Do all roads lead to divorce after the loss of a child?

Michal Zacharzewski, SXC

Photo courtesy of Michal Zacharzewski, SXC

I’m not one to air my dirty laundry in public but it goes without saying that Aidan’s diagnosis has certainly put a strain on my marriage.

We all know that relationships are hard work, so when I read somewhere that 80% of marriages break down after the death of a child, I figured why even bother trying when the numbers are stacked against us. On chatting with the palliative care social worker, it was brought to my attention that perhaps 80% wasn’t the actual figure (I admit that as a glass half empty kind of girl I may have imagined this figure) so I went hunting for the truth.

Here’s what I found. According to two separate studies in 1977 and 1996, 75 to 90 per cent of bereaved couples experience severe marital distress (but not necessarily divorce). A more recent study in 2010 found just 12 per cent of marriages end in divorce following the death of a child while another website claimed it was 16 per cent. In reality, no one really knows what the true figure is but it’s definitely a lot less than 80 per cent.

Being the pessimist that I am, I must also point out that Anthony has a mild brain injury which also works against us as far as statistics go. The figure for divorces following a brain injury is as variable as the figures for losing a child but most experts put it at 25 per cent.

There’s no doubt that whatever happens, our relationship has been deeply scarred by the fate that has befallen on us. Financial pressures, fatigue, separation during hospital stays and a genetic difference in dealing with grief has put our relationship to the test.

Yet with national figures suggesting a third of all marriages (with or without the loss of a child) end in divorce, we’re actually not sitting in too bad a position.

I have no doubts that our marriage will continue to be strained by what is about to come but I’m placing my faith in the recent statistics, and hoping that with the right amount of support and a better understanding of grief we can come out of this a better couple.


6 thoughts on “Do all roads lead to divorce after the loss of a child?

  1. My precious daughter died on the 18th of January 2013. Vic was my only child. I married my husband when Vic was 16 years old. He was a wonderful father to her and loved her deeply. Her sons live with us and he is an amazing grandfather to them. Yet he cannot mourn for my child the way I do. he cannot begin to understand the void in my life. Three months ago we came very close to divorce. We have worked through it and things are better. I know that he cannot grieve the way I do. Good luck and hugs!!

    • Thank you so much for your comment and sharing your story, I’m so glad you have worked through things, it gives me hope. I have read in many places about the different way men and women grieve and I hope that when my time comes this knowledge will be a big help in Anthony and I understanding each other. I look forward to reading your blog about your own journey.

  2. Thanks again for this blog. It means a lot to me to read your posts, think about what you’ve written, and give my opinion on the matter.

    I am not a movie buff, but there is a scene from River Wild that struck me as very powerful and I’ve never forgotten it, even though I saw the movie way back in the 90’s prior to my marriage. In this scene, the daughter (played by Meryl Streep) is talking to her mom about her troubled marriage.

    Daughter to her Mom:
    He hasn’t been home one weekend since Christmas.
    I don’t know what it is that he’s trying to prove…
    but I’m really sick of the whole thing.
    I’m sick of the whole fight. Everything has become unbelievably hard.

    (Wise) Mom to her daughter:
    Huh. Honey, forgive me, but you don’t know what hard is.
    That’s because you give yourself an out.
    In our generation, we had no out.
    That was the pact of marriage.
    Do you think if I gave myself an out…with your father, given his
    orneriness and his deafness…that I wouldn’t have taken it years ago?

    Please don’t misunderstand me Kylie; I am not equating your situation to some fictitious movie, nor minimizing the seriousness of your family’s predicament with a terminally ill child. I simply share this as it generally relates to the topic of divorce.

    I was blessed to have parents who remained together and faithful through their entire marriage (my dad died two years ago). And both sets of my grandparents never divorced. My wife’s parents and grandparents also have not divorced. Perhaps it’s mainly because of my life experience, but I have never considered divorce as an option in my life. Divorce simply doesn’t figure into my vocabulary as it relates to my marriage.

    This is not say that we have not had disagreements and difficulties. And as you well know, the stressors and pressure of having a terminally ill child quickly reveal personal weaknesses and marital differences. Gratefully, though Patricia and I don’t always initially agree on everything, we are in complete agreement with regards to how we will [should] resolve our differences and reach solutions (that is an entirely different essay!).

    I love my wife. More importantly, I choose to love my wife. I don’t believe people fall out of love. I think it’s more accurate to say that people choose to stop loving others. I assert that a marriage relationship [should] originate and thrive upon the continued, deliberate, and conscious choice to commit ourselves to one another. By that definition, it follows that divorce is a deliberate decision to stop this commitment. Divorce does not “happen” to people; instead people choose divorce.
    I do concede that the choice of one spouse can limit the choice of another. If one decides to leave, what can the other do? Or if one is abusive in any way? Sadly, divorce is sometimes the right choice of the choices left.

    Continue with the commitment you’ve made. No outside influence or life circumstance can trump the simple strength of your [choice of] mutual commitment. Marriage is awesome. It’s for strong people, and it makes people strong!

  3. My parents lost a child in 1969. She was 6 weeks old. They are still married today. I can’t say they’ve always had the best marriage. I remember many rocky roads that I thought they would split.
    I truly think what kept them together was my dad’s never ending devotion to my mom. Sometimes, I think it’s all about not willing to give up.

  4. Kathryn and Aaron, thank you both for your advice and words of wisdom – that it’s really all about how much you want to make it work. You both give me faith and hope.

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