The concept of a wedding, or even a successful marriage, may seem alien to you if you grew up in a divorced home. However, commitment and possibly marriage can be a source of stability in an uncertain world and bring you happiness.
As an adult taking tentative steps into intimate relationships, your parents’ divorce indelibly shapes your feelings about yourself and relationships. Even if your parents’ divorce is years behind you, you may lack confidence in your ability to create lasting romantic relationships of your own.
During my interviews with hundreds of adults raised in divorced homes, I discovered that many adult children of divorce were conflicted about their ability to find lasting love. In fact, I learned that daughters of divorce are particularly vulnerable to self-doubt and fears about commitment.
It’s a weird dynamic – often a woman’s fear of intimacy and commitment displays itself in unusual ways – such as hanging on to a dysfunctional relationship too long or trying to rescue an unsuitable partner.
Some women even find themselves sabotaging healthy relationships and describe fearing conflict and intimacy because they don’t believe love will last.
Here are the 8 most important lessons your parents’ divorce can teach you about love.
1. You don’t have to let your past dictate your decisions today.
In order to overcome the legacy of your parents’ breakup, it’s essential to get a more balanced, honest, and realistic view of your parents’ divorce. As a result of gaining accurate information, you’ll be better able to move forward with your life (and in some cases forgive one or both of your parents). Take the time to investigate any carry-over from past relationships that might impact current ones.
2. Treating your setbacks with compassion and adjusting your expectations is essential for creating a fulfilling intimate relationship.
The reality is that with time people grow and change. This doesn’t mean love has failed. Simply because love doesn’t last forever doesn’t mean there was something wrong with it. If you are hard on yourself or your parents, you may need to adjust your standards.
3. Establishing a healthy level of trust in a partner takes time.
When your first reaction is to act out of a place of mistrust, this shows a lack confidence in yourself and your mate. Trust is a skill that’s built by observing consistency between a person’s words and actions. Learn to trust your intuition and instincts and extend trust to someone who demonstrates trustworthiness. Consider if your mistrust is a remnant of the past or a result of your partner’s present behavior. Listen to his or her side of the story before making accusations or issuing an ultimatum.
4. Being vulnerable with your partner will allow you to build trust and intimacy and to feel more emotionally connected to him or her.
Vulnerability means being authentic and able to risk expressing your thoughts, feelings, and wishes without fear of rejection. It means you are in control of yourself, not the relationship. Don’t look for a partner to heal your wounds. This is work you must do yourself.
5. Emotional dependency isn’t love.
If your relationship causes you to feel anxious or to question your sense of self, it may not be the best relationship for you. Ask yourself this question: Is there something about the way my partner treats me that makes me a better person? If the answer is no, you may be settling for less than you deserve due to a fear of abandonment or of being alone.
6. It’s OK not to rush into a commitment.
In fact, getting to know a partner over time is wise and can help you to gain confidence in your judgment. It’s important for you to feel relatively safe and secure before you make a commitment. If you take your time getting to know a partner you’ll feel more confident and less anxious about your future.
7. Conflict will happen and differences don’t have to lead to breakup.
Focus on learning repair skills to deal with disagreements and find a way to compromise so you’ll both get some (not all) of your needs met. That said, if your expectations are for an effortless relationship, you might be at risk for throwing in the towel at the earliest sign of any discord and lose out on lasting love.
8. Apologizing and practicing forgiveness are crucial for maintaining a healthy relationship.
They can give you and your partner the kind of future you and they deserve – unhampered by hurt and recycled anger. It is about choosing to live a life wherein others don’t have power over you and you’re not dominated by unresolved anger, bitterness, and resentment. Saying you’re sorry when it’s heartfelt (even if you didn’t mean to hurt your partner’s feelings) is a necessary tool to creating long-lasting love. After all, we all have flaws.
Love means risking occasionally getting your feelings hurt; it’s a price you have to pay for intimacy because you and your partner are being vulnerable with each other. To be ready for love you must become what you are seeking. Real love starts with you. The more you know and understand what makes you tick the better prepared you’ll be to invite a partner into your life and not be afraid of losing out on love. It’s time to take a chance on love and life!
Terry interviews Julia about her secrets to lasting love here: Daughters of Divorce Interview Series Podcast: Episode 1 How to Keep Real Intimacy and Love Alive in Your Marriage.