“Stay together for the kids.”
“A two-parent home is best.”
“You’re setting your kids up for failed relationships.”
When you’re making the decision to divorce, the last thing you need is to have your intuition clouded by the many voices touting pervasive divorce myths that discourage emotional abuse victims from seeking safety.
Gretchen Baskerville, author of Life-Saving Divorce, is on the BTR Podcast with Anne to bust three harmful divorce myths and help women get to safety. Listen to the free BTR Podcast and read the full transcript below for more.
Is Divorce Universally Harmful For Children?
The myth that divorce always harms children is pervasive, especially in faith communities.
But it’s important to understand that while the pain of divorce lasts for a time, the impact that comes from living in an abusive environment can be far more harmful and lasting.
Anybody who’s ever been through a divorce with little children knows how tough it really is. The children will feel pain and sadness and confusion and grief, mine certainly did. They may miss the other parent or not. They may cry a lot. Mine did. But on average, kids go back to their normal level of emotional health after those first two stressful years and having those additional years of stress from moving, maybe from finding a new school, maybe from having to make new friends are really different from saying that a kid has lifelong, long term serious emotional, psychological, or social problems.Gretchen Baskerville, Author
If I Get Divorced, Will My Kids End Up Divorced?
Clergy, therapists, family, and “friends”, often warn victims that by seeking safety from the abuser through divorce, they are teaching their children to undervalue marriage.
The opposite is true: kids know what marriage should be. When victims choose safety, they are setting an example for their children to follow – to only participate in relationships that are safe and loving.
Adult children of divorced parents have a 47% divorce rate. And those people whose parents did not divorce had a 40% divorce rate. In other words, there’s not a huge difference between those two groups, only 7%. So if you’re staying, if somebody listening to this is staying just because of this myth, yeah. It’s not worth it for 7%.Gretchen Baskerville, Author
Shouldn’t I Stay To Protect The Kids From Him?
Many women in the BTR.ORG Group Sessions feel incredible inner-conflict when it comes to leaving the abuser because they don’t want to leave their children alone with him. This is a valid concern. As Gretchen explains:
[Victims] will say, well, if I stay married, I can protect them from him. Well, you know, that’s the same story I gave myself. There’s no way you can stay awake 24/7. You have to go out grocery shopping. And then they’re also observing the covert disdain, dismissiveness, indifference when you’re in the home. But here’s what I wanna bring up. There’s an incredible study we were never, ever told about; it’s called the Jaffee study. And it says that if a father has at least three out of the seven antisocial traits, and they listed them, that if the children reside with him 24/7, 7 days a week, then they are one in eight chances likely to develop conduct disorders themselves.
If you can get them out of that house 50% of the time, if they live with you 50% of the time, and usually mothers get a little bit better than 50% custody in terms of actual minutes and days and hours, you can drop that in half. And so it really is something that women who are thinking about divorce need to consider. That just getting them away from him, some of that time, as you say, into the kind, loving, country and culture and getting them away from the chaotic, strange, manipulative culture, it really does make a difference.Gretchen Baskerville, Author
At BTR.ORG, We Understand The Pain of Divorce
There’s no grief like accepting that divorce is the only way to safety.
Women experiencing this particular trauma need a safe place to process their emotions.
For more information:
Additional links for follow ups:
- What is a Life-Saving Divorce? How many are there? – http://lifesavingdivorce.com/what-is-a-life-saving-divorce/
- The “good” effects of divorce on children – http://lifesavingdivorce.com/abuse-and-kids
- Why destructive parents are so bad for kids (Jaffee study)- http://lifesavingdivorce.com/jaffee
- Will this unhappy marriage become happy in 5 years? No, not if there’s abuse (Waite study) – http://lifesavingdivorce.com/waite
- Didn’t Dr. Judith Wallerstein write a book saying divorce universally destroys kids? No. In fact she said don’t stay for the kids if there’s abuse – http://lifesavingdivorce.com/wallerstein
- Jesus heals on the Sabbath and angers the religious leaders – http://lifesavingdivorce.com/luke13
- How can I get The Life-Saving Divorce book? Paperback: https://amzn.to/3cF1j25 Or eBook: https://amzn.to/3CCBsnr
Welcome to BTR. This is Anne.
I have Gretchen Baskerville on today’s episode, she is a Christian divorce recovery leader and researcher. For 20 years, she has worked with Christian women going through difficult life-saving divorces, listening with compassion to those who have suffered from domestic violence, infidelity, addicted partners, and emotional abuse. She herself is a survivor of a toxic marriage. She walked through her own life-saving divorce and was a single mother for many years. Today she’s happily remarried. She is a graduate of Wheaton College with a degree in Bible and Christian Education. Welcome, Gretchen.
Gretchen Baskerville (03:56):
Oh, it’s so great to be with you, Anne. Thank you for having me.
So today we’re gonna be talking about myths of divorce and for my non-religious friends listening, stay tuned. Don’t worry. These are also myths that you have heard. These are common myths, not only that women of faith encounter, but it’s also just sort of societal things that people say. And so Gretchen’s really gonna talk about these myths, why they’re not true, first of all. And then also why they can stop us from getting to safety. You can find Gretchen’s book, Life-Saving Divorce on our curated list of books. Make sure that you check that out. So Gretchen, both women of faith and just women in general, regardless of their paradigm, they really feel like divorce is going to hurt their kids. So let’s start with myth. Number one, you say that one of the first myths that many people think, especially women of faith, is, divorce will destroy your kids. Can you talk about why this is a myth?
Does Divorce Harm Children?
Gretchen Baskerville (05:03):
Let me just say something that’s really important right up front. This myth is a little bit nuanced. This myth that divorce is universally destructive for kids is not true when you have gone through a really destructive marriage. So I’m not talking about someone who wants an “I’m bored divorce” or an “I feel unfulfilled divorce” or an “I miss the party life divorce”. I’m talking about people who are considering or have gone through a divorce for really serious reasons. What I call the life-saving reasons that would be a pattern of sexual immorality, physical violence, emotional coercion, life-altering addictions, abandonment in many cases, severe neglect or indifference. These are people who aren’t looking for a grass is greener divorce. They are looking for relief from the chaos. They want safety. And that’s where this first myth really comes in. Divorce is not universally destructive to children.
“Divorce Is Not Universally Destructive To Children”
The truth is eight in 10 kids of divorce turn out fine with no long term emotional, psychological, or social problems. And we’ve known that for over 30 years, some critics are gonna misquote me and they’re gonna say, you know, Gretchen denies that kids feel any pain or sadness or grief; you know, Gretchen is claiming that kids just sail through divorce without any negative feelings at all. And that’s not at all what I’m saying. Anybody who’s ever been through a divorce with little children knows how tough it really is. The children will feel pain and sadness and confusion and grief; mine certainly did. They may miss the other parent or not. They may cry a lot. Mine did, but on average, kids go back to their normal level of emotional health after those first two stressful years and having those additional years of stress from moving, maybe from finding a new school, maybe from having to make new friends are really different from saying that a kid has lifelong, long term serious emotional, psychological, or social problems.
“The Negative Long-Term Effects (Of Divorce) Have Been Exaggerated”
Now I know what your listeners are thinking because I had one of those one in a hundred hostile divorces. And so the stress went on way longer than two years because I had 10 years of going through family law court over custody issues. So yes, in those kinds of cases, yeah, the stress and the tension is going to continue on, but here’s what’s so interesting. The early researchers found this: here’s Dr. Mavis Heatherington, even from the 1980’s and nineties, she had already been tracking divorced families for 20 years. She says in the short run, divorce is brutally painful to a child, but the negative long term effects have been exaggerated. And that’s Dr. Mavis, Heatherington from the University of Virginia.
It’s so interesting to have actual statistics on this because so many people just assume that that would happen. But I do wanna also say one other thing. So many abusive men or their flying monkeys say things like this in order to manipulate their victims as well, or perhaps through spiritual abuse or other abusive means. And so I wonder also if abusive men themselves have perpetuated this myth as a way to manipulate a woman and control her and get her to stay in the marriage. Have you ever considered that?
Abusers (And Their Flying Monkeys) Manipulate Victims Into Staying By Condemning Divorce
Gretchen Baskerville (09:00):
Absolutely. That’s gotta be a motivator for them because it’s ingrained in our society. Even if you’re not religious, you’ve heard this all over the place, that divorce universally destroys kids. The best selling book 22 years ago was a book called The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce by Wallerstein. And we’ll talk about her later, but people love to quote that book because of one page in her introductory section where she really kind of condemns all divorces as selfish and wow. I still hear quotes from that page on social media now. And so I have to push back and say, well, what about these other 20 quotes from her other pages? But yes, we get manipulated by abusers themselves. We get manipulated by people who believe in marriage at any cost. They don’t care how much you and the kids are destroyed. They will repeat this myth all day long.
What they’re really saying is, we care about the consequences to him and we don’t want him to have bad consequences. We don’t mind so much if you have them or your kids have them. So I think that’s really interesting. So yeah, let’s go on to myth number two: if you divorce, your kids will divorce themselves. They won’t value marriage. So in other words, when they get older, they too will get divorced, which by the way, I’ve never thought this because all of my friends who had divorced parents, they highly value marriage. So I don’t, I, I have not personally seen that in my own experience so that I think that myth is really interesting.
Will Kids From Divorced Families End Up Divorced?
Gretchen Baskerville (10:40):
This is another what I call a fear bomb that especially Christian organizations will put out there, especially the ones that want, you know, you to stay married, and you’re right, often favor the husband, the abuser, even the pedophile over the wife and the children. But myth number two says, if you divorce, your kids will divorce and they won’t value the sanctity of marriage. But the truth is that the majority of marriages of kids from divorced homes are lifelong. So in fact, the majority of people who marry in the United States have lifelong marriages and that includes children of divorce. Now it is true that children from divorced homes are just a bit more likely to get divorced; the top researcher on this topic for the last 22, 23, 24 years is from your area. He’s from the university of Utah, Dr. Nick Wolfinger. And in 2018, he said adult children of divorced parents have a 47% divorce rate. And those people whose parents did not divorce had a 40% divorce rate. In other words, there’s not a huge difference between those two groups, only 7%. So if you’re staying, if somebody listening to this is staying just because of this myth, yeah. It’s not worth it for 7%.
Did this research talk about any divorce at all, or divorcing the, the person’s actual parent? So for example, my grandpa had divorced twice before he met my grandma, but is it only talking about when they divorced the parent of the kid?
Gretchen Baskerville (12:25):
You know, that’s a good question. And I also don’t think it has been studied – the effect of grandparents. Um, so no, I don’t. I think it’s bio parents.
Children of Divorced Parents Tend to Highly Value Marriage
And it’s, it’s really interesting to me because my, my father’s dad, his entire family, more or less, like so many of them divorced multiple times, but all their children didn’t. So my dad’s not divorced. My parents aren’t divorced for example, and a ton of their kids aren’t divorced. So I never really had a negative feeling about divorce either just because my dad’s parents and their family had a ton of divorces, which kind of signaled some unhealthy stuff. But luckily the kids were like, wow, that was kind of unhealthy. We wanna be more healthy people. Maybe they learned the opposite thing from their parents.
Gretchen Baskerville (13:15):
Exactly. Bingo. You just uncovered it because here’s what happens. I have definitely seen the claim that if you divorce, your kids will view cohabitation as favorable and they won’t value marriage. But the reality is that a couple of university professors actually wanted to see if this was true. And they wanted to see if divorce, different kinds of divorce, affected kids differently. So if the divorce was for serious reasons and a divorce defined relief from an abusive home, they discovered it made a huge difference in how kids saw marriage or how they valued marriage. So kids whose parents got life saving divorces for really serious reasons, still valued marriage. It was unbelievable. And here’s what the researchers found. I’ll just read their last sentence. The present study suggests one set of circumstances that a parental divorce may not undermine an offspring’s commitment to marriage if it ends and especially discordant and aversive, that means really bad, toxic, betrayal-oriented abuse, oriented parental marriage. And that’s amazing because we were all taught that if we divorce, we’re setting a bad example for our kids; in reality, kids know right from wrong. And kids know that marriage should be safe and loving and respectful.
Children Know What a Marriage Should Look Like
Yeah. I mean, just logically speaking, it seems like kids who observe a terrible abusive marriage might value marriage less, because they might be like, is this what marriage is? This is a mess. I’m not into this, but if you have a parent who is like, hey, I deserve to be treated well, marriage is for a loving, safe place and this isn’t loving and safe, so I’m gonna get divorced, they might be like, yeah, cause marriage is supposed to be a loving, safe place. It’s interesting what we think we’re teaching our kids, but then what we actually would be logically teaching them through our example.
Gretchen Baskerville (15:24):
They’re not under the same pressures we are and they know what a marriage ought to look like. And they know that an abusive marriage is really no marriage at all, but then they get kind of inculcated by messages they get from either society or religion or, or just traditionalism that affect them.
Yeah. You’ve said a few times now, like not, not for just like silly, let’s just, I don’t know what the word you used.
Gretchen Baskerville (15:51):
It’s frivolous divorces. I, you know, “I’m bored” divorces. You and I are both religious. And so our communities are pretty serious about marriage commitment. We know that marriage is not gonna be a bed of roses. We know not to expect champagne and flowers every night; we knew that marriage would be a sacrifice. We knew that it took commitment. And so the religious community, the strong religious community in the United States is actually, they don’t really divorce very often for these frivolous reasons. But if you weren’t raised that way, we don’t realize how many people are pushed into marriage due to getting pregnant or, you know, just marrying too young because the friends are, there’s all kinds of other reasons why people will not plan to marry, but will impulsively marry.
Trauma Mama Husband Drama
I’m gonna take a break here for just a second to talk about my book, Trauma Mama Husband Drama. You can find it on our books page which has a curated list of all of the books that we recommend. My book is a picture book for adults. So it is the easiest way for you to explain what’s going on to someone who might not understand it. It’s also just a good reference for yourself because it shows what’s happening with very telling and emotional illustrations as well as infographics at the back.
I’ve never met someone at BTR or who listens to this podcast or follows us on social media who takes divorce lightly. Like most of them are considering divorce due to these awful abusive situations that they’re in. And some of them are in these awful abusive situations and they’re not considering divorce, but none of them I would say are just thinking, oh divorce. So then when they start learning about abuse, it’s really scary for them because abuse is so serious and you cannot help an abuser to change. And so then divorce has to kind of come into the picture as an option. And that’s really just heartbreaking for, I would say all of our listeners because that is like the last thing that they want.
Divorce Is NOT The Worst-Case Scenario: Abuse Is
And what I want to always remind them of is divorce is not the worst case scenario for you. The worst case scenario is being in an abusive relationship. That is the worst case scenario. My faith does not tolerate abuse. They have policies about it. We wanna help women get to safety and things like that. And I would say generally speaking, not in practice per se, but most faiths, if you ask their leaders, how do you feel about abuse? They would be like, abuse is terrible. But what we find is on the ground level, people don’t really understand emotional abuse or psychological abuse. They don’t understand sexual coercion. So in practice, they’re frequently asking victims of abuse to tolerate abuse. They’re frequently asking them, hey, forgive, you know, try to move on or let it go. Because they think divorce is the worst- case scenario. They don’t understand that the scenario the woman is currently in is already the worst case scenario.
Gretchen Baskerville (19:26):
Sure. When she’s in despair, she’s been driven into depression. She thinks she has to stay. And we’re talking about further injury psychologically and physically. We’re talking about suicide. We’re talking about even homicide. There’s a lot of things worse than divorce.
Is It Always Best To Stay Together For The Kids?
These are Gretchen’s myths that she came up with. She’s not just commenting on things that I came up with. So this list is Gretchen’s list. She has an amazing YouTube video with a presentation with graphs and all kinds of awesome stuff. Myth number three is that it’s always best to stay for the kids. Also known as “a two-parent home is always better than a single parent home”.
Gretchen Baskerville (20:15):
We get this, especially at Father’s Day. Father’s Day is a great time for father’s rights organizations to really hammer on this myth that a two parent, married home is always superior to a single parent home. And that’s absolutely not true. And it’s been proven over and over again. There are absolutely times that divorce is good for kids and by the mid 1990’s, how come no one ever told us this? Researchers already knew the difference between divorces that broke up peaceful, safe, and accepting homes and divorces that broke up tense, scary homes. And when I say broke up, I mean legally, and because we know that it’s the abuse and the betrayal that broke the marriage, I’m just talking about bringing it to a legal end. So the question becomes in people’s minds, especially since we tend to say, well, is this really abuse or is this, you know, a normal marriage with typical ups and downs?
When Is Divorce Best For Kids?
So I find that whenever I bring this up, women say, well, I don’t know. Maybe I’m not in a highly toxic home. I mean, we never scream at each other. I might have slammed a door every once in a while. I might have uttered a curse. I might have even thrown a dish, but what qualifies a highly toxic home? So what researchers found, they divided up all the marriages into five different categories on a spectrum, right from safe, accepting, and loving on one end to very highly toxic marriages. And what they said is the level four and level five marriages, absolutely divorce is best for the kids. For those at like level five, it can be 10 times better for the kids. What it’s really saying is that the effects of abuse are so much worse than the effects of divorce that the kids’s wellbeing was 10 times higher. Now let’s look at the next level down what we would still call toxic homes. Those homes were at least one and a half times better in cases where the parents divorced than if they had stayed. It’s really important for us to realize that although divorce does cause them stress and worry and nightmares, they may even forget their toilet training, most of these repercussions go away in about two years, but over the long term, the abuse is far, far worse than the effects of divorce.
You Can’t Control What Happens in the Abuser’s Home, But You CAN Create a Loving, Safe Environment In YOUR Home
With a divorce, you cannot control what happens at your ex-husband’s home, right? So when your kids go with him, the abuse that they experience, the gaslighting, the manipulation, you know, whatever is not great, it’s terrible and it’s awful, but it’s not the whole time. And so I also like to think of it as your children get this experience living in two different countries and they get to have this experience of having the culture be different in these two different countries. And they hopefully will learn to feel and see that in the one country, it feels kind of yucky and confusing and chaotic. And you know, there’s always some weird thing going on. And in the other country, it feels safe and calm and peaceful. And that they’ll start to recognize those two different cultures and start making choices for themselves about what type of life they would like to have. I think that it’s so fascinating to say to people, have you ever considered what the effects are of living in a home where they’re witnessing abuse all the time, right? Even if it’s the just covert abuse that most of our listeners experience, most of our listeners don’t have physical violence. For example, as a factor in their abusive situations, it’s emotional abuse, psychological abuse and sexual coercion, and the kids being exposed to that all the time really does have an effect on them.
Gretchen Baskerville (24:21):
Absolutely. And you know, what’s really interesting is you bring up a great topic because a lot of people in my group will say, well, if I stay married, I can protect them from him. Well, you know, that’s the same story I gave myself. There’s no way you can stay awake 24/7 there’s you know. You have to go out grocery shopping. And then they’re also observing the covert disdain, dismissiveness, indifference when you’re in the home. But here’s what I wanna bring up. There’s an incredible study we were never, ever told about; it’s called the Jaffee study. And it says that if a father has at least three out of the seven antisocial traits, and they listed them, that if the children reside with him 24/7, 7 days a week, then they are one in eight chances likely to develop conduct disorders themselves.
Even 50% Custody Can Make a HUGE Difference
If you can get them out of that house 50% of the time, if they live with you 50% of the time, and usually mothers get a little bit better than 50% custody in, in terms of actual minutes and days and hours, you can drop that in half. And so it really is something that women who are thinking about divorce need to consider that, just getting them away from him, some of that time, as you say, into the kind, loving, country and culture and getting them away from the chaotic, strange, manipulative culture, it really does make a difference.
I wanted to summarize myth three by saying, this is the basic rule of thumb. If the marriage is good or okay, then divorce is bad for kids. If the marriage is bad, divorce is good for kids.
“If The Marriage Is Bad, Divorce Is Good For Kids”
You know, that’s a weird thing to say, because if the marriage is good, the likelihood of divorce is very low. So, so it’s sort of like saying, well, all divorce is awesome then because Americans, of course, if the marriage is great, divorce is bad for kids. But like if the marriage is great, the likelihood of divorce is pretty low.
Gretchen Baskerville (26:35):
Well, the funny thing is, I mean, we, you, and I feel that way everyday in what we do with our groups, that is the place where we operate from. But we are used to dealing with mature women, people who knew what they were getting into, they planned to marry. They had been trained in their homes by their society and in their religious world to be ready for sacrifice for husband and children, the devoutly religious, or even moderately religious group of people. Or maybe even if they’re not religious at all, but just were raised very traditionally. They really value, we really value marriage. I mean, we are absolutely willing to sacrifice all kinds of things, even our dignity and our safety for these marriages. And when you look at studies, these university researchers say there genuinely are people who get “I’m bored divorces”. Now, I’ve never seen one in 20 years of doing divorce recovery in churches. I’ve never seen one of those, but I will have to take the professor’s research as truth. Apparently they have seen them. I’ve I never see it.
That’s interesting. If this podcast is helpful to you, please support it. And until next week stay safe out there.