When my parents’ divorce began during my sophomore year of high school, I had already promised myself to not start dating until the end of high school or sometime after. After observing the blow up between my mother and father, I seriously considered putting off dating—let alone marriage. I began to fear the work and commitment needed in relationships and questioned whether I was truly up to the challenge.
Mine is not a unique case. Other children of divorce have shared with me their insecurities concerning relationships. Some choose to believe that relationships don’t mean much, and do not see the point of reserving sex for a serious commitment. Others take the opposite perspective: They’re too scared to enter any kind of relationship and walk away from opportunities with good people.
Seeing both of these scenarios play out with different people motivated me to re-examine my own stance. Did I want to settle for hooking up? Did I want to grow into an old spinster out of fear? Neither option was appealing. Deep down, despite everything, something inside me wanted love. I wanted to be wanted and cared for and lifted up, something I felt was lacking in my current family life—although my parents did their absolute best otherwise. I just didn’t think the happy marriage I wanted was realistic.
It was only when I began hanging out more with a childhood friend of mine—my future husband—that I began to believe lifelong love could be a possibility for me. He came from a large family and his parents had been happily married for more than twenty years. Unlike me, he had great examples of healthy relationships and had no fear about finding a girlfriend or future spouse.
We were only friends at first, but we talked a lot about our family lives. Right away the contrast was very obvious. After growing up in an environment in which constant yelling and arguing was considered normal, I saw that that wasn’t the case with his parents.
I learned a lot from his parents’ example. They showed me that problems could be resolved without constant attacks, that you can argue while respecting each other. Rather than allowing the stresses of work to pull them apart, they carefully spoke through problems that cropped up, separated work time from family time, and made time to reconnect after a long day. When there were outbursts, they apologized to one another and others if necessary, and resolved to seek ways to avoid the same problem again.
Watching my now husband’s parents live and work as a married couple gave me a real-life, personal view into how a healthy relationship works. It balanced the perspective I had developed from watching the divorce happening in my own family. I saw successes as well as failures, instead of only failures. With time, I felt ready to become a girlfriend, and later a wife.
My then friend, now husband and I began dating. And I did so with confidence. We were far from perfect, of course, and experienced many growing pains over the years. But those growing pains are normal, as I learned from his parents. Thanks in part to them, we knew how to learn from our own mistakes and used those lessons to create the foundation of our marriage today.
My husband and I plan to be an example to our own children as his parents were to us. We don’t want to attack one another as enemies, but work together as friends in the battle of life. Our children will be watching us and those are the habits we want them to learn, just as we learned from his parents.
Despite my parents’ divorce, I still managed to enter into a loving, committed relationship that has blossomed into a strong marriage. My own parents may not have been able to set an example for me, but finding a new couple to learn from helped me see that I could find love, maintain it, and help it grow.