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Divorce's impact reaches beyond spouses, author suggests

The celebration of marriage trumpets a public message of happiness, love and hope for a long, wedded future. However, the end of a marriage can be a stressful, painful experience that most Texas couples tend to keep low-key and out of the public light.

An Emory University expert in law and religion believes divorce has a ripple effect that spreads beyond a couple's tight-knit circle of close family, friends and respective divorce attorneys. The former lecturer recently wrote an article proposing that divorce has wide spread effects on communities and overall society.

Hearing about a colleague or neighbor's divorce can set off anxiety about a person's own marriage. An individual who witnesses a marital breakup from a slight distance may wonder "If Couple A -- who seemed so content -- can divorce, what are the chances that my own marriage will succeed or fail?"

Repeated national stories about staggering divorce statistics and personal observations of unsuccessful relationships have influenced how U.S. couples feel about getting married. Young adult Americans are waiting until a later age to marry. Many people remain single by choice.

Children can be greatly affected by what they see and hear during their parents' divorce. The author likens divorce to a kind of trauma for communities and children, who may equate family challenges after divorce with other devastating experiences like disasters or war. The writer believes that divorce transmits "cultural trauma" that affects public "moral formation" and health.

The author admits this line of thinking invites controversy. Outsiders looking in on a Texas couple's divorce or weighing marriage against national divorce rates certainly can feel anxious. Children can grow up to make relationship decisions based on what they experienced during their parents' divorce.

The article seems to hint that society should weigh in on how and why marriages end. Acknowledging that divorce affects more than the spouses involved is different than getting the public highly involved in a traditionally personal matter.

Source:, "Just How Private Should Divorce Be?" Vicki Larson, Aug. 13, 2012

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