If you didn’t catch part 1 reading some great insight and advice from both Brooke and Kristin, you should go read that! I asked them to share what their parents’ divorce was like on them at age 13, and how they navigate the effects of that divorce currently, now that they are married themselves.
This Spotlight Part 2 perspective is getting some insight from two women who were adults and married or almost married when their parents got a divorce. Elizabeth and Felicia share how painful it was to try and accept this new family situation, especially during events and holidays, and how it influenced their own marriage in both positive and negative ways.
Elizabeth was about 26 years old, married and expecting her first child when her parents announced their divorce. For many adult children moved out of their parents’ house and living their own life, it can come as a shock to find out their parents’ are getting a divorce. For Elizabeth however, it wasn’t really a shock.
In talking about the circumstances that lead to their divorce, she said she wasn’t totally shocked. “As a child, my parents loved each other. I’d never see them fight a day in their life and I remember my dad giving my mom a kiss every morning before work. However, I had noticed a little less love a few years into my marriage but didn’t know anything that was going on because I had moved out of the house. I didn’t know it was coming, but I also think deep down I knew something wasn’t right, so it wasn’t a shock to me.”
Instead of letting her parents’ divorce negatively impact Elizabeth’s own marriage, they used it as a learning experience that made their relationship stronger. She said, “My dad had made some bad choices and my mom was not willing to deal with them. I’m certain there was no fighting, just apathy. Just a loss of connection that was not cultivated over the years. It’s as if they weren’t friends and now their kids are older and they didn’t know what to do with each other… I told my husband (who’s parents divorced while he was in high school) that I didn’t want to lose the connection with him over the years as children came. It’s definitely helped us see what we DON’T want to do in our marriage from seeing both of our parents divorced now.”
Because a family continues to experience the effects of divorce for years to come, I asked Elizabeth how they navigate this new family dynamic as time passes. She said, “I separated from my family for a while because of it. I wasn’t ready to see my dad so I didn’t see him much after that. I still don’t see him much because he has a new life with a new family, but I’ve tried my best to still remain his daughter and remind him that he has a grandson that would love to know his grandpa. Holidays are hard. But they were always kind of hard with my family anyway, so I just have to accept that this is how it is and I can create my own family in the way I want to. I think that’s the biggest thing we got out of this, that we can create our own family with our own values and traditions and strengthen it the way we want to.”
Felicia was about 19 years old and about to meet her soon-to-be husband when her parents got a divorce, and for her it was very shocking. At such a pivotal point in her life, you can imagine the stresses that weighed on her during this time.
In talking about the circumstances that lead to her divorce she said, “It was an extremely unexpected, painful, and ugly process. My dad had been unfaithful and wanted nothing to do with my mom or the 7 of us kids, which was a shock after several months of my parents being seemingly happier than they had been in years. It led to a lot of fighting and I was concerned for a time that I would have to drop out of college temporarily to help support my family. That didn’t end up being the case but it was still on the back of my mind through the following year.”
With how fresh her parents’ divorce was in Felicia’s life, it had a negative impact on the serious relationship with her now husband. She says, “I was extremely hesitant and had a hard time trusting my feelings that getting married was the right thing to do when that discussion started happening with him. My husband is a sweet and incredibly caring person, and the biggest way the recent divorce affected our relationship was that he was frustrated with the actions of my parents that caused me to hurt. In the months following their divorce, they both made some poor choices and it affected all of us kids. He wanted to see me happy and encouraged me to put some space between myself and my parents. I wasn’t quite ready for that, as I felt I needed to be there for my siblings all of the time, and so I got frustrated with him.”
With Felicia now married, the divorce has made the relationship with her husband stronger. Felicia says, “If I had to choose, I would have preferred my parents to have a healthy, strong marriage that I could look to as an example. However, I choose to look at the blessings of having an example of what not to do and making different choices to continually strengthen my own marriage...We’ve been able to make a sincere effort to put each other first and to work on our relationship first before we attempt to fix all of my family’s issues. My husband has grown even more patient and understanding as I work out my changing emotions around big events. I’ve learned that I don’t have to be available to my family at the drop of a hat and that it is ok to spend time with just my husband and son.”
Though she says that time has lessened the pain of the family break up, the biggest hurdle Felicia says they face in continuing to navigate this new family situation is the tension that is felt during holidays and large family events: “My parents still don’t enjoy being around each other and so we can feel that tension at birthdays, holidays, etc. when we have to pick who we’ll have dinner with or when we have to get together as a big group. It’s tough to experience that when you really want to make everyone happy.”
ADVICE FOR OTHER COUPLES EXPERIENCING THIS
It’s a sad reality that not every couple makes it in this marriage journey, and that divorce is such a tough thing on any family, even if it is for the best. Both Elizabeth and Felicia, being incredibly helpful to shed some light on this subject, made sure to give some even more helpful advice for those who are experiencing this right now with their own parents’ divorce.
ELIZABETH: “Remember that is has nothing to do with you. You didn’t cause it, you can’t change it. Probably my biggest piece of advice is to remember that they are grown adults and they have their own choices. You can’t influence their choices, but you can still choose to love them. You can choose to spend time with them. Take time for space if you need it, but eventually find yourself back and be willing to make this new situation work in any way you can.”
FELICIA: “For the spouse with divorced or divorcing parents, I would encourage you to be patient with yourself. In day-to-day existence, the pain of the divorce tends to lessen as time goes on, but sometimes the smallest or strangest things can make you really mourn the loss of your parents’ relationship. It doesn’t make you crazy to be upset about it even if years have passed. I would also encourage you to not panic if you and your spouse fight or argue. That doesn’t mean your marriage is doomed – it is completely normal to not agree on everything. :) What isn’t normal is holding grudges and letting small disagreements become big wedges between you and your spouse. Be forgiving and remember that you are not destined to have your marriage end in the same way that your parents’ did – especially if it was a bitter or ugly divorce.
For the other spouse, I would encourage you to be very patient with your husband or wife. The dissolution of their parents’ marriage can really take a lifelong toll on a person, particularly when major events happen (like bringing your own children into the world, holidays, weddings, etc.). Their emotions and reactions will not always be logical and they probably won’t make a lot of sense sometimes. Be supportive and reassuring, but don’t be afraid to gently guide your spouse back to a rational point of view if they start to panic over normal marriage difficulties.”
I appreciate them willing to share their experiences to potentially help others who may be experiencing this with their own parents and are figuring out how to navigate this new change in their relationships. I especially appreciated Felicia bringing awareness to the idea that a parents’ divorce truly is a loss that you have to mourn. It’s a loss of a sure foundation of family. It’s a loss of the future you imagined having with your family. And for some people, past happy memories together can feel tainted, making those feel lost as well.
In preventing divorce from happening to our own marriages, I’ve written here how it’s not something we are bulletproof from experiencing. But one thing that all four of these amazing wives have shared in these Spotlights, is that we can learn from others’ relationships and use those lessons to make changes than can help strengthen our marriages.