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Miranda Writes: The Brady Bunch Doesn’t Live Here Anymore! Part 2




by Omar Miranda



Last week we began looking at the important and devastating topic of divorce. We briefly discussed what the Bible had to say about divorce, took a look at some statistics regarding it, and ended with a brief discussion of how we should respond to others going through divorce.

This week we’ll look at the consequences of divorce—and they are devastating. We’ll also take a look at the grief/loss process and how divorce affects us.

Consequences of divorce¹

How does divorce affect teens? Well, the answer is—and here’s my “duh” statement for this week—badly! Teens don’t do well with divorce. Are you surprised? I thought not. The not-so-surprising answer is that no one does well with divorce—even the people who get divorced.

More specifically, teens learn about marital commitment and permanence by observing their parents. When parents get divorced, statistics show, it will undermine the children’s sense of commitment to a lifelong marriage. When kids witness parents divorce, it can cause them to doubt their own ability to make their own marriage knot stayed tied. And, according to experts, even though teens will probably be more cautious and careful in choosing a marriage partner, and will be determined not to get divorced, they will have a higher chance of divorcing than if their parents had stayed together.

One anonymous teen on an Internet divorce-recovery site wrote about how upsetting it was “to hear how kids of divorced and separated parents tend to get into more relationship problems later on.” She felt that she was “doomed to be a screw-up.” Unfortunately, many teens feel just the way this girl does. According to the National Survey of Children, 10 out of 10 male teens and 7 in 10 female teens believe that “when parents divorce, children develop permanent emotional problems.” Could this be true for you or someone you know? According to a Rutgers University study, “divorce increases the risk of interpersonal problems in children. There is evidence . . . that many of these problems are long-lasting. In fact, they may even become worse in adulthood.”

Normal reactions to divorce

• Anger. Teens may express their anger, rage, and resentment with parents for destroying their sense of normalcy.

• Anxiety. It’s natural for teens to feel anxious when faced with big changes in their lives.

• Mild depression. Sadness about the family’s new situation is normal, and sadness coupled with a sense of hopelessness and helplessness is likely to become a mild form of depression.

It will take some time for teens to work through their issues about the separation or divorce, but there should be gradual improvement over time.

Red flags for more serious problems

If things get worse rather than better after several months, it may be a sign that teens are stuck in depression, anxiety, or anger and could use some additional support. Watch for these warning signs of divorce-related depression or anxiety:

• Sleep problems
• Poor concentration
• Sexual acting out
• Trouble at school
• Drug or alcohol abuse
• Self-injury, cutting
• Frequent angry or violent outbursts
• Withdrawal from loved ones
• Refusal of loved activities.

Teens dealing with parental divorce can suffer a range of difficult emotions. Many struggle with guilt that somehow their changing moods and bodies have driven their parents to split up. Others experience difficulties with dating and sexuality as they begin to observe their parents entering new relationships. Still others suffer from loneliness and depression because their parents are too wrapped up in their own volatile emotions to focus on their children.

Most teens in the U.S. will have to face such turmoil at one time or another. While some teens fare well as they face the challenge of a divorced home, studies show that immediately before, during, and after a divorce, teens are more likely to experience academic and behavioral difficulties at school. They are also more prone to having low self-esteem and substance abuse problems than are their intact family counterparts. They often struggle with their sexuality and interpersonal relationships more than teens whose parents are still married. And as adults, these teens of divorce often don’t achieve as much success in their careers due to motivational and self-esteem issues.

Interestingly enough, research comparing children of divorced parents to children with married parents shows:

• Children from divorced homes are less likely to graduate from high school.

• Kids whose parents divorce are substantially more likely to be incarcerated for committing a crime as a juvenile.

• Because the custodial parent’s income drops substantially after a divorce, children in divorced homes are almost five times more likely to live in poverty than are children with married parents.

• Teens from divorced homes are much more likely to engage in drug and alcohol use, as well as sexual intercourse, than are those from intact families.
• Children from divorced homes experience illness more frequently and recover from sickness more slowly.

• They are also more likely to suffer child abuse.

• Children of divorced parents suffer more frequently from symptoms of psychological distress.

• For all children of divorce, their parents’ split colors their view of the world and relationships for the rest of their lives.

Grief and loss
2
Decades ago, a smart woman named Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross studied what people went through when they were dying and wrote extensively about the stages of grief. But researchers have found that people grieve when they have any loss, not just death. Therefore, the loss of a marriage relationship can easily cause a teen to go through the grief steps. The five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance:

• Denial/shock: trying to believe that the loss never happened

• Anger: Frustrated outpouring of bottled-up emotion in response to the actual loss

• Bargaining: Seeking in vain for a way out. Usually teens are making deals with God: “If You bring my parents back together, I promise I’ll stop complaining and whining!” or “I’ll stop cheating and always do my homework myself!”

• Depression: aka “crash and burn”

• Acceptance: Finally giving in, realizing that there’s nothing you can do to stop the loss, and finally beginning the process of healing.

A common problem with this cycle is that people get stuck in one phase. A person may become stuck in denial, never moving on from the position of not accepting the inevitable. When this happens, they keep on acting as though it never actually happened.

Getting stuck in denial is common in certain cultures or dysfunctional families where expressing anger is not acceptable. The person may feel that anger but may then repress it—push it down and bottle it up inside. When that happens, teens can suffer from psychosomatic problems, such as dizziness, passing out, nausea, headache, stomachache, diarrhea, and hot/cold flashes, just to name a few. These are real problems your body has that have no underlying physical cause. For example, a teen may have a migraine headache but have absolutely no physical problems with his head; another teen might have a rapid heartbeat but have no physical problem with her heart.

A person may also be stuck in permanent anger or repeated bargaining. Anger that is not dealt with in a healthy way (praying about it and talking about it) will negatively affect you—count on it.

Long-term anger turned inward can itself easily become depression. Getting stuck in depression is perhaps a more common problem.

Another trap people can fall into is that when they move on to the next phase, they have not completed an earlier phase, and so they move backwards in cycling loops that repeat previous emotions and actions. Thus, for example, a person who finds that bargaining is not working may go back into anger or denial. Cycling is itself a form of avoidance of the inevitable, and going backwards may seem to be a way of getting back to the time before the perceived bad thing happened.

The important thing to understand is that very few people go through these stages cleanly and in order. That’s why it’s important to do what the Bible says and “cast all your anxiety on him because he [God] cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7, NIV).3

If you are the friend of somebody going through a divorce, the best thing you can do is listen, listen, listen. Teens going through a divorce just need you to be there for them. They don’t need you to try to say something deep or wise, because there’s really nothing you can say at that moment that will help the fact that their whole world is crumbling right in front of them. To make matters worse, in the near future they may have to deal with getting used to a whole new family! That is rough, because many teens are having a hard enough time getting used to the family that they grew up in!

Next week we’ll look at the things that people need to be emotionally healthy, and we’ll discover how going through a divorce negatively affects the basic needs that people have. We’ll also look at the different issues related to getting “used to” divorce and stepfamilies, aka “blended” families.

Until next time, remember that God’s way is always the best way. Life is full of decisions, so make them good ones. Make God first above all in your life, and you can’t go wrong.

If you need to talk about any of this, feel free to contact me: you can e-mail me at omarmiranda@earthlink.net; or you can keep up with me on Facebook; or you can read more of my stuff on Miranda Writes, at www.insightmagazine.org; or you can check me out or send me a message at my Web site, thriveatlife.org; or you can reach me via snail mail (slow!) at the address printed below.

In Christ,
Omar Miranda, certified Christian counselor
Abundant Life Ministries
155 Earl Street
Plainville, GA 30733
Phone: 770-354-2912

¹ Information in this section is adapted from Shana Schutte, “What Teens Believe About Divorce and Marriage,” www.troubledwith.com/ParentingTeens/A000001248.cfm?topic=parenting%20teens%20and%20divorce.
2 Information in this section is adapted from “The Kübler-Ross grief cycle” at www.changingminds.org.  http://changingminds.org/disciplines/change_management/kubler_ross/kubler_ross.htm.
3 Unless otherwise noted, Bible texts in this article are from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Omar Miranda is a Christian counselor with 20 years’ experience working with youth in public and private middle and high schools. He’s married and has two kids. He enjoys teaching the youth at his church, reading, writing, gardening, and camping. He’s a recovering knucklehead who spent a lot of time in the past doing stupid stuff away from God. He’s been back with God for years now and is eager to share what he’s learned from his experiences by answering any questions you may have about life, the Christian life, Jesus, spiritual matters, and relationships in his column, Miranda Writes.





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