The Psychological Effects of Divorce

Posted by: Asa Don Brown on March 17, 2014 7:00 am

“When mom and dad went to war the only prisoners they took were the children.”
~ Pat Conroy

As a child of divorce, I can confer that the legal separation and dissolution of a marriage can have a profound effect. Even if, your parents are splitting amicably, having the greatest spirit of friendliness and acceptance; the separation of a set of parents has an effect. The level of the effect will and may differ, dependent upon the rationale behind the divorce, and the outcome of the divorce proceedings. While on the judicial side, divorce is the legal dissolving of a relationship; divorce from the perspective is the removal of one parent from another.

Divorce not only effects the children, the parents (the couple), but has an ability of effecting those beyond the confines of the immediate relationship. While divorce has an effect, it’s effect will vary dependent upon the family and the ultimate dynamics of the relationship .


Divorce can have a dire effect on all members of the family. The repercussions of a divorce can have an impact on the families financial stability, social environment, academic and employee performance, and the psychological and physical well-being of the family. Please understand, I am not criticizing divorce, rather it is important to recognize the possible and often frequent ramifications of divorce. While the ramifications and outcome of divorce are often egregious in nature; the ramifications and outcome of remaining in a negative, abusive, unaffectionate or undesirable relationship, can have a significantly greater effect.

“First, children who grow up in an intact, two-parent family with both biological parents present do better on a wide range of outcomes than children who grow up in a single-parent family. Single parenthood is not the only, nor even the most important, cause of the higher rates of school dropout, teenage pregnancy, juvenile delinquency, or other negative outcomes we see; but it does contribute independently to these problems. Neither does single parenthood guarantee that children will not succeed; many, if not most, children who grow up in a single-parent
household do succeed.” (Berlin, 2004, Online)

The Typical Concerns Associated with Divorce

1) What is the probability that my child will develop feelings of abandonment?
2) Does my child blame me for the divorce?
3) Will my child blame himself/herself for my divorce?
4) What is the probability that my child may develop psychological concerns because of the divorce?
5) As a parent, will I have the ability to have equal time and custody of my child?
6) How do I reassure my child that I will not abandon him/her?
7) How do I reduce the level of stress involved with the divorce?
8) How do I show respect for someone that I detest?
9) What is the probability that the disruption of the family routines will effect my child?
10) What if, my child show’s no signs or symptoms pertaining to the divorce?

Divorce can have a dire effect, but fortunately, as a parent your can protect your child from the negative ramifications of divorce. While your child may be aware of the catalyst, they may feel insecure and taking personal ownership of the divorce. Be certain to reassure your child by expressing your love and sincere admiration. Do not blame your child for your divorce. Do not allow others to lay blame or shame upon the life of your child. Furthermore, be certain to remind
your child that they are welcome to share and request help. Children need to be capable of expressing emotional, mental, physical and psychological pain. Your child may need an outlet to express his or her pain. If so, contact a practitioner who is capable of offering professional help.


First of all, divorce is a reality of our society. If divorce is on your horizon, understand that you are not alone, a bad person, a terrible parent, or in a minority group of people choosing the pathway of divorce. Moreover, divorce happens amongst good people. Unfortunately, not everyone is meant to be together and/or to stay together; the reality is, it is better to divorce than to remain in a relationship that spiraling downward.

“Parents who are going through divorce often believe that shielding children from the stress of the situation is in the children’s best interest. But regardless of their parents’ good intentions, children often find themselves caught in an emotional whirlpool during these times. Instead of protection, they need support and reassurance during this temporarily stressful time.” (NCSU, 2014, Online)


While divorce is a perceivable failure, failure in itself is not a bad thing. Failure is nothing more than a weakness or limitation, and fortunately, both can be strengthened. A weakness or limitation is good. Acknowledgement of a weakness or limitation is the recognition that you, or we, have an ability to improve or make a marked change in our lives. It is when something is clearly noticeable or evident that people recognize our desire for improvement. Remember this:
your worthiness is not. and should not be defined, by your successes or your failures. Your worthiness and acceptability are inherently an attribute of your internal personhood.


As a parent, it is natural to be concerned with the well-being of your child. Whether or not, you suspect that your child has been, or will be, negatively effected by the divorce; it is highly recommended that you seek the advice from a professional practitioner. A professional practitioner is a person who is actively engaged in the art of counseling, psychotherapy, and psychology. Such practitioners can offer an ear to hear and the encouragement to voice one’s
perceptional concerns.

It is always important that you consider the source of your advice. We have all encountered well meaning individuals, but well meaning individuals can be wrong. Be certain that you seek out advice from those who are professionally trained. Anyone can dispense advice, but to be certain that you have received advice that is credible, sound, and legitimate may require a professional.

As parents, be certain that you:

1. Actively Communicate. As a parent, it is highly recommend that you have regular and active communications with your child. Be certain that your communications are balanced and focused on healthy conversations. Sway away from focusing on negative communication. Rather focus your attention and the conversation on positive communications.
2. Actively Listen. Active listening is providing your full attention to a verbal or nonverbal communication. Be certain to take notice of and act on what someone says, by responding with verbal or nonverbal acknowledgement. Being acknowledged allows the sender to feel heard and respected.
3. Set Goals. Goal setting can refocus your attention, thus offering you a roadmap of your desires. Be certain to set goals that are obtainable within the timeframe with which you desire to achieve them. For children, setting goals will help them to refocus their minds from the negative of the divorce onto a new positive perspective in life. Set goals that you and/or your child are realistically going to achieve, but be certain to set goals that will cause you to reach for the stars.
4. Avoid Unhealthy Relationships. People who are in unhealthy relationships are more apt to feel physically and psychologically miserable, fatigued and stressed. Be certain that who ever you invite into your life is complimentary of your person. Avoid relationships that are offering you negativity and hostility.
5. Deny the Negative. Negative communication and thoughts can have an egregious impact on your being. Be certain to focus your thoughts on the positive perspectives and aspects of your life. Avoid sending or receiving negative information about your ex-spouse.
6. Avoid Making Your Child a Pawn. Your child should not be made pawn in your conversation or relationship. Absolutely avoid using your child as a game piece for negotiating, threatening, and/or brokering deals with your ex. You should always be a respecter of your child. Do not be drawn into any games or tempted to play games with your child’s life.
7. Change Your Perceptional Mind. “You can change your perception. Changing your perceptions takes effort, desire, purpose, and intent. We all have pasts; how we perceive the past influences our present.” (Brown, 2010, p. 58) For many, relationships are central to one’s personal identity. Do not allow yourself to feel as though you are no longer worthy because your relationship has dissolved. Focus your attention on the life of your child, but most importantly, on the unique opportunity that you have been given to live this precious life.
8. Know Your Triggers. Be aware of your person. Make a mental note of what stimulates your negative way of thinking. Identifying the trigger is half the battle, then devise a mental plan to diffuse your negative thoughts and perceptions. Do not allow your partner to abuse or use your emotional triggers.
9. Physical Exercise. Physical exercise is vitally important to your mental and physical health. “Regular exercise or physical activity helps many of the body’s systems function better, keeps heart disease, diabetes, and a host of other diseases at bay, and is a key ingredient for losing weight.” (HSPH, 2014, Online) Physical exercise is a good way to release endorphins which is responsible regulating your emotions and boosting your mood. Consider implementing a regular routine of exercise to counterbalance depression, negative thoughts and negative desires.
10. “Mental Health. It’s the way your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors affect your life. Good mental health leads to positive self-image and in turn, satisfying relationships with friends and others. Having good mental health helps you make good decisions and deal with life’s challenges at home, work, or school.” (APA, 2014, Online)
11. “Rest your mind. According to APA’s 2012 Stress in America survey, stress keeps more than 40 percent of adults lying awake at night. To help ensure you get the recommended seven or eight hours of shut-eye, cut back on caffeine, remove distractions such as television or computers from your bedroom and go to bed at the same time each night. Research shows that activities like yoga and relaxation exercises not only help reducestress, but also boost immune functioning.” (Krantz, et. al., 2012, Online)
12. Consider helping others. “Studies have shown that helping others helps you, too.” (Oz & Roizen, 2013, Online) Be certain to focus your attention on helping others. Those who are in the midst of a divorce may be tempted to get wrapped up in the negativity of the divorce. Do not allow your self to become a causality of the divorce. While you and your child will certainly be effected by the divorce, be certain not to focus your time and attention on positive perspectives of life.
13. Avoid the Shame and Blame Game. Be certain to do your best to avoid laying shame or blame on your own person, on your life of your child, and/or on your spouse.
14. Strive for balance. Be certain to strive for a balanced life. It is important to enjoy the life you are living. Following a divorce, many people will become virtual hermits avoiding others from the perception of embarrassment and shame. Do not allow yourself to feel shame or embarrassment, such feelings are not uplifting or psychologically comforting.

As a parent, be diligent to find ways to encourage your child to express his or her feelings. Parents, teachers and practitioners can encourage children to express emotions behind the divorce by being creative through art, music, and/or journaling. The younger the child, the more likely the child will have difficulty expressing his or her feelings. Younger children may be best served through play or art therapy. For parents of younger children, be certain to remain a
parent. Children need to be reassured of their worthiness, approval, acceptance, and most of all, your unconditional love. As a parent, you may find that reading books may help prove as a source of encouragement. Finally, as a parent, you may find that you and your entire family may benefit from the services of a counselor, psychotherapist and/or psychologist. While divorce may prove inevitable, it is highly recommended that both parents attend therapy for the good of
the children. Children often feel as though parents simply “give-up”, because they do not perceive the parents seeking out resources for resolution. Whether or not you choose to divorce, remember to be diligent to work together in amicable spirit. The friendlier you are to one another, the easier it is for your child to begin the process of health and recovery.
Author: Dr. Asa Don Brown, Ph.D., C.C.C., N.C.C.M.


American Psychological Association, APA (2014) Change your mind about mental health. Retrieved January 4, 2014 from

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Berlin, G. (2004) The effects of marriage and divorce on families and children. Retrieved March 9, 2014 from

Brown, A. D. (2010) Waiting to live, Bloomington, IN: IUniverse Harvard School of Public Health, HSPH (2014) The benefits of physical activity. Retrieved January 4, 2014, from

Holloway, A. (2013) Ancient history of New Year’s Resolutions. Retrieved January 4, 2014, from

Krantz, D. S., Thorn, B., & Kiecolt-Glaser, J. (2012) How stress affects your health. Retrieved January 4, 2014 from

Oz & Roizen (2013) How positive thinking can improve your health. Retrieved January 3, 2014, from

North Carolina State University (2014) The effects of divorce on children. Retrieved March 8, 2014 from

*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

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