Marriage is a unique relationship. It is both an emotional commitment and a legal one, and the only intimate relationship of equals. These special characteristics make marriage so fulfilling and so scary at the same time.
All marriages face the same challenges. But how each marriage handles these challenges is as different as the two people in it.
The divorce statistics have fluctuated some but basically, they haven’t moved much in years. The rate of divorce for first marriages is close to 50%; for second marriages, it is close to 66%.
According to Lesli Doares, a relationship coach (who wants people who say “I do” say “we can”), the National Opinion Research Council conducted a survey of adult children of divorce that spanned more than 20 years. Here’s what they found: In 1973, adult children of divorce were 172% more likely to get divorced than adult children from intact homes.
In 1999, adult children of divorce were only 50% more likely to get divorced than adult children from intact homes. This good news obscures the fact that the marriage rate is 26% lower rate among adult children of divorced parents.
The parents’ divorce has an impact on the child’s marriage. Children learn about love and marriage from their parents. They learn what it means to be a man, woman, husband, wife, mother and father from them. Children learn about trust and how to handle conflict and difficult times.
Children of divorce often experience expectations of failure, fear of loss or abandonment and fear of conflict throughout their lives. These anxieties are reflected in their romantic relationships by poor partner or behavior choices, giving up too quickly when problems arise or avoidance of any perceived level of commitment.
Faced with parental conflict growing up, an adult child of divorce may choose to 1) remaining single or 2) vow never to divorce.
Deciding to remain single does not mean celibacy; it just means withholding from a total commitment. A person goes through the motions, and may even have children, but holds back off from real connection of a marriage. When the relationship ends the person suffers, but he or she confirms a self-fulfilling prophecy that relationships fail.
Both parties intentionally make vowing never to divorce means a lifelong commitment to marriage — a commitment that may be kept at a high cost to them. The risk of putting up with unacceptable behavior from a partner to avoid the pain of divorce is real. This involves making concessions that are not in your best interest. Insincere agreement and false consensus in order to avoid conflict or marital failure wears a person down. He or she may indeed avoid the dreaded divorce, but the marriage may be just as painful.
Either of these extreme relationship attitudes becomes problematic. The secret to not repeating a parents’ fate is to learn about relationships and what happened in the parents’ marriage specifically, particularly the issues of trust, honesty, respect and productive communication.
Experiences with marriage and divorce can create fears and anxieties, but understanding of what happened — and the child’s reaction to it — helps devise better strategies for relationship success.