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Ask Team Practical: Divorcing Parents

I’m lucky to have a wonderful man in my life. Partner and I have been together for nearly three years and living together for a few months. We’ve survived two years of long distance, one cross-country move apiece, and are now just grateful that we can see each other almost every day. He makes me laugh, drives me crazy, and makes me feel important and loved every day of my life. A year ago, when we were facing our second bout of long distance, we had discussed getting married. Neither of us is really ready for it yet, though we’ve acknowledged that it’s going to happen.

However, in that year, something has happened that is suddenly making me question our getting married: my mother left my father. They have gotten separated and are now pursuing the finalization of their divorce. Partner has been blessedly wonderful, letting me rant and rave and cry about it whenever I need to, and never saying a negative word about my parents in the process.

Since this announcement, something has been chewing at my insides, something that my father put his finger on. He told me to not let this affect any future plans I might have had with Partner, that my life isn’t theirs, and that it might not turn out the same way. But how can I honestly consider getting married when my parents, whose marriage lasted 26 years, has fallen apart? I know no one goes into marriage expecting it to end, but I really thought that if they made it a quarter century plus, they’d go the distance. How am I supposed to move past these fears and let myself take that chance?

—Suddenly Anxious Divorcé‘s Girl Is Relatively Lost

Oh SADGIRL,

This makes me just ache for you. Parental divorce is never easy and while there are aspects that are better if your parents divorce when you are adult, there are parts that are way way worse. Being in a steady, committed relationship, you understand more than you ever did what your parents had and what they are leaving and that makes you feel that loss more acutely. And I’m truly sorry for that. I send hugs, love and cookies your way, sweetie.

However, the other thing about being an adult is that you now know something your teenage self didn’t know—your parents are people, too. I know you know this, but I need you to KNOW it, okay? Yes, your parents are role models but they are people you learn from, not copy. You need to forge your own path and do what’s best for you and your partner. If I told you that you needed to emulate your parents’ path in their career or religion, you would disagree, throw things at me and possibly curse my future offspring. You don’t expect to follow in their footsteps in other aspects, so don’t think that you will follow their marriage path. Think about if a friend were going through the same thing you are. What advice would YOU give? Probably the same advice that your father gave you, yes? (Can we have a cheer for your father’s loving and wise advice, while going through a difficult time, by the way?)

Even though it’s ending in divorce, your parents’ marriage was not a mistake. If the only thing it did was allow them to raise a lovely woman who was able to weather two years of a long-distance relationship, who has a strong enough sense of self to allow herself to love someone and be loved in return, and who knows marriage is something she wants but is not ready for, then I call it a rousing success. Marriages that end in divorce are not failures, they are part of life and part of growing. Your parents are growing into another phase of their life; do not let their growth stunt yours. The thing you need to remember is that even if your parents had stayed together, the possibility of you getting divorced was already there. It is there for all of us, just like the possibility of breaking up with your partner is there right now. Being with someone, every minute of every damn day, is a choice. Don’t let that choice be influenced by your parents’ choices; make sure you are being your own person.

What about your partner, have you talked to him about these fears? Calling him your “partner” isn’t just a word, you know. Let him know you’re scared, I’d bet anything that he is too. Know who else you should talk to? A counselor. No, seriously; there is absolutely nothing wrong with going, “This is happening in my life and I have no idea how to deal with it.” You are not messed up, you are not broken, life has just tripped you up a bit and you need to find your footing. Absolutely no shame in that. Your letter didn’t indicate that there is anything in your relationship that may have triggered this response to your parents’ divorce, but just in case, think about having your partner attend counseling with you.

Maybe marriage is for you, maybe it isn’t; maybe your partner is your future husband, maybe he isn’t. Those are decisions that only you two can make and you both need to make them based on YOUR feelings and experiences, not anyone else’s. You have to move beyond these fears and let yourself take the chance. But not right now. Let yourself heal and wait until you are able to leap in with everything you’ve got. Once you are, it’s scary but it’s so worth it.

*********

Team practical, let’s help our SADGIRL find her way. Any words of wisdom from those who have dealt with parental divorce as an adult?

Photo Moodeous Photography

If you would like to ask Team Practical a question please don’t be shy! You can email Alyssa at: askteampractical [at] apracticalwedding [dot] com. If you would prefer to not be named, anonymous questions are also accepted. Though we prefer if you make up a totally ridiculous sign-off like conflicted and rageful but deeply in love in Detroit (CARBDILID, duh). We’re not kidding. It brings us joy. What, you don’t want to bring your editors JOY?!

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