The Role of Divorce in Childhood Trauma

childhood trauma divorce

No one gets married with the intention of getting divorce. Unfortunately, many harmonious unions collapse in a short matter of years – in fact, it is estimated that nearly half of all first marriages will end in divorce. The median duration of first marriages for both men and women is right below the 8-year mark; 7.8 years for men and 7.9 years for women. 82 percent of married couples will make it to their 5th wedding anniversary, while only 65 percent will make it to their 10th. 69 percent of children under the age of 18 live with both of their parents, while 23 percent of children under the age of 18 live solely with their mother, and 5 percent live solely with their father. While the divorce rate amongst couples with children is 40 percent lower than it is amongst couples without children, millions of children under the age of 18 are affected by the separation of their parents every year. In fact, of all of the children born to married parents this year alone, nearly 50 percent will witness the dissolve of the marriage before their 18th birthday.

Emotional and Psychological Consequences

There are many emotional and psychological consequences of divorce, both for the parents and for their children. In this article, however, we will focus in on the lasting effects that witnessing a divorce can have on the offspring of the ill-fated couple. A recent survey, which included over 400 young people (most in their early teens), concluded that 29 percent of boys and 39 percent of girls who reported that their parents had separated or divorced experienced high levels of post-traumatic stress. When it comes to the specific effects of divorce on children, the list is quite extensive. Take a look at several of the most common effects of divorce as pertaining to children who witness the separation of their parents:

  • Substance Abuse

The children of divorced parents are significantly more likely to abuse alcohol and drugs. In many instances, they initially turn to chemical substances in order to deal with emotional pain and perceived rejection.

  • Reduced Educational Attainment

Numerous studies have shown that children of divorced parents perform worse academically than their peers, and consistently suffer from a reduced capacity for learning. Many children of divorced parents act out in school, either by blatantly defying authority or getting into physical confrontations with fellow students.

  • Crime

Children of divorced parents are more likely to become involved in criminal activity. In fact, one particular study conducted by researchers at the University of Chicago concluded that the divorce rate in specific areas was predictive to the number of robberies carried out.

  • Neglect

Children of divorced parents are more than twice as likely to suffer from some degree of neglect. Numerous studies have shown that divorced mothers are less capable of providing their children with the nurturing, support, and attention they need, and that divorced fathers are less capable of developing close and lasting relationships with their children.

  • Psychological Disorders

Children of divorced parents are more prone to developing psychological disorders such as anxiety and depression. In fact, children of divorce are a staggering seven times more likely to suffer from depression. As previously mentioned, children of divorce are more likely to experiment with substance abuse – but they are also exceedingly more likely to develop life-threatening addictions. 75 percent of adolescents currently receiving treatment in substance dependency hospitals come from single-parent homes.

  • Damaged Self-Esteem

It can be difficult for young children to adequately understand why their mother and father are separating, and in many cases, they may misguidedly blame themselves. This negative core belief and lingering sense of responsibility can lead to severely damaged self-esteem.

Lasting Effects of Divorce

If a divorce is amicable and the parents remain friendly (and actively participate in the life of their child), the negative effects of divorce are more likely to be short-lived, and resolve as the child enters adulthood. In some instances, however, divorce can have lasting consequences on children – consequences that carry over into adulthood. Children who grow up in hostile and combative households may internalize the difficulties that their parents experienced in their romantic partnership, convincing themselves that there was something they could have done to keep their parents together. Often, core beliefs such as this lead to long-standing feelings of toxic shame and low self-esteem. Children of divorced parents may also find in later life that their own capacity to have meaningful and trusting relationships has been reduced. Also, if they do decide to have children of their own, they will often struggle to create a positive and healthy environment for their families to live in.

Fortunately, it is never too late to heal from the wounds of childhood trauma. Yet, when looking to our pasts for clues as to why we struggle with certain things during adulthood, we are tempted to overlook divorce entirely because of its commonality. Our comprehensive program of male-specific focuses on mental health and addiction through the lens of childhood trauma and attachment. We understand that even something as culturally prevalent as divorce can have a major impact on adolescents during their formative years, and pave the way for relational issues long into adulthood. For more information on our program of recovery, please contact us today.