable, yet sharing one’s vulnerabilities is what allows one to form intimate relationships.
Not all divorces are the same, and as a result, the impact on the children will differ. Acrimonious divorces as well as divorces in which children are forced to choose sides will result in greater trauma. In contrast, divorces in which parents are able to manage their difficulties and continue to honor their shared roles and responsibilities in parenting their children will result in less trauma.
Then there is the question of what happens after the divorce itself. Do one or both parents remarry? Is there a sense of having moved through a transition or a challenging situation and having emerged on the other side? Is there a sense of closure? Do children, despite their own feelings, experience their parents as happier and more at peace with themselves after the divorce? These are experiences that can mitigate the damaging consequences of a divorce.
Divorce does not have to be a trauma. However, it is always a serious matter that does not end on the day the get is given. What happens after that day makes all the difference. Children experience less trauma when they maintain relationships with both parents, and when their world expands rather than contracts.
Children of divorce should recognize that all childhoods have some painful experiences, and most adults carry childhood scars. It is important for young adults beginning the process of shidduchim to explore and appraise the ways their childhood experiences may have shaped them; they should examine their own expectations for a marital relationship as well. Cheshbon hanefesh, the ability to honestly confront oneself, is always useful for establishing the groundwork for a healthier and more stable individual.
Eventually we must all emerge from childhood into adulthood, assume responsibility for our own lives and our choices, and learn how to let go of the tendency to blame our parents, which is so prevalent in today’s world. Only then and with Hashem’s help can we chart a course that enables us to establish healthy homes to nurture our children and ourselves.
Tzippora Price, MSc, is a marital and family therapist and a mental health educator who works in private practice in Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel. She is the author of hundreds of magazine articles, advice columns and blogs, as well as three books: Into the Whirlwind (Canada, 2010), Mother in Practice (New York, 2010) and Mother in Action (New York, 2013).