JOAN GUESTJoan Guest is author of Forgiving Your Parents (IVP) and is a candidate for the M.S.W. degree and an intern at a community counseling center.

Most Christians don’t know how to relate to those experiencing a divorce. We know that families undergoing marital breakup experience much pain, but we don’t know what to say to them or what they need. Beneath it all, we harbor a fear that if we help divorcing people we will be tacitly condoning divorce.

So in many cases we do nothing. “It’s a big need, and we want to help,” one church secretary told me. “But we haven’t yet had time to put together a program.” Judith Wallerstein, author with Sandra Blakeslee of Second Chances: Men, Women, and Children a Decade After Divorce, studied the long-term effects of divorce in 60 families. She reported that half the families belonged to a church or synagogue. Yet not one member of the clergy came to visit during the divorce. While the experience of the families in Wallerstein’s study is typical, some forward-looking churches are giving help to broken families in their midst. We can learn from those churches’ efforts. But first, we must understand the ways in which divorce affects family members.

The Children’S Perspective

It is often the children who suffer most. They do not perceive the marriage the way their parents do. Many are completely surprised to hear that their parents did not get along. Others knew of the problems but would rather live with them than lose a parent.

Wallerstein writes, “Divorce is a different experience for children and adults because the children lose something that is fundamental to their development—the family structure.… When that structure collapses, the children’s world is temporarily without supports. And ...

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