Elizabeth Marquardt’s new book, Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce, will be the big news in the dialogue about divorce this year. Marquardt, a researcher with the Institute for American Values, worked with leading family sociologist Norval Glenn to survey hundreds and interview dozens of adult children of divorce. This work is in the spirit of Judith Wallerstein’s foundational work on the long-term effects of divorce on children, and Wallerstein wrote the preface to Marquardt’s book. Just as important as the research, Marquardt is herself the child of a “good divorce.” She has successfully married and has children. And yet, she knows that she herself was scarred by the divorce. This first-person book recounts her own experience, as well as that of her research subjects.
Most children of divorce do not show severe trauma. They have much higher rates of mental and emotional problems – twice or thrice the rate of kids from intact families – but still, most turn out ok. OK, but still marked. Marquardt pursues the question of divorce’s long-term effects past the gross dysfunctions – dropping out, taking drugs, becoming drunks, having marginal jobs, and, especially, divorcing themselves – to find the inner cost to outwardly functional adults.
As I have previously discussed, most divorces come from low-conflict marriages. Marquardt’s main conclusion is that even the best divorce is still worse than an unhappy, low-conflict marriage. Better, that is, for the kids. Adults may think that what is better for them is better for everyone. But it is not. Marquardt writes carefully, so as not to blame divorced parents, especially her own. But the main point remains – even a good divorce is still just a divorce.