Dear Dr. Respler:
In your August 24 column, What Can Prevent Marriage, you eloquently discussed how losing a parent at a young age may cause someone to have a hard time getting married. As you made clear this is because of a deep-rooted fear of getting closer to someone and facing the possibility of loss.
Here’s my issue: my parents got divorced when I was young, and I am afraid the same things will happen to me. You see, not only are my parents divorced, two of my siblings – along with an uncle and an aunt – are also divorced. I feel as if divorce runs in my family, and even the married people who I am close with don’t seem to be to happy.
I am writing to you hoping you can address this issue and possibly calm my fears. Dr. Respler, if someone comes from a divorced home and divorce is prevalent in his or her family, does it make the fearful person more afraid of getting married?
I am a young man with many options, but I am afraid of ending up divorced – and miserable. Please help me understand this issue (it would be most appreciated if you would include research to document some of your suggestions).
I want to be able to get married!
Dr. Yael Respler and Dr. Orit Respler-Herman offer the following reply:
Let me say that we do understand your dilemma. Based on our experience your fear is somewhat valid, as children from a divorced home are more likely to get divorced. That being said, there are many other factors that come into play that can affect a person’s marriage.
There are many individuals who have grown up in a divorced home and have wonderful, happy marriages. There are others, though, who grew up in an intact family but end up get divorced. The manner in which the divorce takes place also plays a role in how the children are reared. For example, if for whatever reason a couple decides to get divorced but ensures that it is amicable to the point that their children are shielded from its details and one (or both) of the parties remarries and is in a healthy and happy marriage, the chances of the children having happy marriages are much greater. The reality is that many children of divorced parents, whether the divorces were amicable or non-amicable, are happily married.
Research shows that growing up as a product of divorced parents significantly increases the likelihood of a child terminating his or her own marriage. Children from divorced homes in America are more likely to get married as teens and marry someone who is also a child of divorced parents. This also increases the likelihood of getting divorced. Research also shows that children from divorced homes are one-third less likely to marry if they are over age 20 when the divorce takes place (Wolfinger, 2005).
More recent research indicates that children from divorced homes have an increased risk of having difficult relationships and marriages (Cui & Fincham, 2010). However, expanded research was conducted to understand why this is so. The two most important factors: conflict managment and commitment to marriage.
One of the main ways children learn about relationships is by watching their parents interact. If children see their parents communicate in a positive fashion, they are more apt to communicate this way with their siblings or peers – as children often copy their parents’ styles of communication. How conflict is handled and how quickly parents become angry seem to have a particularly powerful effect on children’s own skills in dealing with others. Cui and Fincham (see above) found that children raised in households in which their parents do not manage conflict or disagreement well are more likely to have similar difficulties in their own relationships.
Parents also sometimes connect their feelings of commitment to their relationships. Cui and Fincham found that children with divorced parents have less positive attitudes toward marriage and a lower commitment to sustaining romantic attachments. Specifically, when these young people come across difficulties or are somewhat unhappy with the relationship they’re in, they are more likely to end the relationship – as compared to young people whose parents stay married. This finding also extends to marriage, whereby children with divorced parents were less likely to remain in the marriage – as compared to children from intact families.
While findings have concluded that children of divorced parents can have successful marriages, if their communication skills are poor and attitudes toward marriage are negative, they will need to develop the proper skills to succeed. There are real strategies for improving relationships and developing committed, long-lasting and happy marriages – but it does not happen magically. Individuals must be ready to change and improve their attitudes about marriage and relationships skills.
You seem to be afraid of making the leap into marriage. Is it because you fear divorce, or do you subconsciously feel that you are emotionally unready for a healthy relationship? You may be helped by seeking therapy so you can work through your past and work on cultivating positive and healthy relationships. Hatzlachah!
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