Heartbreak

A Therapist Reveals How Having Divorced Parents *Really* Affects Your Marriage

Photo: Suzy Hazelwood / Pexels
how having divorced parents affects your marriage

Divorce statistics have fluctuated over the years. Basically, though, the numbers haven't moved much in decades.

According to World Population Review data on divorce rates, between 42% and 53% of the nearly 5 million marriages that take place each year end in divorce.

So, it probably doesn't come as a surprise if you, or someone you are close to, has experienced a divorce.

In my family, the divorce tally is my parents, two aunts, an uncle, a sister (twice), and a stepbrother. My parents both remarried to spouses who were also divorced.

All told, we've had nine divorces across multiple generations and households — with 16 children directly affected. So, does this mean that if your parents divorced, you either will never marry or, if you do, it will fail? Not necessarily.

RELATED: 10 Ways Children Of Divorce Love Very Differently

How having divorced parents affects someone's relationships and marriage:

I have been married for 26 years. My other sister just celebrated her 28th anniversary. Several of the second marriages in my family lasted until the death of one partner — often over 30 years.

The reality is that your parents' divorce will have an impact on your marriage. We first learn about love and marriage from our parents.

We learn what it means to be a man, woman, husband, wife, mother and father from them. We learn about trust. We learn how to handle conflict and difficult times ... or, how not to do that. 

RELATED: 9 Things Kids With Divorced Parents Desperately Want You To Know

Children of divorce fear abandonment & failure

Children of divorce often experience expectations of failure, fear of loss or abandonment and fear of conflict throughout their lives.

These anxieties are reflected in their romantic relationships by poor partner or behavior choices, giving up too quickly when problems arise or avoidance of any perceived level of commitment.

RELATED: 4 Signs Your Childhood Abandonment Issues Are Still Affecting You Today

The two common responses to marriage by adult children of divorce

1. You decide not to get married

However, not getting married doesn't mean you won't be in a relationship. It just means you withhold yourself from truly being in the relationship fully. 

You go through the motions, maybe even have children, but your experience with a failed marriage as a child walls you off from real connection. When the relationship ends, as it surely must given your distance, you will still feel pain and grief. 

You will also get confirmation of your self-fulfilling prophecy that relationships don't last.

RELATED: 5 Reasons I Wish My Parents Would've Just Freaking Divorced

2. You vow to never get divorced

Few people marry with divorce in mind.

The lifelong commitment to marriage is intentionally made by both parties. But for some children of divorce, this commitment may be kept at a high cost to themselves.

The risk of putting up with unacceptable behavior from your partner to avoid the pain of another divorce is real. This involves making concessions that are not in your best interest.

By this, I mean agreeing to things you don't really agree to in order to avoid conflict or the marriage ending. Over time, these concessions wear you down.

You may indeed avoid the dreaded divorce, but the marriage may be just as painful.

RELATED: This Is How Millennials Who Were Children Of Divorce Think About Love & Relationships

A cascade of relationship challenges

Putting yourself into either of these extreme relationship categories will ultimately be problematic. The secret to not repeating your parents' fate is to learn about relationships in general, and what happened in your parents' marriage specifically.

Issues of trust, honesty, respect and productive communication are critical in both cases. 

Your experiences with marriage and divorce have probably left you with some fears and anxieties in these important areas. Gaining an understanding of how you've been affected, and the resulting reactivity you've developed will help you devise better responses for relationship success.

Embracing your relationship challenges and learning to manage your reactivity are vital for implementing those strategies.

Having this knowledge will also help in the most critical relationship decision of all — choosing an appropriate partner. When you know your own vulnerabilities, you can protect yourself from them being used against you.

RELATED: 20 Clear Signs You're The Child Of Toxic Parents

The scars can fade — but never really disappear

I still carry the scars from the breakup of my parents' marriage.

Even after 26 years, my greatest fear is my husband coming down the stairs and announcing he's leaving. I'm still afraid he will abandon me when I fail to meet his expectations.

Luckily, I have been able to share this with him and he has never threatened divorce, even when he's been most upset. Of course, he will never throw a surprise party for me again either, but that's a story for another day.

RELATED: 11 Signs You Were Raised By A Toxic Parent (And It's Affecting You Now)

Lesli Doares is a licenced marriage and family therapist, coach, and the founder of Foundations Coaching, a practical alternative for couples looking to improve their marriage without traditional therapy.​

Sign up for YourTango's free newsletter!