Successful Marriage Despite Divorced Parents
I’ve counseled many people at various stages of their romantic relationships. When people are considering marriage, lots of good questions come up. People want to make it work with the person they love, especially if they’ve seen and experienced difficult relationships in the past. Take this message I got recently:
“I love my fiancé so much. We have been trying to plan for our life together, and a lot of things are going great. But there’s something that’s been making us nervous. Both my and her parents are divorced, and we’ve both read that children of divorced parents often get divorced, too. I know this sounds crazy, but is our marriage doomed to fail?”
I really appreciate the honesty of their question. And I want to answer them honestly, too. The short answer is no. People who get married after growing up with divorced parents are not doomed to fail. Of course, there’s no guarantee that any marriage will be successful. But making efforts to confront your fears, and work through your ups and downs, together, will help bolster you and prepare you both for your future together.
If your parents’ divorce has you worried about the success of your own marriage, I understand how you feel. After all, you’ve seen “the worst-case scenario” of marriage problems play out.
But I hope to encourage you both. You can have as strong and fulfilling a marriage as people whose parents remained together. It’s going to take self-awareness and ongoing effort to do that, but I believe you can both make the efforts you need to in order to grow closer and stay happily married. Here are my suggestions for making things work and growing closer in the years to come.
1. Be Open About the Past
If you’re ready to get married, you and your fiancé have likely had many close and intimate conversations about your lives, including your struggles and successes up to this point. Continuing to be open about the past is key. Here are some things you might want to talk about together:
- How your parents’ divorce affected each of you as kids, how have things changed as you’ve gotten older
- How has their divorce has affected how you handle conflict, or how much you trust people
- How you hope to grow close as a couple
- What you think makes a stronger marriage
- Your fears and expectations of what marriage will be like
You don’t have to solve all your problems or address all your fears at once. But being aware of how tough things have affected you will give you an idea of what you can work on together.
2. Think of Your Marriage as an Opportunity
Rather than a threat, your parents’ divorce could be an opportunity for you and your fiancé to use what you learned watching your parents. Instead of a purely tragic or bad event, it may help to consider divorce as a lesson in what not to do in communication and relationship-building. For example:
- If your parents argued a lot, you can talk about why they fought and work on healthy anger management together.
- If your parents had a toxic dynamic, you can learn about what makes relationships toxic so that your marriage will have clear, healthy boundaries.
- If your parents had conflicts based on misunderstandings, you and your fiancé can make an effort to communicate clearly about your emotions, your concerns, and anything making you feel anxious.
Reflecting on your parents’ divorces can also help you and your fiancé develop a healthier perspective about your parents themselves. Thinking about how painful their divorce was, and how it hurts everyone involved, may help you take a gentler approach and be more understanding of them and each other.
3. Give Each Other Time and Space
Marriage is a joyful thing, but it brings up a lot of emotions, and those emotions might seem complicated and unpredictable. You or your fiancé might find yourself coming face to face with tough feelings about your parents, about marriage in general, or about trusting others.
Those struggles don’t mean that your marriage will be in trouble, especially if you’re both making efforts to communicate clearly and find support. When you have tough days, giving each other time and space is important to your healing.
4. Don’t Expect Perfection
A lot of relationship and marriage conflicts happen not because of terrible events, but simply because we’re disappointed our spouse didn’t meet our needs or expectations.
Growing up around divorce might have left you or your fiancé longing for a perfect marriage. But nobody’s perfect. And “happily ever after” isn’t a realistic goal. You can free yourselves from the burden of impossible goals and expectations. After all, the best stories, and the strongest marriages, are between people who love one another, flaws and all.
I’ve thought about this often throughout my marriage. When I’m struggling with wishing I could have been a more perfect spouse, it encourages me to think about my faith and ground myself, and my marriage, in those larger truths.
God loves me and my wife, even with all our flaws, and He has allowed us to have a strong and happy marriage in the face of many challenges. God created you to be in loving and meaningful relationships, but He knows we are not perfect. God offers us grace when we mess up and we, in turn, should offer our spouse grace. We shouldn't hold ourselves or our spouse to the standard of perfection. It simply doesn't exist this side of heaven.
5. Look Forward to Something New
Your marriage is neither of your parents’ marriages, and it will not have the same outcome, the same strengths, or the same challenges theirs did.
Your marriage is a fresh start, with completely different people. And you’re committed to making it work. You can be honest about what you need from your marriage. And you can look forward to exciting possibilities:
- What are you looking forward to about the future?
- What do you love about each other?
- What do you hope to give your fiancé in your life together?
- How do you plan to encourage one another day by day?
- What kind of adventures will you go on together?
Looking forward to your new life together is a great way to get a healthier, happier perspective on your marriage that isn’t colored by conflicts your parents may have had with you, or with one another.
6. Get Ongoing Support
Premarital counseling is a great way to prepare for marriage. You can have those hard conversations about:
Ideally, you’d talk about these things before getting married. But ongoing support is essential to keeping the marriage strong in the years to come. Getting ongoing counseling and mentoring will go a long way toward maintaining healthy relationships with one another, and with new friends you meet as a couple.
Whether you’re newly married or planning for marriage, you and your spouse don’t have to answer tough questions alone. TheHopeLine offers relationship resources and mentoring for a variety of marriage questions and challenges. You can talk to a HopeCoach today about your hopes for your marriage, challenges you’re concerned about, and how to go forward together with hope and confidence.
As you move forward in dating and relationships, it's natural to wonder if you're ready to get married. Read my blog to find out. Also, check out our partners at Focus on the Family for premarital counseling.
Photo by Nathan McBride