Divorce between couples concerns their children

Separation and divorce from the children's point of view

Separation and divorce have grown to a level that makes ending the "family war" appear - from a purely statistical point of view - a normal family affair. This increases the likelihood that partner relationships will be dissolved in less dramatic partner conflicts than before. In addition, there are legal simplifications of the divorce procedure and specific offers of help for divorced people and children of divorce with the aim of avoiding or at least absorbing emotional injuries.

Many people attach the hope to these changes that divorce will become increasingly normal and lose its horror. Some authors have already compared it with developmental crises such as the birth of a child, the separation of children from the parental home or the death of a spouse (Willi 1991). Nevertheless, the breakup of a partner relationship arouses ambivalent feelings even today: powerlessness, sadness, anger, despair and fears, but also the hope of liberation from an inhumane prison, into which the great love sometimes turns within a very short time.

It is asked who is one of the winners and who is one of the losers (Wallerstein and Blakeslee 1989), how much suffering and illness are due to the break-up of partners, and what economic damage has now arisen for the economy. Those affected and their relatives are often paralyzed by the problems that follow from the divorce. Children in particular are surprised by the divorce and feel largely powerless and scared.

With the increase in the number of divorces, social attitudes have certainly changed. Separation and divorce have lost their horror and have reached a certain normalcy. However, the expectation that this could bring relief has not been fulfilled. On the contrary, it is becoming increasingly clear that separation is associated with a lengthy process of detachment, which can be linked to injury, pain and violence. Especially when children are affected, there are additional tasks that were previously not performed in this form.

According to modern understanding, the separation from the partner does not automatically release parental responsibility, but rather it is expected that the separated partners make an educational arrangement and continue to cooperate in the future in order to maintain a "binuclear" family for the children.

Faces of divorce

The tendency to interpret divorce as an objectively describable event that is relatively simple and clearly structured can be demonstrated both in the beginnings of divorce research and in the understanding of those affected. Although the extensive empirical research now conveys a very complex and not always contradictory picture, in practice shortened ideas are maintained, which build expectations and control behavior as a self-fulfilling prediction, which is why they play an important role in the separation process.

In order to arrive at clear statements about the complex reality of divorce, to classify conflicting feelings and to be able to make forward-looking decisions, simplifying thought patterns are required. For this purpose, the focus is often directed on partial aspects, while others are hidden. To better understand people's behavior in divorce situations, it makes sense to ask about their cognitive images. Therefore some "faces" of the divorce will be outlined here.

Divorce as trauma

Divorce appears as the cause of undesirable developments when the focus is on the traumatic character. From this point of view, negative consequences in particular are perceived or anticipated. In the extreme, divorce is experienced as a kind of catastrophe that leaves deep wounds in one or all of the parties. When it has occurred, it develops its own dynamic that one cannot escape. This view inspired the beginnings of divorce research, which was primarily based on the idea of ​​demonstrating effects on the divorced as well as on the children.

Emotional problems, behavioral disorders, and psychosomatic illnesses have been studied as consequences of divorce. However, the results are not as clear-cut as expected from trauma theory. In particular, more careful recent studies lead to a more differentiated picture and suggest that people react very differently and the consequences of divorce also depend on numerous other factors (Riehl-Emde 1992).

In practice, however, the pathologizing view takes on the function of presenting a negative image of the divorce in order to prevent separation or only allow it in extremely destructive relationship constellations. It implies, as it were, a moral appeal to the partner's responsibility to do everything possible to prevent the divorce. The downside of this, however, is the uncomfortable dispute over the question of guilt, which is now excluded from the legal divorce proceedings, but still has a high priority in the arguments between the parties.

Divorce as an outbreak

A contrary view describes divorce as a release from an untenable family situation, as an escape from a cramping prison. It is not the divorce that is the catastrophe here, but the agonizing arguments and disappointments that precede it and that are experienced like a nightmare. Divorce appears as the inevitable consequence when partners are no longer able to resolve serious problems within the partner relationship. It is linked to the idea of ​​liberation, emancipation and a new beginning.

Although negative consequences are not denied, they can hardly be avoided and can only be mitigated through targeted efforts. This view is forward and expresses the hope that lies behind the decision to break up. In breaking free from prison, a partner expects himself and the children to be able to lead a life without nightmares again.

Divorce as a crisis

The episodic nature of divorce is highlighted when it is viewed as a crisis. Crisis suggests here the idea of ​​escalation, aggravation and transition. It represents a threatening state that can no longer be mastered with known behavioral patterns. It is temporarily associated with extreme reactions and feelings. At the same time, the crisis embodies a turning point. When familiar behaviors fail, there is an opportunity for reorientation. To do this, however, it is necessary to look to the future and pay attention to coping with the acute problems.

After the symptoms of the crisis have been eliminated, a relatively normal life is expected, which, however, seems more appropriate to the changed constellation. In particular, the partner who initiated the divorce falls back on the crisis model. It helps him to adjust to a difficult transition period, which, however, appears to be responsible, as a calming down is hoped for afterwards.

Divorce as a loss

The perspective of loss is familiar, and it usually serves as a model for parties that feel they are victims of the divorce. According to this, divorce is linked to drastic loss experiences, in particular the loss of the partner and, from the children's point of view, the loss of a parent. Loss is psychologically linked to grief. This gives rise to the consequence of mourning work, which, however, differs considerably from the mourning after the death of a loved one (Wallerstein and Blakeslee 1989).

The knowledge of normal and pathological mechanisms of grief contributes significantly to the understanding of unfamiliar reactions during and after the separation and facilitates the support of the persons concerned. Separation is a sign of parting, which affects both pleasant and unpleasant experiences and relationships.

The psychological processing of the losses takes a long time and takes up emotional energy that is often no longer available for other activities. In particular, the reorientation in the post-divorce situation depends on how far the mourning work is done. Concentrating on the perspective of loss avoids seeing divorce merely as a legal termination of a marriage contract and as a making of rational decisions and their implementation.

Divorce becomes an inner psychological process of dealing with loss, which can be seen in the long term and can only be controlled externally to a limited extent. Nonetheless, an understanding and supportive attitude for the parties concerned can be helpful.

The models listed so far represent simple explanatory models, the function of which is to be seen in particular in providing clear orientation aids, relieving feelings of guilt, justifying negative emotions and planning the future. The downside of this is the risk of simplification and displacement of essential elements.

The two following schemes show more differentiated features. They can initially increase the degree of uncertainty, but in return enable a more precise perception of what is happening in the divorce and, in the longer term, a better way of coping with the situation.

Divorce as a process - phase models

With increasing knowledge of the psychological processes that accompany the divorce, it becomes clear that the factor of time plays an essential role. In the course of separation and divorce, various conflict constellations and tasks arise, which are reflected in phase models of divorce (for an overview, see Textor 1991).

The time before the separation, which is usually referred to as the phase of ambivalence, is often characterized by opposing feelings, dissatisfaction at least one partner, attempted solutions and finally the decision to split up. With the externally visible separation of the partners, a special relationship dynamic develops in the separation phase in the narrower sense, as children, relatives and friends are now also included in the process. The legal divorce proceedings that are now being initiated develop an additional explosive power, as often necessary, life-deciding court decisions are overshadowed by relationship clinch.

The course of the post-divorce phase depends on whether it is possible to bring the divorce proceedings to a conclusion in such a way that the proposed solutions are acceptable to all those involved and are implemented in everyday life. In this case, the external clarification enables a temporary calming and facilitates the internal processing of the events that are now pending.

Divorce as a reorganization of the family system

Ecosystem approaches to divorce try to integrate the various aspects of the divorce process. The focus here is not only on viewing divorce as an issue of the nuclear family, in which one spouse and parent turns their back on the rest of the family, but rather that all persons and institutions involved and their interaction are taken into account.

The processing of the separation of partners proves to be an interplay of the most varied of forces that agitate or dampen each other. Extended social systems that are related to the nuclear family take on important tasks. They support, control and confront the nuclear family. At the same time, these social systems are restructured through divorce, which is why we also speak of reorganization (Fthenakis et al. 1993). In addition to the actual separation, a withdrawal of caregivers can be observed, which isolates one party, for example.

However, broken relationships can also be identified as a result of moving. The social environment can become polarized, which can exacerbate the dispute, but mediators can also try to bridge the gap between the arguing partners. Finally, new contacts can be made that result from the divorce itself. These environmental references influence the divorce process positively or negatively and therefore deserve attention in deliberations.

Divorce in the experience of the children

Children experience divorce very differently. Parents are usually concerned that children will be too upset. They usually feel reassured when they do not observe dramatic behaviors in children. They take this as a sign that the child is not traumatized. However, being inconspicuous is not always a sign that there is no emotional shock. It is much more likely that the importance of divorce has not yet been grasped or suppressed.

The confrontation with the permanent separation of the parents usually triggers violent feelings, even if the child does not immediately show them to the outside world. Different emotional reactions can be described that children go through in each case.


According to Figdor (1991), grief, anger, feelings of guilt and fear are the central feelings that all children experience in some form and have to be processed.

The child's grief is difficult to access, as adults are mostly dominated by their own pain and tend to unconsciously project their own feelings onto the children. Above all, the abandoned parent feels reassurance when they register that a child feels similarly. In addition, there is a risk that parents will seek the affection of the children in order to win them over as comforters and allies in the divorce battle.

Focusing on parents is one of the reasons children are easily overlooked with their own sadness. In addition, it remains unclear what is actually being mourned by the child. The prevailing opinion is that the child loses the parent who moves out. In many cases, however, both parents are now making special efforts to show the child that they will not let them down even after they split up. However, this affection can be interpreted as spurious and even sabotaged by the other partner. In the conflict of loyalty, the child's own feelings fall behind.

The loss of the child, however, involves much more than the departure of one of the parents would initially suggest. First of all, there are financial restrictions resulting from the double housekeeping. Parents with low incomes are particularly affected and the divorce brings them to the poverty line.

In addition, a change of residence with all the associated consequences often has to be coped with. The contact with grandparents and friends can suffer from the separation or be completely stopped. The most serious factor, however, is the family's atmospheric uncertainty. Nothing seems to stay the way it was, the familiar coexistence falls apart.

While negative feelings are endured in an intact family because the security of relationships is guaranteed, in the precarious separation situation they acquire a threatening character. The child unconsciously feels an unspoken pressure to adapt, to only allow those emotional impulses that cheer up the parents, while anger, fears and insecurity must not be shown.

Particularly painful, even if hardly noticed, is the hurt of the child's self-esteem. While the child was able to lull himself into the illusion of being the center of the family before the separation, he now feels that his power is tightly limited. It cannot influence the decision to split up, although it will feel the consequences.

Ultimately, the divorce means a loss of childhood that is expected of the child.


Anger, hatred, and anger are closely related to grief and are seen as significant steps in the grieving process. However, they take on a threatening character in the process of separation. Younger children in particular, who are not yet able to judge the importance of the partner relationship, see their aggressive impulses as the cause of the divorce, while they barely grasp the actual split between the parents.

Expressions of displeasure by children not only intensify conflicts of loyalty, but also stand in the way of reconciliation efforts that children find difficult to give up. As a rule, children can only show their anger and disappointment to their parents if they are strong inside and are not affected by it.

Now children often experience their parents weak, helpless and depressed. The children seem to plunge them even more into misery with their anger. Children find themselves in an insoluble dilemma with their anger.

On the one hand, they are condemned to faint, on the other hand, they can only support parents by suppressing their own hostile impulses in order not to disappoint them. However, if they show their anger, this will be registered as taking sides, which in turn destroys efforts to resolve the conflict peacefully.

Suppressing anger is all the more difficult as children themselves witness mutual hurts and injustices that further fuel their hatred.

It remains to be asked critically to what extent current efforts and peaceful solutions to divorce problems, e.g. with the help of mediation, do justice to the high proportion of frustration and anger or rather contribute to the suppression of these impulses.

Feelings of guilt

Anger and anger often form an ominous alliance with a child's guilt. It is not until puberty that children come to realize that they cannot influence the parents' divorce. Younger children, on the other hand, find that certain behaviors promote peace in the family, while others experience parental quarrels.

Wallerstein and Blakeslee (1989) registered feelings of guilt in about 30 to 50 percent of children in their long-term study. Children feel - mostly unconsciously - responsible for family harmony. While the child in a stable partnership between the parents gradually learns that their disruptive behavior does not lead to the withdrawal of parental love, children in divorce situations usually feel guilty for the withdrawal of one of the parents. They believe that their behavior caused the separation. Feelings of guilt represent the backward-looking part of the child's feelings of omnipotence.

Looking to the future, reconciliation fantasies develop, which lead to efforts to bring the parents back together. Ideas of undoing the separation of the parents sometimes persist for many years. In particular, joint custody, which requires parents to cooperate in dealing with the child, hinders the abandonment of reconciliation fantasies (Balloff and Walter, 1991).

Parents are often of the opinion - and are often reinforced by counselors - that feelings of guilt can be overcome through realistic information about the real reasons for the divorce. However, this attitude fails to recognize the deeper nature of the child's sense of responsibility. In reality, their assignment is a long-term process, the child gradually coming to the sobering realization that there are clear limits to their powers and that despite their efforts to reunite the parents, they cannot reverse the divorce, even if after the Divorce may be less of a serious upbringing argument than before.


The high percentage of sleep disorders in the children of divorce is the most visible sign of the child's fears. The breaking up of the family is threatening in many ways, as many unpredictable and uncontrollable things happen to the child that fundamentally change life.

If the family is abandoned by one of the parents, the child loses the most important security that they could previously trust. When one parent leaves, many children fear that the other's care will no longer be safe either. Clinging tendencies and panic-like reactions to expressions of displeasure can be the result.

The depressive state of one of the parents as well as the violent arguments that sometimes take place between the parents are also a cause for concern for the children. Not infrequently there are threats of violence and, in extreme cases, real acts of violence, which certainly do not contribute to calming down.

Since children are not uninvolved referees, but rather feel anger and hatred themselves and are thus entangled in the arguments, the situation becomes even more opaque and uncontrollable, which can increase their fears. In addition, there are fears of failure of not being able to cope with the internal and external demands.

Influential factors on children's divorce processing

Children react very differently to their parents' divorce, and there are considerable differences, especially when looking at the post-divorce phase over the long term. Schmidt-Denter and Beelmann (1995) examined three different types of progression:

  • Highly exposed persons: high degree of behavioral abnormalities over the entire period of the examination (30 months).
  • Stress coper: clear behavioral problems at the beginning, which, however, visibly decreased.
  • Low stress: low symptom burden already at the beginning of the divorce, these children seem relatively invulnerable.

Based on these results, caution should be exercised when reading general statements in the guidebook that assume that children will usually have resolved divorce after one to two years. In the meantime, numerous variables have been examined that should be considered as aggravating or supporting factors.

Age and gender

Indications of age and gender effects can be found in numerous studies; they are particularly carefully recorded in the long-term studies by Wallerstein and others. Children experience and react differently to the divorce depending on their age group, as understanding, imagination and coping options are different.

In early childhood, when the divorce is hardly consciously accepted, children often react with clinging tendencies and screaming, they seem easily irritable and show symptoms such as sleep disorders or constipation, regressive behaviors such as bed-wetting and infantile speaking. In kindergarten, children show their grief more clearly.

During this time, gender differences are already visible. Boys are more likely to react aggressively, while obedience and orderliness can be observed in girls. Children develop feelings of guilt and, as a result of their naive fantasies, seek the reasons for the departure of a parent in their own "naughty" behavior for which they were previously criticized by the parents. By submitting to the wishes of the parents, they try to undo the separation. At school age a certain understanding of divorce develops, at the same time one's own feelings are very violent, children are overwhelmed by sadness, helplessness and anger.

Schoolchildren are so preoccupied with their own fantasies and feelings, at least temporarily, that concentration and school performance suffer. At home, they sometimes take on an excessive amount of responsibility to relieve the desperate parent, or they tend to play parents off against each other. Girls in particular, whose psychosexual development is accelerated, seem to quickly slip into the role of the mother's ally.

Pre-puberty also shows a tendency to be self-assured and arrogant. In adolescence, children understand divorce, they sometimes react sensitively to the stresses and strains of their parents, but they also have problems coping with their own conflicting feelings.

Coping with psychosexual maturation, identifying and breaking away from parents is impaired by the divorce conflict. Abrupt separation from parents can be seen as a kind of liberation, but in other cases adolescents are unable to detach themselves internally and remain attached to home for a long time.

Outwardly, adolescents often appear less conspicuous, but extreme reactions such as addictive escapades, runaway tendencies, suicidal tendencies, depressive moods and a tendency to violence can also be recorded.

Family relationships before divorce

If children do not cope with their problems after the separation of their parents, this can not only be a consequence of the divorce, but can also be related to the mortgage from unresolved relationship conflicts before the divorce.

Not only attachment insecurity or fixation on one parent is viewed as stressful, but above all triangulation problems (Figdor 1991).

In order to develop basic trust, the child not only needs a constant caregiver, but the development of a stable identity depends on whether it can commute back and forth between father and mother. The interplay between rapprochement and distancing does not only begin in the time of the Oedipus conflict, around the 3rd - 4th year of life, but rather in the first years of life the child seeks the proximity of one parent in time-limited phases while keeping a distance from the other. If a parent feels excluded here or reacts with jealousy, the child's approach-avoidance game can be impaired.

Difficulties of one parent in letting go of the child or devaluation of the relationship initiatives of the other parent, but also disputes over educational principles can contribute to unrealized tensions in the mother-father-child triad, which later impair the management of the divorce.

Cognitive attributions sometimes develop an additional explosive power. Parents, for example, assume mutually rigid and uncorrectable relationships with the child (e.g. fixation or lack of interest, inconsistent upbringing) and with this view legitimize their intention to divorce, or children believe that their partisan behavior caused the separation.

Parental behavior during and after the divorce

Responsible parents often ask themselves what to do with children during the divorce process. On the basis of their own feelings of guilt or well-intentioned advice from relatives or counselors, they try to be good and understanding parents in order to relieve their children or to distract from their own emotional chaos. However, with this they overwhelm themselves, since in their own affective entanglement they are not as open to the children as they would like. Despite your best efforts, you feel like you are a bad parent.

In addition, they expect support from the children in their own need and can hardly deal with the anger reactions. In many cases, therefore, tense parent-child relationships develop. It is already helpful for children when they experience that despite these burdens, parents do not withdraw, but instead maintain contact.

The constant affection in spite of the tense emotional situation is the basis for building a stable "binuclear" family in the long term and giving children the insight that parents do not withdraw when the mood becomes icy.

As long as the parents have not dealt with the divorce internally, there is a risk that they will not be able to admit their own parental inadequacy and instead will only register educational deficits in the separated partner. This attitude is further promoted by the common practice of the parents in dealing with the child. For example, the "weekend father" can be idealized by children, as he is more responsible for more pleasant leisure time activities, while the mother is responsible for the uncomfortable educational tasks during the week, which strain the mother-child relationship and place the mother in an unfavorable light .

Such constellations can be welcomed by the parents in the divorce conflict in order to sabotage the efforts of the "other side" and to bind the child more closely. This not only increases the child's conflicts of loyalty, but also affects their overall development.

The extended social network

From an ecosystem point of view, divorce is not just a nuclear family affair, but also affects the extended social environment in which the family lives. Coping with separation and divorce therefore also depends on environmental factors. Even normal transitions such as entry into kindergarten or school enrollment, which require children and parents to adapt, can make things more difficult.

The simultaneous occurrence of divorce and developmental transitions can overwhelm the family. Additional stress arises from the social changes required as a result of the separation. Change of place of residence and the start or change of employment, especially of the mother, are to be mentioned in the first place.

In individual cases, illness or death of a caregiver, migration and other critical life events can make it more difficult to come to terms with the divorce. On the other hand, it turns out to be beneficial if the child has to cope with a few additional changes.

The maintenance of the social network embodies stability and security, which convey a certain support. The familiar is also an opportunity to retreat.

Above all, understanding friends, relatives, teachers and educators can take on support functions and thereby also relieve the parents. In many cases, the child of the divorce does not expect any special treatment, but the experience of the continued existence of normality can have a calming effect, as in this way the stressful family drama is limited.

Divorce problems for children

Children are often still perceived as passive victims of the divorce process. The specification of divorce issues, as it was undertaken above all by Wallerstein and Blakeslee (1989), helps here to more precisely identify the difficulties children have in separation and divorce conflicts. It also offers concrete starting points for help.

It can be assumed that not all children have the same problems. Children often manage most of these tasks, but can hardly get over very specific conflicts.

Acknowledge the reality of divorce

Parental separation usually comes as a surprise to the children, and even frequent arguments are not seen by many children as a sign of an imminent divorce.

The bond between the parents represents the child's secure livelihood. It is therefore difficult to accept the separation, especially since today the separated parent usually still maintains regular contact with the children. This helps to suppress the reality of separation. Smaller children in particular can hardly distinguish between visiting and returning here.

In order to reduce the risk of denial, a child-friendly, but unambiguous explanation of the children is usually required. Presumably, parents are often overwhelmed themselves to provide appropriate information in their own separation shock, especially since children in their vivid imagination draw their own conclusions from the observation of the parents' non-verbal reactions, which amount to the fact that the partner relationship of the parents cannot possibly be ended.

The defense against the reality of the separation, however, often has a temporary protective function for children as the psychological consequences are still too threatening. What cannot be conveyed in a single piece of information requires many small insights that are easier to process.

Develop a realistic picture of the divorce

The barely comprehensible divorce story occupies the imagination of smaller children and leads from the adult point of view to bizarre ideas that they try to "talk" children out of. Children often assume that they themselves play an important role and are responsible for the separation. They believe that their "bad manners" caused the parental quarrel. The partnership level is hard to imagine for them.

According to Wallerstein and Blakeslee (1989), only young people understand the real reasons for separation. It may be painful for parents that they can barely convey this to their younger children, but cannot talk them out of the torments and worries that they cause themselves because of their supposed shared responsibility. The effort to understand is a lengthy process that is unlikely to be completed. This requires patience and empathy from adults over a long period of time.

Strategic withdrawal from commitment to parents

Divorce is experienced by children as a threat to child safety, it represents a kind of premature awakening of the adult in the child. Children are not only burdened by their own fears, but also by worrying about siblings or disturbed parents to whom children feel obliged.

Inadvertently, parents sometimes seek consolation and support from children and enjoy their attention. As a result, typically child areas such as school, peer relationships or play are neglected. Here children have to learn to withdraw from excessive commitment to their parents. It is possible that numerous behavioral disorders in children are used to draw attention to themselves and to pass responsibility to the parents.

The frequent observation that the children of divorce appear unimpressed to the outside world and seem to process the separation well, can be a means of stubbornly holding on to one's own interests and needs. Parents have the task of encouraging children to remain children (Wallerstein and Blakeslee 1989).

Grief work: processing the experiences of loss

Dealing with the pain of loss is the hardest task children have to face. There are various reasons for this. Grief first shows itself in the child's experience and is difficult to recognize from the outside.

Since children cannot always verbally express their feelings appropriately, it is easy to misunderstand signs of grief. Understanding is made more difficult by the fact that the other family members are preoccupied with their own feelings, which are often at odds with those of the child. For example, while a child idealizes the absent father, the mother feels anger and hatred.In addition, it is often unclear what children in divorce mourn about.

It is not just the loss of a parent or the safe family atmosphere, but also the loss of familiar surroundings after moving house, or the withdrawal of grandparents, relatives and friends. Above all, the feelings that result from the breakup of the partner relationship of the parents are difficult to access. Since both parents continue to live and maintain contact with the child as far as possible, the failure of the partner relationship is hardly tangible. It is also not brought to mind through mourning rituals, as is the case with the death of a loved one.

Grief means inner detachment from emotionally significant experiences through reliving and allowing the insight that these experiences are in the past.

Grief confronts feelings such as powerlessness and helplessness, fear, pain, but also anger and anger or feelings of guilt. Above all, allowing hostile impulses proves to be problematic, since the addressees of these emotions, primarily their own parents, are perceived as injured and vulnerable people.

When children show their aggression, their feelings of guilt and fear of abandonment increase, as they provide an alleged pretext that the rift between the parents is deepening and that the remaining fantasies of reconciliation are finally disappointed.

As a result of successful mourning work, the insight emerges that the separation of the parents can no longer be reversed and a future without the protective common parental atmosphere must be mastered.

Open to new relationships

Coping with the divorce not only means that the past is no longer experienced as a burdensome mortgage that absorbs a lot of energy, but also that the future can be looked to with increasing confidence.

The realization that life offers new opportunities even after the breakup of the familiar family is a final step in solving the divorce conflict, which is particularly difficult for troubled children to take.

The greatest challenge, especially for older children, is the "risk of love" (Wallerstein and Blakeslee 1989). Adolescent children of divorce are concerned with the question of whether they are able to enter into a sustainable love relationship based on their parents' experiences.

Parental failure is a negative point of reference for one's own partner relationship. This creates discouragement and encourages the conviction that one is "relationship damaged". As a counter-reaction, there is pressure to do things differently and, above all, better. The repeatedly described observation that the incidence of divorce is significantly increased in adult children of divorced parents seems to prove the difficulties of the ability to love. Especially when one's own partnership gets into a crisis, the negative parental role model emerges and promotes the breakup of the relationship.

Struggling to cope with relationship problems independently is also an important step in breaking away from parents. It probably never succeeds completely and, above all, cannot be reached in the short term.

Help for children

Parents often develop guilty feelings during the divorce process for fear of neglecting their children as a result of their own emotional state. Behavioral problems and unfamiliar verbal expressions cause concern. However, even in this difficult situation, many parents probably manage to show understanding and support. Nevertheless, it is valuable to know special therapeutic and educational aids for children that have been developed in recent years.

An important step for parents is first of all to admit that they are overwhelmed and to open up to offers outside the family. Before any professional support, children often spontaneously discover and use resources in their own social environment if they are not prevented from doing so by their parents. Grandparents, siblings, friends, especially other children in similar divorce situations, an understanding attitude from educators and teachers can provide support. It also seems important that children can continue to carry out their familiar activities, e.g. continue their leisure activities.

Since children also care about their parents, it serves their psychological balance when parents manage to get their own problems under control. In this case, a temporary distancing between parents and child can occur, which is often not consciously registered. It should not be confused with neglect if it is followed by phases of intense care.

A family atmosphere in which proximity and distance are equally tolerated and tolerated can be seen as a favorable breeding ground for coping with emotional stress.

Professional offers have specific goals. According to Fthenakis et al. (1993), they can be used in the early stages of divorce to prevent negative consequences. In the stage of tension escalation, conflict-dampening methods such as mediation prevent the fronts from hardening.

Furthermore, the emotional crisis can be absorbed. In the advanced stage, the focus is on expanding competencies. Skills are discovered and promoted that contribute to solving the problems at hand and promote adaptation to the changed situation.

Special aids for children are still relatively rare. Usually they are coupled with counseling from parents. Group offers for children, which usually start from the beginning of school, prove to be particularly useful. The methodological approaches are very different.

In some cases, information about the divorce process is conveyed and the respective problems are addressed within a didactically structured framework. In other cases, the children are given specific tools to express their feelings. These include painting, storytelling, relaxation exercises and imaginary journeys, physical expression exercises.

In addition to these more pedagogically oriented groups, groups with a therapeutic character are formed that do not have a pre-structured program, but rather develop activities based on the current needs and interests of the children. They are usually not limited to a few sessions, but are kept more open in terms of time.

It seems essential that children feel safe in the group and come to realize that they are not alone with their problems, but that they are in a solidarity community, in whose protection the stress of divorce can be more easily cope with.


  • Balloff, R. and Walter, E., 1991: Children's reactions to the parents' divorce with sole or joint parental custody. In: Psychology in Education and Teaching, 38, 81-95.
  • Eggert-Schmid Noerr, A. (Ed.), 1994: The end of the relationship? Women, men, children in the separation crisis. Mainz.
  • Figdor, H., 1991: Children from divorced marriages: Between trauma and hope; a psychoanalytic study. Mainz.
  • Fthenakis, W.E., Niesel, R., Griebel, W., 1993: Divorce as a reorganization process. Intervention approaches for children and parents. In: Menne, K., Schilling, H., Weber, M., (Ed.), 1993: Children in Divorce Conflict, Weinheim, 261-290.
  • Goldbrunner, H., 1994: Separation and Divorce as a Myth. In: Praxis Spiel + Gruppe, 7, 47-54.
  • Goldbrunner, H., 1996: Grief and Relationship. Mainz.
  • Kardas, J., Langenmayr, A., 1996: Families in Separation and Divorce. Selected psychological aspects of the experience and behavior of children of divorce. Stuttgart.
  • Krieger, W. (Ed.), 1997: Parental separation and divorce in the experience of children.
  • Riehl-Emde, A., 1992: Divorce and its consequences. Research literature report. Family Dynamics, 17, 17-24.
  • Schmidt-Denter, U., Beelmann, W., 1995: Family relationships after separation and divorce: change processes in mothers, fathers and children. Unpublished research report, Univ. Cologne.
  • Textor, M.-R., 1991: Divorce Cycle and Divorce Counseling. Goettingen.
  • Wallerstein, J. and Blakeslee, 1989: Winners and Losers. Women, men, children after divorce. Munich.
  • Willi, J., 1991: What keeps couples together? Reinbek.

Professor Hans Goldbrunner, Essen, comprehensive university