Many daughters of divorce, like Diana, have a fear of commitment. She just can’t see a relationship working out, but she desperately wants one. Diana is a successful, educated young woman, but relationships have been her Achilles heel. Although she says she doesn’t believe in men, Diana wants one who will be a true match for her. “I think I can have a happy marriage, but I fluctuate, she says. “If it’s the right guy, if we’re both faithful, I’ll be optimistic. If it’s true love, I’ll be optimistic. But it’s going to take a lot to prove it to me because I want it to be foolproof.” Her craving for a failsafe relationship will always be unsatisfied because such relationships don’t exist. The truth is that intimacy is a mix of vulnerability and reciprocity that can only be achieved if a person has a willingness to trust another human being.
During our interviews with over 100 women raised in divorced homes, we discovered that many of them were conflicted about their ability to find lasting love and intimacy. Thus, their fear of intimacy and commitment displayed itself in unusual ways – such as hanging on to a dysfunctional relationship too long or trying to rescue an unsuitable partner. Many of the women we spoke with questioned a possible connection between their parents’ breakup and their own fear of relationship failure and sought advice about how to change self-feating patterns.
Diana, for instance, seems to always be on guard – testing her partners to see is they’ll pass or fail as so many others have done. “The fear of loss can be so strong for the adult child of divorce that they may often test a relationship from any angle,” writes Jeffrey Zimmerman Ph.D. in his groundbreaking book Adult Children of Divorce: How to Overcome the Legacy of Your Parent’s Breakup and Enjoy, Love, Trust, and Intimacy. What Diana so desperately wants – love, commitment, and the comfort of a permanent relationship, is what she most fears. If she were to lose her boyfriend, it would reenact the pain of her divorce experience. This is an outcome she will stop at nothing to avoid.
Do you ever find yourself testing your relationship in any of these ways?
Questioning their intentions and asking for affirmation of their feelings toward you.
Complaining that you don’t get enough attention in hopes that they will change.
Pursuing a partner who is a distant even though you know deep down inside that they will never meet your emotional needs for connection.
Setting up the expectation that they’ll have to prove their love by engaging in specific behaviors – such as buying you gifts or calling you twice a day.
Picking an argument or creating conflict because you little blow things out of proportion. Is it the end of the world that he didn’t return your phone call right away? After all, he may have at an important work related call or a deadline to meet.