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A Plea to the Synod Fathers: Don’t Make Divorce Any Easier



Rick Fitzgibbons, MD - published on 10/09/14

Research conclusively shows that children of divorce experience lifelong psychological and spiritual harm

The health and flourishing of the Catholic family is dependent first and foremost on the stable loving relationship between the father and the mother of the children. The "Catechism of the Catholic Church" acknowledges this reality: “Children need their parents’ stable union” (n. 2381). In the Synod’s discussions it is, therefore, essential that the Catholic family be protected through a deeper understanding of the severe, lifelong psychological and spiritual harm done children by the divorce of their parents. This will involve refuting many of the prevailing myths about the perceived “benefits” of divorce.

In the U.S. alone, one million children each year are severely traumatized by their parents’ divorce. These children do not need an easing of the process of annulments. They want their parents to overcome their conflicts and love each other. They need the Church to defend the Sacrament of Marriage by challenging spouses to work to resolve their emotional conflicts and to sacrifice themselves in order to prevent divorce.

Dr. Norval Glenn, the late, distinguished family scholar from the University of Texas, conducted a pioneering national study with Elizabeth Marquardt on the moral and spiritual lives of children of divorce. Their findings disproved many of the myths about the “good divorce.” In his Foreword to “Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of the Children of Divorce,” Marquardt’s book about their findings, Dr. Glenn wrote:

The proportion of emotionally troubled adults is around three times as great among those whose parents divorced as among those from intact families. No amount of success in adulthood can compensate for an unhappy childhood or erase the memory of the pain and confusion of the divided world of the child of divorce.

Divorce Is Not Inevitable: The Origin of Most Marital Conflicts

Numerous myths about divorce interfere with couples’ need to address their personal conflicts and marital conflicts. Research studies have demonstrated that approximately 70% of adult psychological conflicts arise from unresolved (and unconscious) childhood and adolescent hurts, most often with parents. These conflicts of sadness, mistrust with controlling behaviors, excessive anger and low self-esteem can emerge during marriage, without the major origins being identified over the course of the marriage, and these unresolved hurts damage the feelings of trust and love for a spouse. If these conflicts are properly uncovered and addressed, along with the selfishness of the spouses, trust can grow and love can be rediscovered.

The Church’s "Retrouvaille" program has helped many couples experience healing of family of origin wounds and of marital emotional “wounds.” Dr. Howard Markman, marital researcher, author and professor at the University of Denver, has written, “We believe that most divorces and most marital unhappiness can be prevented” (Fighting for Your Marriage: Enhancing Marriage and Preventing Divorce).

Divorce Myths

What are some of the myths about divorce that have been accepted by the American public without any real scrutiny? 

  • Divorce will not harm the children, my spouse or me
  • Divorce is the only solution to my unhappiness
  • Marital conflicts cannot be resolved
  • What is good for me is good for our children
  • I will be happier away from my spouse
  • I can still be an excellent parent even if we divorce
  • My spouse is the cause of all the marital unhappiness and stress
  • Trust and love cannot be rediscovered
  • My family background is not related to my marital unhappiness
  • (For Catholics) I am entitled to an annulment.

Psychological Harm to Children of Divorce

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FamilyMarriageParentingSynod on the Family
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