During the past two decades, I’ve researched the legacy of divorce and worked as a coach and therapist to individuals experiencing family upheaval and breakup. What I’ve come to realize is that what many experts say is true – divorce does run in families. After going back to the drawing board and interviewing a sample of more than 300 daughters of divorce in the past ten years, I have come to this conclusion:
While adult children of divorce have double the risk of divorce compared to counterparts from intact homes (and triple if they marry an ACOD) they can learn from their parents’ failed marriage and gain confidence in their ability to find lasting love. The key to doing this is self-awareness and a willingness to follow 7 Steps which I will share:
- STEP ONE: Examine your parents’ divorce from an adult viewpoint. Realize that you don’t have to define yourself by your parents’ marriage or breakup – you can learn from their failed marriage. Action Step: Ask each parent the reasons why they divorced. Even if you think you know the reasons, discussing it as an adult may shed new light on their split. If you don’t feel comfortable doing this or don’t have access to both of your parents, attempt to ask this question to a grandparent, aunt, uncle, or trusted family friend.
- STEP TWO: Try to forgive others and move on from the past. You can’t change the past, but you can make better choices today. Action Step: Write down three crucial ways that your parents’ divorce has impacted (or is still impacting) your life. Write down three personal goals to address these issues if the affects were (or are) negative. Keep in mind that the objective here is to focus on pain from your past that may be carrying over into the present. Attempt to pick goals that are attainable and it’s always wise to enlist the help of a close friend, family member, or therapist. Do at least one thing every day on behalf of your goals. The truth is that small consistent steps, such as following through on calling a therapist or coach for help, can create huge momentum.
- STEP THREE: Examine your relationship with your father. Try to repair any father-daughter wounds that may prevent you from having a healthy connection. Action Step: Write a statement that will help you release any leftover negative feelings from the past. For example, one possible release is: “Dad, I release you for not spending as much time with me after you remarried. I still feel some resentment about this, but I’m working on letting it go.” Many women choose to keep this release private but another option is to include it in a letter to your father – regardless of whether or not you decide to mail it.
- STEP FOUR: Get to the root of self-esteem issues. Internalize the belief that you are worthy of love. Action Step: Keep track of negative automatic thoughts (that pop into your head) and substitute them with positive counterstatements. Write a prescription to feel better about yourself. For instance, you might decide to do one positive thing for yourself each morning. Take a risk and try something new such as practicing ten minutes of stretching or yoga. Also, keep a list of three successes you’ve had during the course of each day. There is no such thing as a small step or success. Do something good for yourself today – and every day – no matter how small. You’ll be amazed how quickly your self-esteem will improve when you adopt this proactive approach.
- STEP FIVE: Extend trust to others. Operate from a viewpoint that your partner wants the best for you and will not hurt or abandon you. Let him prove, through word and deed, that he is trustworthy. Action Step: Pinpoint how your parents’ divorce may impact your feelings of trust in intimate relationships. Extend trust to a partner worthy of trust. When others have lost your trust, don’t assume the worst. Pause and examine whether your mistrustful feelings are a result of your past or present. Make a choice to trust your partner and keep in mind that restoring trust is a gradual process. Don’t be hard on yourself as you are learning to rebuild trust in relationships.
- STEP SIX: Develop interdependence and reign in your self-reliance. Allow your partner to come through for you. Action Step: Visualize yourself in an honest and open intimate relationship and set a goal to be more accepting of nurturing from your partner. Put together a vision board or write down what you want your relationship to look like. Make a point to reflect upon this image or written passage at least twice a day. Remind yourself that it’s healthy to accept help from others and that the payoff from sharing your vulnerabilities is a deeper level of love, trust, and intimacy.
- STEP SEVEN: Examine your attitudes and beliefs about love and commitment. A healthy respect for commitment will enhance your ability to build love, trust, and intimacy. Action Step: Identify specific ways you might be avoiding commitment. Along with this, evaluate your choice in partners and confront qualities that they share in common. Examine the impact your relationships have had on your self-esteem and life choices. Lastly, make a list of three qualities in a partner that are a priority for you. Set a goal to become more deeply invested in a romantic relationship with a current or new partner who possesses some of these qualities.
I invite you to join me on the journey toward building love, trust, and intimacy in relationships. If you feel stuck and need support, please write a comment to me. Keep in mind that it may take time to gain insight into your patterns of repeating the past and choosing partners who are wrong for you.
Follow Terry Gaspard on Twitter, Facebook, and movingpastdivorce.com. Her book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship is available on her website. Feel free to ask a question here.
Terry’s forthcoming book, The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around, was published by Sounds True in February of 2020.