Students learn to cope with high divorce rates

Kelly Roy was just 18 months old when her parents filed for divorce.

“My parents have been divorced for basically my entire life,” Roy said. “I only remember them being divorced, so I guess the plus side of it all is I don’t remember the whole ‘family falling apart’ issue.”

Roy, a sophomore majoring in communications, is one of the many students at The University of Alabama dealing with divorce. Roy said the effects of her parent’s divorce have affected her college experience.

“It’s difficult getting both of my parents to take care of my tuition,” Roy said. “Instead of having a married couple, I have to rely on two people who don’t always pay on time, which is difficult, especially since they don’t really speak with each other.”

Roy said holidays and simply driving home for the weekend can be problematic as well.

“Whenever I want to go home on the weekends, I always have to ask myself whose home should I go home to,” Roy said. “My parents only live a few hours a part, but I can’t really visit both in one weekend. … I always end up driving constantly.”

Lee Keyes, executive director of the Counseling Center at the University, said the topic of divorce is a fairly frequent reason that students come to the Center.

“Given that over half of marriages end in divorce, it is expected that this would be on the minds of many students,” Keyes said. “Many times students feel ‘caught in the middle’ and struggle with some of the negative communication patterns in which couples in conflict engage. … This causes stress, worry and sadness, and students come to work through those issues.”

While the Counseling Center does see divorce occurring long before the student arrives at school, it also sees divorce emerging after students go off to college.

Keyes said students whose parents were divorced in the past have had at least some time to adjust and manage any issues that result, but the latter group deals with stress and changes right here and now.

“The latter is probably more common, simply because the total number of years involved is greater than the four or so that students are in school,” Keyes said. “The problems they experience are acute and feel more overwhelming or worrisome.”

Olivia Gartzman, a freshman majoring in public relations, said her parents got divorced when she was reaching her teen years, a time when she needed her mother the most.

“I had to learn to be a big girl by myself and learn how to put on makeup and such,” Gartzman said.

Now a freshman in college, Gartzman said she is experiencing new things and facing new challenges without a mother figure to share it with.

“I’ve learned from my sisters and friends here at UA to make the best with what you have and to not dwell on the things you don’t have the power to change,” Gartzman said. “The divorce and not really having a mother figure in my life has hit me hard, but it has also made me a stronger person for right now as well as the future.”

The Counseling Center provides programming on healthy relationships, assertive communication and stress management, all of which may be related to the issue of divorce.

“We can also provide free support groups for students whose parents [are] divorced or are divorcing, when there is enough interest for us to do so,” Keyes said.

Keyes said students dealing with divorce should come to the Counseling Center early.

“Don’t wait until it affects other parts of your life such as school or other relationships,” Keyes said. “It’s important to know that methods of coping and communicating effectively are available and can be learned. … The negative aspects of this issue can be minimized so that one can preserve healthy relationships with family and others.”

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