Six days before my freshman year of college my parents separated. The hardest thing I have ever gone through, six years later—and hopefully six years wiser—I’d like to offer my experience as a child of divorce and its negative effects on my views of dating and marriage. But more importantly, I would like to share how I’ve learned to turn those negative effects into positive experiences that renewed my trust in dating and marriage so that I can still confidently say, “I believe in love.”
While divorce might offer an immediate solution for a formerly married couple, chances are, any children involved won’t fare as well. Children might not trust their parents as much, they might doubt that successful marriages can happen, and their overall opinion of dating might plunge into the negative. The truth is, divorce doesn’t just physically separate parents, it separates love and trust for both parents and children. But this doesn’t mean that love and trust can’t be mended back together again. I’ve learned quite the opposite!
So how did a girl who swore she would never marry just to avoid the possibility of divorce come to trust dating and marriage again? Well, I discovered and began following a set of rules—my dating life, and actually life in general, has been so much better because of it!
1.) Your parents’ divorce does not decide the outcome of your future marriage.
This sounds like a no brainer, but how I wish someone had sat me down my freshman year of college and said this to me! Statistics show that children whose parents have divorced are much more likely to divorce themselves. I was convinced I was doomed to divorce and dating wasn’t even worth it. But then I realized how incredibly paranoid I sounded! If I truly believed I was competent in making decisions for myself, why was I living in fear of “What If?” I decided I didn’t have to become a statistic and I learned to channel this fear into being 100% intentional about who I date and why I date them. By adopting a confidence in myself and my dating decisions, I became more confident about the future and was able to step away from my fear.
2.) Realize the “monkey-see-monkey-do” rule.
This was a hard one for me to figure out. The monkey-see-monkey-do rule means that I recognize that, because I am a child of divorce, my idea of what a working relationship or marriage looks like probably isn’t spot on. This doesn’t mean I’m blaming my parents for my failed relationships But it does mean I have to figure out what a working relationship looks like from trial and error and process of elimination. The truth is, the same can be said for children of married couples. Everyone has to figure out what a successful marriage looks like. But as a child of divorce, I knew I needed to find a model couple of a successful marriage to follow and imitate.
3.) Remember that there ARE successful marriages!
If your parents’ marriage and divorce wasn’t happy, you—like me—might be skeptical about marriage in general and think that it’s just a hopeless cause that you wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole. But the reality is that there are marriages that work. To combat these hopeless feelings, seek out and surround yourself with couples who are in it for the long run. Learn from them! Watch and listen to see how they love and serve the other. I was blessed to live with a family for four months at a time while my outlook on dating and marriage was particularly bleak. But, as I witnessed the married couple enter into the good and the bad together, the joy and the hardship, I slowly started to have a change of heart. Sometimes it was awkward when I walked in on them kissing in the kitchen, but then again, that free expression of love was something I had never seen before and it did me a world of good to see and believe in their love.
4.) Talk about your fears of marriage with your significant other.
For so long I thought the person I was dating would think less of me once I told them my parents were divorced and that I was scared of things not working out in the long run. My parents divorce was an intensely personal detail of my life and I was uncomfortable sharing it with my boyfriend because it revealed my insecurities about marriage—I thought it would freak him out. But I realized that is exactly why I needed to tell my significant other! I was dating him with the hope that both of our feelings would grow into a deep-rooted love that faces all obstacles together as a team. My fear was one of those obstacles and I discovered that, after sharing my fears, my boyfriend became my biggest weapon to combat it as he continued to express and assure me of his love for me.
In the end I realized that, despite the fact that divorce is a reality, I can take steps to move past my fear of it and closer towards someday joining the league of those couples who have been happily married for 50+ years. Dating should not keep you in fear of failure, but in the words of a favorite artist, it should draw you closer to love.