My Parent’s Divorce & My Love-Life

One of the things your parent’s divorce can do to you is complicate your love-life. How? Basically in one of three ways. The most extreme (most toxic) influence is to make you mistrust marriage. The reasoning goes something like this: if marriage didn’t work for them, it’s not going to work for me.

If you feel this way, marriage is usually not a real option in your love-life. You’re simply convinced that the whole thing will go bad so why bother. You’re using your parents’ marriage and divorce as the sole reference for your own love-life. You can get involved but not get hitched because you’re convinced marriages don’t stay together.

The next influence from your parents’ divorce is moderately toxic in that you can get married, however, you’ll pick someone who will co-create the same marital problems your parents had. The weird part is, you won’t even have to think about what you are doing. The ‘pattern’ has been set by the experience you’ve had of your parents marriage and divorce.

Their pattern gets ‘soft-wared’ in your head, meaning, you’ve learned through observation and experience how to pick someone you are incompatible with in just the right way and how to demolish the relationship over time.

Don’t forget, in this instance you don’t know that you’re doing it until after it is done. And some people, set up their parents’ pattern over and over again. Very painful to say the least.

The last form the influence from your parents’ divorce can take is the mildest and most workable. It’s when you work really hard, too hard in fact, to keep a marriage from ever divorcing. So hard that you drive your spouse crazy and end up resenting him or her.

You’re basically overcompensating for the fear you’ve internalized from your parents’ love-life. In other words, the negative influence on you from their divorce is the ‘fear’ that it might happen to you multiplied by your own determination to make it work no matter what.

You see, when a person feels this way he or she usually uses a little too much ‘control’ in a love relationship. People with this problem seem to think that nothing else will work. Unfortunately, control is destructive to love and guarantees marital problems at some point in the marriage.

Believe it or not, the underlying cause of all of this negative influence is the emotional ‘trauma’ a divorce can create in the minds and hearts of children and adolescents. It’s no fun to have your family fall apart. This kind of experience can create pretty deep insecurities in the offspring of a divorcing family.

A rule of thumb in the clinical world is, if you are negatively affected now in adulthood by something traumatic that happened in your childhood, you are still under it’s influence. Getting free requires that you understand and work through the experience you’ve had. This usually involves telling the story in an intimate relationship with someone you trust who will help you process the feelings involved.

This story telling can and does get painful at times while recalling traumatic events. The point is to ‘master’ the emotions so that whenever they show up you’ll know what they are and where they come from. If you keep this up, over time the intensity of your traumatic experience decreases.

You stop being afraid of the event and you begin to understand it for what it is. You accomplish this understanding and mastery with the ‘adult version’ of your mind. The ‘childhood version’ of you, you’ve been using to understand and deal with your trauma drops away. It’s out of date anyway.

Getting back to your parents’ divorce, let’s start with the hope you might have that your family will finally come back together. This needs to be discarded as a childhood ‘wish.’ Once you let it go, you’ll finish grieving the loss. Sometimes people grieve the end of things like this years later. It’s amazing how our minds are able to hang onto experiences like they’ve happened just the other day.

This way you can re-experience pieces of what you went through for the purpose of healing years later. The fact that you are still hurt and unhappy about something (your parents’ divorce) that happened years ago is the mind’s way of hanging onto the experience so that some form of re-experiencing can take place for the purpose of healing.

If your parents got divorced while you were growing up there’s a good chance that you feel, deep down inside, that you aren’t ‘complete’ because of it. What this means is, that the breakup of your family left something unfinished in you. This kind of feeling/belief can drag down your self-esteem and leave you with a strong need to repair your family experience as an aftereffect.

The truth is, now as an adult you can’t go back in time and put your family back together again. The feeling of wanting to highlights our human effort to feel fulfillment from the world around us including our family of origin. It goes something like this, if everything is OK in my family, I’m OK.

The problem with this kind of reasoning is, you can’t control what happens in your parents’ marriage. In other words, at some point or another you’ll have to find your personal fulfillment on the inside of you regardless of what is going on around you. A tell-tale sign that this is not happening yet is your over-involvement in your parents’ marriage.

This can happen when you’re young or old. It can happen if they are together, separated, or divorced and remarried. It doesn’t matter. The point is, you are too involved in what they think, feel, and do in relation to each other. This happens because you have some unfinished business about the fact that they divorced tucked away in your mind somewhere in the back room.

Another version of this involves ‘protecting’ one of your parents from the other. Often it’s the parent that has the greatest trouble moving on that gets the protection. But in some instances, the ‘right’ of the parent who broke up the marriage to move on with his or her life is the one being protected.

Whichever, the point is, as an offspring you aren’t supposed to be involved in their relationship to this extent. The emotional consequence for you, and there always is one, is you don’t get to move on with your life as fully as you need to.

Here’s the point of all this, just because your parents got a divorce does not mean there is something wrong with you. Furthermore, just because there’re not together doesn’t mean you are responsible in any way whatsoever for the fact that they are not married.

You just grew up there, and it wasn’t even your choice to do so, if you know what I mean. Your purpose in life is to grow up and out of your family of origin and into a life, a love-life, that’s better than their’s. In other words, a love-life that is uniquely your own.

Comments? Welcome. Dr. Tom Jordan


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Dr. Jordan

Dr. Thomas Jordan is a clinical psychologist, certified interpersonal psychoanalyst, author, professor, and love life researcher.

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