If Your Parents Got Divorced
- 2007 8 Oct
Each year, 1.2 million children see their parents split up. Like high-school graduation or getting a driver’s license, divorce has almost become an American rite of passage for some kids. Experts say that if current rates of divorce continue, forty percent will become children of divorce by the age of eighteen.
If you happen to be one of these kids, the statistics, no matter how prevalent, are of little comfort when divorce hits your own home. I know. My (Leslie’s) mom and dad split up several years ago and I am still reeling from the shock. In the midst of their turmoil I can remember feeling different about my own relational future-like I was somehow genetically rearranged because they, my own flesh and blood, couldn’t hold their marriage together.
After all, studies have found that divorce rates are higher for people who grew up with divorced parents than for those raised in intact homes. The reason? Experts point to the unresolved issues kids have as adults with their parents and how they contaminate their own attempts at connection. So let us pass on a few pointers that may help you resolve whatever loose ends you have about your mom and dad’s break up.
Actually we are going to give you only one word of advice and then caution you about three hazards you’ll want to avoid. Now, for the advice.
Be assured that you are not condemned to repeating the past. You are not genetically rearranged because your parents divorced. To overcome the ensnarements this situation might cause, however, you need to honestly come to terms with the impact their divorce has had on you. And the best way of doing so is to sit down with each parent, adult to adult, and ask them to explain why the divorce took place. Understand that this is not a time for you to judge, correct, or personalize their story. It is simply to gather information by hearing each of them out. If you feel yourself wanting to correct either of them or challenge their perspective, refrain from doing so. Save that for debriefing with a friend or counselor. Your goal with each parent is to simply hear their side of the story. Once you understand the divorce from each parent’s perspectives, you will more clearly see the destructive patterns that led to it and be able to prevent the same thing from happening to you.
Granted, this kind of a talk with each parent will take some restraint, stamina, and courage. But the pain it may cause you in the present will make you and your relationships stronger in the future. It’s worth the price.
With that word of advice, allow us to point out three hazards, common to children of divorce, that are likely to sabotage your relationships if you’re not careful.
First, be on the lookout for unresolved anger. You may feel that this issue is settled, that you have expressed your anger in grieving the loss of your intact home and it is settled. That may be true. But if you ever feel yourself being angry about something or at someone who doesn’t deserve your anger, it may be time to reevaluate how you’re managing this emotion. When you’re home life has been fractured, you deserve to feel angry. Anger is not off limits, it’s just that you’ll want to take special care to keep it from controlling you and your relationships.
Second, beware of conflict-avoidance. After seeing your parents divorce, it is not unusual to run from conflict altogether. You may find yourself burying unpleasant feelings or opinions, for example, because you simply don’t want to face the potentially unpleasant consequences. This, of course, is not at all healthy. Genuine, enjoyable relationships require authenticity. And experiencing disagreements or conflicts from time to time does not mean you are doomed to have difficult relationships. Quite the contrary. Conflict, when faced squarely and resolved with understanding, can actually deepen your sense of intimacy with someone. So steer clear of conflict avoidance and take care to be real.
Finally, watch for sagging self-confidence. It is only natural for your self-image to take a few blows in the midst of your parent’s divorce. You may have even suffered a serious depression at one time because of it. And even as an adult, the residue of pain from the break-up still remains. You know it wasn’t your fault-that a parent leaves a marriage because of unhappiness with a spouse, not with a child-but you will have times when you feel stigmatized, defective, or even worthless because your family is not together. You can count on it. So be on the watch. Don’t allow irrational thinking to creep back into your head and discount your worth.
The past does not have to dictate the present or the future. Studies affirm that those who grew up with divorce can build healthy, happy, and strong relationships of their own. No doubt about it. And coming to terms with the aftermath of your suffering, as well as being on the lookout for issues of anger management, conflict-avoidance, and a sagging self-confidence, are like an insurance policy against repeating the patterns you fear the most.
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