Low Conflict Marriages #3: Divorce and the Children

But let’s return to Maura, Mike and Matthew, from Low Conflict Marriages #1. The second unique thing about Maura’s decision to leave Mike was Matthew’s reaction.

After that winning session where Maura announced she’d be leaving her husband, Maura felt things had gone so well with me as a buffer that she’d like to tell her son in session, too. [Mike had left it completely in Maura’s hands to tell Matthew, as, he explained, it was completely her decision–Make was never big on decisions, as you may remember.]

When Maura told Matthew, the youngest, that his parents would be divorcing, Matthew, a mild child, was angrier than he’d probably been in his entire life. “You have been living a complete lie, and you’ve made MY life a complete lie! There’s not one thing about my life that’s been real. I hate you for creating a fantasy–and shattering it. I will never forgive you.”

So, in short, Matthew had forgiven Maura within the week, and Mike, ever mild, just seemed perplexed as divorce proceedings went on, and the two parted ways, still without a fight. Assumedly Mike has been out to eat since the divorce, and has picked his own restaurant. Maura has a flourishing social life–and gets invited along on outings she hasn’t planned.

But let’s return for a moment to Matthew’s reaction. And let’s return as well to DR Morrison’ and MJ Coiro’s ‘Parental Conflict and Marital Disruption: Do Children Benefit When High-conflict Marriages Are Dissolved?” from the August 1999 Journal of Marriage and the Family.  These authors write–and they are far from alone–that “youth in low-conflict homes prior to disruption showed negative responses to divorce, presumably because they were surprised by and less well prepared for their parents’ break-up.” And Booth and Amato from Pennsylvania State University, in “Parental Predivorce Relations and Offspring Postdivorce Well-Being” from the same journal, February, 2001, “find that the dissolution of low-conflict marriages appears to have negative effects on offspring’s lives” in contrast to the split-up of high-conflict marriages.

Interesting, isn’t it? Research is claiming that children from low-conflict marriages do less well post-divorce than those from high-conflict marriages.

Of course some will have the perverse instinct: Well, let’s fight a bit more and the statistics will change! But not most people. I just put it out there to inform you–not to persuade you to stay in an unhappy marriage, not as a polemic, but as a piece of information you need to have before you make your final decision.


I help adults and adolescents through the particular struggles of our time: tension between couples, parenting frustration, blending new families, separation and divorce, (un)employment, cancer, and loss. When relationships come to an impasse, I use mediation techniques to try to ensure that each party will have his/her needs heard and accounted for in a dignified way. In addition to talking, listening, and reframing, I utilizes the tools of metaphor, active teaching, role-playing, visualization, and hypnotherapy.for families and businesses, as well as in cases of divorce.

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