Break the Generational Cycle of Divorce
- Whitney Hopler Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2006 19 Sep
You hope for a strong and lasting marriage. But as an adult child of divorce, you can’t escape the nagging fear that your marriage will fail – just as your parents’ marriage did.
Growing up, you never had the benefit of seeing a loving, committed marriage modeled for you, so it’s hard to figure out what that should look like. And the wounds you suffered when your parents’ marriage ended make it difficult for you to trust other people, and even God.
Despite your struggles, however, you’re not doomed to divorce. You can break the cycle and build a healthy marriage. Here’s how:
Embrace the love that will never abandon you. Understand that, while people might let you down, God will always come through for you. Accept the love that He offers you – deep, unconditional love that you can count on, no matter what. If you haven’t already, begin a relationship with God through Christ. Make it a top priority to build a closer relationship with God each day.
Know that you have a choice. Recognize that you aren’t a powerless victim. Know that what happened to your parents doesn’t have to happen to you, and that you aren’t a slave to your past. Decide to choose to respond to your circumstances in positive ways that will lead to a positive future.
Face your fears. Take your fears out of the dark (lurking in your imagination) and bring them into the light by talking about them openly with your spouse. Pray about them specifically rather than just worrying about them. Seek and accept help from a close friend or a professional counselor to confront stubborn fears.
Focus on positives instead of negatives. Ask God to renew your mind and help you reprogram your thinking about your marriage and life in general so you’re more positive than negative. Write several lists: one that lists ways you and your spouse are not like your parents, one that lists ways your marriage is not like your parents’ marriage, and one that lists your spouse’s strengths and positive attributes. Then post your lists in prominent places in your home or car where you can see them every day to remind you.
Take small steps toward a big difference. Don’t worry about trying to make huge strides of progress in a short time; recognize that that is unrealistic. But be encouraged that making small, steady steps toward breaking bad habits and establishing good ones will eventually lead to a significantly more positive life for you. Focus on one issue at a time and keep stepping out as God leads you to do so.
Find an accountability partner. Ask God to lead you to someone who will hold you accountable as you make changes for the better in your life. Consider a friend, family member, clergy person, or counselor. Meet with your accountability partner regularly to honestly share your thoughts, feelings, and recent behaviors. Know that support from a relationship like this can be a great source of encouragement and help to you.
Seek professional help when you need it. If you aren’t making progress on your own in dealing with tough issues, don’t hesitate to get help from a professional counselor. Schedule some strategic sessions so the counselor can coach you through the issues. Realize that just a few short meetings can benefit you.
Rely on God’s power rather than your own. Don’t try to wrestle with your struggles on your own. Instead, invite God to work in and through you, empowering you to handle everything that comes your way. Trust that whenever you ask for His help, He will respond – day by day, and moment by moment.
Find a healthy marriage model. Look around for couples who have healthy marriages, and choose one to ask if you can build a friendship with them and study how they interact with each other. Know that observing a good example of marriage can give you: hope that marital commitment can endure for a lifetime, the expectation that commitment will endure for a lifetime, specific ways to relate to your spouse in healthy ways and build up your marriage, and ways to resolve conflicts without destroying your relationship with your spouse.
Pass on blessings to the children around you. Decide that, even though you learned some unhealthy lessons growing up yourself, you will do all you can to be a good example to your own children and others (such as nieces, nephews, neighbors, and friends of your children). Remember that children you encounter on a regular basis are constantly watching you, listening, to you, and learning from your life. In candid and age-appropriate ways, show children how to: communicate openly and honestly, be proactive and take initiative, make good choices, put the needs of others before their own, make and keep commitments, ask for and offer forgiveness, relate to and draw strength from a loving God. Ask yourself every day what kind of lessons the children around you are learning from your example, and what kind of legacy you’ll leave to future generations.
If you’ve already been divorced, know that it isn’t too late for you. Take heart that no matter what has already happened to you because of someone else’s choices, or whatever poor choices you’ve made yourself, it’s not too late to learn and grow. Know that you can start fresh today and break the cycle of divorce with any new marriage you may enter. Refuse to let the past dominate your thinking. Instead, focus on making your present and future as healthy and positive as you can. Don’t lower your standards or be satisfied with less. Believe that you can enjoy a lasting marriage if you should ever get married again.
Adapted from Breaking the Cycle of Divorce: How Your Marriage Can Succeed Even if Your Parents’ Didn’t, copyright 2006 by John Trent, Ph.D. A Focus on the Family book published by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Ill., www.tyndale.com and www.family.org.
Dr. John Trent is the president of the Center for Strong Families and StrongFamilies.com, an organization that trains leaders to build and lead marriage and family programs in their communities. John speaks at conferences across the country and has authored and coauthored more than a dozen award-winning and best-selling books. John has been a featured guest on radio and television programs, such as Focus on the Family, The 700 Club, and CNN’s Sonya Live. John and his wife, Cindy, have been married for more than 25 years and have two daughters.