On my way to Arkansas, an attractive woman filled the middle seat on the airplane next to me. It was obvious that she and her husband could not sit together because they were one of the last to board the “pick your own seat” system on Southwest Airlines. I felt badly, they could not sit together, so I offered to move so they could be in the same row. She quickly declined. Then she asked me if I was going on this trip for business or pleasure. I told her I was going to train educators in a relationship development skills curriculum. Shockingly, she started to weep telling me that she and her husband were going through a divorce. They were in Colorado holding it together for the sake of their college-aged daughter who is attending CSU. They wanted her homecoming experience to be free of relational chaos and disclosure about the plan to separate. We leaned into each other and had an amazing and personal conversation for the entire flight. What I found fascinating is the fact that even when children are in college, they want their parents to be together and love each other. Why is that? Don’t we live in an age of personal mindfulness and self-care doing whatever it takes to make ourselves happy? Why the charade? Why couldn’t this conflicted couple be authentic and let their college sophomore daughter in on the reality that their parents are divorcing? I doubt this couple had any knowledge about the robust literature on the long-term negative effects of divorce on adult children. They just knew intuitively that this news would be devastating for their daughter and would be a watershed moment in her young life.
The comprehensive body of literature is clear. When parents divorce, children, no matter what their age, they are more likely to struggle and have a heightened anxiety in forming enduring permanent attachments. Additionally, regardless of age, gender and culture, studies show children of divorced parents experience increased psychological challenges. Some studies have linked parental divorce to increased mental health and substance use issues, impulsiveness and depression. Many studies provide evidence that parental divorce could be related to less success in young adulthood in terms of education, work and romantic attachments.
Due to these sobering effects of divorce, this generation has decided that cohabitation must be the answer. The research is even worse about cohabitation. As a nurse, I am concerned about the popularity of cohabitation with this generation. This has huge implications for the health and well-being of children, adults and communities across the country.
What is the answer? Let’s not retreat from marriage. Let’s find ways to support this pro-social stabilizing institution which is the optimal incubator for human capital development, healthy children, adults and communities. Let’s speak highly of marriage in the public square. Let’s teach the skills necessary to have and maintain healthy marriages. Let’s learn how to live and love well. For more information contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or check out myrelationshipcenter.org.
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