In his helpful book, “Breaking the Cycle of Divorce: How your marriage can succeed even if your parents’ didn’t,” Dr. John Trent suggested that adult children of divorce (ACOD) face daunting challenges in both life and marriage.
“Statistically, studies have shown that children of divorce suffer from more depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, feelings of rejection, drug and alcohol abuse, delinquency, poor inter-personal relationships, and criminality than children from intact homes. Sixty-five percent of children from divorced families will never build a good post-divorce relationship with their fathers. Thirty percent will be unable to build a good post divorce relationship with their mothers”
Most ACOD are resolved to have strong and lasting marriages. But, as Dr. Trent says, they live with a “nagging fear that your marriage will fail — just as your parents’ marriage did.”
As an ACOD himself, Dr. Trent offers 10 helpful points for people who never had the benefit of seeing a loving, committed marriage modeled for them. If you suffered wounds when your parents’ marriage ended that make it difficult for you to trust other people, and even God, despite these struggles, Dr. Trent encourages you not to think that you’re doomed to divorce. You can break the cycle and build a healthy marriage.” Share his advice with others.
- Embrace the love that will never abandon you. Understand that, while people might let you down, God will come through for you. Accept the love that He offers you —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. [If you need further direction on this issue go to our web site. There you’ll find a number of web links to ministries and organizations, like NEED-HIM, where you can find answers.]
- 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 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, 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.” (Breaking the Cycle of Divorce: How Your Marriage Can Succeed Even If Your Parents’ Didn’t, by John Trent).