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Separation Anxiety

Hunter Baker

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It’s a national epidemic, so why do couples continue to divorce?

One of the most intense programs on television is A&E’s Intervention, which features documentary stories of individuals struggling with severe addictions to alcohol, drugs, sex, anorexia, or bulimia. The climax of each episode is a counselor-guided intervention in which friends and family confront the addict and try to force a treatment decision. Before the intervention begins, however, we experience several days in the life of the addict. Unless you know a person with a severe addiction, you have never seen someone sink so low. These people’s lives and relationships are in ruins. They lie to everyone around them. They steal. They lose their minds and health in devastating chunks. But the worst part isn’t watching them fall apart; rather, it’s the lucid moment when they realize just how far they’ve fallen.

Having watched all four seasons of Intervention, I find myself fascinated by the common denominators among addicts. In most cases, the addict has suffered a severe trauma sometime in his life, and three such traumas surface more than the rest. The first two are sexual molestation and close proximity to a killing. Several of the addicts on the program were molested by a relative, a neighbor, or a babysitter. Others witnessed the sudden, violent death of a loved one.

But perhaps the most common trauma experienced by the show’s addicts is divorce. Almost every one of these individuals is a child of parents who are either divorced or estranged. Indeed, based solely on watching Intervention, you would have to conclude that divorce is one of the worst things that a person may ever have to endure.

Divorce and the Psyche

Documentary evidence does not establish the truth of a notion. I regularly correspond by email with a group of political writers who frequently remind me that “anecdote is not the plural of data.” But unfortunately, the evidence for the incredible damage done by divorce is not limited to what a television viewer can find on Intervention. Empirical support is also sadly abundant.

I’ve heard it said that the debate over man-made global warming is almost over. I’m not sure about that, but I do know that the debate surrounding man-made divorce was settled a long time ago. Even the liberal US Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (Hillary Clinton’s predecessor in New York), a highly distinguished sociologist before becoming a politician, argues that the principal object of American government at every level should be to see that children are born into intact families—and that these families then remain intact.

What do we know about divorce? First off, it devastates children. According to the Heritage Foundation, which compiled numerous studies on the topic in a 2000 report, divorce permanently weakens the relationship between a child and his parents. It can also lead to an inability to handle conflict and a negative self-image. Moreover, children of divorce “demonstrate an earlier loss of virginity, more cohabitation, higher expectations of divorce, higher divorce rates later in life, and less desire to have children.”

What this means, of course, is that the negative psychological effects of divorce extend well into adulthood—and beyond. For example, a longitudinal study conducted by the Australian House of Representatives kept tabs on children whose parents divorced in 1946. What the researchers found was that the reverberations of the divorce were still present thirty years later, manifesting themselves “in the income, health, and behavior of many of the grown offspring.” A concurrent British study established a strong link between parental divorce during childhood and lower mental health in adulthood, citing a 39 percent increase in the risk of psychopathology. And a Finnish study, published in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, discovered “that at age 22, children of divorced parents experienced more frequent loss of jobs, more conflict with their bosses, and more separation and divorce; they also had more abortions.”

Read the entire article on the Salvo magazine website (new window will open).

Posted: 05-Oct-2008



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