You’ve said “yes,” you’ve set a date, you’ve bought the dress, and everything is as it should be…but you still harbor fear in your heart — fear that the pain of your parents’ divorce will somehow plague your own marriage, fear that you will be found unworthy, fear that you will be out of control and life will just “happen” to you once again. You went through the pain once, but now as you anticipate walking down the aisle for the first time, it feels like you’re experiencing that pain all over again.
While the pain is real, it doesn’t have to define you or your future.
Look the Past in the Eye
The past doesn’t always provide us with a pretty picture to look at. However, it is important to spend some time looking at the picture and understanding the unique pain you took away from the experience of your parents’ divorce in order to identify the emotional triggers and coping strategies you will bring to your own marriage. Do you tend to feel fearful and run at the first sign of trouble? Do you tend to feel alone and manipulate to feel loved by whatever means necessary? Do you feel worthless and have a tendency to see all problems as your fault? Once you identify your pain and coping strategies, you will be more likely to work with them in a way that is actually helpful in your current relationship. Ignoring the past will do no such thing.
Do What You Can Do
If you’re a daughter of divorced parents, chances are you didn’t have much of a say in what happened. No one consulted you in formulating the plan moving forward. No one asked you if you wanted to live your life in one house or two…Now going forward with your own marriage, there might be a fear that once again, life won’t give you a choice and you’ll be left feeling powerless. Maybe you cope by trying to control every little detail in your relationship or perhaps you cope by numbing out or emotionally shutting down so that when something inevitably “happens,” it won’t hurt quite so badly. While those reactions are certainly understandable, they won’t be helpful to you in setting a different tone in your own relationship.
Instead of trying to control every detail or keep a distance, try to understand the aspects of life that you are empowered to influence and focus on being intentional about those areas and let the rest go. You may not be able to problem proof your marriage, but you can seek help when trials inevitably come. You may not be able to be the “perfect wife,” but you can be vulnerable and share those feelings that are difficult to share. Whatever these areas are for you, focus on the gifts you are able to give your marriage versus trying to control the unpredictable messiness of life. You’ll find that your vulnerability is much more connecting than trying to control things you can’t.
Shake the Shame
Maybe your reality is not what you pictured when you dreamt of walking down the aisle in a white dress. Perhaps you worry that you are no longer considered to come from a “good family” and offer something less than if your parents were still together. Perhaps you’ve even spent egregious amounts of time trying to perform your way out of this shame by becoming “perfect” in other ways. What is perhaps most important to understand is whether you come from a broken family or not, you, sister, are not broken.
The inner and outer beauty you offer as a woman is unmatched and cannot be marred. Whether it’s a divorce or a different situation entirely, it’s easy to internalize painful situations in life as an indicator of our worth, but the resounding truth is that our value is protected from the devastation of the pain we experience in life. We will only experience true freedom when we own these truths about our value and are not focused on what our experiences or others tell us about our worth.
He’s Not the Past
We have the tendency to experience our current relationships in the same way we experienced the hurtful events and relationships of the past. Yes, he has his own set of feelings and coping strategies, but the man you will walk toward does not represent the hurt you’ve trudged through already. Ultimately, it’s important to own our own experience, share it, and move toward acting in ways that are different and life-giving, rather than playing out our past with our spouse.
Whether your parents are married or divorced, you can enter your relationships with confidence, understanding yourself better, realizing what you are actually empowered to influence and what you cannot control, and knowing that you are not broken no matter how difficult your circumstances. Understanding these things will set you free to enjoy the relationship you’ve always dreamed of.
Photo credit: Shannon Lee Miller via Flickr