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A 'bad divorce' may have a silver lining

We've discussed at length in this blog how to shield children from the lasting negative effects of divorce. Plenty of studies have addressed children's outlook on relationships long after their parents go through one. But some new research suggests that there may actually be a benefit for children whose parents undergo a particularly nasty split.

A professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin set out to discover just how good a "good divorce" is for children. A good divorce generally means shielding children from martial conflicts and trying to cooperate with each other, even remaining friends after the divorce, if possible.

The professor found in surveying children of divorce that even when parents split amicably, their sons and daughters can carry heavy emotional scars into adulthood. The analysis suggests that while good divorces are usually better than the bad ones, in a couple areas they may be no better. And in one respect, a bad divorce can have an even better outcome: Daughters of bad divorces were more likely than those of good divorces to report that they had achieved a "good-quality, lasting first marriage."

How could bad relationship modeling and outward conflict lead to such a result? It may be that daughters of bad divorces are more motivated to avoid marital failures of their own, or perhaps blame their parents rather than marriage itself. Some kids are confused by good divorce, because they can't understand why their parents would put them through the agony of it, only to turn around and be friends with each other. It's easier for them to understand a high-conflict marriage, particularly in the case of girls. (The findings weren't the same for men whose parents had divorced.)

The research also found that children of all divorces achieved similar success in school, although this could mean that all parents going through a divorce struggled to find the time, energy and financial resources to make sure their children weren't falling behind.

These findings are relatively preliminary, so it's hard to know exactly what to take away from it. But perhaps even a bad divorce can have a silver lining. However your own divorce plays out, it's still wise to encourage your children to discuss their feelings about it. Whether or not you're on speaking terms with your spouse, talking with your kids about the divorce can only help them in the future.

Source: The Daily Beast, "Nasty Divorces' Silver Lining?" Beverly Willett, May 19, 2012

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