Sunday, January 27, 2008

The divorce rate

As I was thinking about what I wanted to say this week, my husband popped up with this question, “Has anyone ever commented on any of your blogs?” “No," I answered, "not that I know of. But people tend to be afraid of voicing their opinions online.”

I would indeed encourage you to read through my blogs and comment where you feel appropriate. Don’t forget that the ones you see are only the recent ones. On the right hand side it lists them all, dating back to late August ’07 when I started this blog.

With that in mind, let me make a few comments to the people who ask me about the divorce rate following the death of a child. Like many myths, this one has snowballed way out of proportion. Harriet Schiff in 1977 (The Bereaved Parent) said that as high as 90 percent of all bereaved couples are in serious marital difficulty within months after the death of their child. She does not cite her source for this, and no one ever questioned her about it. So it became fact. But it is not true, and grief experts challenged the myth. By 1998 they said there was no evidence of higher divorce rates among bereaved parents.

Then in 2006 The Compassionate Friends commissioned a survey and one of the questions dealt with divorce. It was found that only 16 percent of the parents divorce after the death of a child and only 4 percent said it was because of the death…that there were problems in the marriage way before the child died.

This is not to say that there are not problems when a child dies. One of the biggest is that husbands and wives grieve differently. One may want to attend a support group, the other doesn’t. One couple in my book had a tough time with that but found that as long as they talked about their child together and kept the lines of communication open, that commonality saved their marriage and they both grew from it. On the other hand, how a child dies can cause friction in a marriage. If parents start blaming each other for the child’s death, whether it is from anger or just misplaced blame, that can lead to marital stress and in turn, divorce. Couples have to make a commitment to want to stay together.

Against all odds, many couples have found that their marriage grew stronger after the death of their child. They learned new coping techniques and they had a great desire to move on with their lives while never, never forgetting their child.

I, personally, have learned through my tragedy two important lessons that many other singles or couples learn. My compassion for others is much deeper now, and I have a genuine desire to help others; hence, my work with bereavement conferences, speaking to groups and writing my book. As tragic as the death of a child may be, we can all grow in the end.


  1. I appreciate your blog. I am currently attempting to help out a friend through her loss and your website really gave me some good ideas of how to help her and her husband. A+!

  2. My wife and I are dealing with the aftermath of our much beloved older son's death. During our last couples therapy session the 90% divorce rate was given as a fact. What would you think of a therapist who gives this information as a well accepted fact? I found your blog really helpful. Thanks

  3. We have a child with a life limiting condition. Recently i heard the quote that 70% of bereaved couples divorce terrified me. Thank you for giving me hope that we can get thru this together.

  4. It's been three months since the loss of my second son and only remaining child. He was 27 years old. My oldest son died in a car accident in 2001... I've been alarmed at the incredible strain my marriage is under especially since my daughter-in-law and 2 yr. old grandson are now living with us. My husband is my sons' step-father and is grieving in his own way. I hope to find some ways of coping through your blog. I'm encouraged though to know the myth behind the high divorce rate among bereaved parents...

  5. Two years ago me and my significant other lost our son at the hands of a neglegent daycare provider. This was his first child and I have two other children from a previous relationship. So this has been extremely difficult. I can breathe some relief knowing that our relationship it not doomed for failure. At the same time, our grieving process differs so greatly that it is definately putting much strain on our relationship. I am trying my best to hold on because I truly love this man but it is really becoming difficult. I am hoping that the information on this blog can help us through this tragedy. Thank you for discussing this topic.


  6. I've heard the stats and read the studies and having lost my firstborn son, and divorcing, I'm unconvinced that the marriages of those who lose a child are 35-40% stronger than those of the general population who have not suffered that loss.

    I'm an author and during the research I gathered for a book focusing on this subject, I had a difficult time finding couples who were still together after losing a child.

    I cannot yet state what the correct percentage is, but I suspect it's higher than the national average, which sits at 43% for first marriages. Given that statistic, a 14% divorced rate amongst bereaved parents is simply not credible.

    My son died as a baby and would have been 32 had he lived, and no, it doesn't go away or become any easier. Sometimes those Pampers commercials... and I'm a mother of eight and grandmother of three.

    I'll check in again when I have a few more hard facts to offer.

    May God bless and be with you all.


  7. We suffered the loss of our son, age 39, in 2005. During his moment of deepest despair, my husband cried out, will we become another statistic. I became a grief counselor following the death of our son. I believe that the strain placed on the marriage as a result of such a death is high. I believe that the divorce rate among my clients is higher than the Compassionate Friends statistic. I also believe is the relationship was shaky before the death, it certainly can become extremely shaky after. My husband and I remain devoted to each other.

  8. My precious 13yr old daughter passed away suddenly and unexpectedly on November 27, 2000. As I think about how my then-husband and I went about our grieving processes, I cannot believe the divorce rate after such a horrendous event can be at such a low percentage. For two people trying not to drown in their individual sorrows, it is a near impossibility to find the strength to offer a hand to help the other. Those who say they've come through the battle with an even closer relationship are very blessed.

  9. anon -- yeah, its true that when you are both drowning, you can't be each other's life preserver, that is why it is important not to depend on your bereaved spouse as your major and certainly not your only source of support for a long time. But if you each give each other time and space to grieve in whatever way is helpful for that individual, and you draw strength from those that have it to give to you, you CAN take that strength and plow it back into your marriage, and ultimately support your spouse.

    The number one thing you can do to protect your marriage is to draw strength from whatever sources will sustain you, take care of yourself, so that you are the nurturing and supportive partner you want your spouse to be.

    We have been there.


  10. anon - My husband and I married in 2003, we gave birth in December of that year and lost our daughter in 2004. We are still together.
    When you are both drowning, you both have to cling to the same thing in order not to be pushed away from each other in the storm of grief. We clung, and still do cling, to God. He was our booey in the hurricane and He is the only reason we are making it.
    The pain will never go away. We have no other children and are unable to have more but that doesn't mean that we stop living and focus on Victoria. She is in better hands and we are better people for having known her.
    A wise woman once told me "As a christian, I can't promise that God will always give you what you want. I can promise He will ALWAYS give you what is best for you."
    It may not seem like it is fair or good for us to have lost our daughter, but I take solace in the fact that my creator knows better than I do.

  11. my sone and only child died at the age of 20. my boyfriend and I did not meet until after my sons death but we have problems as he has two children from a earlier relationship and does not understand why I can't think of them in a more parental way. They will be giving him grandchildren, something I will never know. He says they'll also be my grandchildren but I feel that is a gift not to be taken so lightly as you can accept any children in that sense. My chance for that part of my life are over and I feel it would be a betrayal to my son to think of any other children in the same context as him.

  12. I'm currently looking for reliable statistics on this particular matter.

    I had no idea that this was a subject of controversy, but now that i think about it i can see why.

    I will try not to sound insensitive. I happen to be a very sensitive person, but perhaps i tend to speak with a certain detachment. Please, bear with me.

    I've trained myself in Evolutionary Biology. I make models of behaviors based on game theory.

    Knowing nothing about this controversy, my model gave me this nasty prediction: couples whose first child dies will probably split.
    Specially if the death is due to illness (not so much if it's due to accident).

    We humans are the most complex and unpredictable of all animals, but we have innate traits too. And we better know them if we want to fight them.

    If my model is correct, grieving couples will face special difficulties. If this is a fact, let's not hide it. Couples need to inform themselves in order to know what they're dealing with.

    I do not believe that this can work as a self fulfilled prophecy. Knowing the reasons behind our emotions give us power over them.

    I really wish my model was wrong, but i don't see how it could.

  13. I am one of those statictics, I lost my son just 2 years ago, he was only 24 years old. My son's girlfirend was staying at our house 2 months after my son's death and I found her and my husband of 30 years in bed together, it was shocking. He left our marriage to be with this girl who is 30 years younger, I think in some way he is trying to be my son, I know this makes no sense but that is what it appears to be, the lifestyles that he is living. This has been very hard for my daughters to accept and to respect him. The loss of a child is something that you never get over but you can learn to live with/survive it and your spouse is really the only one who relates what you are experiencing. God blesses a grieving heart. Thank you for your blog.

    1. How awful!! I am so sorry this has happened to you...

  14. I lost my son age 31 May 22 2009, if it was not for my wife, I do not beleive i would be here. She is my sons stepmother to put things in perspective. She held me up when I could not stand, she held my heart together when it was broken,so thru loss we became stronger.I still have problems dealing with our loss but I beleive we are on the right track.

  15. My husband and I just lost our son March 11. He was 10 days old. My husband was sent to 5 weeks of training a month after. He got back a week ago and told me last night he is leaving. He has been talking to a woman he met during training. He says he is not happy nd does not want to work things out. He refuses counseling. I found out I am pregnant again 2 weeks ago. My world is shattered and I am trying to stay afloat for the sake of the pregnancy.

  16. We lost our 20 year old daughter after a 2 year battle with leukemia.. We were having problems before she was diagnose and simply had to put them on a back burner for 2 years.... It's been almost 2 months since she passed away and our "baggage" has come at us not in full force!! I have started seeing a counselor but he refuses to. It is too much to cope with :(

  17. I haven't ever had the intention of saying good-bye to my beautiful son that died or my husband that left me a year later to be with someone he said he had more in common with then me............but hanging on to still wanting my son and husband isn't working for me. Help.

  18. I don't believe the stats of the 90% or the compassionate friends survey. Those going to compassionate friends are not necessarily like other couples as attending is an indication of seeking a coping strategy- so you are picking the cream of the crop. Also many couples are no longer married (almost 1/2 of babies in some areas are born out of wedlock)- I think the seperation statistics including long term nonmarried partners would be much higher than the compassionate friends survey.

    1. Yes, I agree with you 100%. The validity of the TCF study is obviously skewed due to the sample set consisting of the very couples receiving the support of the group... I believe the divorce rate is probably much higher than that of couples who haven't suffered the most horrendous loss in human existence. Although sad, it's a logical consequence.

  19. i lost my 8 year old son to brain cancer he has been gone almost a year now and i find that i pick fights with my husband part of me wants him to be here but a part of me wants to leave him he is not my sons biological father but he stayed by mine and my sons side since the day of diagnosis my son loved him more then his bio father so that part of me does not want to leave cause i feel i would disapoint my son i love him and i think i want to leave cause im so caught up in the depression and grief from my son that i dont want to put the energy into my marriage before my sons cancer me and my husband had an amazing relationship he is every womans dream of what they would look for in a man so why can i not pull my self together and try to save my marriage

  20. Our young daughter died 18 months ago, from an injury caused by a young and panicked emergency doctor. During the incident I intuited that the doctor was clueless and asked my husband to intervene and stop her from what she was about to do (I was injured at that moment and couldn't do it myself). He couldn't find the courage to confront the doctor, and for some time, consciously and subconsciously we blamed him for her death.

    In many cases bereaved parents can think of things they could have done to prevent the death (why did I let him drive the car? why didn't we try the more famous clinic?)

    For us it has been a beautiful journey to understand deeply how powerless and ignorant each one of us really is, how minute and fragile our lives are, and how great God's Universe is. We are, each one of us, deeply, deeply blameless.

    We have had some terrible fights since her death, but we are hanging on, and we value our marriage more than ever. Who else would understand exactly what we have been through? Our love and tolerance for each other and for the whole world is growing stronger.

    We are also getting a lot better at taking care of ourselves and each other, by avoiding meanness in all its forms, and surrounding ourselves with things that boost us up, avoiding sad media and its screaming statistics, avoiding people who choose their words too carelessly,and prioritizing rest and fun.

    Blessings to us all on this wild journey!

  21. I want to add something to my last post.

    We have turned out to be blessed, by friends and our support group, and certain factors in our personalities. It isn't all great, but our marriage is fully tolerable.

    There are certain people whose habit it is to completely resist growth, learning, and their own emotions. Sometimes Death will wake them up.

    If it doesn't, and they decide instead to say, start drinking, or commit adultery, I am really sorry for the one left behind.

    On the other hand you can no more control your partner's mean behavior than you can prevent your child's death.

    I don't see why divorce is seen as such a bogeyman. Sometimes divorce isn't a problem, but a solution.

    If you are so full of grief you just can't stand sex or feel angry all the time, or just want to be alone, I would advise you to wait a while, a year or two, and see a counselor or do yoga or pray every day, or do whatever you are drawn to do.

    But if your husband is off screwing around, his stupid ego was just waiting for a reason, and if it your child hadn't died he would have done it for some other "reason".

    Let the jerk go.

  22. For my story my daughter died at 4 days old and everything was ok but we stuck it out until the year anniversary sounds crazy but true and we just didnt know how to deal with the hurt he has left a never came back to the house he once lived an shared moments of our first daughter walking an talking he can't have a conversation without becoming upset or stand in a room with me or near me in any way and for me I hold on to the hope of what use to be there despite him running from the hurt which I am not mad at it hurts to know that I layed down with some one I am none existent and I had two of his children..we were not married an very young an still very young....but one thing I remember the nurse telling me when our child was passing is that a couple of months will go by an youll wonder whats wrong with him an he will be dealing with his grief... If you are still together count it all blessings..I am stronger because of this and wouldnt change none of my hurts because it has changed me for the better so be encouraged no matter what..and know its not the end sometimes its just the beginning

  23. I can't believe any statistics , we lost our sixteen year old daughter to suicide ,with her being our only child ,it has been extremely tough we have been married 20+ years , grief has played a big factor in my wife wanting a divorce after three months of losing our daughter, I was completely caught off guard when she told me , I have had to leave it to god to help with both losses , there is good days and not as good but we all must get up try to go about life & I am a believer that time will help heal , our loved one will always be in our heart.