Gary Thomas on the Impact of ‘Gray Divorce’ on Families

Jordan looked shell-shocked.

I knew him to be a gregarious man with a great sense of humor, accomplished, confident, almost intimidating (but only because of my insecurities, not because of his arrogance or manipulation).

Yet he sat next to me, swirling in a mental and emotional fog. “I don’t want to teach the Sunday School class anymore,” he said. “I just can’t. I’ve got to process this.”

Jordan was in his 40s, but his parents’ marriage was breaking up, and it was tearing him apart. “They were the last couple I ever expected to go through this; how can I have any confidence in marriage now, including my own?”

My good friend Dr. Steve Wilke did a doctoral dissertation on the impact of divorce on adult-aged children. His conclusion? Divorce could be even more devastating to adult-aged children than to young kids—and Jordan’s real-life story was proving it.

Here’s how an adult child of divorce, Jen Abbas de Jong, explained it to me: “If you’ve almost completed your jigsaw puzzle so that there are only a few pieces left and someone comes in and turns the table over, tearing your puzzle apart, do you feel better or worse that the puzzle was almost finished? You feel worse, don’t you? And that’s what it feels like when you’re about to launch out as an adult and your parents get a divorce. Part of the reason the divorce is so painful is that everything you were raised to believe about marriage—and perhaps used as the basis of your marriage—has changed.​”

The AARP, NPR, the Chicago TribuneUSA Today and the Washington Post all run periodic stories about “gray divorce,” couples breaking up in their 50s. It seems that many couples have the notion that they’ll hang together until the last child goes off to college, but on the way back from dropping their youngest child at the campus, they stop at the lawyer’s office to begin divorce proceedings.

We’re fooling ourselves if we think breaking up our children’s home will ever not be painful—even if they no longer live in it. Instead of trying to “minimize the damage,” why not take advantage of an opportunity to maximize the impact? At my son’s wedding rehearsal dinner, my wife counted up my son and daughter-in-law’s parents’ and grandparents’ years of unbroken marriage and came up with 310. Isn’t a legacy like that worth striving for?

Becoming empty nesters is actually the worst time to consider a divorce. You’ll have far more energy to rebuild a lonely marriage, more time to work through issues, and usually less stress to attack the marriage. You’ll have more freedom to rediscover sexual intimacy, more time and money to start doing more recreational stuff together—movies, taking walks and going out to eat. The empty nest years should be seen as a season of tremendous promise, not doom. If your marriage is gasping for air, this is exactly the season where it will be easiest to resuscitate it.

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Source: Church Leaders