Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW
Do you fear that if you tie the knot, your marriage will end in divorce like many others? It’s not uncommon for people to experience anxiety about making a commitment because most of us were either raised in a divorced home or know someone who was. Americans have a strong tradition of divorce. The divorce epidemic reached its peak in the late 1970’s. Since then, the divorce rate has remained high – over 45% of first marriages end in divorce and more than 60% of second marriages.
In the twenty-first century, many people see divorce as a viable option to the inevitable hard times of marriage. Stable and healthy marriages seem to be in short supply. If you lacked healthy role models for a successful marriage, you may view marriage as disposable and not as essential to your life goals.
Let’s look at Teresa, whose parents divorced when she was thirteen after many years of conflict and unhappiness. She is an example of a young woman who hedges her bets against failure by withholding a commitment to marriage. Brushing her brown hair from her brow, she says “My relationships are usually short term, and I take long breaks between relationships. I want a healthy relationship, but I have a tendency to go for the guy who I know isn’t right for me so I won’t be tempted to make a commitment.”
Adult children of divorce, like Teresa, have good reason to feel that their marriages are doomed to end badly. According to sociologist Paul Amato, experiencing parental divorce approximately doubles your chances of seeing your own marriage fail. In fact, daughters of divorce are even more divorce prone than sons, and women initiate and file for divorce 2/3 of the time.
According to relationship expert, Scott Carroll, MD, having divorced parents often makes people either cynical about marriage or excessively cautious, but they sometimes throw caution to the wind and fall head-over-heals for someone they have intense chemistry with. Then this strong chemistry can lead to explosive arguments and an eventual break-up. This is especially true for individuals who have a non-secure attachment style. However, awareness is the first step in breaking this self-defeating cycle,
If you are an adult children of divorce, it’s important to keep partnerships in perspective. The truth is that all relationships end, either through breakup or death. But many people raised in divorced homes are preoccupied with the fear of a relationship ending. They fear that no matter what they do, their marriage will suffer the same fate as their parents did. Even if they do decide to marry, they may go into marriage with a lingering thought in the back of their heads that tells them it won’t work out.
This skeptical attitude can contribute to the high divorce rate. Don’t let fear stop you from achieving the true intimacy that comes with commitment. Many people hedge their bets against failure and avoid making a full commitment to a romantic partner. By doing this, they miss out on the level of intimacy that comes with making a complete commitment to their partner.
Whether your parents divorced or stayed together in an unhappy marriage, examining your attitudes about love and commitment can help you to explore options that are right for you. As you let go of fears of your relationship failing, you’ll gain confidence in your ability to love fully and make a long-term commitment.
For instance, Becca’s parents stayed together but she has a tendency to fear abandonment because her she has an non-secure personality style. Because her parents argued a lot and were rarely home, she experienced a lot of loneliness as an only child. As a result, she clings to relationships even when her needs aren’t being met. Becca blamed herself when Kevin was distant and unwilling to work on their marriage, saying, “Is there something wrong with me?” She wonders out loud, “Am I flawed in some way – not woman enough, sexy enough?”
Becca is an attractive, educated woman, but her adult intimate relationships have been unpredictable and disappointing. Her craving for a failsafe relationship will always be unsatisfied, because such a relationship doesn’t exist. In addition, she has a tendency to pick partners who are emotionally withdrawn and a poor fit for her since she needs a lot of reassurance and an opportunity to build trust and confidence in herself.
If you have fear of commitment, think about this reality: even people from intact or happy homes are faced with this reality – relationships, even marriages, provide no guarantees.
Examining your attitudes about love and commitment can help you to explore options that are right for you. As you let go of fears of your relationship failing, you’ll gain confidence in your ability to love fully and make a long-term commitment.
The task then, is to learn from your parents’ failed or unhappy marriage and your own past – creating loving relationships that are healthy and lasting. The following tips may help you on your journey for love and moving toward commitment:
- Go slowly and allow your relationship to develop over time. Expect rough patches and practice the art of patience and forgiveness.
- Avoid making a long-term commitment before the age of twenty-five. You’ll enhance your chances of finding lasting love if you know yourself and have established a solid identity.
- Attempt to pick a partner with a similar background and interests. Couples who have vast differences in these two areas have an increased risk of divorce.
- Stick with a committed relationship for at least ten years. Most marriages dissolve in the first ten years – especially the first five years. Hang in there unless your partner is abusive.
With greater awareness, you can enhance the probability of experiencing long-lasting partnerships. If you are in a relationship do your best to give your partner the benefit of the doubt and stop and examine your part in a disagreement, rather that automatically assuming that they are to blame or are trying to deceive or hurt you.
If you recognize the forces that shape you, and visualize the type of relationship that helps you to flourish, you’ll be on your way to creating a new story for your life.
Follow Terry Gaspard on Twitter, Facebook, and movingpastdivorce.com. Her book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship is available on her website.
Terry’s book, The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around, was published by Sounds True in February of 2020.