Imagine growing up in a big city in the eastern United States, having never set foot outside the “concrete jungle.” One day a person you care for a great deal asks you to paint a picture of the Arizona desert in spring bloom, with flowering cacti of various kinds and a brightly colored carpet of wildflowers covering the sand—a scene you’ve never witnessed or even viewed in photographs. Would you be able to do it?
Almost certainly you’d find it impossible, even if you had artistic talent. How could you hope to paint a landscape you had never seen? You might worry about hurting your loved one’s feelings; you might wish desperately that you could satisfy the request. But you’d find yourself asking, “What does one kind of cactus look like, let alone a dozen different kinds? And since when do cacti bloom? And while we’re at it, what’s a wildflower?”
Adult children of divorce who are considering the possibility of marriage—or who are already married and struggling to keep it together—face a challenge that seems nearly as inconceivable. Like every human being, they want to be loved and accepted. Like most people, they long to find those things in a marriage relationship that will be strong and thriving and mutually fulfilling “for as long as we both shall live.”
Unfortunately, those adult children of divorce have never seen such a marriage relationship. They have no idea what it looks like. Their only experience is with a relationship that, for any of a thousand reasons, didn’t last. In their experience, when the going gets tough, men and women bail out of a “bad” marriage.
A number of surveys and studies have discovered that adult children of divorce are far more likely to get divorced themselves than are the adult children of intact families (i.e., families in which Mom and Dad did not divorce). So these children of divorce very often have no idea how to create and maintain a healthy relationship themselves. Typically, therefore, the idea of getting married fills them with both joy and dread at the same time. As Judith Wallerstein, one of the leading researchers on the effects of divorce, puts it,
“When children of divorce become adults, they are badly frightened that their relationships will fail, just like the most important relationship in their parents’ lives failed. They mature with a keen sense that their growing-up experiences did not prepare them for love, commitment, trust, marriage, or even for the nitty-gritty of handling and resolving conflicts. . . . [T]hey are haunted by powerful ghosts from their childhoods that tell them that they, like their parents, will not succeed.”1
Those fears are well founded. A number of surveys and studies have discovered that adult children of divorce are far more likely to get divorced themselves than are the adult children of intact families (i.e., families in which Mom and Dad did not divorce).2 Depending on the survey, the child of divorce is at least two to four times more likely to divorce.
As if the divorce statistics weren’t scary enough, the children of divorce are also more prone to other problems. For instance, they are twice as likely as children from intact homes to drop out of high school. They’re twice as likely to become teen parents and unmarried parents. They’re also far more likely to become dependent on welfare as adults.3
If you’re reading this as an adult child of divorce, you’re probably familiar with those statistics and the fear they produce. You may be wondering, as I suggested at the beginning, how you can possibly be expected to paint a picture of something you’ve never seen—how you can have a strong, intact marriage when your own parents’ marriage failed. And you’re probably wondering whether this book can really help.
To you, the anxious reader, I have two things to say here at the outset. First and foremost, yes, it is possible to break the cycle of divorce. You can learn to create and maintain a healthy, strong, lasting marriage relationship. You can learn to paint that picture of something you haven’t yet seen. There is real hope for your future and your marriage.
Second, it may encourage you to know that I don’t address this topic as an academic who simply thought it would make for an interesting study. No, this book is rooted in my own experience and grows out of my own passion and need to know. You see, I, too, am an adult child of divorce. My father actually went through three divorces, my mother through two.
So, like you, as I met and fell in love with the person of my dreams, I had to wonder whether I could enjoy a healthy marriage. When conflicts arose after the wedding, I had to consider whether we could work through our differences.
Could I succeed where my parents had failed, or was I doomed to repeat their mistakes, their choices, . . . their patterns? Because I was privileged to marry the most wonderful woman in the world, because of lessons I’ve learned along the way (from my mom and others), and especially because of God’s grace, I will have been married for 27 years by the time this book releases, and the future looks even brighter than the past. My wife, Cindy, and I are living proof that the cycle of divorce can be broken. My parents’ marital failure does not have to dictate the fate of our relationship, and your parents’ divorce doesn’t have to doom your marriage either.
You, an adult child of divorce, can create a strong, lasting marriage. When conflicts arise between you and your spouse, the two of you can work through them and find healthy resolution. In the face of other challenges (health issues, the everyday trials of life, etc.), you and your mate can draw closer together rather than drifting apart.
Walk with me through the pages of this book and let me show you how to start a new cycle in your family. It all begins, as we’ll see in chapter 1, with recognizing that because you grew up in a home of divorce, you also grew up facing a greater challenge than you may have imagined. For, realize it or not, even in the twenty-first century, you’re facing the effects of a curse.