Divorce always comes with tumultuous feelings of guilt, sadness and a gripping fear of the unknown. Here are some ways that will help alleviate the pain.
According to the National Population and Family Development Board (LPPK, Lembaga Penduduk dan Pembangunan Keluarga Negara), in 2014, the number one reason why married couples file for divorce is ‘irreconcilable differences’ or general incompatibility. In fact, this reason made up 35.3 percent of the total divorce cases in Malaysia that year.
Sunway Medical Centre’s Clinical Psychologist, Jessie Foo provides expert insight about the psychological effects of divorce.
Urban Health: How does divorce affect the people involved?
Jessie Foo: Divorce can benefit some individuals, especially if the marriage was highly conflicted. Self-confidence and self-efficacy are more likely to increase among divorced individuals who feel like they have successfully survived a divorce. On the other hand, divorced individuals have more health problems and higher mortality rates than married or other non-divorced individuals. Divorced people also show higher levels of depression and anxiety, drink more alcohol, experience more social isolation and have smaller social networks than their married counterparts.
UH: Are there differences in the effects between men and women?
JF: In general, the economic status of divorced women usually declines. Divorced women are also more vulnerable to depression, psychological stress and poorer self-esteem compared to divorced men. Conversely, divorced men drink more alcohol in comparison with their married counterparts. Regardless of gender, insecure individuals, people who still have positive feelings towards their ex-spouses, and people who see divorce as a personal tragedy tend to feel more distress and have a harder time adjusting.
UH: How does divorce affect children?
JF: Divorce weakens the trust and dependency of children and their parents. They they now learn to adjust to travelling between two households and find ways to cope with the absence of one parent while living with another. Teenagers are more likely to become angry and rebel against their parents. Having said that, children of divorced parents may also experience some positive effects. For instance, single parents can be a lot closer to their children compared to married parents. A separated parent is also more likely to spend quality time with their children and pay more attention to them
UH: How protect your child from the negative impact of divorce?
JF: The first two years after a divorce are critical. The quality of a child’s life after a divorce and the relationship between the divorced parents are important factors in helping the child adjust. Ensure that the child receives adequate emotional support from both parents.
UH: What is the best way to tell a child about a divorce?
JF: Children are entitled to know why their parents are splitting up. Give them a simple yet honest answer such as “We can’t get along anymore”. Younger children need fewer details whereas older children may need more information. It is very important to let children know that their parents’ love for them has not changed. Anticipate that children will question changes in their lives such as living arrangements.
UH: What steps should a person take to cope with divorce?
JF: While there isn’t a particular sequence or steps to help deal with divorce, it’s good to consider the following:
- Identify and acknowledge negative feelings such as anger, resentment, sadness, relief and fear, instead of suppressing or ignoring those feelings.
- Embrace the opportunity to make changes in your life like working on maintaining friendships, cultivating new friendships and new employment opportunities.
- Remember to let go of the ‘future’ that you once envisioned so both of you can create new hopes and dreams.
- Make time to take care of yourself and pay attention to what you need.
- Spend time with people who support, value and energise you.
UH: What is your advice for divorced couples who have children and want to co-parent in peace?
JF: It’s important to develop a respectful co-parenting relationship with your ex-spouse. When talking about the other parent, say only nice things or don’t say anything at all. Don’t make the children feel like they have to take sides and love one parent more than the other. Communicate with your ex-spouse and don’t make your children be a messenger. Set a good example for your children and be polite in your interactions with your ex-spouse.
UH: What is your take home advice for people undergoing a divorce?
JF: It’s normal to feel sad, angry, exhausted and frustrated during a divorce. Give yourself permission to feel and to function at a less than optimal level for a period of time and don’t be afraid to get outside help if you need it. Recovering from a divorce is difficult but it’s important to know that you can and will move on. Healing takes time so be patient with yourself.
Low & Partners Advocates and Solicitors’ Managing Partner and divorce lawyer, Dato’ Andy Low, shares his legal insights:
Dato’ Andy Low Hann Yong is the Founder and Managing Partner of Low & Partners, a boutique mid-sized law firm located in Damansara. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Law from University Malaya. Dato’ Andy was a member of the Family Law Committee of the Bar Council Malaysia (Term 2012/2013).
On the subject of dating, Dato’ Andy says that right after a decree nisi (court document that states that the court doesn’t see a reason why both parties can’t divorce) of divorce becomes absolute, both parties are allowed to date legally.
Dato’ Andy advises that ex-spouses should aim for joint custody and work out a daily or weekly schedule that is suitable for themselves and their children. Joint custody is advisable because children will then know that both parents love and want them. “Occasionally, have a heart-to-heart talk with your ex-spouse, review progress and the upbringing of the children objectively,” he says.
It’s best to find an experienced divorce lawyer who can advise you on your options and legal remedies to protect and pursue legal rights and interests. Try to avoid lawyers who are provocative because this is a sign of a lack of professionalism. Civil and courteous behaviour should be expected from both lawyer and client.