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Notes from the Desk of Cynthia Lifson: The Unexpected Benefits of Divorce

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Now that we are truly in the midst of the fall season, we can see that the initial tumult associated with back to school has somewhat subsided.  As children settle into their academic year, most of us see the value of reasonable routines and predictability.

Benefits derived from the re-organization of a family while adults, along with their children, are in the midst of separation and divorce appear to be counter-intuitive.  Most people would agree that such a re-organization of the family unit is both painful and disappointing.  Many fear that the impact on children is devastating.  Why would anyone think that divorce is a good thing?

I recently read an interesting article written by an adult whose parents divorced when she was a young girl.  The author was careful to emphasize that her parents engaged in a cooperative divorce, but even under these circumstances, the transition in her family required great effort to achieve a new equilibrium.  In commenting about how her parents’ divorce affected her, the author noted on several impacts on her that are rarely addressed in the public discussions about divorce.  It gave me pause and I would like to share her reflections with you.

She noted that the first most obvious benefit to her was the cessation of continual conflict in her home.  When her parents separated, she experienced immediate relief from the constant tension in her home even though her parents tried very hard to refrain from arguing in front of her.  As time passed, she also noticed that because her parents were separated, she could better relate to each of them as individuals.  In so doing, she was able to communicate about tough issues and hear about each parent’s own personal perspectives while learning to sort through her own values.  In addition, while watching her parents, she was able to observe that each had to cope with new responsibilities and had to remain reasonably flexible to address the stresses and strains that come along with daily life.  She saw the need for all members of the family, not just her parents, to be accommodating and take into account everyone’s needs for things to run smoothly.   She also noticed that time is a great healer.

In thinking about this woman’s reflection on the impact of her parents’ divorce on her, I am reminded that even under difficult circumstances, everyone has an opportunity to interpret events in either a positive or negative way.  No one suggests that divorce is something that anyone would like to go through, but we can all learn from the experience.  The lessons learned – from the perspective of an adult or child – can be beneficial as we move forward and face challenges that life presents to all of us.