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Divorce: escape from a toxic marriage

By Mary Garden - posted Wednesday, 9 July 2014

According to the anti-divorcers, divorce does immense damage to children and society.The pet idea of Minister for Social Services Kevin Andrews is a $20 million pilot project introduced this month where couples can get a $200 counselling voucher to encourage them to stay together. But do pro-marriage politicians like Andrews and Prime Minister Tony Abbott ever consider the harm caused when people stay together in difficult or toxic marriages? Where there is violence?

Marital therapists report that between 40 to 60 per cent of couples seeking relationship counselling have experienced episodes of violence in their relationship. A 2009 studyby the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) found that abusive behaviours were the main reason provided by 24.3 per cent of women for leaving a marriage. Such behaviour included physical violence, alcohol or drug abuse, and emotional or verbal abuse. Furthermore, 53 per cent of the respondents had actually sought help during the marriage from counselling, mental health professionals, and other sources of assistance. They divorced, in spite of counselling.

It must be pointed out that although there remains a perception that divorce rates are increasing, over the past 30 years in Australia they have been declining, with about a third of first-time marriages ending after an average of 12.3 years. Less than half of all divorces involve dependent children. Since the mid-1960s the number of divorces involving children has been dropping – 65 per cent in 1966 to 48 per cent in 2012.


People remain in unhappy marriages – even those where there is abuse – believing it will protect their children from the trauma of divorce. Yet, while divorce affects most children in the short run, research suggests most recover rapidly after the initial blow. Only a small percentage of young people experience divorce-related problems. Even here there is no way of knowing whether the problems experienced would have been avoided had their parents stayed together. They may have had similar or even worse problems.

The ground-breaking studies of E. Mavis Hetherington – who tracked 1400 families (including 2,500 children) over three decades – found the large majority of children grew up well-adjusted both socially and psychologically, especially when there is "a competent, caring parent". Girls fared better than boys: "some girls, like their mothers, become exceptionally confident and competent after divorce". Hetherington says: "Divorce is a legitimate decision. If children are in marriages with parents who are contemptuous of each other, not even with overt conflict, but just sneering and subtle putdowns that erode the partner's self-esteem, that is very bad for kids." She also found that even though they may face economic hardship, many women are enhanced after divorce and develop competencies they may not have otherwise.

Andrews justifies his new project with the claim that research shows that up to 40 per cent of people who divorce later wish they had not. This is noted in a 1998 House of Representatives Committee Report"To have and to hold: Strategies to strengthen marriage and relationships" (pg. 51) where a footnote cites Relationships Australia (no reference to such research could be found on that site). Regardless, a range of studies indicate a substantial majority of the divorced population have no regrets. A Gallup Poll (1989) found the overwhelming majority (82 per cent) "believe that divorce was the right decision for them and reject the idea that their lives would have been better if their marriage had stayed intact". The AIFS found the majority appeared to be generally satisfied with their life as a whole, with their children's wellbeing, and their standard of living. They claimed that in retrospect they still would have separated and felt they never wanted to get back with their former spouse.

I know of no one who regrets getting divorced. My ex-husband was for some years, but he was mostly bitter about the money he said he had to give me. I had to keep reminding him it was not "his money" but "our money", and I had received an inheritance which we used to reduce our home mortgage. Strangely enough, my son and I now work in his bicycle business, where I manage the accounts, including his. He reckons he now lives in the "present", but adds "You instigated the divorce. What was I to do?" which suggests he still has not forgiven me.

When I tweeted "Any of my followers regret getting divorced, or know anyone who does? Kevin Andrews reckons 40%", not one person said they did.

Margaret Foley ‏@hoodathort Don't know anyone who has such regrets. On the contrary


Natasha ‏@natashatashtash hahaha NO WAY. Best thing I ever did, even if I am poorer as a result. Do I regret marrying? Yes

Maureen Walton ‏@maureen_waltonNever in my very long life have I ever HEARD ONE PERSON REGRET getting divorced Andrews certainly does live in lala land

Life's Good ‏@linmitdan Not one bit, cathartic, celebrated!

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About the Author

Mary Garden is a freelance journalist who lives in Queensland. Her articles on a wide range of issues have been published in magazines and newspapers in Australia and overseas. She is the author of The Serpent Rising - a journey of spiritual seduction (a memoir based on her years in India in the 1970s) and has recently completed her PhD titled "Blogging in the Mainstream:
journalist-blogs and public deliberation".

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All articles by Mary Garden

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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