No matter what the circumstances, divorce is brutal. It hurts you, your ex, and your kids. While you and your ex will eventually move on, the ripple effect of your divorce will continue to reverberate inside your children’s lives far into adulthood. Even the most well adjusted and resilient child will feel the reach of your divorce long after you and your ex dissolved your marriage.
According to psychologist and researcher Judith Wallerstein, “the highest impact of divorce on children comes 15-25 years AFTER the divorce, when the children enter into a serious romantic relationship… they expect to fail.”
Whether you are romantically involved with an adult child of divorce or you are their parent or step-parent, these are some things to keep in mind when you love someone with divorced parents:
1. They Don’t Trust You
“I think there are definite trust issues all around. Sometimes it’s hard to have faith in your partner.” – Chris B., Fitchburg, MA
Trust is hard won when you love a person with divorced parents… especially if one or both parents suddenly became unreliable post divorce. When a child of divorce loses faith in their parents, trust erodes.
“Trust is a huge issue for my girls,” states Holly J., a divorced mom of three. “I see how hard it is for my girls to trust men. Their dad is still alive but has not talked to them in over 7 years. Even when they tried to contact him he never responded.”
2. They Still Hurt
Divorce reaches far into the future and for some adults with divorced parents, the pain is still real.
It still hurts no matter how old I am., Diane G. Indianapolis, IN
3. They Need to Know They Can Count On You
Maybe Dad was hit or miss with weekend pick ups. Maybe Mom missed every soccer game. If you say you’re going to be there at 6PM, be there at 6PM. If you say you’re going to clean out the garage, then by golly, clean out the garage.
4. They Crave Clarity Around Feelings – Theirs And Yours
Let’s face it. Divorce is confusing to adults and even more so to children. This can lead people to suppress feelings and go about life as the walking wounded.
I think my partner needs to know that I need to be clear about feelings, mine and his. Not talking about feelings (and feeling like my feelings aren’t heard/understood) is really stressful for me, and I think it comes partly from both sides of my family not talking about feelings, and partly from the divorce and all of the related chaos that comes from not talking about your feelings. – Eva S., Washington D.C.
5. They Hate Change
Divorce is a traumatic change for nearly every child who experiences their parents’ breakup. A child’s safe, comfy, bubble suddenly bursts. As a child of divorce myself, I know what it feels like to suddenly be separated from one of your parents. I spent the majority of my first marriage creating a false sense of security for myself and my children because I didn’t want my children to go through what I did.
6. They Have No Idea What A Healthy Relationship Looks Like
Happy, healthy marriages have a strong foundation in communication, respect, gratitude, acceptance, trust, and friendship. When couples divorce, it’s generally because their marriage has a weak foundation. For many children of divorce their idea of a healthy relationship may be terribly skewed.
“My vision of an ideal family is sometimes more like what a fairy tale would be since I had no foundation from which to base my expectations.” Angela P., Maryland
7. They’re Caretakers
Many children of divorce often feel like they need to become emotional caretakers for the custodial parent. Since primary custody still goes to Mom, many moms lean on their kids for emotional support. If you love someone with divorced parents you may find yourself being “taken care of.” Recognize that this may be a symptom of a co-dependent relationship that your love may or may not be aware of.
8. They Might Be a Control Freak
If you’ve never been a child whose parents called it quits, you may have a hard time understanding why it’s so important for the person you love to have an unrelenting need to control nearly every aspect of her life.
“I think my husband needs to know I am a little bit of a control freak. Living as a child of divorce, many things about my own life were dictated by a “court order”, which I never saw, written by a judge I never met. So, as an adult, I want to be in control of my own life.” – Monica C., Columbus, Indiana
9. They Secretly Believe Their Relationship With You Will Fail
You need to know that one of your love’s deepest fears is that your relationship is doomed. If their parents couldn’t make it work, maybe they won’t be able to either. This may show up as a fight they pick with you for no reason… except maybe to see if you’ll stick around.
10. They Want Their Relationship With You To Be Forever
This flies in the face of their deepest fear but they really do want their relationship with you to work and they want it to last. The contradiction you see in the one you love may show up as anxiety, worry, and neediness. Be kind. Be compassionate. Understand that your love really wants their relationship with you to be happy and healthy.
It’s not always easy loving someone with divorced parents. If you are both committed to the relationship, strive to keep the key ingredients of a happy and healthy relationship as your foundation.
I’d love to hear from you in the comments – if you love someone with divorced parents, what tips do you have to share?