By Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW
Women, and especially daughters of divorce, can put undue pressure on themselves to find the right partner, marry, and develop a happy home life. But if they possess this goal, it can present many problems. For the most part, women from divorced homes don’t have a healthy template to follow when it comes to nurturing and sustaining a committed relationship, making it difficult for them to know where to start. The following lessons were derived from my own experience and conversations with over 300 women I interviewed for my bookDaughters of Divorce.
- Revisiting the past as an adult can help you heal. In order to overcome the legacy of your parents’ breakup, it’s essential for you to get a more balanced, realistic view of your parents’ divorce. Many women in my study discovered that a lot of their assumptions about the cause of their parents’ split were false after they examined it from an adult perspective. As a result of gaining accurate information, many were better able to move forward with their lives (and in some cases forgive one or both of their parents).
- Reevaluate your view of relationships and adjust your expectations. 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.
- Learning to love yourself is an inner journey that involves examining your past from a fresh perspective. Take the time to investigate any carry-over from past relationships that might impact current ones. As a daughter of divorce, you can be your own saboteur. Write a positive intention to accomplish each day; boost your confidence by setting a goal and achieving it.
- Self-compassion is a life-long journey. You may believe that you’re being selfish when you take care of yourself, or you may be left feeling you don’t deserve to be loved or have to earn someone’s love. But these feelings are based on low self-esteem and not based in reality. Change negative self-talk into positive statements such as “I am getting stronger every day.” You deserve to be loved and cared for.
- Establishing a healthy level of trust in a relationship is possible but takes time. When your first reaction is to act out of a place of mistrust, this shows a lack confidence in yourself and your partner. Trust is a skill that’s built over time by observing consistency between your partner’s words and actions. Learn to trust your intuition and instincts and extend trust to someone who demonstrates trustworthiness. Consider how much your mistrust is a remnant of the past or as a result of your partner’s present behavior. Listen to his or her side of the story before making accusations or issuing an ultimatum.
- Practice being vulnerable in small steps. Being vulnerable and expressing your thoughts and feelings to your partner will allow you to build trust and feel more connected to them. Does your fear of intimacy translate into testing a relationship by picking a partner who is wrong for you or picking fights to get your partner to prove their love? Setting a goal of being more vulnerable and accepting of nurturing and support from your partner is crucial to enjoying a happy long-lasting relationship.
- 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 if you’re in a relationship: 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. These are the two most common reasons women stay in relationships that aren’t meeting their needs.
- 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.
- You expect a lot from your partner but you’re also a giver. Sometimes giving too much can cause you emotional pain but being a giver is something you take pride in. However, it’s key not to morph into someone else when you’re in a relationship with a taker who looks to you as their source of happiness and fun (and may have trouble being alone). If you’re a giver, be careful not to allow a taker to zap you of your time and energy.
- Counseling, reading, and blogging are helpful supports and can help you cope. As you experiment with new ways of relating to others, giving and receiving feedback is essential to your personal growth.
- Relationships are your teachers. As a child of divorce, you know the sting of loss and are fine-tuned to the signs of rejection and abandonment. However, whether they last three months or three decades, relationships can provide their participants with the love, understanding, and intimacy they need at the time. Often, the courage to end a relationship that is no longer meeting both partners’ needs shows the greatest strength.
- Both chemistry and compatibility are essential aspects of a successful long-term relationship and it’s possible to have both. Keep in mind that you can determine what kind of relationship works for you. Love is a leap of faith and there are no guarantees. This is true for all people, whether or not they are a child of divorce.
As a daughter of divorce, intimate relationships and marriage may present many challenges to you, but you must also realize that you are also armed with your own strength to face and embrace them. Truth be told, all relationships end: through breakup, death, or divorce. Why waste time being preoccupied with fear of your relationship ending?
The concept of a wedding, or even a successful marriage, may seem alien to you but commitment and possibly marriage can be a source of stability in an uncertain world and bring you happiness. According to researcher Nicholas H. Wolfinger marriage is still the preferred state for most people. In Understanding The Divorce Cycle, he writes: “Doubtless, many people who remain single throughout their lives are happy to do so, but marriage remains the normative experience for most of us: about 90% of Americans will wed at some point in their lives.”
In closing, the best relationships are ones born out of trust and vulnerability. In positive relationships, each partner approaches one another as an equal. The relationship doesn’t drain its participants; instead it nourishes. A successful romantic relationship is where you feel at your best. It is possible to be vulnerable with others without losing parts of yourself. By doing this, you’ll be able to restore your faith in love, trust, and intimacy.
Follow Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW on Twitter, Facebook, and movingpastdivorce.com where you can purchase her book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’s Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship.
Terry’s new book, The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around, was published by Sounds True in February of 2020 and you can order it here.
This blog appeared previously on HuffingtonPost.com