Category Archives: Divorce

Conflict-Free Divorce Is Just As Damaging To Children As Conflictual Divorce? Really? And Is It More Damaging Than Living In A Home With Both Parents But Filled With Conflict, Rape, Abuse . . .?

A child’s brain


A recent article suggests that what used to be called “European divorces” – where the parents act civilized and put their children’s needs first and foremost – is just as damaging to kids as conflict-driven divorce.


Ha. Ha. Ha.


When my eldest daughter was a college first-year, early on in the fall semester she and her hallmates engaged in a meet-up moment in the dorm, trading histories in a circle with coffee. Many of them had divorced parents. Lots of those parents had handled the circumstances badly, despite their educations (high) and wealth (ditto). The girls spilled tales of nastiness, verbal abuse, can’t-be-in-the-same-auditorium-together and vengeful holidays.


When my daughter’s turn came, she hesitated, then told of her parents: how they not only attended her sports events but actually sat together; how holidays were conflict-free; how they worked hard to make sure the children whose lives they had disturbed experienced as little pain as possible.


Wow, said her listeners. We would give anything if our parents would act like that.


In my work as a mediator, I’ve seen too many divorcing parents who are at each other’s throats, with – as we examine the effect – surprise that their children are hurt by their immaturity. Sometimes one ends up murdering the other – and/or the children, too.


I’ve also seen collaborative parents whose older children actually tell them how pleased they are to be living with less furor than their peers.


Case closed.


Yet there’s another aspect of this: Even if conflict-free divorce were hard on children, would it be harder or more dangerous than life for children where both parents stay married to each other, but where the family home is rife with conflict, abuse, assault and rape?


That cannot be. Because living in those homes is terrible for kids. Sir Patrick Stewart, now age 74, still recoils from memories of his father’s physical rages against his mother, beatings that local police did nothing to help, for which local ambulance staff even blamed the victim.


Because Ray Rice is in the news, let’s think for a moment of his little daughter’s experience of life. So far, her parents have been in conflict. There’s been verbal abuse. There’s also been horrifying physical violence perpetrated by her father. Since it was clear from Rice’s behavior on that dreadful video that it was not the first time he had punched the mother of his child, chances are that their toddler, Rayven, has already witnessed violence.


Every act of violence, every word of conflict, acts on children’s minds just like a drug does. Agitation and fear wash through them, setting up a cascade of neurochemicals that have the power to change circuitry. It alters their brains.


If the abuse is directed at them – physical abuse like that suffered by Adrian Peterson’s little four-year-old son, whom the football player (6-foot-1 and 217 pounds) assaulted with a whip-like branch; rape and sexual assault; the daily slaps common in some cultures – children’s brains receive an even greater neurochemical flood. Now the brain itself is under attack. The changes in it may never recede. It may be primed to run, to attack, to freeze, rather than rationally approach life. It is no longer a healthy brain. It is the damaged brain of a survivor. Just as a scar tells of a wound to the skin, a child’s behavior can reveal what she endured at the hands of people bigger than she.


So, is conflict-free divorce worse than that?


I don’t think so.



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Making It Harder


For children of a single mother – divorced, widowed, single by choice – who is the most dangerous person in their lives? That’s right, the mother’s boyfriend, partner or new husband.


For women parting from an abusive boyfriend or husband, often for the sake of their children’s safety, who is the most dangerous person?


The same guy. Particularly when he has a firearm. Even when there’s a protective order against him.


A commonsense approach to protective orders would suggest that police would disarm a person who presented a threat severe enough for a court to recognize it. That is what police would naturally do if threats were directed toward serving officers. At them.


Apparently, though, the lives of people who don’t wear a badge are less valuable.


Every month in the US, women are killed by an angry man wielding a gun. He’s not some deranged stranger they’ve never met. He’s the man they used to accept into their body, into their life and the lives of their children. Before, that is, he began his abuse.


Maybe he slapped, molested, raped her children. Perhaps he beat her, strangled her, put poisonous liquids into her coffee. She may have tried several times to leave, but fell into the “oh, baby, I’m sorry” trap. It might be that her religion encouraged her to stay with him, or her extended family. Maybe, deep down, she just didn’t believe she deserved better.


Now she does. She’s no longer willing to protect this maniac, no longer willing to subject her children and herself to the chamber of horrors that is domestic terrorism.


So she applies for a protective order. Sometimes, courts refuse to believe that a man is so abusive to people who are smaller and weaker than he. Shame on them!


Increasingly, courts are willing to believe that a man who seems like an upstanding citizen, a pillar of the community, can in private life turn into a monstrous Mr. Hyde. So they issue the protective order for a term of weeks or months. Distance is spelled out, times are detailed.


Yet they fail to take away from him the means to murder. They let him keep his guns.


He then uses them against his former partner. Often, rather than face prison, he kills himself after he murders. Result: two adults dead, orphaned children in shock and needing love, care, and therapy.


Voice after voice has been raised against this deadly loophole. Yet it remains. Too many angry men, too many with guns.


Consider this: if you were being stalked by a man with murder in mind, who might approach you anywhere – your work, children’s school, mall, church – would you want him to have a gun in his hand?

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Filed under Divorce, Domestic terrorism, Gun control, Mental health, Mental illness, Pain, Pain footprint, Protective order, Relationships, Risk analysis, Violence


When breaking apart is extra hard.



Some days, I post a book review. This is one of those days.


If you know anyone, including yourself, who has gone through or is currently embroiled in a painful divorce, here’s a book I wish had been published years earlier: Split: A Memoir of Divorce, by Suzanne Finnamore (2008).


Finnamore was in her 40s with a small son when her husband left for a new life with what turned out to be another woman. In retrospect, she saw the clues. Yet as those of us who’ve survived can attest, sometimes we want so much for the relationship to endure that we fail to see it’s turned harmful.


As the saying goes, “Sure, they love you, but not in a way that does you any good.”


What distinguishes this book is Finnamore’s humor. Her quotable writing. Suzanne’s supporters, from the friend who’s been longing for the day Suzanne’s husband would leave (“‘You hate him that much?’ ‘No, I love you that much . . . he’s practically sucked out all your blood.’”) to her stepfather, who lends her his beloved four-wheel-drive truck and says, “‘Take the Ram . . . I’d like to drive it up his ass.’”


Finnamore’s ability to wrench wry wit from banally stupid events, and her skill in distilling truth.


And her ability to come to peace, to wade through muck in order to reach a place where she can be friendly to the father of her much-loved son.


I’m not going to try to convince you. Allow me to quote. I dare you to keep a straight face:


“I sensed he may have occasionally strayed in some of his past relationships. It was something I felt but ignored, a rent in the fabric of an otherwise splendid garment I thought I could mend.”


“All my life, I should not have worried so much about looking foolish. Signs matter. And all waves are dangerous, especially the ones you refuse to see coming.”


“It seems tawdry to fantasize about a second husband before I’m officially divorced from the first. Also I deduce: Divorce is snakebite. One’s next thought should not be, Where am I going to find another snake?”


“‘God is great and God is good,’ Lisa says. ‘But where are the Apache attack helicopters when you need them?’”


When she discusses with her counselor the oddness of Finnamore’s husband not wanting their son around much in the father’s new life: “‘I know,’ Nadine says, a tiny smile playing on her lips. ‘I see this a lot: It’s like they steal the silverware and leave the Monet.’”


“It’s not as though N tried very hard in couples counseling, during our first $180-an-hour go-round. He just sat there grimacing and polishing his bendable Japanese titanium eyeglasses and talking nicely about the therapist’s shoes. And the therapist, another tall, pale man who obviously belonged to N’s affluent-man club, seemed pleased, and answered the questions about his shoes. ‘Kenneth Cole,’ he said. I sat rearranging my insides and breathing very slowly, so as not to scream forth like a teakettle.”


“I also wish I could send a message into every tortured, depressed, and betrayed woman’s mind at this very moment so they would just turn mid-step and say with perfect clarity to their husbands: ‘Oh, wait – this is crazy. Feel free to go and make some other lucky woman’s life into this exact shade of black.’”


“‘It’s okay to love him, as long as you stay clear on who he is,’ Nadine says. ‘A lover without borders,’ I murmur. ‘A man without boundaries. A good man, but not for me to be married to. And the father of my son.’”


Split. It’s a tough process. Read it.

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Filed under Books, Divorce, Suzanne Finnamore