As a parenting and marriage professional, it would be hard for me not to comment on the recent Oprah interview with Adele. Don’t get me wrong. I love Adele’s voice and enjoy hearing her songs, but some of her comments about marriage and the effects of divorce on children left me concerned.
There is a phenomenon that we have in our world that successful people have some hidden insight or expertise on other aspects of life as well. More often than not, this is not the case. For instance, I am well versed in family dynamics, communication processes, parenting, and mental health. But just because I have those skills doesn’t mean you should trust my advice on corporate financial processes, or how to change a timing belt on my truck.
Before I go any further: A disclaimer. My thoughts on marriage and divorce are not focused on those marriages that are clearly toxic, abusive, or severe in other ways. There are many marriages that should not continue due to the effects it is having on a spouse and/or the children. I am focusing on the concepts of what is a happy marriage, and what makes a good marriage.
Personally and professionally, I have no idea whether it was a good idea for Adele to divorce. That is not the point I am trying to make. My concern is the fact that others will take her experience as a roadmap for their own marriage and family. My concern is that her general message was that she was not happy and had fallen out of love with her husband. Therefore, divorce was the next step.
I have multiple problems with this. First is the concept that marriage is supposed to bring happiness and that if we are not happy in the marriage it should probably end. In working with couples for the past 25 years there is one major truth about marriage: It’s extremely hard, and it’s hard in ways nothing else is. Are there moments in a marriage that are happy? Absolutely. But a good marriage also challenges us in ways that nothing else does. No one, especially our spouse, is supposed to make us happy. That job is solely on our own shoulders.
It is a major truth about relationships that no one is put in our lives to make us happy. That is too big of a burden to place on anyone except ourselves. Our spouse should be challenging us to be a better person. Is it a great thing when our spouse says or does the right thing and makes us happy? Of course, and we should cherish those moments. But if that is what we expect, we will be often disappointed and then begin to blame that person for our own unhappiness.
Oprah stated that, although Adele wasn’t miserable, she certainly wasn’t happy in her marriage, and that by being happier it would be a great gift to her child. Adele’s response was that it is just as loving to divorce so that your children can really know who you are. The problem with these statements is that it ignores the research on the effects that divorce has on children.
In general, most children do not fare well, either short-term or long-term, due to divorce. The short-term effects of having to live at two houses and the confusion of why it is happening can be very difficult. They tend to deal with more symptoms of depression, anxiety, and lowered school achievement. Do some kids fare better after divorce? Yes, especially those who are exposed to violence and fighting in the home. For most, it is very hard on them.
“But Neil, isn’t it true that half the people that get married end up divorced?” Actually, that’s a myth that seems to stand the test of time. The actual, updated national figures tend to show that for first marriages, the success rate is about 70%. When you factor in other variables such as education level and age at the time of marriage, the success rate climbs even higher.
Will Adele’s child be happier with divorced parents? The research is pretty clear that it’s not likely. Should you stay married for the kids? I have no idea, but I felt compelled to confront the factual inaccuracies that Adele’s interview was perpetuating.
Neil McNerney is a licensed professional counselor and author of Homework – A Parent’s Guide To Helping Out Without Freaking Out! and The Don’t Freak Out Guide for Parenting Kids with Asperger’s. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org