Academic journal article Journal of Marital and Family Therapy

Divorce Is a Part of My Life. Resilience, Survival, and Vulnerability: Young Adults' Perception of the Implications of Parental Divorce

Academic journal article Journal of Marital and Family Therapy

Divorce Is a Part of My Life. Resilience, Survival, and Vulnerability: Young Adults' Perception of the Implications of Parental Divorce

Article excerpt

A qualitative study among 22 young adults (20-25 years old) whose parents divorced during their childhood was conducted in Israel, using semi-structured, in-depth, open-ended interviews. Qualitative data analysis led to identification of three profiles, aiming at a grounded theoretical conceptualization. Three core themes were identified: the centrality of the family; short- and long-term implications of parental divorce and its relations to supportive coping resources; and perspective at young adulthood. Further analysis led to typifying participants by three profiles, which represent the grounded theoretical conceptualizations: resilience, survival, and vulnerability. The most prominent difference among the profiles was the relationships between participants and their parents, and their perception of ongoing parental responsibility. A thorough discussion of the results and their implications for future research, theory development, and practice are presented.

THEORETICAL BASIS AND LITERATURE REVIEW

The rising divorce rate, and the growing number of children whose parents divorced since the 1970s reflected wider social changes and created a shift in the perception and social acceptance of divorce (Gottman & Notarius, 2002; Pinsof, 2002). The role of marriage in coordinating social life has eroded and many children are being brought up in alternative settings (Coontz, 2007). Divorce is a complex event and a diversion in the life course with personal, social, legal, and financial short- and long-term effects for adults and children. It calls for new roles and relationship patterns, and an integration of events and emotions (Amato, 2000; Hetherington & Kelly, 2002). Theoretical interest led to a growing body of research (Amato, 2000; Hetherington & Kelly, 2002; Wallerstein & Lewis, 1998), which tends to focus on children's postdivorce losses and harms. Yet, the conceptualizations of divorce in negative terms alone, implying harm and damage, can skew the way we view adjustment (Amato, 2003; Coltrane & Adams, 2003) and may block recognition of coping mechanisms and capabilities that may accompany this transition (Smart, Neale, & Wade, 2001; Stewart, Copeland, Lane Chester, Malley, & Barenbaum, 1997).

The goal of this study was to deepen the understanding of the way young adults whose parents divorced during their childhood perceive and experience parental divorce. It relies on the theoretical conception of the family as a system and general systems theory (Bertalanffy, 1968). The nuclear family is viewed as the basic unit composing human society. It is flexible and changeable, whereby each change in every subsystem influences all parts of the system. Similarly, each emotional fluctuation has an effect on relatedness, closeness, and differentiation amongst members, influencing reaction to changing external circumstances (Bowen, 1978). Similarly, in divorce, the breakup of the couple subsystem affects all individuals and subsystems in the family and its relationship to all other systems (Lee, 2006).

The research is also conceptually connected to developmental theories. Young adults are facing major developmental tasks as they enter adulthood. Since their overall subjective, retrospective perception of parental divorce at this stage was not researched, this article seeks to understand the implications of divorce at this developmental stage. Erikson (1950) defined young adulthood within the age bracket of 18-25. Tasks typical to this stage are developing intimacy, based on the emergence of stable self-identity (Erikson, 1950); differentiation (the second stage of individuation between child and parents, which frees the young adult from infantile dependence and allows for further responsibility; Bios, 1975); and a psychological reorganization of past experiences towards the achievement of adult identity (Laufer, 1989). Israeli Jewish young adults are conscripted to mandatory military service at 18. …

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