J.D. Vance, a Republican candidate for the Ohio Senate, suggested in comments captured on video that parents struggling in violent or abusive marriages shouldn’t rush to get divorced.
Vance’s comments were reported on by Vice this week, and were recorded last September during an event at a California high school.
The senatorial candidate’s own parents divorced when he was younger, with his grandparents soon becoming his and his sister’s primary caretakers, according to his autobiographical book, “Hillbilly Elegy.”
In the recorded video, Vance suggested that the “sexual revolution” was to blame for people being too quick to leave their marriages. He further stated that a person shouldn’t necessarily seek a divorce due to a violent spouse, and said that the victim of the violence should try to make things work to ensure their child’s happiness and well-being in the long term.
His comments contradict what experts say is best for adults and children in those situations.
“This is one of the great tricks that I think the sexual revolution pulled on the American populace,” Vance said in the video, “which is the idea that like, ‘well, OK, these marriages were fundamentally, you know, they were maybe even violent, but certainly they were unhappy. And so getting rid of them and making it easier for people to shift spouses like they change their underwear, that’s going to make people happier in the long term.’”
Vance rejected that premise.
“Maybe it worked out for the moms and dads, though I’m skeptical. But it really didn’t work out for the kids of those marriages,” he claimed. “And that’s what I think all of us should be honest about, is we’ve run this experiment in real time. And what we have is a lot of very, very real family dysfunction that’s making our kids unhappy.”
In reality, however, experts say that “staying together for the kids” is not always the best option for couples, and can often cause problems for children in the long term.
“Children who experience distress as a result of chronic conflict between parents may be impacted negatively in a number of ways,” including lacking “role models for healthy relationships,” licensed therapist Kathy Hardie-Williams wrote in an article for GoodTherapy in 2017.
“If conflict is particularly harsh or volatile, children may learn and model a lack of respect for others,” Hardie-Williams said. “Often, children may also find it difficult to trust others or develop faith in healthy, positive relationships, and these effects may impact their adult relationships.”
When divorces in conflict-driven households do happen, it can benefit children, she said, increasing the likelihood of them having high levels of empathy, more quality time with each parent, and a greater understanding of what kind of commitment a marriage should entail.
Decades of research back up these conclusions and dispute the errant idea that divorce is always bad for children. A 2013 article for Scientific American, which examined a number of studies relating to children and divorce, concluded that “only a small percentage of young people” have any significant difficulties years after their parents get divorced.
“Although divorce is hard and often extremely painful for children, long-term harm is not inevitable. Most children bounce back and get through this difficult situation with few if any battle scars,” the article concluded.
Vance is currently slated to face off against Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) in this year’s midterm race for the Ohio Senate. Polling shows that the race is fairly close, with more recent data showing Ryan slightly ahead of Vance. In a GrowProgress poll conducted on July 5-10, Ryan was ahead of Vance by 5 points; in a Momentive/SurveyMonkey poll also conducted earlier this month, Ryan led by 9 points.