Psych Corner: Is Breaking The Cycle Of Divorce Possible?


We learn a lot about what a relationship should look like from our parents. As children we observe how our parents treat one another, how they manage conflict, and how they show commitment to their relationship. But if your parents divorced when you were a child, it might be more difficult for you to picture what a healthy relationship looks like. Alysse, an iBiL contributor, has talked in the past about how her parents’ divorce left her without an example of how to trust in a relationship or manage conflict in a healthy way. But just like Alysse found ways to promote healthy relationships in her life, you too can break free from the cycle of divorce.  Here are some suggestions for breaking that cycle and building a strong, lasting relationship:

Lesson #1: Another Person’s Past Does Not Determine Your Future

Like other young adults whose parents divorced, you might not feel confident in your ability to find lasting love.  You might even fear that, deep down inside, you are somehow fated to wind up divorced like your parents, no matter how hard you try.  Fortunately, this is simply not true. Just because your parents made certain choices doesn’t mean that you have no control over the future of your own relationship. It might take some serious self-reflection and hard work, but you deserve (and can find) lasting love.

Lesson #2: Manage Conflict Like a Pro

Conflict is inevitable in any relationship whether you’ve just started dating or have been married for years, says relationship expert John Gottman. The key is to manage conflict so that the end result is positive. Robert Hughes, Jr. tells the Huffington Post that children of divorced parents are likely to approach conflict in a relationship the same way their parents did. Think back to the last time you faced conflict in your relationship. How did you handle it? Was it similar to your parents’ way of approaching it? Was it successful or do you wish you had done things differently?  For example, instead of resorting to giving your partner the silent treatment, try Dr. John Gottman’s suggestions for managing conflict.

Lesson #3: Conflict Doesn’t Necessarily Mean It’s Over

For some adult children of divorce, the first signs of conflict in a relationship can trigger their fear that their partner is going to leave them. Rather than being the one left behind, they rush to end the relationship before they get hurt. Lesli Doares, a marriage and family therapist whose own parents divorced, says it’s important to recognize how your parents’ divorce impacted your understanding of relationships. She says that even after being married for 26 years, her fear that her husband will leave her still creeps up from time to time. Discuss the impact your parents’ divorce has had on you with your partner and team up to find ways to help each other feel secure in the relationship so that you can resist the urge to check out at the first sign of conflict.

Lesson #4: It’s Okay to Seek Support

You don’t have to figure this out yourself. Ask the advice of a trusted friend, mentor, or therapist. Sometimes outside observers can offer a different (and helpful!) perspective on what you are struggling with. Reading other people’s stories can be helpful and inspiring, too. You can learn a lot from other people’s experiences. For example, Mary, an iBiL contributor, talks about her journey of learning to trust marriage again.

Remember, every relationship takes work, no matter what your family background may be, whether your parents divorced or have stayed together “in sickness or in health.” If you are struggling in your relationship remember that you aren’t alone.  Even if things aren’t going well now, there’s always the hope that it can be better in the very near future!

This article is not intended to be a substitute for or serve as professional counseling or treatment. 

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