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


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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  • Totally valid question, totally legit answer. Alyssa’s advice might be easier said than done (as most good advice is), but it was very well said and I hope it gets done.

  • Umpteenth Sarah

    SADGIRL, being an adult child of divorce completely, totally, utterly, fully sucks. I could have written much of your post a few years ago, because my parents divorced when I was in college. I remember feeling so much like you — is marriage worth it? Is it just doomed to fail, and if what you thought was a good marriage crumbled unexpectedly, how will you know that yours wont?

    I went through many phases. I sobbed for about 24 hours after I heard from my mom. I was completely frustrated by the lack of a community of adult-children-of-divorce, but trust me — we’re out there. I was determined to never get married for years later. But then, I met my husband, fell in love, and re-evaluated my stance.

    I really think it comes down to faith in yourself and your partner. I’m not a religious person, and I’m a bit of an empirical scientist by trade, so I really can only look at statistics and likelihoods, but on this issue I’ve chosen to lay those naysaying thoughts aside and surrender myself to the tumultuous future that any marriage brings. I think that’s really not very different from what any person getting married needs to do, but in our case, there’s a loud, nagging doubt telling us we’ll end up like our parents, and we won’t know for sure that we’re safe for 25 years. Now, I think of that doubt as a welcome presence, because, really, shouldn’t everyone be an active participant in their marriage, shooing away potential divorce-causing issues, for their entire life? Not just for those first years, when divorce is “supposed” to happen? We know from experience that even what seems like a strong marriage can have issues, and talking about those issues and being conscious that they can be normal is a key to a long-lasting marriage.

    So, that’s my advice. Surrender yourself to the uncertainty, but in the process maintain your critical eye and work hard on keeping your marriage strong, not just for the first few years, but for the rest of your life.

    And, you are not alone.

    • Jovi

      “Now, I think of that doubt as a welcome presence, because, really, shouldn’t everyone be an active participant in their marriage, shooing away potential divorce-causing issues, for their entire life? Not just for those first years, when divorce is “supposed” to happen?”

      Yes yes yes. Thank you for saying that. I think it is very easy to think, “If we can make it this long we’re set,” but really, marriage has to be a process throughout its lifetime, not something that can be checked off a list as fully accomplished.

    • secret reader

      I agree with *everything* Umpteenth Sarah wrote. ver batim. As an adult-divorce-survivor, my only other advice is to recognize what part of the “marriage is suddenly impossible!” reaction (which is exactly how I felt) is your reaction to your parents’ divorce and how much is a reaction to your current relationship. I guess I’m saying it’s natural to process your parents’ divorce, in part, by being baffled by marriage and unions. But that’s separate from what you’ve built with your partner.

  • KEA1

    Another parents-divorced-when-I-was-adult kid over here. Your father is spot-on with his advice, and Alyssa is as well. (including, but not limited to, her cheer that your father had such clarity during this mess!)

    My biggest piece of advice is (and this is going to be harsh) to take your dad’s advice *absolutely faithfully*, and not to allow yourself to be anything to your parents but their daughter. I allowed myself to get sucked into the role of the “levelheaded, calming influence,” which basically meant that stuff which *should* have been going into therapy sessions was going into phone calls with me. I should have put my foot down on this a lot more firmly, especially since, oh, I don’t know, maybe it would have allowed me some space to address *my own* heartbreak over the mess? And a decade later, I still get “treated” to re-hashes in almost every phone call and a lot of emails. I’m getting better at drawing boundaries, but I really wish I’d done it better and sooner. I put off dealing with my own stuff, and it’s had some pretty bad fallout on my view of relationships. Put your stuff first.

    Tons and tons of hugs and strong wishes to you and your partner.

    • Emily

      Thank you for that advice – my mom and grandmother just came to visit, a day after my father apparently told my mom he wanted out of their marriage (and the day after our 1 year anniversary). My mom was a mess, and telling me all kinds of things that I’m guessing would be, as you said, better for a counselor to hear. Things since have quieted down and seemed to go back to normal at home, but I’m going to keep encouraging the counseling. It’s so hard when it’s your parents, especially with my mom asking my advice – and my dad not knowing that I know (and my younger sisters not knowing anything about it).

      SADGIRL, I am so sorry this is happening to your parents. When my mom told me about her problems, I went home and cried to my husband for a good, long time. And we talked about it – what it means for my parents, and what it means for us. Remember, like Alyssa said, you and your partner have your own partnership, separate from your parents and their problems. Be strong.

    • Red


      My parents did the same thing, neither really had friends (my Dad doesn’t like to socialize all that much and expects his wife to be at home with him so my Mom never really got to make friendships) so both of them would come to me, their only child. No matter how many times I told them that I was NOT the person they should be speaking to, nor should I be told the information I was as their child.

      On top of all of that, my Dad’s new wife (9 years older than myself) and I did not see eye to eye and she was evil and manipulative. But I took it instead of letting my Dad know about it. I’ve taken her verbal abuse and been the victim of her mind games for YEARS. I used to tell my boyfriend about them when we first got together and he kept urging me to be the grown up in the situation, to be the bigger person. Until I started to just forward on to him what she said to me and he agreed that I had to stand up for myself. So I unfriended her on Facebook, and sent her a long email saying that I did not appreciate how she treated me, nor would I stand for it any longer. That I would be civil to her when I had to see her but that I would no longer communicate with her. I would ignore all emails/phone calls/texts and would from there on out only speak to my father. I then sent him a brief email letting him know what I did and copying some of her latest emails to me telling him he didn’t have to read them if he didn’t want to, but that I wanted him to see her words (she’s been crying to him for years telling him how much she tries to be my friend but that I’m evil to her).

      This is a woman who outright refused to attend the birthday dinner my boyfriend and I were having (our birthdays are a week a part) and forced my father to show up alone while Brian’s brother, sister-in-law, dad, step-mom, aunt and uncle all showed up. BUT she went to my cousin’s graduation party (a girl my dad’s wife had only met ONE time before). Yeah.

      So not only do I still deal with the sh*t from my parents divorce, but now I have to deal with someone I didn’t ask to be in my life trying to make me miserable. Dad sees it now and wishes he had called her out on it from the start, now it’s too late really, he’s made his bed and he has to lay in it.

      My mom still re-hashes too (isn’t it horribly uncomfortable?) – even speaking ill of my father in front of her new husband AND my boyfriend on the second time they met him. Ugh.

      • KEA1

        Oh, dear–Red, and Emily too, big hugs to both of you as well. Your situations sound pretty darned awful, and I hope that all of this mess will give way to wonderful things for both of you. And thank you for both of your stories, because it really helps me as I try to keep a sense of perspective!

    • Agreed! As the oldest child in the family I probably fell into that role more easily. I understood why my mom wanted to lambast my dad but I finally had to tell her she needed to talk to someone else, not to me, because while I know her husband hurt her he was still my dad and I still had to figure out how I wanted to have a relationship with him.

      SADGIRL: This sucks for you. I am so sorry that your parents put you through this. Mine were together for 24 years when they separated. I reacted just like you are, not sure about the institution of marriage, etc. Dan Savage has some great thoughts on it in his book “The Commitment” which Alyssa sorta paraphrased above. Marriages that end in divorce don’t mean failure. I don’t know your parents’ situation but it must have been a very hard decision for your mom to end the marriage. After my parents’ divorce I was able to see that they were better when they were not together, although they did make a very good child-raising team (if I do say so myself), they weren’t giving the other what they needed as loving partners. And I was able to learn from their mistakes. It helped me figure out what kind of a partnership I want. Their divorce helped me understand the truth about marriage (the good and the bad) more than a false front of a good marriage would have.
      I’m not going to say that they will meet their soulmates and everything will be better now, but I do want to offer you some light at the end of the tunnel: My parents both remarried and I am closer with them today. I feel like I have this awesome extended family and parents that are happier now. I hope that you’ll be able to come out of this tunnel more sure of your own decisions and hopeful for the future, both yours and theirs.

    • Absolutely agree with KEA1 and would only add – getting sucked into your parent’s stuff means that you take responsibility for something that is absolutely beyond your control. I’ve spent years trying to negotiate between my divorced parents and having to deal with my own resulting depression and anger when things went (particularly) badly between them. Because I felt like I had failed. At their relationship.

      So, yeah, try to avoid that. Focus on your relationship with each of them independently. And focus on yourself. And give yourself time – it doesn’t sound like the wedding decision is one you have to solve now so maybe just try taking things one day at a time. They will get better.

  • Moz

    I can only imagine how hard this is. My only input is to say it sucks and I am sorry. And that this is one of those times that Team Practical gears up for, so I know there will be better comments than mine.

    Good luck xx

  • Manya

    I am not a child of divorce, but I think that what I have to say is important anyway. My mom and dad have a good marriage, I believe. They have been married for a long time–40 years, and they are still companions and friends. I caught them making out one time in the kitchen not so long ago, which was awesome in a highly disgusting way. In a weird way the strength of their marriage lulled me into believing that I could make my first marriage work–when in fact I could not. I saw their marriage as somehow forging a path and example for my own, which ended up being completely untrue. Because WE are not THEM.

    When I really dig down into their marriage, while I think it is really good for them, it would never work for me. I love my father and my mother, but the contract that they have, the way they split roles and responsibilities, the way that they manage their money, the decisions they make about kids, etc. etc. etc… just wouldn’t work for me. I couldn’t be married to either my mother or my father, truth be told. And even though I know my dad loves my mom more than life itself, if my husband and I stepped into their arrangement, I would kill him!

    As you get older, your belief and faith in your ability to hold your marriage together will be challenged over and over. Your friends who were obviously soul mates and the perfect couple will suddenly announce they’re separating. Your most trustworthy, religious friend, will confide she is dying of loneliness and having an affair with a co-worker. Marriages that you never thought would last will settle into a comfortable companionship where they bitch about each other every five minutes, yet stay together for their entire lives. Marriage is a gamble we take, based upon a wonderful hunch that this person will continue to become a person who complements us.

    I second Alyssa’s suggestions: get some support form a pro. Talk this out. Feel it out. Confide in your partner. You mention that your partner drives you crazy… explore that deeply and honestly. And hang in there. It’s hard when we feel like the foundations on which we have built our entire belief systems are crumbling. Big hug to you…

    • Abby C.

      I actually would like to second this advice. My parents are also still together, and will celebrate their 31st anniversary in only a few weeks. When my mother’s parents both died within a few months of each other, all of the caretaking and difficult decision-making fell to my mother, and I saw the stress of it make my parents come as close to divorce as they ever had. My mother, a year later, freely admitted during that time that they despised each other and it took alot of serious counselling for them to get through it. Now, though, they are happy again and admit they’re both very very glad that they stuck it out.

      However, as happy and as resilient as my parents’ marriage is, I know that their model for marriage is not mine. I actually largely contributed to the end of a previously successful serious relationship with my many unspoken expectations that a serious long-term relationship was “supposed” to be like that of my parents, even though I am definitely very much my own person. Life lesson, learned. Fortunately, my fiance and I have been quite successful at carving out a relationship dynamic that is healthy for each of us, and different from either of our parents’ marriages. It’s been a difficult road for both of us to tread, even though both sets of parents are still married! Even if your parents still had a healthy marriage, it wouldn’t be healthy for YOU to try and mimic it.

      Take the time that you need to heal. Many hugs for you and what you’re going through.

      • Can I ‘third’ this? My parents are also still together, at 26 years and counting, but my wife’s parents are not. They were divorced when she was relatively young (in elementary school) and so she’s had time to heal, but I can see how our worldviews have been somewhat shaped by the different marriage role models (to steal a phrase from Marty of Not the Marrying Kind).

        At any rate, I agree with Abby and Manya- even though my parents are still married, and have a good marriage, and what they have works well for them, I also do not want to have their marriage exactly. It’s of great importance that you and your partner make your own path, and this is true of EVERYONE, no matter if their parents are married, divorced, dating, or single.

        I’m sending you hugs, though, for what must be an extremely difficult thing to go through.

    • This is such an interesting perspective, because I always thought about how divorced parents can forge a disillusion towards successful marriages, but it seems like it can work in the reverse as well. I have never thought about it this way, and I appreciate you sharing your experience.

      I guess, in this day and age, no one has it easy, and we’re all fighting the same social pressures, and past experiences, and outside influences as everyone else… We just have to support each other on our individual journeys.

    • Marina

      Manya, every comment and post you make, I end up thinking, “When is this lady going to write a book I can buy??” I love your perspective and your way with words.

  • I’m a child of parents who probably SHOULD have gotten divorced 15 years ago. I’m conflicted about it, because if they had, I would be a completely different person. But my god, their marriage is not what I want. And I’m sad for both of them, individually, that they will never be happy in their marriage. It has made me believe in divorce. I’m going to say it: I only got married because I believe in divorce.

    When I say that to friends whose parents have a happy marriage they balk and look at me like I am crazy. They say divorce is not an option for them. They don’t know that there is a fate worse than divorce – being profoundly unhappy in your marriage. FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE. I have family friends who are my parents age and divorced (painfully) and are now in second marriages that seem (from the outside) happy.

    I don’t want to get divorced, I will do everything I can do not to get divorced. But in 5, 10, 26 years, if we are profoundly unhappy I will let Kevin go. I love him enough to let him go find someone who will make him happy again.

    • Ever since I knew what divorce was, I’ve wanted my parents to get divorced. But here they are, still married and still miserable.

      I will do everything in my power not to let me marriage reach the point theirs has. But if it does, I think it’s better for everyone involved for the marriage to be dissolved. When marriages become that unhappy, everyone around it suffers. That’s no way to live.

      • I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I think my parents got married saying that divorce was off the table, or maybe even didn’t discuss it as a thing that happens in the world. Just, lived in this fabled world where divorce doesn’t exist. And then, when their problems got so bad and they strayed from each other, there really was no other option. They were too broken to stay together.

        Donnie and I are considering divorce as a very real possibility in our futures. We are certainly not planning on it, no way no how, but it is something that happens and we want to talk about it. But I think that discussing it means we’ll be more aware throughout our relationship for problems that need mending. And so we can hopefully fix them before they become as huge and awful as the problems that often result in divorce. So my goal is that by acknowledging divorce as a possibility, we will be able to ward it off by being proactive. Maybe that’s faulty reasoning, but I think it makes some sense…

      • Brave.

        • @ Kerry – re my comment on your blog about not being brave enough to create a blog worth reading – I can be brave on someone else’s blog!

      • Laura Mc

        Gosh, I could have written this myself. Like a page from my life. You know it’s crazy when as a kid you think divorce might be a healthier option for your parents because they are so miserable with each other, yet they think it’s better to “stay together for the kids”.

    • I would like to support your belief in divorce — I believe in it as a tool to allow for happiness if all other options have been exhausted. I hope never to have to go through it, but I would rather get a divorce and mend my relationships (with my husband and any children) through that lens than continue to struggle on if we are both profoundly unhappy. I’m not being terribly articulate, but I hope you know what I mean.

      I remember talking to a good friend on the phone a few months before my wedding, and I mentioned this philosophy, and she said, in shock, “If you think you might get a divorce, why are you marrying him?!” I just said that right now, and with the best forecasting tools I have at my disposal, I love him and want to marry him with all of my heart. However, in 5, 10, 20, etc., years, I can’t make any promises about who I will be and what will be best for us as individuals and as a couple. I don’t think it’s pessimistic or caustic, I just think it’s pragmatic to have thought about it and considered your options. And, in a way, I think being prepared for all possible outcomes encourages me to maintain my interests and identities that do not center on my relationship to my husband, which I think is healthy.

      My husband is a child of divorced parents (my father died when I was young, so a different sort of separation plagued my family), and he feels the same.

    • LZ

      I want to “exactly” this a hundered times!

      My parents have been together for 35 years — I love my mother very much, but she’s got some severe shopping addiction issues (which are followed by a hoarding issue) — My father continues to stay in the relationship because he doesn’t want to move/ “start fresh” when he’s in his 60’s.

      I’ve asked him several times if he’s considered divorce, because the relationship between the two of them is filled with simmering resentment, distrust, and a quiet spitefulness that’s not always obvious to the outside. They are both warm, caring people, but together they are making each other miserable because he doesn’t trust her, and she doesn’t want to change any of her habits/choices for him, nor does she want to work on “getting better” at this point…..

      I would be so much happier to spend time with them if they seperated. I just married my husband (2 weeks ago tomorrow!), and I never want us to get to that point with a feeling of “no way out”. It’s so hard to watch my parents and see them slowly suck the joy out of each other, and to think of that happening for THE REST OF THEIR LIVES!

      But a positive is — His parents are happily married, and seem to have a very contended relationship, so, that’s good!

  • Aww, Alyssa, your kindness here made me a little weepy. And SADGIRL, good luck healing. It sounds like you have good people around you.

  • Benny

    SADGIRL, my heart goes out to you. My backstory: my father moved out 3 weeks before I went away to college my freshman year. I had no inkling that it was coming. The first time my parents saw each other after that was the day they moved me in to my dorm. Suffice it to say that I was catapulted into the middle of it all, and it really pushed me into emotional adulthood.

    I think that for most or at least many people, parental divorce is the first time you truly understand, in a bone deep way, that your parents are not perfect, and (in some respects) should no longer be your role models. This is something I think everyone comes to grips with (or SHOULD come to grips with) as an adult. But divorce really hammers it home.

    Something that would have really helped me 7 years ago, which may also be what you need to hear…is it’s completely okay and normal for you to still feel like your world is turned upside down, and, even as an adult, to still develop fears of what the ending of your parents’ marriage means for marriage in general. I had this inexplicable feeling that, as an adult and not a child, I should automatically be able to handle the situation and resist magical thinking (such as, ‘if my parents’ marriage ended, then my committed relationships must be doomed too!’) I felt really guilty about it. So if you’re feeling any of that, please know that it’s normal and healthy to go through these stages, no matter your age when the divorce happens.

    Sorry this was a novel.

  • Let me tell you something my grandpa told me when I got divorced. “Success in marriage is not measured in years. It is measured in love and children (if you want them) and time well spent.” Marriage serves many purposes but measuring the passage of time is not one of them. If you parents loved each other, raised smart and capable children, and considered the 26 years they had together time well spent, then they had a successful marriage. It’s all we can ask of any relationship.

    That said, time, and lots of it is your best friend. It took quite a while after my parents divorce when I was 21 to renegotiate my relationship with my parents. I had to set clear boundaries as to what was and was not appropriate conversation regarding ex’s. I went to a counselor to sort out my feelings of disappointment at my parents from my feelings about the institute of marriage. Turns out marriage was an easy scapegoat for the anger I felt that my parents let me down. Who knew?

    But is does get better. I now have a fantastic relationship with both my parents who are each remarried to some really great people. I have an extended family that rivals small villages and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

    • Rasheeda

      Addie, I was holding it together until I read (then re-read) your comment and it all came out like opening floodgates, so now I have lovely streaked eyes at my desk. Your grandfather is completely spot on, I just had to send that to my parents today (separated for 3 years now, live in apart but see/talk to each other daily). Thank you for this, for reframing what a “successful marriage” looks like!

      • My grandpa is a pretty wise man. He told me that it was okay to get divorced and still believe in marriage. And that getting married to a man (or woman) you truly loved was never a mistake. Which is kind of the best thing a grandpa could say to his hot mess (at the time) of a grandchild.

        • Rasheeda

          I’ve never had a grandfather (both passed before I was old enough to remember them) but I would like to think mine would have been as awesome as yours. If he is still with you, you should definitely give him a call (or a hug if he’s close enough).

    • That is an excellent, excellent way of evaluating the success of our relationships. Now I have to go unpack my sadness and anger over a friendship that I thought had failed in the last year; with these criteria, the 10 years we were friends were a resounding success, and I am much happier thinking of it that way.

  • Jo

    SADGIRL, I’m so sorry. Not letting your parents relationships impact yours is very difficult, if nothing else because it’s your closest model.

    Alyssa, I knew you were wise and awesome and all that, but this answer is so amazing that I’m blown away. Entire booklet of gold stars.

  • Oh, my heart goes out to you. My parents separated a few months before I headed off to college. Ultimately, they did not divorce, but my parents had been together since high school and married for 29 years…the separation was the result of an affair…and there was just so. much. pain. and shattered trust. My family was broken. And I told myself I would never get married, because if this could happen to my parents – my parents who were happy and together for so very long – then it could just as easily happen to me, and there was no way I was going to put myself in that situation. And there was especially no way I would put my children through that, and I knew I was going to be a mom one day.

    And then the years went by and I met my partner. And he wanted to marry me. He wanted to promise me forever, and I said you can’t promise that. You can’t promise you won’t hurt me. You can’t promise you will always be here. You can’t promise that our marriage won’t, one day, break.

    But I also realized that this was the person I wanted to spend forever with. At least right now. At least for the past 4 years, which had been better than any of the other years of my life (and, cheating parent aside, my life had been pretty great). And I decided that marriage, like anything else in life, is ultimately a leap of faith – it’s a chance we take, because we don’t know what the future holds. There are NO guarantees. Maybe one day this marriage will break. I don’t think so, but there’s always a chance. But there’s an even greater chance that I will grow in wonderful and unexpected ways, that my life will be filled with love and laughter and beautiful children and exciting adventures. So I picked the best partner for me, and we promised to do our best to get through tough times together, to live our lives to the fullest – together – and we jumped.

    I hope that the sadness eases for you. I hope that you will find faith in your own partnership again. But it’s totally understandable that it’s shaky right now. Or completely broken. It doesn’t mean you love your partner any less. And it doesn’t mean that you will always feel the way you feel right now. Give yourself time, feel the sadness and fear that you feel right now, and then when it feels right to do so, let it go and see what takes its place. I’m hoping that will be a whole lotta happy.

    • Dodie

      Goodness. This reply was so beautiful. It made me cry and shake and read it over and over. Thank you for sharing.

    • mimi

      I second that – beautiful comment! My parents have been married 32 years, but my boyfriend’s parents divorced his senior year of high school. We are living together now and I know he’s scared to get married. I’m going to save this for the next time we have that conversation.

    • bec

      Leah, that was beautifully written and made me cry as well. “…this was the person I wanted to spend forever with. At least right now.” Yes! I think this is the best compliment you can give your spouse!

  • SADGIRL, I cried a little for you. My own parents are (Thank you, God) happily married, so I can only imagine the heartbreak. But I can imagine it, and it hurts like heck.

    My younger sister is sort of going through this. She’s engaged, and while her fiance’s parents are still together, some very close family friends who he looked up to as parental figures just divorced (actually two couples that fit in that category) and right now he’s doing the “is it worth it?” thing. It’s hurting and scaring my sister. Their wedding isn’t for about a year from now, so she’s realizing there’s time to address this and hopefully resolve it before they marry, but it’s freaking her out. (And I’m aching for her.)

    Additionally, my own guy’s parents are unhappily married. We’ve been praying they’ll patch it up, and maybe they will. There’s a reason they’ve stuck together as long as they have and married in the first place… but right now he’s living with them (He’s Indian, so it’s culturally normal for kids to live with their parents until they marry) and he’s scared that when we get married very soon, they’ll divorce. He’s been a buffer for them for too long. We’re praying against it, but anticipating its possibility and trying to shore up our relationship against that hurricane.

    I’ll pray for you and your partner. And I echo the advice that you should really talk to him about this (which maybe you already do). I’m sure he’s aware of how much this affecting you, and wants to help you through this, so your relationship will last this storm. Love to you!

  • I can completely sympathize with your situation. We’d been married a little less than a year when my parents announced their separation and I found myself frequently thinking, “how the hell are we going to do this if they can split up after 24 years of marriage?” However, like Alyssa said, parents are people, not gods. I’ve known for years that my parents’ marriage was troubled and, although it sounds bad, I think part of me always knew they wouldn’t stand the test of time. We have to learn from the mistakes our parents made and realize that the path of others is not our path to follow. We need to make decisions, including whether or not to get married, independent of the examples around us because, let’s face it, those examples aren’t always textbook displays of a perfect life. At the same time, parents getting divorced hits particularly close to home and I find that I’m constantly reminded myself that we’re not obliged to meet the same fate. It’s tough, it sucks, and it feels like it’ll never get better. But I have faith that it will.

  • To SADGIRL, Alyssa, Meg, and commenters…

    I just have to say how thankful I am for this post. I will be checking back for comments like crazy today because I needed this community outlet.

    It is so very hard to have parents who divorce when you are an adult. (My parents finalized their divorce on my 21st birthday. YES THEY DID.) It is hard because you don’t know what kind of feelings are appropriate – little girl tears? teenager anger? adult stoicism and desire to discuss? It is also hard because, while our friends parents who divorced when they were young are often remarried or have learned to be happy alone, we have to wintess ours being lonely, going on horrible dates, and generally wandering their homes in confusion. And we are old enough to worry over it.

    And if we are adults, and in love, we know enough to correctly assume that yes, this could be me. That person over there that I can’t live without? It’s possible that someday I might have to.

    I can’t offer you more advice than what Alyssa said – she is dead on, on all accounts. But I CAN offer you one more voice of someone who was right there with you, and made the jump anyway, and can’t imagine life any other way. Have faith in your love.

    • Red

      My parents divorce was finalized on December 23rd. They were separated for months, but yeah good times.

      They have seen each other once since my Mom arrived home to find all of her stuff in boxes in the driveway, which was at my college graduation. Now years later, I’m in a serious relationship where we talk about getting married. Thankfully my boyfriend’s parents divorced when he was a toddler, they now are remarried and have houses within a mile of each other. They are friendly with each other and can easily be in the same room together. My boyfriend has realized that we will have to force my parents to be in a room together well before it gets to rehearsal dinners and our actual wedding day to avoid drama that could “ruin” our special day.

      And it sucks and is completely unfair that we have to think like that as even though I’m in my 30’s, they are still my parents and should be able to behave like grownups.

      • I was here *exactly* when I was planning my wedding. And it’s incredibly frustrating to feel like the only grownup in conversations with your parents. But, for what it’s worth, they may surprise you – mine pulled it together and were perfectly lovely during our wedding.

      • Chels

        I was in the same boat…and I worried for weeks prior to the wedding. I even booked a venue with multiple rooms so I could separate them. Unlike Novice Wife, mine didn’t come together, but 10 days before my wedding, when I was about to have a breakdown from all the back and forth bickering, I decided to give it up, and avoid anyone who was trying to cause drama. I hung up phone calls when they went negative and apologized unnecessarily when it kept the peace. I alerted my brother and sister (MOH) to keep them away if they couldn’t keep themselves in check. My mom sobbed throughout my father’s toast and throughout our father/daughter dance, but luckily I remained focused on what was happening, so I didn’t notice the severity of the crying until I got the professional wedding pictures (which were then intentionally left out of the book). Don’t count on them taking the high road and surprising you – but remember the day is about you and your husband. Also, make sure they are surrounded by friends/family who will keep them calm and provide comfort. Trust me – it is worth a few extra meals.

    • Courtney

      I totally agree on the worry and fear of my parents growing older and being alone. I have felt a huge weight since my parents told me they were getting divorced. I feel like I’m going to be responsible for them both financially and emotionally.

      • Girl, you should have been reading my blog about 9 months ago. I was in a bad place in relation to my mom….who had found a new love of her life but then lost him, too. Every day on the phone with her, trying to stop her crying. I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t think at work, it was exhausting and starting to affect my own relationships.

        It’s so tough to have faith that they will get better, and to allow them the time to.

      • I got into a quiet sort fight with my 85-year old grandmother (I know, right? I felt awful) a couple weeks ago when I tried to explain that I wasn’t going to call my mom to listen to her emotional stuff about dealing with the legalities and financial impacts of my dad’s death. (She finally agreed, in a way that hurt like hell, that “Yes, you weren’t the person to call.)

        I’m a fixer. I don’t do emotional trauma about stuff that can be fixed. So my mom and I just aren’t seeing eye to eye about much right now. (Because she’s illogical. And paying lawyers lots of money to go further down the path of illogical financial decisions.)

        So essentially, we’re in the relationship renegotiation stage. And we need to have lots of tough conversations about my financial responsibility for her sooner rather than later but she’s not ready. And it’s HARD.

        • Oh, man, I feel this. Dealing with your dad’s death is hard enough without having to your mother rail against the world too.

          Years ago, when my mom was the executor for my grandfather’s estate, she ended up at a bank where she just needed a piece of information and they told her that it could only be told to my grandfather. Who was dead. They kept somehow missing that part, about him being unable to come in to the bank himself, and it ended up with my mother screaming at the bank teller. “He’s dead, goddamn it, he is dead! He can’t come in because he’s DEAD!” It’s funny now, but man, dealing with an estate is hard.

          • I’m proud of your mom for yelling that to them. I bet it was even slightly cathartic at the time.

      • z

        Me too– it really puts “staying together for the kids” in a new perspective. What I’m going through now trying to provide an adequate standard of living and emotional support for my semi-elderly parents is a million times worse than what I went through as a teenager during their divorce. Stay together for the grown-ups. Or at least have some retirement savings, for their sake. All the divorce impact literature seems to be about teens and little kids, but this phase is definitely the hardest I’ve experienced yet.

        I got married anyway, of course, and I comfort myself that at least if I ever get divorced, I won’t delude myself about the impact on my children. I’ve always thought my mom was in denial about it. She loves to tell me that “kids are resilient” and that we were better off with a happy parent (never really worked out that way), and all the other divorce cliches, but I guess that’s just her coping strategy.

      • Clare

        OMG THIS!

        As a recent adult child of divorce (almost, I’m only 21) and an only child this is becoming my biggest fear and sadness. How will I look after 2 aging parents, alone. Partners and family can help but right now it feels like its all on me.

        Mum and Dad want to sell the house- makes sense but they both can’t rent forever because they’ll need money for retirement. How can you buy into a retirement village without capital? What happens if one of them gets seriously ill and I live interstate? I haven’t even finished uni yet, I can’t deal with this.

        And then, how can I ask a person I love to buy into this with me. You want to marry me then this becomes your burden too. Split Christmas’, the angst and stress- you’d have to love me alot for that. I think he does, and my partner has been great with the “we’re not them” support but not so the “let’s deal with this together” side yet.

        • z

          I totally feel ya. Even though my husband is super sweet and understanding about it, I feel pretty awful spending so much of our joint time and money on them. I’m very proactive about our own retirement plans as a result.

          If I may, perhaps a meeting with a fee-only financial planner would help you. There were a lot of unfamiliar concepts and I found it very helpful and calming to have someone outside the family walk me through the basics. I was very pleased to see that a lot of worthwhile resources are available. It’s still hard, but you don’t have to go it alone.

    • Umpteenth Sarah

      Yes, yes yes yes, to everything here.

      And NO THEY DID NOT!!! Some birthday present.

  • Red

    My parents divorced after 20+ years of marriage when I was in my early 20’s. I was single at the time, and it rocked my world more than I thought it ever could. I was blessed (?) to be the only child of a marriage that grew more and more loveless as the years passed so their divorce was not a shock, it was a blessing in many ways and one I wished had happened a decade before it finally did. I have very distinct memories on the playground at age 6 talking to my best friend trying to figure out why my parents fought so.

    It’s been almost nine years now since my parents divorce was finalized, they are both remarried and I can now consider myself one of the pre-engaged readers of APW. I’ve been with my boyfriend for 2.5 years (his parents divorced and remarried others when he was a toddler) and while I never thought I wanted to get married prior to meeting him (especially considering I had a front row seat to my parents failing marriage and divorce), it’s something that I deeply want now. I know that there is never a guarantee for forever, but I think those of us who experience divorce (or just serious, long term relationships ending) close at hand wind up with a little battle front experience that allows us a different viewpoint to our own potential relationships and marriages.

    But SADGIRL, never forget the love that you and your partner share. Talk to your partner about all the emotions you are experiencing through this. Know that no matter what, your parents love YOU, and they will always share a little bit of love with each other because their union brought you in to their lives and they will be forever grateful for that.

    It’s ok to be sad, to be angry, to be confused. But know this, the results of your parents’ marriage has no bearing on your future marriage with your partner. Each relationship is its own island.

    Please take Alyssa’s words (and those of everyone commenting) to heart. We are all sending happy thoughts your way and giving you a big ol’ APW bear hug.

    You are not alone, a lot of us have been where you stand, many are just going through it now. If you need to talk about it – even just to yell, reach out to those who are there for you. Or come back on here and visit with us.

  • Courtney

    I feel for you, SADGIRL. My parents are in the process of getting a divorce (and still living in the same house! which adds a whole new awkward wrinkle!) and I’m getting married in 8 days (wheeeeeeeeee!). My parents have been in an unhappy marriage for at least 15 years, and the end was prompted by multiple affairs on my dad’s part. It’s been unpleasant, to say the least, and wedding planning has been less fun as a result.

    As another poster said, my parents’ marriage dynamic (before the divorce process began) just didn’t work for me. I watched my mom struggle as, essentially, a single parent, and having to nag my father to be involved (with us, with taking care of the house, etc.). This is not necessarily to heap blame on my dad – my mom is at fault in their marriage as well.

    I’ve been with my fiance for 10 years, 8.5 before getting engaged. There were multiple reasons why we waited so long to get engaged – not the least of which included getting to a point in our lives where it made sense (grad school, jobs, feeling like we could actually commit to one another forever, etc.) – but a part of it was just because I subconsciously didn’t trust him. I mean, I trusted him with everything, but I didn’t really trust him to *not* become my dad, or not turn into those jerks I’d dated before. I subconsciously kept making him prove himself to me, and waiting for him to mess up and disappoint me. And he totally called me on it, and we’ve worked together to overcome those fears.

    All of this is to say that, you’re not alone in how you’re feeling. Definitely get your partner involved, talk through your fears, perhaps talk to a counselor. And to echo others, also take a step back and think about how different you and your partner are from your mom and dad, and his mom and dad, and your best friends. What works or doesn’t work for them may work for you. There is no guarantee, but I will tell you that Alyssa is 100% correct when she said that throwing everything you have into a relationship is (very) scary, but so worth it. It has been the best decision I have ever made (to date).

  • Jenna

    This parallels to my life — you are not alone.

    My fiance and I have been together ~4 years and will be married next September. We recently reunited in May after about 9 months of long distance and we are so happy to be together all the time again.

    My parents are in the midst of a divorce and are separating households. In the same conversation talking about taking off wedding rings and finding a caterer for my own wedding.

    I’m not sure how I feel about it. I hope they don’t put the paperwork through until a few months from now so my marriage and their final paperwork don’t overlap too closely. They both deserve to be with other people who love them the way they are meant to be loved. It’s bittersweet– the ending of one marriage and the beginning of another.

  • Alicia

    My parents divorced my freshman year of college. I didn’t know until my younger sister (then a senior in high school) called me crying. (I was 5 hours from home.) Distanced from the situation, both geographically and emotionally, I didn’t deal with the heartbreak until much, much later – when I was 24 and going through my own divorce…better late than never, right? So I second the advice to seek counseling now; because while we aren’t in charge of how our parents act, we can take charge of our lives and how we respond. Hours of counseling later, I’m in a much better place and in a healthy relationship. I value marriage even more now and feel better equipped to create a partnership (something my parents lacked in their marriage and I lacked in my first.) It just really sucks when you have to overcome seeing the marriage you grew up knowing fall apart to get to that place. I hope you get there too. Good luck!

  • fleda

    My parents divorced when I was in college. It did a number on me. But really, the understanding of marriage that their marriage offered me was already kind of problematic. It’s hard when the model you have is not a model you want to follow.

    I recommend this book:
    (sorry, I’m not savvy enough to hyperlink that)

    This book has been criticized, and it focuses largely on younger children, but it’s an influential book, and I found it really useful. It articulated and legitimized a lot of the feelings I found myself experiencing. It helped me to realize the extent to which my experience of my parents’ relationship makes me very doubtful about all relationships. I found that such useful self-knowledge to have as I tried to, you know, date people–and I still find it useful in my relationship with my husband.

    I think we all have to find our own ways to manage. My husband’s parents also divorced while he was in college–no coincidence, I think! We have taken a kind of reactionary approach: we kept the language about staying together until death in our vows. For us, the experience of divorced parents makes us want to adopt a stricter, perhaps more conservative view of marriage than the ones our parents eventually arrived at. Personally, I wouldn’t want to get married if divorce anything but an absolute last resort. The way we put it is: the option of divorce is simply not on the table. It might be up in the attic, but it is not on the table. We intend to leave it in the attic.

    We’re at the beginning of our journey, and I wouldn’t presume to be wiser than our parents, who are certainly good, smart people who encountered difficulties and did the best they could. We’re going to do the best we can too.

    • “The way we put it is: the option of divorce is simply not on the table. It might be up in the attic, but it is not on the table.”


  • katie

    I was a baby when my parents split up, so I can’t even know what it’s like. My heart goes out to you.

    However, I definitely can relate to some of your hesitations about marriage. My mom was married 3 times in total, and wasn’t 100% on board with my engagement. I had a lot of doubts, wondering if I could break the genetic tradition or if I’d end up with several divorces.

    The way I finally felt comfortable with my choice may be a different approach than most, but it worked for me. I tried to imagine things going really wrong down the line – months, years, decades. I tried to imagine not only divorce, but a long ugly expensive fight with lawyers. I asked myself, if I knew for a FACT that was in our future, would I still choose to marry him right now? Would what we have now be worth any future pain? When the answer to that was yes, I knew that marrying him was the right thing to do. Note, there were no red flags that this would ever happen, just my nagging fears. It’s been almost a year and I love him more each day!

    Take your time, don’t rush, but don’t let the unrealistic fears take control. Thank them for trying to protect you, listen to them, and find out what’s at the root of those fears. Then go prove them wrong. *hugs*

  • marbella

    Alyssa, as usual, your advice is spot on. Good luck SADGIRL, you will get through these feelings and be stronger for it.

  • Oh, SADGIRL, sending you an internet hug. My parents divorced when I was 22, and it was the hardest, most stressful thing I’ve ever been through. In my case, my dad left my mom for another woman, and justified it by saying all kinds of awful things about my mother. I hadn’t met my husband yet, but when I did, I had major trust issues. We dated for two and a half years before I really, truly believed that he wasn’t planning his exit strategy.

    I look at my parents’ marriage as a lesson in what not to do. They didn’t talk to each other about big things that were upsetting them. They almost never had kind words for each other. They were each blind to the things the other was doing for the family; after the divorce, both of them told me “I did all of the work to keep this family running and your mom/dad did nothing.” Realizing those things about my family was hard and painful, but those were choices my parents made. My husband and I don’t have to make those same choices.

    Alyssa’s advice is perfect, especially the part about giving yourself time to heal. Let yourself deal with the emotions and reactions as they come; don’t make any decisions about marriage or your future until you’re comfortable dealing with those things. Talk to your partner, your friends, and a counselor if you want. Write in a diary or on a blog if that helps you process things. People (not APWers, obviously, but random people out in the world) may try to tell you that the divorce has nothing to do with you and you shouldn’t be upset about it. Ignore those people. You get to be upset and you have the right to deal with it on your own schedule.

  • Mark me down in the adult-parental-divorce-survivor column, too. My fella and I both have divorced parents, actually–mine split up after 27 or 28 years when I was a senior in high school, and his divorced when he was in his early teens–and this whole “is marriage worth it?” dilemma is something we’ve both struggled with. All through college, I maintained that I never wanted to get married because it would just fail anyway, so what’s the point? But when I met my dude, everything kind of changed and I knew that despite all the risks and fears, I wanted to marry him someday. He, on the other hand, is still very scared about the whole thing. His parents’ divorce was harder on him than he let on, I think, and he didn’t really have anyone to talk to about it when he was growing up because his older brother had moved out of state a few years beforehand and wasn’t around to talk to, and he moved to a new town following the divorce so he didn’t have close friends, either. So, a lot of my time is spent trying to get him to open up about this subject and reassure him that I’m not going anywhere. It’s a sticky spot and sometimes I wonder if it’s ever going to change! So, this ATP is really helpful to me to gain some insight as to what’s going on in that noggin of his. :)

    To SADGIRL, listen to Alyssa and ponder what she had to say. It’s very wise! I’m sending lots of positive thoughts and virtual hugs your way as you go through this sad experience. Divorce sucks. But just remember, you are not your parents, and your relationship isn’t theirs. Don’t be afraid to take a leap of faith!

    • All I can say is I’m glad my parents waited until I was in college. Going through a divorce while in high school would have been sooooo much more traumatic than high school already was. My sister was a senior and it left her pretty messed up and making some very bad decisions for awhile (at least I think it was partially the divorce that motivated some of those choices).

      My husband’s parents divorced when he was 7 and it left some tough emotional issues that he wasn’t able to deal with until an adult. At least I had some survival skills to draw on as a 22 year old.

      • I think what was most damaging for me was living in an unhappy household for years and years. I vividly remember a conversation my mom and I had in the car one day on the way to elementary school (I don’t remember what grade I was in, but I bet it was fifth or sixth) in which she asked me if I would mind if they got divorced and I said no, because I knew that they weren’t happy and I could feel it very acutely. “Stay together for the kids” seems OK in concept but in practice it can be really rough.

        On the flip side, my older brother (four-year difference) had already moved out of the house when my parents finally decided to separate, so it came as kind of a shock to him because he wasn’t around daily to witness how much the marriage had deteriorated, and even though it’s been 10 years now, I still don’t think he’s completely come to grips with the divorce and honestly I think he still hopes they’ll get back together. (Which is fuelled at times by the fact that my parents are still friends and we all still celebrate holidays together, something I find kind of disorienting and weird but everyone seems happy so I go with it.)

        ANYWAY. Senior year was for sure a very rough year, because the divorce happened on top of all the regular senior-year stuff: finishing high school with good grades, putting college plans in motion, and coping with the giant life change that is graduation, all while navigating the ridiculous high school social scene. I’m pretty glad (and surprised and grateful and amazed) that I’ve turned out as relatively well-adjusted as I am, and I understand 10000% how it’s difficult for others to do. Again, divorce sucks.

        • Meredyth

          You are absolutely correct. I did not think of that circumstance, which I am sure many people have suffered through.
          For my family it didn’t seem like there was anything wrong and then suddenly, they were separating so it was a shock, but I was an adult and could see my parents as people more easily. And I could verbalize things more easily as well as not go through the seeming awfulness of joint custody and split living. My husband was 7 and the trauma of his parents’ divorce and the name calling petty behavior seems to have scarred him more than my parents’ divorce when I was 22. He was just a little kid who couldn’t deal with or understand what was happening. As an adult I wasn’t dependent on my parents as much as a 7 year old, or 14 or 18 year old would be.

          I’m sorry for the misery of growing up in a house of unhappy parents and sorry that my remark wasn’t more carefully thought out. I should have said: I’m just glad that I couldn’t tell there was anything wrong with my parents’ marriage until I was older, despite the surprise and unhappiness that came with it, because high school would have been worse if I were dealing with the emotional drama divorce can create.

        • z

          When I was a kid I wanted my parents to get divorced, but now I’m not sure it was the right decision. I didn’t like living in an unhappy home, of course, but having divorced parents for the rest of my life sure sucks a lot too. Even with a rather amicable divorce, it’s really challenging. As a child I had no clue how hard it would be to wrangle toddlers through separate holiday visits, and how they get less time with their grandparents this way. It’s really hard to deal with two aging parents in separate locations, relying on me instead of each other for emotional, financial and logistical support. It’s really, really hard for me (and expensive and time-consuming) and I feel awful about how much time it takes me away from my husband and my children, and my job. So even though their marriage was heinous, I’m not sure I’m better off in the long run with them divorced.

          They were really hopeful of finding happiness with others, but it didn’t turn out that way. Ultimately, I think my parents used divorce as a means of avoiding the personal growth and self-control necessary for a successful marriage, so their subsequent relationships have struggled for the same reasons that their marriage failed. My dad’s third marriage is cratering because he still hasn’t figured out that it’s important to be nice to one’s spouse. My mom found out “if he’ll cheat with you, he’ll cheat on you” the hard way, and is now facing the reality of growing older alone. I think it’s pretty crushing for both of them to realize that putting our family through the divorce hasn’t cleared the way for a satisfactory living situation. I can’t provide them singly with the amount of time and support that I could if they were together, so they have a hard time managing their homes and medical care, and they’re both less financially secure because of it. If marriage and divorce are each a leap of faith, my parents kind of fell into the abyss both times. I don’t think they really considered this possibility at the time, but here we are. Sometimes I wonder if they would have made the same choice if they knew it would turn out this way.

          When I see older folks who are unhappily married, I figure they have their reasons for staying together, and it’s probably observation of their peers in situations like this.

          • KEA1

            Oh, man–my heart SO goes out to you. Lots of hugs to you.

          • z

            Thanks… not to be a huge downer, but it seems like folks here mostly aren’t at the elderly parents caregiving stage (I’m a late-in-life child) so maybe someone will benefit from hearing about this kind of thing before they have to experience it…

  • Irene

    Holy heck, do I sympathize, SADGIRL. It has been several years since my parents divorced, but only being in a very similar place as you are, relationship-wise (steadily committed, not quite ready for marriage, thinking about it), has made me fully face the fallout from that experience. I too, am second-guessing my feelings on the entire marriage issue, and it is no fun at all. Hugs all around, I declare!

    I divert a bit, though don’t necessarily contradict, what Alyssa has to say (sorry Alyssa!). For me, reflecting on my parents’ divorce hasn’t been about coming to terms with the face that my parents are people, and thus fallible. I have been an adult for a while now, and have that particular growing pain nicely if imperfectly covered by now. Instead, the hard part has been coming to terms with the realization that _I_ am a person, and therefore _I_ am fallible. And its not exactly that I worry that because I am a part of my parents, I will magically fall into all of their foibles. As a mighty independent woman like the other APW readers, I am ever-so-careful about trying to make choices of my own.

    No, SADGIRL, the scary part of your parents getting divorced when you are an adult is all about that I-am-my-own-person problem. The scary part is that if I can look at my parents and their mistakes and pains, and realize that they are imperfect, and forgive them and love them for it even still, and realize that their problems are not my fault, then I will have to learn to do the same for myself. I have to admit to myself that I will almost certainly make my own, hardheaded, independent mistakes, that likely will not have anything to do with my parents, or my children, and maybe may have nothing to do with my partner, either. Those problems will be all on me. And THAT is way scarier than getting over the perfect-parents-illusion from my younger years. That was a cakewalk by comparison.

    I haven’t come out the other side, either, SADGIRL. I’ll let you know if I find the magic potion for getting through all of these complicated feelings. I will say this, though: having my own partner there to listen and support me through all of this definitely helps. And gives me hope. And that has to mean something, too, doesn’t it?

  • I want to echo what everyone else has said, but I’d like to add this:

    Michael and I both experience our parents’ divorces at the same time. It was during the infancy of our relationship, when we were both already going through transitional phases in our lives (he had just started college. I was graduated high school and experiencing my first long-distance relationship).

    We had many nights of fighting about our fears, nights of crying because we were worried we’d turn into our parents (Michael suffered the double whammy of his parents divorcing because his dad was suffering some pretty serious mental illnesses) and nights where we felt like we had no frame of reference for how to do this “long term commitment” thing properly.

    But you know what? We are SO much better for it.

    Our parents didn’t have those same conversations, weren’t prepared for the worst like we are. You are quite rightfully scared right now. But don’t let that prevent you from taking a leap of faith and embracing what marriage has to offer. USE your fear to usher you into the next phase of our relationship with an open, but educated mind.

    A leap of faith isn’t the same thing as blind faith.

  • That is SUCH a hard place to be. Last summer my parents separated. They had been married for 38 years. I was a bundle of pre-engaged crazy but this threw a wrench into my plans. I let the statistics about two children of divorces getting married (although I was 25 and probably not considered a CHILD, Forrest was 10 when his parents divorced) run wild in my head. I though about all the things that COULD go wrong in a marriage. And I got scared. And I cried because I still wanted to marry him.

    In the end, my father’s alcoholism killed him before their divorce could be finalized (I’m so thankful for my mother that she gets to grieve as his widow albeit separated rather than his ex-wife) but after our engagement. The fear had subsided somewhat a year later but it’s was there and continues to be there.

    I second all the posters above who tell you to talk to your partner. Seriously talk to them. We’ve talked about so much, clearly not covering every possible scenario, but we’ve talked about ways in which things can get bad and how we always need to remember to be on the same team when life is hard.

    I wish you the best of luck. (And I would bet that like me, all these commenters want to give you a hug. This is tough but you’ll make it through.)

    • Heather Gardner

      I am sorry that your father’s disease took his life. My own father has struggled with this disease for 20+ years and I fear that he will be digging his own grave as well.

      Like you, my parents were married for 38 years as well and are divorcing. I am sorry for the hurt & pain you endured as a result.

      Best to you.

    • Maggie

      Oh, weird – I was just about to type a similar comment: my parents announced they were getting divorced when I was 23, a few months before I left for grad school a state away (and still had several younger siblings at home). I was devastated. Although a tiny part of me was relieved, since I’d seen it coming (and perhaps even sort of wished for it?) for over a decade. Lots of unhappy things were said by all of us, in that tumultuous time. It wasn’t a vicious divorce, but one parent wanted it more than the other. And then my dad died, before they had time to finalize the divorce.

      As you said: I am so thankful things happened in that order–it was hell, but I can see now that it was less painful for my mother to grieve as his widow than his embittered ex-wife, and it made financial decisions, etc. much simpler. His death also… in a bizarre, unexpected way… helped me heal from their separation. Helped my mom heal, too, I think. As she stood by his deathbed, willing him to recover consciousness, I saw and knew that she loved him. They weren’t “good” together anymore and hadn’t been for some time, but she loved him.

      And in recent years, she has only spoken more highly of him… especially as she’s begun dating again. I know this tends to happen when people die, but it really has brought me around to the understanding that

      1) many parts of their relationship were good, especially their partnership in child-rearing (no easy thing!).
      2) I will never fully understand the inner workings of their relationship. What I thought I knew, my assumptions from the outside (who I thought was “right”), were not always correct.
      2) their marriage WAS successful, no matter how it ended or when.

      When they separated, I realized they were human (which was tough to cope w/and involved lots of anger). When my dad passed away, and in the years since, I realized that not only are they human, but they aren’t so different from me. The “mistakes” they made are ones I could easily make, too, and might, if I were in their shoes, facing what they did. I realized that they deserve more credit than I’d been wont to give them.

      And while this scares me–to realize how fallible we all are–it also comforts me quite a bit.

  • Laura

    Lots of hugs to you, SADGIRL — there’s no denying that this situation sucks. My parents separated about 6 months after my husband and I were married, and they are now divorced. Alyssa and the other commenters’ advice is exactly right, especially the parts about allowing yourself time to process your feelings and setting some boundaries if your parents try to get you involved with their own emotional struggles. I hope for your sake that they recognize the importance of not unloading on you.

    As others have mentioned, my parents’ main issue was not knowing how to communicate with each other about things they were feeling or things that were bothering them. Their separation came as something of a surprise to me because they always seemed so civil to each other. The lesson that I’ve tried to take away from this — and that both my parents have emphasized in talking with me — is that you should never be afraid to discuss things openly with your partner, even if it’s an issue on which you disagree. It sounds as though you communicate well with each other, so keep those lines of communication open! Whether or not you choose to get married, this will always serve you well.

  • Amanda

    While I think the all the advice given so far has been wonderful, I’d also suggest seeing a therapist if your health insurance will cover it. And I say this as someone who has seen a therapist in the past myself (and wish I had the time to right now…) but also as someone who has witnessed the profound positive change it has made in my husband who has a litany of family/trust/marriage related issues.

  • Contessa

    “Marriages that end in divorce are not failures, they are part of life and part of growing.” Holy cow did I need to hear this this week. As someone getting married for the second time it’s hard to frame what committment means. I honestly wonder sometimes if it means, “I’m going to do the best that I can for as long as I can and hopefully we’ll have a good time along the way.”

    • That’s not a bad definition of commitment.

    • bec

      That’s a great definition of commitment!!

  • Anonymous

    My fiance’s parents divorced when he was six years old (he’s the baby, all of his siblings are much older than he his). Two out of his three siblings got divorced (his other sibling was never married). Divorce is very prevalent in his family. Since his parents divorced when he was so young, he literally has no memories at all of his parents ever being together. Many years ago, he told both of them that the only thing he wanted for Christmas was for them to work together to create some kind of photo album — or even just an envelope full of pictures — of his childhood during the years his parents were still together, since he has no recollection of it. They couldn’t even do that for him.

    Despite growing up with divorced parents and being surrounded by siblings in bad marriages that ultimately ended in divorce, he is the kindest and most loving person I could’ve ever asked for. He decided that he didn’t ever want to be a part of a bad relationship/marriage, or end up divorcing, and as a result he’s AMAZING at communication and working to resolve any problems we have. But he spent most of his high school and college years seeing a therapist, and he always says that he knows for a fact that that’s what helped him and made him the way he is today.

    I don’t really have a point, except…divorce sucks. But therapy and counseling are great resources and there’s no shame at all in taking advantage of them (especially if your insurance covers it)! Do whatever you have to do to heal and get through it.

  • I am yet another adult child of divorce, my parents got divorced when I was 18 and my little sister a freshman in high school. I just wanted to share in the years since then (and it was an awful, painful, ugly mess) I have seen my mom transform into someone completely new. She feel in love again w/her high school sweetheart and they are sickenly, constantly happy. My mom & stepdad’s marriage is the most healthy committed relationship I have ever seen. I guess I want to say that it is awful now-but that doesn’t mean love, better things and a new form of happiness isn’t on the other side. Keep the faith (and maybe the merlot handy).

    • HH

      “Keep the faith (and maybe the merlot handy).”

      love this! And congrats to your mom and family for getting to such a great place!

  • Poetikplatyps

    As an adult child of divorce parents I can remember the pain and confusion felt when parents decide to split. There’s a loss because you don’t see it coming. Although how can we as the children? There are so many things that happen in a marriage that only the couple is aware of. So being part of the family unit alarms go up because you’re wondering how could I have missed that and what else in my world isn’t what it seems. Marriage is scary because two imperfect people with two different backgrounds are joining themselves together im an equally hard world. So all any of us can do is put in the work everyday and take positives from our parent’s relationship and learn from it. Be the kid and don’t let this define your ideals.

  • I was about 12 when my parents separated and I have to say that even at the time I knew it was a good thing. They were also very discreet about it, never letting us know about their arguments. Which I am very thankful for. Now they are good friends. We all spend a lot of time together with the various other extended family members. My parents are better friends now than when they were together. I also have a better relationship with both of them.

    Divorce can be a positive thing, but we all find it hard to let go. I think parental behaviour has a lot to do with how we are affected. A friend’s parents behaved so atrociously over a period of many years that it caused a lot of emotional and health problems for her and her sister – depression and eating disorders.

    I am not afraid of divorce. If my partner and I ever need to separate I am open to it. I don’t want it to happen. Growing up with divorce has made me more realistic about human nature – we all change and make mistakes, we all grow up at different rates, our relationships change. I am also incredibly grateful for the love in my life and work very hard to make my relationship work. It’s a bit like facing the fat that we will all die. Facing death means I put more into my life. Facing the potential of separation makes me put more in to make it last – to make it the best time I’ve ever had.

    Good luck with your healing and I second the idea of seeing a counselor.

  • Chel

    I could have written nearly this exact post a year ago. My mother decided to leave my father after nearly 28 years of a mostly happy marriage. The day that they told me they were divorcing was the day I bought my wedding dress. Their divorce finalized 4 days after my wedding day. To say that I was devastated was an understatement. I felt like I was getting ready to build a new family, while they were busy ripping my old one apart. Looking back, I think the thing that made it the most difficult was the fact that I had looked to their relationship as a shining example of marriage. In a world of crumbling relationships theirs worked, and I had experienced it first hand. That put me ahead of the curve right? My parents were my relationship role models, and I had them up on a very high pedestal. Coming to terms with the fact that they are human was painful, but eye opening. They make mistakes just like the rest of us. Realizing this forced me in to a more grown up state of mind. Relationships take work, and that work doesn’t stop after a certain amount of years together. That work last a life time. Staying together is a choice we have to make everyday. Some days it is easy and some days it is harder. My parents decided not to do the work anymore. And while it has been difficult for me to accept, it doesn’t mean that I will have to make the same decision in 20 some odd years. I now feel like my mom and dad have become role models of a different kind. They have shown me how becoming apathetic in a marriage can kill it. They have shown me that I have to stay plugged in. I have to keep my life connected to my husbands. That I can’t count on the amount of years we’ve been together to keep us going. Marriage isn’t like a retirement account. You can’t put money in for years and then expect to just live off the savings. You have to keep putting money in for the rest of your life.

    • HH

      “Marriage isn’t like a retirement account. You can’t put money in for years and then expect to just live off the savings. You have to keep putting money in for the rest of your life.”


      Thank you.

  • LPC

    I am both a child whose parents divorced when I was 21, and a mother who divorced when her children were 16 and 19. I confess, I can hardly bear to read these comments. We, your parents, are so sorry to have done this to you. It wasn’t our plan, it wasn’t what we wanted, we failed you, and we are sorry.

    But that’s not the point here. The thing is, people divorced before your parents and people will divorce after your parents. It’s a chancy game in the best of circumstances, marriage. You have to, I think, accept that there’s a component of luck in lasting marriages. Sure, choosing wisely, yeah, committing to each other, of course, emotional intelligence. But luck plays a role.

    This is true of sheer life. It’s worth it. Even bad marriages, even failed marriages bring enormous joy. Learn from your parents. Don’t shy away from their pain, integrate this experience, but remember they are one data point and only one.

    Now you need to sort out inside yourself what you may have absorbed and internalized from their marriage dynamic. That’s the key. My best wishes to you and your future.

    • LPC…your first paragraph made my heat ache. And this may be crazy, having just written a comment above about how difficult it was bearing my parents’ divorce as an adult, but…

      There is a small piece of me that appeared when my parents’ marriage exploded, a piece that I cannot deny – as a child of divorce, I feel have an extra tool in my married toolbelt. At the same time that I lost something, I picked something up – the knowledge that sometimes it doesn’t work. First-hand knowledge. Inability to deny it.

      I only say this because I know my husband does not have it. His parents are the epitome of a wonderul marriage, and when we talk about divorce, loss, the implosion of love – I can see in his eyes that he doesn’t understand how it happens. I understand, and therefore I can plan, I can imagine, I can weigh this against that.

      Not that I wouldn’t give anything to have had parents who were right for one another. But the clarity, to me, is a silver lining.

      • Kerry said this beautifully. For what I lost, I know I gained something too — an understanding of what made their marriage not work and the courage to talk about things instead of pushing them down and ignoring them.

        And as hard as it was, in the end, I am happy for my parents. My dad is still finding his way, I think, but I know my mom is much happier now.

      • Rebecca

        YES. My folks divorced when I was seven and it sucked, presumably in a pretty different way from how it sucks as an adult. My sister and I had some counselling at the time, but periodically throughout my life I’ve had to revisit it – when my Mum’s second marriage failed while I was in high school, again when a dear friend’s engagement almost ended due to batchelor-party infidelity, and yet again after my husband proposed as I worked through how I felt about marriage for myself.

        To be honest though, I count myself lucky to have had my parents’ divorce. Even post-divorce they were able to work together to raise great kids (I think!), I am blessed with a wonderful stepmother (and some fantastic, though somewhat impermanent, men in my Mum’s life) and two extra siblings I wouldn’t trade for the world. And yes, I think I have something “extra” in my toolbelt – a little more understanding of how and where things can go wrong that I can use to protect and nuture my own marriage. I know that the “worst” can happen to a marriage, and that there can be life and happiness out the other side. For me, deciding to marry was a leap of faith, and I’m so glad I made it. However it turns out, it’s part of growing.

        Kerry, LPC, Alyssa, and other commenters have said some very wise stuff. SADGIRL, my only advice is to keep talking to your partner and perhaps to a counsellor, and work through your feelings at your own pace. Your relationship is not your parents’. If and when you feel ready, I wish you the bravery to make the leap.

        • z

          I had to go through it a bunch of times too… it’s just hard to predict how a divorce will affect me in each stage of life. Planning the wedding brought up a lot of crap for both me and my parents, and now having children and seeing how they get less time with their grandparents this way… In particular, having to explain to my oldest child that my mother had an affair (can’t really keep it a secret in a small town), and seeing her go through the same bewilderment and disillusionment that I went through, was really, really hard.

    • LPC, thank you.

      • LPC

        Thank you guys for reading what I had to say, and for responding. My heart goes out to all of you whose parents were in too much pain, or just not resourced enough, to remember that they should always act like adults towards to their children.

  • My heart aches at this post. My parents were married for 38 years. During the first month of my freshman year of college, my father left my mother for his high school girlfriend. It was wrenching. It felt like my life completely fell apart, and one of the worst things was my dad telling me he didn’t understand why I should be so upset, since I was an “adult” now and had my own life.

    This whole experience has definitely affected my views on marriage. For a few years afterward I was vehemently against the whole idea of marriage and swore I’d never get married. As time passed I became less opposed to the idea, but definitely still a marriage skeptic. If my parents could fall apart so painfully after almost forty years, what was the point?

    I’m engaged now, and to be honest this is still something I think about and struggle with. There is a part of me that is always afraid that Greg is going to up and leave me for no reason. I’ve told him this; we talk about it. And the fact that we talk about it, that we talk about EVERYTHING, is what gives me hope. My parents kept a lot of things from each other. Greg and I do not. Every day we make the decision to be together, and to be different from the marriages and relationships we’ve seen that have failed.

    I would really strongly advise you to go talk to a counselor. Alyssa is right. ESPECIALLY if you are an only child. Not having siblings to talk to was one of the most painful things about my parents’ divorce, because I felt totally alone in the middle. The counselor I saw during my college years helped me save myself during all of the mess that followed.

  • Ashley

    This letter describes exactly how I’ve been feeling as of late. My parents, who have been married for almost 30 years, separated about a month ago due to infidelity. I also have a partner of 3 years and have worried about the impact of my parent’s situation (and impending legal separation and divorce) on my relationship. I have had no clue how to deal with this situation and haven’t been able to find much help or people who have been in a similar situation. SADGIRL, thank you for giving voice to a concern that, I’m learning in the comments section, is all too common. While knowing people out there are feeling the same way as I do doesn’t lessen the incredible heartbreak I’m experiencing, it is comforting to know I’m not alone in this situation.

    • z

      Hang in there. My mom cheated too and was really hard to lose my perception of her as an ethical resource and trustworthy person. But you know, it happens to a lot of people, probably more than anyone realizes who hasn’t been through it. You’re not alone!

  • Jo

    I’m not an child of divorce as an adult, I’m an adult child of divorce (they split when I was 8). My dad has had 4 marriages end in divorce – but importantly, not failed, by Addie’s grandpa’s standards. His reflection on his past (and therefore inadvertent advice to me) is that he made the best decision he could at the time based on the information he had at the time. He is now happily (but actively working at it!) married to a woman he knew when he was in his 30s.

    I think you have to look at life this way – you do what you can with what you have. Then you do your best to make good on your commitments. And every day you spend with your partner, making each other happy, loving each other as best you can, is a raging success. As for me, I leapt, I keep in mind that every day is another chance to make good on my commitment, and I believe that good things come from honest, careful choices. And I try to keep an eye on myself, since I know that I am likely to make mistakes. I’m just glad to have seen the mistakes others have made so clearly, so I have a sense of what to watch out for.

    Best wishes, SADGIRL! I hope for much joy in your future!

    • Rebecca

      “He made the best decision he could at the time based on the information he had at the time”

      Jo, that’s exactly, word for word, what my Dad says too. Sometimes Dads are the shizzle.

  • I’m so sorry – it must be heartbreaking and confusing for you.

    My parents have each been married three times. Yep. They had each been married once before they married each other and had me and my sister and then they divorced when we were young and eventually re-married.

    My partner comes from a family with divorced and remarried parents as well. I think it made both of us more cautious about diving into marriage and we waited longer than we might have otherwise, but ultimately, we still decided to make the leap. Marriage is always a leap of faith, I think. You go with your gut and you dive in and you work at it. And sometimes it might not work out, but I think that for us, the children of divorced parents, we’re more aware of how it can go wrong and more likely to fight to stay together. You can learn from them in more ways than one.

    • My parents divorced eight years ago, after 32 years of marriage and 5 kids. I love this sentiment- that we can learn from them in more ways that one. I certainly struggled to come to this conclusion on my own as I approached my wedding. But, it’s very true– seeing your parents and their marriage in this light can make you very wise.

  • Rachel

    My parents separated five or six years ago after 20+ years of marriage. As the oldest child (I was in my mid-twenties when they split), I bore the brunt of the ugliness – and it has been exceptionally ugly. Even now, my mother simply cannot accept that it is inappropriate to talk trash about my father and blame us for letting him make her unhappy (I know. Crazy.)

    Now, planning a wedding, I’m spending a lot of time tiptoeing around the minefield left by my parent’s divorce. My wedding will be the first time my mother interacts with my new step-mother, and threats are already flying. But I’m trying to put that aside to focus on the more important thing, which is feeling confident about entering this marriage, despite the experience of divorce clouding the feeling of certainty that so many brides and grooms enjoy.

    Here are my suggestions, some of which have been made above:

    1. set boundaries early on with parents. Parents often feel that because you are an adult, the maxim that parents shouldn’t drag their kids into the acrimony between divorcing spouses no longer applies. That’s BS. You will always be their child and you will always (in most cases) have loyalty and love for both parents. Even if one of or both parents behaved less than angelically, it’s not ok for the other parent to draw you into judging them for it.
    2. This boundary-setting will make it easier to avoid getting sucked into playing referee at the wedding. My mom told me she wanted to throw me a shower in our hometown (we’re getting married far from home so many family friends won’t attend), but only if I could ensure that my father wouldn’t “ruin” it. I told her “I can’t control his behavior, so I can’t promise that. So let’s not have the shower if it will make you anxious.”
    3. If it seems like it will be helpful, ask your parents about where their relationship went wrong. (I can only do this with my father, because my mother can’t have this conversation without being wildly inappropriate.) My parents always seemed ill-matched and less than in love (even though they were excellent co-parents), so my biggest concern was that they had been a wonderful couple initially, and then something irrevocably changed. If that was the case, how could I be confident my honey and I wouldn’t change also, no matter how committed and happy we are now? I realized from talking to my dad that there were big red flags at the outset and that they married for the wrong reasons. This made me feel better.
    4. Take all the time you need to get to a place where you’re ready to commit. It’s understandable that children of divorce would have trouble feeling “sure” about getting married. I found that it was really important to recognize the personality differences and conflicts between me and my honey that made me worry. I took my time to analyze whether they were indicators of long term incompatibility, and to assess our track record in resolving conflicts. (A therapist can be really helpful with this.) I now feel great about our capacity to understand our differences and address future conflicts.
    5. Recognize divorce as a risk/option in any relationship — and then build your relationship to minimize that risk. My fiance and I are doing pre-marital counseling, and we plan to continue with biannual check-ins with our counselor, even if nothing is wrong, to diagnose issues and patterns early and develop/hone our relationship skills.

    Sorry for the long comment. This is an issue close to my heart. SadGirl, good luck dealing with this challenge!

    • A million “Exactly!”s on setting boundaries. Adult children should not be expected to play referee or therapist to divorcing parents. In my case, it was my dad who told me some ugly stuff that I really wish I could un-know.

  • Tegan

    What makes you think of a divorce as failing? I think that’s your first issue. Being trapped in a loveless marriage, being unable to trust your partner, THESE are all marriage failings, not a sensible agreement that two people be better off apart,

    It could be that your parents just are no longer in love; that’s why parents got divorced. 26 years is a LONG time, and people change over that time. Sometimes they grow apart, sometimes they grow together. But you have to be honest with yourself and your partner, you owe yourselves that much, to realize whether staying or going is the better path.

  • Anonymous

    This is such a tough issue, and my heart goes out to SADGIRL and everyone here in the comment section. My husband’s parents divorced when he was around 18. His father has now been divorced twice. Almost every member of his extended family has been divorced, including his brother. My parents married at 18 and have been married now for over 30 years, but it’s difficult sometimes because I definitely do not want my marriage to be like theirs.

    We have a tough history. But I hope what will keep us together is the fact that we actually talk about everything. In many of these other situations I’ve observed, the couples don’t communicate at all. The tough issues just make one of the partners angry, and then the conversation shuts down. Then later everything blows up irreparably. I hope my husband and I can always be willing to talk through the hard stuff and address it before it becomes too big to overcome.

  • I flew home for my brother’s wedding to meet my mom at the airport, who instantly starting crying because of the strife between my parents. It was a joyful, albeit rough, weekend. A few weeks later, my mom called me to tell me they were getting divorced; at the same time, I was video chatting with my long-distance boyfriend (now spouse) and he watched as I took the call and burst into tears. That was 2007, my parents made it official in 2009 and I got married in 2011 (which was the first event where my mom’s new boyfriend met my dad’s parents).

    My parent’s divorce definitely had an impact on my relationship, manifested most directly in how I planned my wedding. I took “til death do us part” out of the vows because I knew that it doesn’t happen sometime. I love Dan Savage’s The Commitment and believe he’s on to something by saying that the cultural view we have that successful marriages end in death is completely whack. I don’t know who I’m going to be in 20 years (or who my spouse is going to be in 20 years) and I don’t want to stay in a marriage past its due date if I feel bound by vows. That doesn’t mean I’m going to throw in the towel when it gets hard… just that things don’t work out all the time but that doesn’t mean it was a failure or terrible. Just that it didn’t work.

    I would definitely suggest getting counseling; I was in grad school at the time and didn’t take advantage of the free mental health services they have and regret it now. I feel someday the fact that I didn’t fully deal with it then is going to come back multiplied.

    Good luck and remember – you’re not alone in this.

  • Another Alice

    Oh goodness, APW, you hit the jackpot again. I’m so sorry, SADGIRL, that you have to be going through this. I know something of what you’re feeling, and that feeling is utter and complete awfulness. When my now husband and I met, both our sets of parents had been married for 30+ years. Neither marriage was one we wanted to emulate, but we figured they’d settled on staying together for the long haul. We got married about two and a half months ago, and just 3 weeks ago my parents announced they’re getting divorced.

    The last three weeks have basically been the worst weeks in my living memory. I feel angry, sad, upset, scared my marriage will also end in divorce, and mad that this didn’t happen 10 years ago. They say it’s amicable, or at least uncontested, but my dad is moving away to reconnect with a middle-school girlfriend, and I have found myself having the irresistible desire to say “good riddance, farewell” to him. Unlike other posters here, I have no conflict in which parent to support, or which I want to hear from. All the anger and frustration I’ve felt towards my dad (for various issues over the years, like not working for the past decade+) is now bubbling to the surface and feels impossible to re-submerge. I feel ashamed of feeling this one-sided, but don’t want to pretend I don’t feel it.

    I’m working to get an appointment with a counselor (is that the gentler way to say therapist here?), because I know I have a hell of a lot of venom to spew at someone, and I’m terrified I’ll let it affect my own marriage, but thank you to this whole page of commenters, and SADGIRL & Alyssa, because you’ll be part of the healing process for me too.

    • z

      Hang in there! You’re not alone, and I hope you can find some people who have been through similar things.

      I had a really hard time with a similar thing. Just to chat, not to presume that you’re going through the same thing, I can tell you about catching my mom in an affair. I was super, super angry about it as a 16-year-old– still have the occasional flare-up. I can imagine a divorce where people have a few lapses but basically behave well, but I think these types of situations are really different. When I caught my mom in an affair, I experienced all the normal losses of divorce, but also the loss of my mother as a role model and guide, and lost some of my innocence too young. I could no longer see her as an ethical or trustworthy person. My relationship to her totally changed, and for a long time she was no longer someone I could count on or look to for guidance in any way. In an already vulnerable time, when I really needed my mom she couldn’t be there for me, and it made it hard to trust or rely on anyone at all, which made it a lot harder to deal with the underlying divorce. I eventually gave myself permission not to spend as much time with her, just to give myself some space to cope. But taking some space and expressing my extreme dissatisfaction and disappointment wasn’t fatal to our relationship in the long run. I don’t know if that’s what you’re going through, but just to say that it’s extra-hard and I really sympathize with you! Hugs!

      I think the difference between therapist and counselor is that they have different training and certifications, but I think the most important thing is getting some sort of assistance as soon as possible.

  • Heather Gardner

    Oh, how I can so relate to this. I am a 33 yr old married (4 years) female who found out in July 2011 that my parents were divorcing after 38 years of marriage. This isn’t because the marriage fizzled per se. No, my dad is a cheater and he got caught.

    Was I angry? Hell yes. Sad? You bet. Confused? As all get out.

    So, I found a terrific therapist that could help me sort these feelings out. Knowing my mom was married to the same man for 38 years (she was 19) and through all the trials and tribulations they suffered as a couple, I am HAPPY that she’s finally getting out of it. She deserves so much better then what he can offer her.

    I digress.

    Now, my relationship with my father is a different story and one that I will spare you with from the gory details.

    Has it changed my perspective on marriage? Yes, a little. I’m not going to lie. The one thing I learned is to keep an open dialogue with my husband about my fears. He was worried that I would start to have the same feelings about our marriage and eventually leave him too. So, we both are going to therapy for help with this.

    And, my husband is a 13 year military veteran that is NOT the communicating type. So the fact that he is going with me and supporting me through this is a wonderful gift.

    What I do believe in is stay true to your heart and your love for your Partner. You WILL know what is right for you and I can only encourage you to live in the moment and love your Partner. He will love you right back.

    I wish you all the best and I am terribly sorry for the pain you are going through.

    It totally sucks ass.

  • Class of 1980

    Sad Girl,

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it now … many, if not most, divorces happen in marriages that already had the seeds of destruction in them from the beginning.

    Remember that you don’t know everything that has gone on in your parents’ marriage. If their divorce is a surprise, chances are it’s only a surprise to you; not to them. It may seem like a great marriage died, but that’s because you weren’t privy to it’s weaknesses.

    Sad Girl, if you have been feeling right in your own relationship all along, then trust your gut. Your parents relationship is not your relationship.

    And the divorce rate IS NOT 50% either. It’s heavily dependent on socioeconomic status. The demographic of this blog will only have a divorce rate of twenty-something percent.

    Remember that people seek a divorce because they want a better life. It is often both a SAD and HOPEFUL act.

  • Laura Mc

    I haven’t commented in a long time, but Alyssa’s response moved me to do so. What a caring, well thought out and articulated, spot on response, Alyssa! Possibly the best thing I’ve ever seen you write.

  • kc

    My parents divorced when I was 16 after 22 years of marriage. My mom, who is bi-polar, fell apart. It largely fell on me to try to hold her together and act as the referee between her and my dad. I was a junior in high school and so, so angry. I could barely be in the same room with my father, and in fact cut off nearly all contact with him for the next 7 years. By the time I was in college I had had to put up some strict boundaries with my mother too. The hardest part, though, was how it drove wedges between my brothers and sister and I. It was really like our whole family fell apart.

    I’m 34 now. I spent most of my 20s angry at the world and terrified of giving my heart away. Then, when I was 26, I met my future husband. We got married last year. There is still a tiny piece of my heart that’s scared. I’m ok with that. Marriage is not a sure thing, but I think that is part of what makes it beautiful. You have to continue to invest in it, together, or it falls apart.

    I will throw my voice in the pile and suggest seeking help and talking to your partner. And take whatever time you need to heal. If marriage to your partner is the right path for you, it will be there when you’re ready.

  • AC

    Alyssa & Team,
    Thank you so much for continuing to post advice columns and other insight into dealing with divorce from all angles in the family. It’s amazing how it can affect your own relationship.

    I have been fortunate enough to have a pair of parents that are still together after 31 years. My partner is not so lucky, having his parents separate about 11 years ago. Now that he and I are broaching the topic of marriage ourselves, I find myself woefully inept at understanding the very real fear of divorce he has and why his parent’s relationship alone can cause him to feel apprehensive.

    I am gaining some great insight and valuable advice from these particular discussions. Best of luck, Sadgirl!

  • Anna

    I was in college when my parents divorced. I was really broken up by the whole thing. My parents were married for 37 years. I was pretty sure it meant NOTHING could be forever and thus, why bother? I have revised that thought. Nothing IS forever. But that doesn’t matter. What matters is getting up every day and choosing to live in the partnership you have. I used to think splitting up was the most selfish thing my mother ever did. I now think it is the bravest thing they both ever did. They have been divorced for 7 years now and while it was U-G-L-Y for a while (2-3 years) they pulled it together and decided that while they no longer wanted to be married to one another, they did want to continue to be active in the family they had created. It took me a long time to accept that just because it was “over” didn’t negate the validity of what they had done/been/had/given my brother and I/created in the world. A split feels like an unhappy ending but in reality, my parents are both now settled into new relationships and lives and are very much connected with eachother and my brother and I. They are better now for having gotten out of the dying partnership. They are more fully realized as people now.

    As for the effect on my wedding last year, well, it was significant. first of all I didn’t want to say traditional vows of “forever”. I felt like I wanted to say “as long and this partnership continues to nurture us and our family”. I took a lot of heat for being a “wimp” and sounding like I was leaving myself a trap door I might bail out of at the first hint of struggle. NO. I think being realistic and saying I will stand beside you and work at this as long as there is something here we both agree is worth working for. I don’t feel like I would have been any more “invested” in my partnership with my husband for making promises that may turn out to be unfufillable in the future. Our vows felt honest and almost more “heavy” since we were not saying ‘forever and ever amen” and throwing fairy dust on it but we were saying “today, tomorrow and the next day I will work my ass off for you and for us”. The second impact my parents divorce had on my wedding was maybe better described as the effect my wedding had on my parent’s divorce. My parents realized how much they love me and my husband and how they are still able to cross all of their fingers and toes and hope like hell that we make it “till death do us part” as deeply enamored of one another as we are now. The wedding wiped the skeptical cobwebs from their eyes and they saw the hope and ernest efforts of a young couple in love anew. They remembered how they felt back when things were “good” and they actively wish that for us daily and for a very long time.

    The freshness of it has worn away for me and so I am no longer at a loss for the grounding of a solid family unit. I have a different family now and I have learned to love things for the authenticity and no longer mourn the memories. Go easy on yourself. Allow yourself to question this stuff and allow yourself to mourn for the loss of your family “story” it is changed forever now. I would even suggest couples counseling to help you sort out what is your doubt and what is just sadness over your family changing. I bet you will find that it is very much mostly the later. This is HARD stuff and it will take some serious healing. Don’t expect it to be better in a week/month…even a year. It took us a while to learn the new dance. Give yourself time and try, if you can to “keep your eyes on your own page” as my therapist told me. Your parent’s partnership is not your own. Keep your broken heart over your folks independant from your feelings about your own love and pending celebration. I can almost promise that your parents will welcome the chance to celebrate love and union no matter what else is going on. They love what they created in you and on the day that will be enough. Best of luck.

  • Best Ask Team Practical ever. Bravo, Alyssa.

    And three cheers for APW, the only wedding website that would publish the words “Maybe marriage is for you, maybe it isn’t.”

  • Samantha

    This post hit home so hard. I am also an adult child of divorce. My parents have been separated for over a year now but the process is not finalized yet. It’s hard to say if it is harder or easier as an adult. My parents announced their separation to my brothers and I at the same time that my boyfriend an I announced that we were moving in together. Then it was the hardest year and a half (hopefully that was the hardest) of them breaking up and my boyfriend and I getting engaged and now trying to plan a wedding around two parents who can’t be near each other. I don’t know how to deal with that. It’s angering and frustrating that things are changing when you’ve known them so your whole life. I think for me, reading all of these comments, it seems that we all have “perfect-parent-syndrome” and how can we not? Our parents are our teachers and guiders through life. But now I realize that there was too much emphasis on perfection in my family and when my future husband and I have our own children someday I want to be good role models and make them feel secure in their family but I also want to be honest and open and show them that we are human too and not put so much pressure on them. Teach them from the beginning that everyone’s relationship is different and unique and not to try to be just like us. I don’t know . . . does that make sense?

    SadGirl – I hope since this post was written you’ve healed a bit in your pain. It will take time, but I know for me seeing the strong community here has been a great encouragement. You are in a lot of peoples thoughts.