Children of divorce are at higher risk for divorce than children of intact families. You would think that this would deter the younger generation from matrimony, but findings show that generation Y is more motivated than ever to get married and stay married. We as a culture should do everything we can to help them meet this goal. Our churches can do much to help these young married hopefuls stay married for a lifetime.
The Parents of Today's Newlyweds
In 1965 the divorce rate surged, peaking in 1979 at the rate of 23 divorces per 1000 couples. This was the boomer generation who ended their marriages in record numbers leaving their children bereft, not knowing what a healthy lasting marriage is all about. It was even true of the church whose divorce rate was no different than that of the secular community. But rather than steering clear of marriage these boomer offspring are embracing it. According to Pamela Paul in her book, The Starter Marriage, "Today's generation is reacting against divorce by romanticizing marriage. They are searching for the permanence and connection that was lost when their families dissolved. This younger, more hopeful generation wants what their parents rejected and is seeking it in increasing numbers."
Culture is obliging these young hopefuls with a more positive take on marriage as well. We are becoming "The Marriage Culture" with television shows like Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire, The Bachelor, Bachelorette, Married in America and Regis and Kathie Lee's Wedding Week which had 10,000 applicants who wanted to tie the knot on live TV. A 1996 Redbook article by Lois Smith told "Why Marriage is Hot Again." And on June 11, 2000, The New York Times reported that the "I do's" were "expected to reverberate more than usual this year."
All this was published before the September 11th tragedy which has only spurred marriages on. In October 2001 the New York Times reported that Fayetteville, NC chapel owner Mary Spicer observed a record number of marriages after the 9/11 bombings. "Our chapel does 50 weddings a year and did 17 last week."
Sentiments were echoed in Norfolk, VA. Not only did the number of marriages increase in the wake of 9-11, but the number of divorce dismissals also increased. In Harris County Texas there was a record number of divorce dismissals. District Court Judge Linda Motherly said that there was a general sense that people realized their lives had changed forever. When a couple files for divorce their problems seem insurmountable, but a tragedy of the 9-11 caliber put everything in perspective. Couples felt like the things they worried about were small potatoes compared to families like those involved in the trade center tragedy.
Is Wanting Marriage Enough?
So, it seems that after a brief period of the anti- marriage sentiment of the 60's and 70's, America is harkening back to a pro-marriage position. The problem is that this young, brave generation with its positive spin on marriage has poor role models of what a healthy marriage should be. Not only do they lack healthy role models, but they are indeed harmed from their parents' divorces. Children of divorce display problems in the following areas:
- Self-esteem - how they feel about themselves
- Performance - how they function, grow and adapt to life
- Social skills - how they get along with peers, work, church, community and the world at large
- Intimate relationships and marriage - how they respond to intimates
The Heritage Foundation's June 5, 2000 Report on The Effects of Divorce on America states that children of divorce suffer from more depression, anxiety, low self-esteem. They experience higher rates of suicide, feelings of rejection, drug and alcohol abuse, delinquency and criminality and diminished learning capacity leading to more school failure. They have poor interpersonal relationships, are increasingly the victims of abuse and neglect, and are two times as likely to divorce than children from intact families.
Mavis Hetherington's For Better or For Worse: Divorce Reconsidered (Norton 2002) states that 25% of children from divorce have serious social, emotional, or psychological problems. They are depressed, impulsive, irresponsible, or anti-social. 20% of children in stepfamilies are emotionally troubled in contrast to 10% of children from intact families. Fewer than 20% of young adult stepchildren feel close to their step moms. 70% of young people from divorced families see divorce as an acceptable solution, even if children are present while only 40% of children from intact families have this attitude. With this baggage the pro-marriage generation has a lot of weight to carry up the hill of successful matrimony.
In our work we have also found some common wounds of adult children of divorced parents:
- The inability to trust in relationships
- Fear of failure and doom — the sense that "the other shoe is going to drop" any time things go well.
- Insecurity which causes them to become controlling in relationships or become passive-aggressive and resist the requests of their partner.
- The inability to communicate effectively.
- No role models of problem solving or conflict resolution because their parents' only solution to their problems was dissolution.
What are solutions to the wounds of divorce for adult children?
- Awareness of how your parents' divorce affected you
- Dealing with the pain of their divorce and moving to a place of healing and forgiveness
- Putting the unhealthy thoughts and beliefs about yourself and your marriage behind you
- Learning marriage relationship skills.
Marriage Skills Can Help Young Couples
Diane Solee, Director of the Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education, says that with one in two marriages ending in divorce it is time that couples learned that marriage, like any other valuable asset, is a skill. It has to be learned. She states. "I wish that brides could have a bridal registry of marriage skills courses. New marriage research show us what makes marriages work and what causes them to fail. Teaching this to young newlyweds can serve as divorce prevention, a route not available to their parents. All couples disagree. They just need to learn the skills on how to handle them."
In our book, Adult Children of Divorced Parents: Making Your Marriage Work we have designed many specific marriage skills just for adult children of divorced parents. Often ACODP's as we call them respond poorly in marital situations and have no idea why they react in unhealthy ways. The answer to their behavioral dilemmas may be buried deep and awareness of how their parents' divorce affected them can be very helpful. We have developed an exercise called My Parent's Divorce Saga in which the person writes a narrative of his or her parents' divorce including important dates, times, places and feelings. This exercise often unearths important information that leads to healing. It also can show adult children how these wounds are haunting them in their marriage today.
Adult children of divorced parents also internalize certain destructive beliefs that are programmed into their psyches. Beliefs like:
Marriage does not work.
If my parents failed at marriage, then I will fail also.
All conflict is bad because it will bring about the failure of my marriage.
These false beliefs can make for an unhealthy marriage and can even foster divorce. We have developed an exercise called The True Vision Exercise that is disigned to help ACODP's dispel their false beliefs about marriage. Here is how it works.
Draw a line down the center of a piece of paper, making two columns. At the top of the right column write the word "BELIEFS." Under this column identify and write all of the false beliefs that have been a part of your thinking as a result of your parent's divorce. At the top of the left column write the word "EVIDENCE." Now move into the logical, rational, left side of the brain. This is the side that makes decisions on facts, not feelings. Under this column, write all the objective observable realities of your marriage that you can which you know to be true. List all the data you can to prove that your impression or idea is true. You may use what your partner says and does, as well as background information, as a means of determining the truth as objectively as possible. Here is an example of this exercise.
Under the column of BELIEFS you may write:
- My father cheated on my mother therefore men are not to be trusted.
- Most men cheat. Since my mother wasn't enough to keep my father, then I will not be enough to keep my mate.
- Marriage does not work
Then list the EVIDENCE showing the truth as you know it about you, your spouse, and your marriage today:
- We believe in Marriage…till death do we part.
- We believe in Christ as the center of our marriage.
- We go to church almost every Sunday and believe in the Ten Commandments.
- We will learn skills to make our marriage work and practice them regularly.
Make several copies of your list and put it where you would see it several times a day, like on the bathroom mirror, on the fridge, in the kitchen, or taped on the computer monitor. Read the list every time you walk by a copy and repeat it to yourself daily, whenever you feel fearful. Researchers have found that replication, that is repeating a process over and over, is the best way to reprogram trauma from childhood.
These excercises are just the beginning of forging a triumphant future for your marriage. You do not have to live in the shadow of your parents' divorce. You can be set free.
Originally published in May 2008.
To order a copy of Adult Children of Divorced Parents: Making Your Marriage Work visit AdultChildrenofDivorcedParents.com or call Rodgers Christian Counseling 704 364-9176.
Drs. Beverly and Tom Rodgers have been Christian relationship counselors for the past 26 years. They own and operate Rodgers Christian Counseling and the Institute for Soul Healing Love in Charlotte, North Carolina. Both have their PhD's in Clinical Christian Counseling. Dr. Bev has a Masters Degree in Marital and Family Therapy and Dr. Tom also has a Masters Degree in Human Development. Together they have written 4 books: Soul Healing Love: Turning Relationships That Hurt Into Relationships That Heal, How to Find Mr. or Ms. Right, Adult Children of Divorced Parents, and The Singlehood Phenomenon: Ten Brutally Honest Reasons Singles Aren't Getting Married. Drs. Beverly and Tom Rodgers also facilitate relationship workshops for couples and singles across the globe. For information on their books or workshops, visit: http://www.soulhealinglove.com