Therapy Can Help Navigate the Lives of Divorced Couples, Blended Families
By Thomas Luttrell
Statistically, about 40–50 percent of married couples will end in divorce, and 75 percent will remarry. The rate of divorce for second marriages increases to about 60 percent, and even higher when there are children involved. This means the majority of blended families will break up. Christians, including Seventh-day Adventists, are not immune to this and tend to mirror divorce rates of the larger society.
While divorce is sometimes a “necessary evil,” particularly in cases such as infidelity and abuse, it is always advisable to seek the help of a professional family therapist to help navigate the impact on oneself and one’s children. Divorce can traumatize everyone in the family and dramatically change the course of one’s life.
Children of divorce tend to suffer from anxiety and depression and/or do poorly in school. They are hurt by the hostility that often arises when their parents are no longer working as a team. Unfortunately, many divorcing parents become so focused on hurting the other parent that they hurt their children in the process. “Parental alienation” is when children reject a parent because of the criticism or denigration by the other parent, which is often unjustified or exaggerated.
Children are also harmed when a non-custodial parent becomes absent or not involved. As a family therapist, I once talked to a father who felt rejected because his son chose his mother over him. He confessed, “I don’t even want to see my son anymore because I feel so hurt.” I shared with him that I was a child of divorce, and even though I lived with my mother, I still missed my father a lot. I told him, “You will always be your son’s father. No custody arrangement will ever change that.”
Children in blended families may experience divided loyalties and may even get caught in the crossfires between conflicted parents. Breakdowns in a marriage can distort children’s understanding of how relationships should work, and when they become adults, they may have difficulty with intimate relationships or be afraid of their relationship breaking up.
For the parents, divorce can create emotional and financial problems. In my own survey research of couples, published in the 2022 North American Division Family Ministries’ Journal of Family Research and Practice, I found that when previously divorced couples remarry, having different children prior to the relationship significantly contributed to the unhappiness and stress on the family, with the divorce rate skyrocketing to 70 percent. Power struggles can also hurt a blended family because stepparents only have as much authority with their children as their partner empowers them to have.
While happily divorced couples and blended families can exist, being aware of these potential pitfalls and actively seeking help and support can help families affected by divorce have a much higher chance of succeeding.
Thomas Luttrell is a licensed clinical marriage and family therapist and an associate professor of psychology and counseling at Washington Adventist University in Takoma Park, Md.