Physical and financial costs

A Qualitative study: Exploring the coping styles and long-term Psychosocial Effects of Divorce on South Asian Females

Chapter 1

INTRODUCTION Divorce rates in the UK alone have been rapidly increasing for over three decades and only recently fell by 2.6 per cent between 2006 and 2007 from 148,141 to 144,220 (Office for National Statistics, 2008). Although the level of divorce has stabilized in Britain, concern about the ramifications of divorce for children still remain high. In 1991, the highest number of couples (158,745) went through a divorce with an even higher level of children being involved (160,684) (Office for National Statistics, 2006). Not only are there considerable physical and financial costs for the parties concerned but more harmful emotional costs. A significant amount of research has delved into this area in order to understand the long-term implications of divorce on children and gives a clear indication of the ways in which a child may be affected. These include; psychological problems (Allison & Furstenberg, 1989), relationship issues (Wauterickx, Guowy & Bracke, 2006) and self-esteem problems (Boyd, Nunn, & Parish, 1983; Poussin & Martin-Lebrun, 2002).

Immediate effects of divorce

Most families who experience a divorce tend to go through a 'crisis period', which can usually last up to a year or more. During this phase the lives of all family members may become severely disrupted (Amato, 2000; Hetherington, Bridges, & Insabella, 1998). Essentially, parent-child relationships during this crisis phase are likely to suffer drastically (Baldwin & Skinner, 1989). As a result of the poor relationship with parents paired with the actual divorce, younger, cognitively immature children usually display the most apparent signs of distress. They may become disobedient, whiney and disrespectful and may even begin to feel that they have somehow caused the disintegration of their family (Hetherington, 1989).

Older children and adolescents however, often respond by withdrawing from family members and can become involved in self-destructive behaviours such as substance abuse, sexual transgression & truancy (Amato, 2000; Hetherington, Bridges, & Insabella, 1998). They may also display hostile, rebellious, antisocial behaviour with interference in peer relations (Hetherington, Bridges, & Insabella, 1998) Furthermore, older children in divorced families more commonly reported negative life events, interpersonal problems, alcohol use and smoking. The school performance of these children was also found to be inferior to that of children from non-divorced families (Hillevi & Ulla, 1992). Such consequences of a divorce may emerge immediately after a separation and increase during the earlier years preceding a divorce and then diminish, whilst others may materialize many years later (Hetherington, Cox, & Cox, 1982; Wallerstein & Blakeslee, 1989). For this reason it is important to also investigate the long-term effects of divorce as well as the short-term consequences.

Long-term consequences of divorce

Although, children may appear to have adjusted well to the change in family life and can exhibit what appears to be healthy patterns of psychological adjustment, even years later there may still be some lingering after-effects. Results from one longitudinal-study indicate that, when interviewed more than 20 years later, children from divorced families were still negative in their review of the impact of the divorce on their lives and have been found to show evidence of psychological distress even up to six years later (Allison & Furstenberg, 1989). Another recent study found both a direct and indirect link between divorce and depression in Belgian households. The indirect link resulted in individuals of divorce displaying specific relationship characteristics in adulthood (Wauterickx, Guowy & Bracke, 2006). In addition to this, a long-term follow up study in the United Kingdom revealed that delinquency by the age of 21 was higher in those individuals whose parents had divorced & the experience of parental separation in childhood was a threat to educational achievement (Wadsworth, Maclean, Kuh & Rodgers, 1990). Another follow-up study which projected the negative long-term after effects of divorce on children showed that even at the age of 22, distinction in health behaviours still existed among both males and females with a background of divorce; heavy drinking and daily smoking was more common. Furthermore, a larger number of those from divorced backgrounds were employed and fewer were studying than those from non-divorced families. Loss of a job and exclusion from school was also found to be more common among those individuals from divorced families. These differences still remained even after controlling for social class (Hillevi & Ulla, 1992).

Relationships with parents

The quality of post-divorce parenting has been found to be a mediating factor in the extent to which a child may be affected by the dissolution of parental marriage in the long-term (Hetherington, 1993). It appears that divorce can be a stressful experience for both parents and children. Strain on a single parent may lead to them taking it out on their children. In 85% of the cases in divorcing families, the wife usually obtains custody of the children thus leaving the mother to both provide for and raise the children. As imagined this is a difficult task and can put strain on mother-child relationships. Furthermore, divorced women are usually faced with getting by on nearly half the family income they had before (Smock, 1993). In some cases the family may be forced to move to a lower-income neighbourhood which can affect their quality of life resulting in a lack of resources which can again, have a negative impact on the mother-child relationship. In most cases this poor mother-child relationship never actually recovers and may continue into adulthood (Hazelton, Lancee, O'niel, 1998). In addition, the parents, being consumed with the problems of their relationship, often end up neglecting the needs of their children (Betty, 1997).

Data extracted from the National Survey of Children was examined to see whether the effects of parental divorce are observable in young adulthood. The results indicated that among 18 to 22 year olds from disrupted families, 65% had poor relationships with their fathers and 30% with their mothers, and 40% had received some sort of psychological help. It was evident in adulthood that there was a significant effect on mother-child relationships, although none was found in adolescence (Zill, Morrrison, & Coiro, 1993). Finley (2003) proposes that post-divorce father-child relationships are of great importance, not only for the well-being of the fathers but also for the well-being of the children. In addition, a study conducted by Holdnack (1992) found that family closeness after divorce affected the children's long-term psychological adjustments. In some cases however, children may actually benefit from divorce, especially if before the divorce they had suffered years of regular and severe marital conflict (Amato and Booth 1997; Hanson, 1999), and those who develop very close, mutually accommodating and satisfying relationships with single parents (Arditti, 1999).

Romantic relationships

There appears to be some evidence that immediately after a divorce, children's beliefs about the world may be affected, in particular their values about the permanence of relationships (Hess & Camara, 1979). One possible long-term consequence of this is that adolescents emerging from a family of divorce are more likely than those from non-divorced families to fear that their own marriage will be unsuccessful (Franklin, Janoff-Bulman, & Roberts, 1990). Research indicates that there may be some basis for this concern due to the finding that those individuals whose parents are divorced are more likely to experience an unhappy marriage and the chances of divorce are also much higher as opposed to adults from intact families (Amato and Keith, 1991).

The notion most laypersons hold is that, children whose parents divorce are likely to be scarred for life by the experience is supported by the findings of a 15 year follow-up study in California conducted by Wallerstein & Blakeslee (1989). Wallerstein found that on reaching adulthood nearly half the children were worried, angry and involved in multiple relationships and impulsive marriages ending in early divorce (Wallerstein, 1991). Some of the children who displayed these outcomes seemed untroubled and calm at earlier ages. Due to this reason Wallerstein suggested that "one cannot predict long-term effects of divorce on children from how they react at the outset" (Wallerstein & Blakeslee, 1989). With comparison to those from non-divorced backgrounds, those from a background of divorce were more likely to have experienced a divorce, separation, or abortion themselves. These differences still remained even after controlling for social class (Hillevi & Ulla, 1992).

There has however been some opposing research which suggests otherwise. One particular study found that, when assessing the long-term effects of divorce, the sense of loss and anger over their parents' divorce was not related to the intimate relationships that adolescents were able to build (Shulman et al., 2001).


Rotter (1967) described interpersonal trust as being "an expectancy of a person or group regarding the likelihood that a promise will be kept". Trust plays an important role in effective social functioning and the ability to uphold relationships with parents, peers, colleagues, friends and partners (Barber, 1983). The lack of trust hinders with effective interpersonal performance. Individuals who lack interpersonal trust, for example have been found to have more remote and unhappy relationships, and to be less satisfied with their relationships (Mitchell, 1990). Moreover, it has also been suggested that the development of trust is a central component of adjustment and a "healthy personality" (Johnson & Briggs, 1997). For example, the findings of one study indicate that individuals low in trust also report higher stress scores and more emotional and physical distress than individuals scoring high in trust (Schill, Toves & Ramanaiah, 1980).

Individuals who have had more positive early experiences with others may become more trusting than those who have had more negative early relationships (Hardin, 1993). In relation to this, children of divorce have directly experienced the dissolution of a relationship they trusted and relied on. Therefore, they are more likely to hold negative views of people and the world in general (Franklin, Jonaf-Bulman & Roberts, 1990). Ross & Mirowsky (1999) argue that when children are abandoned by either one or both parents as a result of the divorce, they may develop the idea that other people cannot be trusted and harm others in pursuit of their own happiness. The findings of one particular study support this view, where women from divorced families reported less trust and satisfaction in their own relationships compared to those from intact families (Jacquet & Surra, 2001). Furthermore, Franklin et al (1990) found as a result of divorce, children who were exposed frequently to a strained parental relationship displayed decreased trust in parents.


Erik Erikson (1963) argued that young adolescents often become confused and show at least some erosion in self-esteem as a result of the many physical, cognitive and social changes due to puberty. Research indicates that parents may also play an essential role in shaping a child's self-esteem. Children with high self-esteem have been found to have parents who are warm and democratic (Coopersmith, 1967; Isberg et al , 1989; Lamborn et al, 1991). In which case it is fair to assume that as a consequence of the divorce (due to problems with parent-child relationships) children may not receive the support they need from their parents during the time when these changes are taking place. Parents who have been through divorce are also less likely to be warm and democratic, especially within single-parent households. This can in turn lead to a considerable reduction in self-esteem which may carry on throughout adolescence and young adulthood.

Research suggests that adolescents in divorced families have more of a negative self-evaluation and are more likely to have lower self-esteem compared to those from an intact family (Boyd, Nunn, & Parish, 1983; Poussin & Martin-Lebrun, 2002). This can in turn have a negative effect on many aspects in their lives e.g. their own marriage and relationships. Young and Parish (1977) found that college women whose parents had been divorced during childhood or adolescence generally had lower self-concepts and were more likely to report a greater sense of insecurity compared to those with non-divorced parents.

Coping strategies

The stress-illness paradigm predicts that stressful life experiences can act as mediating factors for both physical and mental dysfunction (Theorell & Rahe, 1971). Therefore, according to the stress-illness theory a stressful life event such as parental divorce is more likely to increase the chances of developing physical or mental health problems. One explanation for the stress-illness relationship is coping. Lazarus and Folkman (1984) have defined coping as "a person's constantly changing cognitive and behavioural efforts to manage specific external and/or internal demands that are appraised as taxing or exceeding the resources of the person".

Lazarus and Folkman (1984) have also introduced two types of coping; one of which is more problem focused (attempting to alter the source of the stress) and the other is emotion focused (attempting to manage the emotional distress associated with the situation). Research indicates that the use of approach coping (problem focused) is linked to increased well-being, whereas avoidant coping (emotion focused) is associated with increased stress levels (Wilkinson & Walford, 1998). Consequently, the extent to which an individual is affected may be linked to the coping strategies employed in order to deal with parental divorce. For example, one study in particular discovered that coping styles used by participants after their parents divorce were strongly connected to the long-term outcomes. The findings indicated that individuals who used support strategies e.g. establishing a two-way support relationship (problem focused), reported their parents divorce as a growing experience with some positive outcomes. However, those individuals who used defense strategies e.g. acting out and escapism (emotion focused), rated their parents divorce as more negative and painful (Sever, Guttman & Lazar, 2007).

Sex differences

Although children of both sexes tend to display demanding, attention-seeking, acting- out behaviours, there have been some clear gender differences that are evident in children's responses to divorce. Boys have been found to show behavioural problems even before a divorce has occurred (Block, Block, & Gjerde, 1986; 1988). Whereas girls, tend to recover from their social and emotional disturbances two years after the occurrence of a divorce. Boys on the other hand continued to display emotional stress and relationship problems with parents, siblings, teachers and peers (Hetherington et al, 1982; Wallerstein & Kelly, 1980). Lamb (1981) attempts to explain these differences by suggesting that boys tend to feel closer to their fathers than girls which can in turn lead to them experiencing frustration and a deeper sense of loss due to being unable to spend time with their father as often. However, critics believe that boys tend to appear to be so badly adjusted because most researchers have focused mainly on explicit behaviour which is more easily detected as opposed to covert psychological distress which is more subtle and therefore less easily detected (Zaslow, 1989).

Recent findings indicate that girls experience more covert distress even before a divorce has occurred (Doherty & Needle, 1991). In addition, girls tend to lack self-confidence in their relationships with boys and men and also participate in early sexual activity (Hetherington, Stanley-Hagan, & Anderson, 1989; Wallerstein & Corbin, 1989). This suggests that divorce effects girls and boys in different ways. Another criticism is that investigators have focused more on the most common custodial arrangement (mother-headed households) when it has in fact been found that boys living in an arrangement where the father has been granted custody are more likely to adjust better than those boys who live with their mothers. It has in fact been discovered that children and adolescents of both genders adjust better and are less likely to drop out of school if they are living with a parent of the same sex (Camara & Resnick, 1988; Zaslow, 1989).

Aims of the study

Despite this growing wealth of research there appears to be a lack of literature on the experiences of parental divorce in other cultures, especially ethnic minority groups such as South Asians. Surinder (2006) argues that this oversight of the ramifications of divorce for South-Asians needs to be addressed. Amongst the conventional statistical sources available, divorce rates for ethnic minority groups are difficult to find, however there are indications that the overall rates amongst South Asian communities are low in relation to the general population (Modood et al., 1997; Berthoud, 2000; Summerfield and Gill, 2005; Babb et al., 2006). Anecdotal evidence however indicates that divorce rates among South Asian communities are on the rise (Doug, 2006; Rani, 2007).

It is therefore imperative to also investigate the effects of divorce on children of this ethnic-minority group separately rather than look at the general population as a whole, especially due to the fact that cultural differences play an important role on our subjective experiences and how we deal with certain situations (Aldwin, 1999). For these reasons, the experiences of South Asian females will be explored in this study. The main reason for the primary focus being on the experiences of females is due to the gender differences in dealing with parental divorce. As stated before, females have been found to display more covert psychological distress (Doherty & Needle, 1991) as opposed to males, who tend to display explicit behavioural problems (Block, Block, & Gjerde, 1986; 1988). This is why further research needs to be conducted in looking at the experiences of females, in order to tap into those underlying problems.

The primary reason for conducting a qualitative study is due to the lack of qualitative research within this area. Qualitatively exploring the experiences of individuals can substantially add to our understanding of how and why these changes might have occurred and therefore led to the long-term effects (add study). By comparison, quantitative studies employing structured questionnaires can only tell us whether any changes have occurred; they say nothing about the meaning of such numerical changes for offspring of divorced couples.

The present study aims to explore the consequences of parental divorce on South Asian females. The main areas that will be investigated with relation to parental divorce are; the effects on self-esteem, trust and relationships with both parents and partners. Coping strategies will also be explored in order to understand what helped the participants to cope with the divorce and why. Research such as this, will allow professionals such as clinicians, counsellors and therapists to better understand the issues within the South Asian community and gain an insight into family situations regarding parental divorce. This will allow these professionals to deal effectively with the problems surrounding individuals from ethnic minority groups such as South Asians. Subsequently, if positive outcomes are discovered as a result of parental divorce, this information can be communicated to the public in order to tackle stereotypical views encompassing those from a background of divorce.

Chapter 2



The present study employed a qualitative design utilizing a semi-structured interview format looking at the psychosocial effects of parental divorce on South Asian females. This was due to the majority of prior research being conducted using quantitative methods. The implementation of a qualitative design allowed in-depth answers to be given on a sensitive issue, which required more than numerical data. A semi-structured interview arrangement was used in order to allow participants to convey their feelings and experiences in-depth but to also prevent them from going off-topic. Ideas and concepts were developed using the thematic analysis principles due to the flexibility of the method and in order to attempt to extract a rich and detailed yet complex account of the data. Thematic analysis involves identifying, analysing and reporting patterns (themes) within data. A critical feature of thematic analysis is the minimal organisation of the data and the description of the data set in rich detail. It may also frequently go further than this and interpret various aspects of the research topic (Boyatzis, 1998). The data was then analysed and evaluated using existing research in the area of parental divorce especially in relation to South Asian females. Young women whose parents had divorced before the age of 16 were interviewed independently and asked numerous structured, open-ended questions with regards to their experience of the divorce and how this has affected their self-esteem, trust and ultimately, relationships. South Asian females were chosen due to the repercussions for the members of this ethnic minority group remaining invisible and neglected within existing literature on the consequences of divorce for children. The interview protocol is outlined in Appendix ?. (add here how data is organised).


The number of participants that took part in and completed the study were six females of South Asian origin. Five of these were already known to the researcher and one was selected via opportunity sampling through the use of the snowball effect. The researcher felt that knowing the participants beforehand would not necessarily serve as a barrier but instead, could play as leverage for more deeper, meaningful and truthful responses. All participants had experienced parental divorce at some point during the period when they were under 16 years of age. All participants took part on an entirely voluntary basis and no reward or incentive was offered.


The interview protocol was developed with regards to previous research within the area. It consisted of 45 questions which related to a) the participants experiences of emerging from a background of divorce, b) their understanding and perception of divorce, c) perceived impact of the separation and separation related events in their life, d) absence of one or both parents in their life and the effects of this, e) single parent life, f) relationships with parents at the time of the divorce and after, g) romantic relationships, h) trust, i) coping strategies, j) self-perception, k) socio-economic changes, and l) general conclusions about the parental divorce. Participants were also required to fill out a consent form and a Dictaphone was used to record the interviews and play them back whilst transcribing.


This study was designed to investigate the effects and the experiences of divorce on South Asian females. Ethical approval was also required from the University of Westminster ethics committee in order to be able conduct the study. The questions for the interviews were designed specifically with regards to previous research within the area in order to see whether the effects are the same within the South Asian culture. One pilot interview was conducted beforehand in order to see whether the questions were all appropriate and allowed the interviewer to gain an in depth understanding of the participants feelings, emotions and experiences (refer to appendices for first protocol). This also allowed the researcher to get first hand experience in the interview process and what it involves and how the interview could be improved e.g. adapting prompts/probes in order to improve the answers given. After the pilot interview, the researcher came to the realisation that some questions were unnecessary and did not draw out the right response. Therefore, the previous interview protocol was adapted, the section on academic achievement was taken out and two new sections were added; 1) trust and, 2) coping strategies (refer to appendices for protocol 2). Participants were selected via opportunity sampling and through the use of the snowball effect. Before each interview was conducted, the participant was given a list of the different concepts outlined in the materials section, so that they could familiarise themselves with the content of the questions and think about the topics in depth if they had not already done so. Each interview was carried out in a quiet room either chosen by the participant or confirmed by the interviewee as being comfortable. The rooms included university qualitative labs designed specifically for interviews or household living spaces. Once the participants had sat down and were comfortable, the interviewer conversed and familiarised herself with them in order to make them feel at ease. Consent forms were signed and dated by the participants before progressing any further with the interview. The interviewer then began recording with the permission of the participant. The topics that would be covered in the interview were then restated and verbal consent was gained from the participants before advancing any further with the interview. Throughout the entire duration of the interview, participants were encouraged via verbal and non-verbal communication such as nodding and displaying a relaxed posture in order to make the interviewees feel more comfortable and relaxed. The interviews were planned to last between 45 minutes to an hour long. Despite this, no strain was put on the participants to answer every question if they did not wish to do so, or to shorten their responses if they were too long. At the end of the interview, the participants were asked if they were happy with everything that had been discussed and were also offered the chance to add anything that they felt was relevant to the study but may have been omitted. Participants were then fully debriefed about the aims of the research and thanked for their assistance. They were also informed that if they had any concerns or worries about anything that had been discussed, they could contact the interviewer via email or phone if they wanted and they would be put in touch with someone who could help.

Ethical considerations

The present study abides by the British Psychological Society's Ethical Guidelines for conducting research with human subjects. A crucial ethical issue which needed to be addressed was the sensitivity of the topic of divorce due to the likelihood of the interview raising matters that the participant had difficulty talking about. At such an instance, the participants were not required to answer any questions they may have felt uncomfortable with and were also made fully aware of this. Throughout each interview participants were treated in a polite, professional and respectful manner. The participation of interviewees was on an entirely voluntary basis, and they were fully acquainted with the fact that they could terminate the interview process at any time if they were inclined to do so. Besides this, participants also signed a consent form without which the interview was not authorized to proceed. The recording of the interview was also a potentially fundamental problem that needed to be addressed due to the possibility of participants feeling intimidated by the presence of the recording equipment. Consequently, permission was attained for the use of a Dictaphone before each interview was conducted. Anonymity and confidentiality was maintained at all times, the names of the participants were altered in order to ensure that the study remained personal as well as confidential. Participants were debriefed with regards to the specific aims of the study as well as an overview of previous research in the area after the interviews had been carried out in order to prevent any form of bias within the answers. Help and support was offered to the participants through providing the contact details of the supervisor who could then advise them further. The contact details of the author were also revealed in order to allow participants to follow up the study if they wished to do so.

Chapter 3


The present study aimed to explore certain psychosocial effects of parental divorce on South Asian females. This was done in order to understand whether there was any sort of positive or negative associations between parental divorce and the participants self-esteem and relationships and whether coping strategies had an affect on the long-term impact of the divorce on these two areas.

After careful analysis and completion of line by line coding on each of the six interviews, four main categories were established; 1) Reduction in self-esteem; 2) Relationships with parents 3) Relationships with Partners and, 4) The importance of coping styles employed.

Theme 1: Self-esteem

A particularly common viewpoint expressed by all six females in this study was that their self-esteem had reduced since the divorce. They felt that their self-esteem was much higher before the divorce and that their parent's marriage dissolution had an impact on their self-esteem in some sense. Two sub-themes emerged within this super ordinate theme; 1) Withdrawal due to anger towards parents, 2) Uncertainty in life.

Withdrawal due to anger towards parents

The majority of the participants felt anger towards their absent parent which was the father in most cases. Although in a few of the cases, some individuals felt anger towards either their mother or both parents. For this reason they appeared to distance themselves from the parent/s they felt anger towards:

Johura - "the distance between us sort of got bigger and bigger and that probably had a lot to do with the fact that she was very angry most of the time and I was just you know, angry at her and my dad and misbehaving all the time and sort of, acting out and doing what I wanted without any concern for anyone else..."

Nadia - "so because of what he done to my mum....and how he treated her...I didn't like it and it made me in a way I distanced myself...I became distant...whenever I met him...I acted as if he wasn't my dad but more like a distant know...."

In relation to this, it is evident that participants who were angry towards either one or both of the parents reflected this by becoming more withdrawn from their parents. Several interviewees also felt that they became more withdrawn after the divorce. They felt that they were perhaps not as talkative and open as they were before the divorce occurred. This was expressed quite concisely and openly in most of the accounts. Neema provides us with an example here:

Neema - "it's just reinforced my negative qualities...and when I was younger I used to be really social and really confident...and when I used to talk to other people...I was just chatty...I mean I'm still a chatty person but I chat loads but I suppose it's affected my confidence and made me more withdrawn and when I came out of my shell again I was too...I wasn't as out of my shell as I used to be..."

It is therefore a possibility that the reduced interaction led to an insecure attachment forming with the parent/s, thus leading to withdrawal in social situations (Renken, Egeland, Marvinney, Mangelsdorf, & Sroufe, 1989). With reference to previous literature in this area, social withdrawal has been found to be associated with decreased self-esteem (Guillon, Crocq & Bailey, 2002). In addition to this, Evans and Bloom (1996) found that female adolescents with a background of parental divorce displayed lower self esteem and less secure attachment with comparison to female adolescents whose parents were still together. It is therefore, a possibility that social withdrawal may be exhibited by girls in the earlier years after the divorce, as a result of lower self-esteem due to poor parent-child relationships and may then continue on throughout adolescence and early adulthood. Furthermore, Rubin, Both & Wilkinson (1990) argue that social withdrawal indicates a prognosis of internalising problems such as anxiety, feelings of loneliness and depression in later years. This is further supported by the findings of Doherty et al (1991), which suggest that females display more covert distress during a stressful experience such as parental divorce. This explains why the majority of the females in this study did not feel that they were very confident and appeared to be withdrawn in social situations, which may have been a result of years of unresolved post-divorce distress.

Research also indicates that culture may account for withdrawal and self-esteem problems in South Asian females. Inman (2006) suggests that it may be likely that second generation South Asian females have to take on the challenge of learning and preserving their culture, typically second hand via their parents. This may lead to stress which can contribute towards feelings of seclusion, defensiveness and inferiority (Ramisetty-Mikler, 1993). Therefore it may be likely that the females in this study may have already felt isolated and inferior to their British counterparts. These feelings could have elevated as a result of the divorce and the poor relationships with their parents due to losing the main connection (parents) between them and their culture.

Identity status

When asked how well they understood themselves, it was evident from the majority of the participants responses, that they felt that they had no sense of direction and didn't really feel that they knew themselves very well. They indicated that they were confused and unsure of themselves and didn't really know what defined them.

Amina - "I'd like to think that I'm really ambitious and I'd like to have ambitions and erm as much as I'd like to believe that I have and claim to have, I don't think I do actually know what I want...I don't actually know what my goals are and I don't understand what would make me happy..."

This is of great concern, particularly because a sense of identity and consistency of self has been reported to be associated with higher levels of well-being and no sense of identity or consistency of self has been found to be related to distress (Schwartz, 2007). Identity development usually commences during childhood, peaks in adolescence and emerging adulthood and is a lifelong process (Adams & Marshall, 1996; Lerner, 2002). It may therefore be a possibility that the women in this study entered a period of an identity crisis (Erikson, 1968) due to the disruption caused by the divorce, especially because the majority of the participants were just approaching adolescence when their parents divorce took place. The disrupted relationships with their parents may have also played a role in the unresolved identity issues, especially because it could have led to insecure attachments being formed with the parents which could have then led to lower levels of identity synthesis. This is supported by research which suggests that identity development is related to attachment relationships to parents, especially the mother (Samoulis, Layburn, Schiaffino, 2004). Grotevant (1998) suggests that identity development is extremely important for emerging adults because it lays down the framework for future interpersonal relationships and psychosocial development. It is therefore essential to understand the role of identity status among emerging adults from a background of parental divorce. Erikson (1968, 1980) proposes that indications of a flourishing resolution of the identity crisis are demonstrated through "comfort with oneself, a sense of direction in life, a feeling of self continuity, and confidence that significant others value and support the self."

It may be likely that culture does also play a role in the development of identity. Previous research suggests that American-born children of immigrants tend to face different challenges than their parents did and have to try to steer between the principles of their culture at home with the values they encounter at work, school or in their personal lives (Agarwal, 1991). This is likely to lead to difficulty in resolving value clashes when they occur and as a result these individuals may experience identity crises which may disrupt the development of self-esteem and ethnic identity (Sodowsky, Kwan, & Pannu, 1995). This suggests the likelihood that South Asian females in this study may actually already have had identity issues which they were trying to resolve and the divorce combined with the hindered parental relationships may have further disrupted the identity development process.

Theme 2: Trust

All but one of the participants in this study appeared to have some form of issues with trust. The one individual (Neema) who did not appear to be affected, participated in the pilot interview and so, was not interviewed with regards to trust because this section was later added to the interview protocol. There were two subthemes which were identified with relation to this primary theme, these are; 1) Impact of parental relationships on trust and, 2) Trust in romantic relationships

Parental relationships and trust

Interviewees had difficulty trusting the parent who had left them which in all the cases was the father. There were only two participants who were still in contact with their father; Neema who took part in the pilot interview and as mentioned before, was not interviewed with regards to trust and Maria said that she did trust her parents despite some problems at the beginning.

Maria - "I'm also much closer to both my parents now....and that has helped me to overcome my trust issues with them...especially because, erm...I've sort of realised why they lied as I've become now...I definitely do trust them both...."

Amina - "I think I trust my mum because in my mum and dads relationship, my mum was the victim so...I feel sorry for her and I trust her as well but I don't trust my dad because I've seen the way he's treated my mum and he was a liar."

Nadia - "my dad...well......I still love him just because he's my dad...but not trust him at all...he can see us whenever he wants you know...he can come and see us..."

A great deal of emphasis has been put on parent-child relationships in the development of trust. Especially with regards to Erikson's (1963) theory of attachment which warrants secure attachment as a predictor of absolute trust in relation to parents (King, 2002). Research by Black and Pedro-Carroll (1993) also supports this concept and suggests that maintaining a good parent-child relationship may alleviate any negative influence of parental divorce on later trust. The findings of the present study also seem to suggest a similar pattern; Maria is able to trust both her parents because after the divorce they have both maintained a loving and close relationship with her. Amina has difficulty trusting her father because she feels he was a liar and because of the way he treated her mother and doesn't appear to have maintained a good relationship with her. Nadia also has difficulty trusting her father because he hasn't continued any sort of relationship with her since the divorce. All the participants appear to be able to trust their mothers unconditionally, due to having good relationships with them after the divorce, especially in recent years.

Trust in romantic relationships

All participants (except Neema the pilot interview participant) were affected in terms of being able to trust their respective partners. Participants felt that that they could only trust their partners to a certain extent.

Amina - "I've not had that many relationships since I've been an adult, but I find it really hard to, well I do trust my partner but I don't trust him one hundred per cent............... but it's because of what I've experienced"

Most of the participants who had been in relationships felt that their initial issues with trust began with the collapse of their parents marriage as well as the abandonment by their fathers. But they also felt that their own experiences reinforced their feelings of mistrust towards men. This is supported by King (2002), who proposes that negative experiences of relationships in adulthood are expected to emphasize any negative experiences associated with parental divorce during childhood, strengthening previous reservations about trust.

Maria - "my first relationship ended due to the trust being broken....and I guess that has sort of strengthened that belief, that relationships don't work and men are not to be trusted"

Maria felt that her own relationship experiences reinforced the idea that men should not be trusted. Maria still had a stable relationship with both her parents, which supports the view that although divorce and relationships with parents may play a role on the outlook of females with regards to trust, it can't necessarily be regarded as the primary influence behind these views. This is again supported by King (2002, whereby she found that parental divorce at an early age has a negative relationship with trust in others. However, once the child reaches adolescence this becomes insignificant and the parent-teen relationship begins to play more of an important role in trusting others. Her research also indicates that satisfactory intimate relations endorse trust in others including future partners. King (2002) concludes that secure parent-child relationships mediate the negative impact of prior parental divorce on trust in other people. In addition to this, positive relationship experiences with intimate partners, friends and relatives are also important. This is however, opposed by Nadia who has not had any previous relationships but still feels unable to trust men.

When asked about whether she thinks she will ever be happy in her future relationships

Nadia - "I often think about that...well, really...because I find it hard to trust people I'm not sure how I'd go round that...I find it hard to trust men..."

Nadia has not had any previous relationships but does seem to have some apprehension with regards to whether she will be able to trust her future partner. She felt like her father abandoned her (refer to section) because he could have contacted her if he wanted to. This could be a major contributing factor towards her issues with trust. Despite having a very secure and close relationship with her mother from the beginning, she still feels that the divorce has affected her views of trust, especially because she feels unable to trust her father. This is further supported by Ross et al (1999), who argues that when children are abandoned by either one or both parents as a result of the divorce, they may develop the view that other people cannot be trusted.

It can therefore be concluded, that females from divorced families may display issues of trust towards men at the beginning. However, essentially their own experiences will either reinforce this belief, or contest it allowing them to overcome any mistrust they may have towards men. Nevertheless, further research does need to be conducted in order to fully understand the reasons behind this type of mistrust for South Asian females who have not had any previous relationships. In addition to this, there doesn't appear to be much prior literature with regards to South Asian females and their views of trust. It is therefore difficult to fully understand the reasons behind the lack of trust towards men and fathers which has been repeatedly expressed by the participants in this study. There may possibly be some cultural factors that could have contributed towards these views as well as the divorce and parental relationships. Further research needs to be conducted in order to fully understand the basis for these issues with trust.

Theme 3: Coping strategies

There were a number of different coping strategies employed by participants in order to deal with the stress caused by the divorce. The two main coping styles that were identified are; 1) Approach coping and, 2) Avoidance coping.

Approach coping

Participants who adopted this type of coping were more likely to utilize problem focused strategies such as confrontation, information inquiries and conscious self restraint in order to decrease, eliminate, or manage the internal and external demands of a stressor. Three types of problem focused strategies were identified in this data; 1) family support, 2) religion and 3) support from teachers.

Family support:

Almost all participants felt that they were given some sort of family support. The majority of the participants also indicated that they didn't have to ask for the support, it was automatically provided to them and they also specified that knowing it was readily available meant they could go to these individuals for support whenever they needed to.

Nadia - "having siblings and I don't think I would have dealt as well if I didn't have them...I didn't even really have to ask them or go to them for was just there you know...if I needed anything or support I had them all...."

Maria - "my dads sister was always there for us....we even went to stay at hers on weekends to get away from the commotion at home while the divorce was taking place...."

These participants felt that this type of support from the family really helped a great deal with the coping process. This is supported by the research of Wolchik, Ruehlman, Braver & Sandler (1989), where they found that at high levels of stress, children with support from family and non-family adults showed fewer adjustment problems than children with no support. Dreman (2000) suggests that Support from family members could be an essential part of assisting one of the most prominent, adaptive tasks of parental divorce, the reorganization of family structure and positions. Support from other members of the family such as grandparents has also been found to be linked with benefits for children from divorced families (Hetherington, 1989).

There is little research on culture and differences in support within the family but it is likely that within a South Asian family, due to a great deal of importance being put on family and the tight knit unit of direct and extended family, there may be more support available from relatives and siblings for children within a South Asian culture. Winstead (2002) provides support for this idea by stating that "many families within South Asian cultures are closely connected".


One of the participants (Nadia) also stated that her religion especially helped her to become more patient and control her anger.

Nadia - "praying you know makes me feel more at peace and helps me deal with everything better instead of just getting helps build up my patience..."

Nadia felt that religion was a major contributor towards her being able to cope more effectively with her parents divorce. Prior research also provides evidence for a strong association between religion and constructive adjustments in adolescence and a weak association between religiosity and stress (Mosher and Handal, 1997). Fabricatore and Handal (2000), found that individuals who possess a strong connection with god were less likely to be affected in a negative manner by everyday stressors. Pargament (1988) states that religion offers individuals "guidance, support and hope as well as emotional support." One study in particular found higher intrinsic orientation (individuals who are wholly committed to religious beliefs) scores and positive religious coping to be drastically associated with elevated scores on the Oxford Happiness Questionnaire Short-Form (Lewis, Maltby & Day, 2005). It is therefore suggested that when religiosity is related to happiness, it is linked with psychological well-being which promotes individual development and positive functioning (Lewis, Maltby & Day, 2005).

Support from teachers:

Maria in particular felt that as well as support from her family, support from her teachers also helped her to come to terms with the divorce, especially because her teacher had also experienced parental divorce.

Maria - "my teacher really helped me to understand that maybe it was for the better....I feel that because she had been through the same thing at a younger age she could help me to cope better..."

There has not been much research conducted on support provided by teachers during a stressful period such as divorce, however Bowen (1978) proposes that non-familial social support systems (e.g. teachers) are perceived as having a significantly positive relationship with long-term adjustment. Dreman (2000) further supports this by suggesting that support from non-family members can be valuable due to them being involved on a less personal level in the ongoing divorce procedure and may also offer an external viewpoint as well as respite from a stressful situation. Research conducted by Wolchik et al (1989) found that when children were going through a period of high level stress, support from non-familial members led to fewer adjustment problems. However at times of low stress, support from non-familial members led to poorer adjustment. Wolchik (1989) and his colleagues concluded that at high levels of divorce stress, non-familial support minimises adjustment problems by alleviating fears of abandonment, by compensating for the loss of a parent, and by helping children to interpret the divorce events more accurately. However, at low stress levels, children may perceive outside help as being threatening which can lead to negative adjustment if it poses a threat to self-sufficiency and self- esteem (Fisher, Nadler, & Witcher-Alagna, 1982).

Avoidance coping

Individuals who implemented this type of coping style were more likely to ignore and avoid the divorce. They were also more likely to withdraw from the emotional consequences of the divorce by employing emotion focused strategies, which involve attempting to feel better about a situation by tackling emotions and thinking, or performing in a manner which encourages emotional respite from stress. Johura in particular appeared to use this approach.

Johura - "well I tried to just forget about everything at the beginning, I just kind of avoided it and kept away from it, like when I would go school I'd pretend that home life was completely different from what it was and that I came from a normal family"

Johura also stated that she began to use alcohol and drugs to help her cope as time went on. When asked whether this type of coping helped, she responded:

Johura - "yes at the beginning it did help...well I thought it was helping at the time...because it would sort of numb my emotions and I didn't have to talk about them to anyone but as I got older it made things worse."

Previous research has shown that individuals who try to deal with their emotions and use avoidance as a coping method, are less likely to deal effectively with stressors such as divorce. Irion, Coon, and Blanchard-Fields (1988) found that children from divorced backgrounds were more likely to experience more stress, feel less in control and develop less mature methods of coping as opposed to their counterparts from intact families. Martinson & Campo (1991) state that "non-normative changes such as divorce tax an individual's abilities to cope". Mullis (2007) and her colleagues propose that there are major differences in the coping reactions employed by those from a background of divorce compared to those from intact families. Johura appeared to be the most effected by the divorce and had the most adjustment problems. All the participants appeared to use some form of avoidance coping at the beginning, but the majority of the participants began to implement approach coping as time went on. Whereas Johura on the other hand, continued to use avoidance coping to deal with problems in her life whether it was to do with the divorce or other issues. This explains why Johura was affected so badly compared to the other participants.

It may be possible that culture could have played an important role in how the women in this study coped with their parents divorce. Olah (1995) suggests that culture can be considered to make up an essential set of factors that may have an impact on the types of coping strategies implemented. The findings of Olah's (1995) study also provide support for this view. He found that girls from India preferred more emotion-focused strategies, whereas adolescents from European countries reported more Problem-focused strategies. Although, when faced with low anxiety level situations, participants across all cultures adopted approach coping and when faced with high anxiety level situations, they used avoidance. He concluded that cultural background forms the basis for the learning of different coping styles, however real experiences in connection with the unique stressors seem to manipulate the choice of coping strategies more effectively. This supports the findings of the present study, because the majority of the females seemed to adopt approach coping rather than avoidance coping. Suggesting that although culture may play a small role in forming the types of coping styles likely to be used, ultimately the coping approach likely to be used is down to the severity of the situation. In this case the situation was quite severe which explains the reasons for the participants implementing approach coping.


A number of different results were revealed with relation to the psychosocial impact of the divorce on the participants. It was established that the females self-esteem was affected a great deal as a result of the divorce and divorce related events such as the changes in the relationship with parents, especially fathers. The participants appeared to feel a great deal of anger towards their fathers for different reasons, but the primary reason being that they felt abandoned by their fathers. In addition to this, some participants also felt anger towards their mothers. As a result of this they began to withdraw from the parent/s towards whom they felt this sense of resentment. This may have in turn led to an insecure attachment being formed with those parents and could have then affected their self-esteem to the extent that they became withdrawn in social situations. It was also found that participants felt as though they had no sense of identity. This could have again been the cause of poor relationships with parents as a result of the divorce and could have also been a direct result of the stress caused by the divorce. Another possible explanation for these findings was the effect of culture on self-esteem and identity development.

It was also found that trust in fathers was largely affected in the cases where the father had not maintained any sort of relationship with the participant. It was again identified that attachment played a key role in an individuals ability to trust their parents. All participants were able to trust their mother unconditionally as a result of her maintaining a good relationship with them, especially in recent years. All the participants appeared to have some sort of issues with trusting men and their respective partners. Most participants said that this was the result of a combination of their parents divorce and the abandonment by their father at the beginning, but was then later reinforced by their own experiences. However, one of the participants (Nadia) who had not had any relationships, still appeared to display concerns about trust in future relationships and towards men in general. There appears to be lack of literature with regards to this, which means that it could indicate a potential research topic in the future.

The majority of the participants seemed to utilize problem focused coping in order to deal with the stress caused by the divorce. Almost all participants felt that they received some form of family support. One of the participants also indicated that she used religion to help her become more focused and patient, she also concluded that this appeared to help her a great deal with the coping process. Another participant felt that talking things through with her teacher, who had been through a similar experience helped her to effectively cope with and come to terms with her parents divorce. The only participant who seemed to use no form of problem focused coping and concentrated entirely on trying to avoid the divorce and deal with her emotions was Johura, as a result she appeared to be the most badly adjusted out of all the participants. Culture could have also somehow played a role in forming these coping strategies, for example South Asian families tend to be more closely connected than western families, which could possibly explain the reasons for most participants putting a great deal of importance on family support as a means of coping with the divorce.

In conclusion, parental divorce did have a direct impact on the psychosocial effects of divorce to an extent. However, parent-child relationships, which were affected as a result of the divorce, seemed to play more of an important role in the adjustment of the participants. Although ultimately, the way in which participants dealt with the divorce, was even more significant with relation to their overall adjustment.

Future research

There were two main areas which were identified as having unclear implications. These were the issue of trust with relation to men found with one particular participant who had not experienced any previous relationships, however it appears to be unclear whether this was a direct result of the divorce, being abandoned by her father or whether it was more to do with her cultural background, or quite possibly a combination of all three. It would be interesting to see whether any of these factors have an impact on South Asian females perceptions of trust and if so, in what ways. Another potential topic for future research could be; whether or not culture is important in South Asian females seeking out family support, especially because South Asian families appear to be very closely connected to each other.

Real world implications

Research similar to the present study can aid our understanding of the South Asian culture and the kinds of affects it can have on females from a background of parental divorce. It can also allow us to differentiate between the effects which may be a result of the divorce itself, the parental relationships and those that may be due to the culture and the difficulties faced by ethnic minority groups as a result of integration into western society. This kind of research could also be very valuable to therapists who are working with individuals of a South Asian origin in order to help them gain a better understanding of the culture and its potential impact on females of divorce. This could further allow them to develop their skills to work appropriately with certain populations.

One of the women in this study expressed that a teacher had helped a great deal in coping with her parents divorce. Research such as this could be used to make teachers more aware of the culture of South Asian females and fill in gaps of knowledge that teachers may have when working with young women of this origin. This knowledge can also be incorporated into group therapy sessions and interventions that may take place in schools.

One of the participants also felt that her siblings helped a great deal to cope with the consequences of the divorce. In addition, some participants felt that the support of their families helped immensely. Therefore, sibling therapy and family therapy as a whole could be used as a means of helping individuals to cope with their parents divorce and come to terms with it. This would allow the different members of the family to express their concerns and feelings in front of each other as a means helping them to understand one another which could further aid the coping process.

Reflexive Analysis

The qualitative approach to this study generated a rich data set which has provided a clearer picture of the psychosocial affects of divorce on the South Asian females. It has also allowed a further understanding of the different coping strategies employed by females from a South Asian background. Qualitative analyses such as this reflect a more personal set of responses and a more detailed analysis with contrast to the results obtained via quantitative methods. However, Hetherington (2003) suggests that although an account of how an individual may view their situation and family can be interesting in understanding their perspective, it may not necessarily be an accurate representation of what is going on in the family. Therefore if this study was to be repeated, a combination of different measures could be used in order to gain a more accurate interpretation of events and situations. These different measures can involve interviews with parents as well as adult children of divorce and observations. Personality tests could also be conducted in order to assess whether what the participant says about their own personality and their parents personality does in fact match with reality. This doesn't necessarily mean that interviews are as not as advantageous as observations or personality tests but instead that all types of sources do have their biases, limitations and strengths. This is why it is better to use a combination of different methods rather than just one.

Please be aware that the free essay that you were just reading was not written by us. This essay, and all of the others available to view on the website, were provided to us by students in exchange for services that we offer. This relationship helps our students to get an even better deal while also contributing to the biggest free essay resource in the UK!