Dr. Constance Ahrons illustrated the importance of good parental relationships and maintenance of family in her book “The Good Divorce.” She started by sharing that in the United States, over one million families experience divorce each year, yet distinctly stated that divorces can be contrary to how it is stereotypically portrayed. A good divorce is a term in which both adults and children emerge at least as emotionally well as they were before the divorce, and one that “remains” a family regardless of changes in the structure and size. Here, I discuss my favorite chapters and thoughts regarding the book, as well as noteworthy takeaways that may be pertinent to my personal life, and work as a clinician.
In the first chapter, Dr. Ahrons discussed her divorce from her first husband. She explicitly discussed how she and her ex-husband battled over custody, visitation, and child support of their child, lasted for two years. Along with that, she expressed the financial constraints attached to legal fees. What struck me about this was the emotional toll that bad divorces can have on parents as well as children. Not only may it take away from current responsibilities of parents, for children, it can lead to emotional difficulties that can outplay in school or work, which can lead to difficulties with mental health later in life. Therefore, the importance of good divorces cannot be mistaken or undervalued.
That is not to say a good divorce will not produce some emotional toll. Divorce can lead to changes and transitions in lives that may inevitably lead to heartache. For some, it can be even traumatic. And Dr. Ahrons explained how deep introspection, self-compassion, and adaption through understanding the process can safeguard against breaking points and crises. In addition, the value of having social supports is immense, as they can cushion the stressors of the transitions and changes. And when manifestation of these changes lead to anger, which is an unavoidable variable in divorce, Ahrons posited that forgiveness can help resolve some anger felt. In my work with individuals who have experienced divorce, many often neglect to care for themselves, which perpetuated a cycle of anger. However, once they started to attune to their own needs and began to forgive themselves and their partners, their anger reduced over time.
“Sometimes anger is appropriately related to the specific at hand. Often, though, an incident touches off unresolved anger from previous transitions, causing even more range than the situation actually justifies…Understanding that the lightning bolts hurled at each other during the divorce storm were situation-specific-not a longstanding characteristic of either the mate or the marriage-opens the door for forgiveness.”
Dr. Ahrons stated that making peace agreements will benefit both greatly, and will lead to a sense of wholeness and healing for parents and children. The benefits of working with a partner during the divorce is very important. Finding a resolution may only come from working alongside the partner instead of against, and can yield to benefits in communication in the future. In my work with couples, communication is an essential aspect of daily living, and although divorced partners may not live together or share responsibilities as a couple would, communication remains as important. Although it may not be an easy task, a hallmark of a good divorce is the working through anger and making peace.
One important part of divorce, outlined by Dr. Ahrons, is that there is no rule as to when the “new life” after divorce begins, and when the “old life” ends. For some the aftermath stage may be clear, like in childless couples one may find a new partner, or in family with children, one may move to a new, and their house size may reduce or increase. However, one will know the aftermath stage when the problems of the old marriage does not hold any significance on your emotions. And this is essential in that it can be a catalyst for exploring and uncovering more parts of the self. The aftermath can be a fruitful process in which one or both partners become newer versions of self. More importantly, pathways to a good divorce are ones where basic beliefs are challenged, assumptions are reframed, and goals are clear and obvious. Personally, this book has showed that divorce does not have to be the “end all” of a good family dynamic. Growing up, I witnessed a difficult separation between my parents, which led to the belief for many years that divorce will undoubtedly lead to fighting and emotional toll. And for many who may have or still have this belief, this book can rearrange that narrative. It can give hope to those who are in the process of divorce, as well as those who are afraid of the prospect of marriage.
Theodore Moore, MA
CORE - Center of Relational Empowerment, PC