How Do You Plan For Marriage As A Child Of Divorce?

Is it worth the risk?

by Courtney Kelsch

I was seven years old when my parents divorced. When I tell people this, they tend to look at me with sad eyes and sympathy, but I always stop them. I am lucky, I tell them. My parents get along fine; my childhood wasn’t bad. And this is the truth.

I’ve never thought of either of my parents as a “single parent,” even though they were both single and they were both parents. They raised me together: parenting decisions were discussed civilly, responsibilities were shared, and I spent an equal amount of time with each of them. The house we lived in had been my father’s childhood home, so he kept the house and my mother moved to a place nearby. I lived with both of them, moving each week from one home to the other. Every Sunday morning the three of us shared a meal at my father’s house, and my parents would chat in the way I imagined “normal” parents did. We spent birthdays and holidays together, all of us eating and laughing and opening gifts. For every childhood milestone—soccer games, dance recitals, graduations, and proms—both of my parents were there. Despite the divorce, we were—and are—a functional family.

This is the story I’ve always told about my family: divorced, yes, but still loving, still peaceful. My parents had found a way to do it right, to be apart and still raise their child in a healthy environment. So for many years I assumed I had been relatively unaffected by the divorce. Sure, the living situation had made me into a strange combination of restless wanderer and extreme nester, and I’d had my fair share of romantic disasters and relationship missteps. But twenty years after the divorce I had made a home and a happy life with a kind, supportive man. I had made it to adulthood and learned how to have a healthy, loving relationship despite my parents’ split. I had dodged the divorce bullet, I thought. Until last summer, when that kind, supportive man and I decided to get married, and I found myself suddenly terrified.

Even though we were already living together and our engagement was several years in the making, the reality of it knocked me off balance in unexpected ways. There’s a striking difference between knowing you’re going to spend your life with a person and actually planning your wedding and marriage. When we talk about our future, my fiancé looks to the marriages in his family to understand how two people can build a life together and maintain a relationship over many decades; his parents, aunt and uncle, cousins, and sister provide examples whose experiences he can draw from for guidance. But these conversations quickly brought to my attention the lack of these examples in my own family. Like my parents, my aunt and uncle were also divorced. My grandparents were all happily married, but my maternal grandmother died before I was born and my paternal grandfather died when I was only four, too young to understand or remember their relationship. I have never witnessed a healthy marriage in my family, and this has made it difficult to figure out how I will manage to build one for myself.

It may be easier if I understood why my parents ended their marriage so that at least I would know what to avoid, but this has always been a point of confusion for me. At seven, I was old enough to know what divorce meant for other people. I had seen enough screaming parents on television and in movies, their children huddling under the covers to block out the noise or watching from a bedroom window as the father—it was always the father—tossed a suitcase in the trunk of a car and drove off in the middle of the night. But this wasn’t my family. I had never seen or heard my parents argue. They were both always there when I went to bed at night and there when I woke up in the morning. So when they told me they were getting a divorce, I was shocked and confused, forced to piece together the small bits of information I did have. I was vaguely aware that money was tight, and I remember explaining to a friend that I was pretty sure it was about money. Being married is just too expensive, I reasoned.

Twenty-two years later, I still don’t know what being married cost my parents. As a teenager I attempted a more thorough investigation into the reasons for the divorce, but my questions were met with unsatisfying answers about growing apart and insistence that it wasn’t my fault. Unlike the divorces I’d seen in movies and even heard about from friends, there was no scandal to uncover, no simple answer. My parents’ marriage ended gradually for many reasons. I’ve learned this is how most relationships end, if they end. Not with a bang but a whimper.

But this understanding doesn’t help me to prepare for my own marriage. Instead, preparing for my marriage complicates my understanding of my parents’ divorce. As my fiancé and I write our vows, we carefully consider the promises we will make on our wedding day, and this reflection forces me to face a fact I’ve mostly been able to ignore until now: my parents made these same promises, and then they broke them.

I want to be clear: I understand how and why divorce is important and necessary. I know divorce is sometimes the healthiest option, and I would never judge the decisions of those who choose it. But my parents’ relationship, both before and after the divorce, never demonstrated any of the visible signs of an unhealthy situation. Perhaps they had changed, perhaps the romance had faded, but they were still able to get along and be a family, and for this reason, I can’t help but feel like they may have given up too easily. After all, wedding vows tend to acknowledge the changes and rough patches that will certainly occur throughout the life of a marriage. We don’t promise to have and to hold, “as long as I’m happy with you,” or, “as long as you don’t violate this list of rules.” We say, “for better or for worse.” We say, “all the days of my life.”

Will I be able to make and keep these promises even though my parents didn’t? Will I be able to build a healthy marriage without ever having witnessed one? Will I have the strength to stay when my marriage becomes difficult? Will I have the courage to leave if divorce truly is the only healthy option? I don’t know.

I wish this was the kind of post in which I work through a transformative experience and come out the other side enlightened and confident, but I haven’t reached that part of my story yet. It’s possible I never will. Marriage—getting married and staying married—will always be a risk. But when I look at my relationship, I know that to choose not to build a life with this man that I love would be a far greater risk with a tremendous potential for loss. So as I inch forward toward this thing that scares me, I do what I imagine I will do in the face of all scary things for the rest of my life: I reach for him. My palms may be a bit sweaty, my limbs a bit shaky, but he doesn’t mind. He holds me tighter. He steadies me. And then we leap.

Photo: Jesse Holland Photography

Featured Sponsored Content

  • “So as I inch forward toward this thing that scares me, I do what I imagine I will do in the face of all scary things for the rest of my life: I reach for him. My palms may be a bit sweaty, my limbs a bit shaky, but he doesn’t mind. He holds me tighter. He steadies me. And then we leap.”

    This. Exactly this. Thank you for sharing!

    • 39bride

      That was my favorite part, too. It’s exactly how I feel as we consider taking on two half-grown children from our extended family… less than 13 months after getting married and moving in together. Neither of us have/had children despite getting married (for the first time) later than most. If we say yes, in the next six months we’ll be actively looking for a better-paying job for my husband, moving, (probably) buying a house, adopting two preteens, and consciously building a brand new family. We both really have no idea how to do these things, so we’re holding onto each other tighter than ever, and trying to find our way together.

    • SJ

      I know that sentiment exactly.

      I’m a child of an adult divorce, which hits me like a sledgehammer out of the blue most days. I’ve plenty of friends who have had divorced parents since we were in elementary school and it’s no huge thing to them. But my parents had (although, apparently not…) 24 good years.

      He still has married parents and I love them to pieces. And while I randomnly weep, rage or sit quiet, staring he just loves me. In all my forms, in all my incarnations, he just loves me. And when I’m done being a basketcase…he makes me brave.

      • My parents divorced when I was 19. They hadn’t had visible problems until my senior year in high school. Sometimes I feel like I’m in the same boat as those whose parents divorced when they were young, and sometimes I feel like it’s a whole different ball of wax. I’m sure it just varies by family, but it sucks that I’m still trying to figure out (for example) balancing holidays between my parents when I added a partner and his family to the mix, too. I did have a really happy childhood with my parents together, but I can’t help but wonder sometimes what was hiding under the surface, making some memories feel tainted.

        Thank goodness for amazing partners and wonderful soon-to-be in-laws. (When my BFF, who saw me through much of the divorce aftermath, met my partner’s family, I told her, “See! I have a new family now! I can come over here any time!”)

        • KEA1

          Another voice to the chorus; my parents were married 34 years when they divorced. I was 27, and I am so thankful that I wasn’t married because I’d had a very long number of years’ worth of being fed (kinda forcefully, if we’re being honest) a LOT of what turned out to be BS about what the work of marriage is supposed to be like, what constitutes “healthy,” etc. and I think it would have set me up for an extremely unhealthy marriage. As it is now, I still (over a decade later) am trying to figure out what I can really trust in that department. Short end of a long story: THANK YOU, OP, for all of your insights here because they help.

        • lindsay

          My parents also divorced when I was a young adult – out of the house long enough to not realize there were big problems, old enough to rationalize that it was the best for them. My brother’s wedding was early October 2007 and my parents separated end of October. When I married two and a half years later, I wouldn’t put “till death do us part” in our vows because of their divorce.

          I understand Courtney’s sentiments, but in a different way – how do I build a marriage when by appearances, my parents seemed to have a healthy relationship, but in actuality, it was really rough at times? What was me not realizing their troubles because I was a kid, and what was actually good?

      • AUDREY

        I am 26. My parents have been separated for about two years and were miserable for much longer. I don’t know if they’ll ever get an actual divorce, for financial reasons, but my mother did say to me back when I first decided to get married, “I almost want to tell you, ‘Don’t get married! I’m getting divorced!'” (This was one of the only things she said about the wedding at all for a really long while—never mind that I am marrying my significant other of almost 11 years, whom she loves. Sometimes she gets upset when things aren’t all about her).

        It was the second marriage for both of my parents, though—I’m actually an out-of-wedlock kid from between my mom’s marriages (between the 7 of us, my siblings and I have two mothers and three fathers), and as I said it was miserable between my parents for a long time and all their children knew it. So, in a weird way, I haven’t had a lot of the struggles of “Can I make a marriage work? Can marriage even work?” that a lot of the children of divorce have. Instead I was just like “This is easy; I’m just going to do the exact opposite of my parents in the way I treat my partner.” So far it has worked out well!

  • Kh

    Thank you for this. I frequently ask myself the same question- how am I suppose to have a successful marriage when I have honestly never seen one? Makes it all the scarier.

    • H

      This is true. My parents are still married, and yet I don’t really see their marriage as particularly successful, because I don’t see them as happily married. And that’s not what I want for myself. My husband’s parents are happily married, and he tells me he has/d no doubts. But this idea (of having no doubts) is so foreign to me. Because what I see in my parents after 30 years, is that they more or less hate one another, but feel obligated for various reasons to stick it out.

      So, I’ve tried looking at his parents and my parents and comparing them, trying to figure out why one works, and the other doesn’t, and the thing that I really see different between the two is respect. I wholeheartedly believe my relationship will last because I really do respect and love my husband, but gosh, it’s scary.

      The part from the post that really struck me was this line: “There’s a striking difference between knowing you’re going to spend your life with a person and actually planning your wedding and marriage.” My freak out happened in the planning up to getting engaged, because I knew once it happened, there was no going back for me. So I threw a temper tantrum, worked through my shit (Thanks APW), and we got engaged, and then married. Bam. And you know what, I’m really glad I did it, and I had no regrets on my wedding day. It helps to think of something another APWer said (maybe even Meg herself), which is that you choose to love them every single day. Figure out how to get through today, and tomorrow will work itself out tomorrow. Try not to think of it as a lifetime.

      • Kate

        My parents are also still married for reasons I don’t understand and they hate each other. It wasn’t always this bad, but I do remember being 5 years old and wondering if they’d get a divorce because of all the fighting. I think the first time I actively wished they’d divorce was when I was 14. I worry that knowing what staying in an unhappy marriage can do to both the couple and any children has colored my own view of divorce. I’m still struggling with these ideas as I plan my own wedding and marriage. Thankfully I do have my grandparents’ wonderful 57-year marriage to look up to, but then again, they make it seem easy. I’m worried that when we do inevitably go through rough patches once we get married, I’ll immediately jump to thoughts of divorce and throwing in the towel.

  • Rachel

    Your experiences very closely mirror my own. I was 4 when my parents divorced, so I don’t really have any conscious memory of them being together. They were always mature about the split – sharing custody, interacting respectfully, always ensuring that they were both there for every milestone and making joint decisions about parenting. I never felt like I was ‘damaged’ by the divorce.

    However, something I was totally unprepared for when I got married myself 22 years after my parents divorce, was the sense of grief that washed over me. Not grief for myself, but grief on behalf of my parents. I don’t think I had ever really grasped how emotionally devastating the split must have been for my parents until I got married myself and felt firsthand how intensely powerful the marriage vows were, and the intense feeling of love and strength I got from my partner when we committed to each other. After experiencing that, I felt a feeling of intense grief for my parents for quite some time, because I could suddenly understand on a deeply personal level exactly how much they had lost and how much it must have hurt them to have their marriage end. It was a deeply unsettling and unexpected experience.

    • Anon

      I think your comment and description of grief at what was lost just shed some light on the sheer amount of anger I have seen in my mother in the failing of my parents’ marriage… it’s been 13 years and she’s still simmering some days… I never really thought about it that way.

  • K

    We wrote our vows very carefully to exclude any mention of “forever” or “as long as we both shall live”, because that isn’t our view of marriage. We want to be married for as long as we are both happy being married, and if that’s until death–great! If it’s not, then that’s fine, too. I wouldn’t consider getting divorced a failure or “giving up,” and I wouldn’t consider the married years pre-divorce a waste of time. The first officiant we worked with was very insistent about including us vowing that we were entering marriage with the intention that it would last a lifetime, and in the end, we had to find someone else to marry us. It was tough to stick to our guns and not give in to the kinds of language that everyone seemed to want us to use, but in the end I’m so glad we created a ceremony that was true to us and to our relationship. I’d love to hear about anyone who had similar feelings about marriage, and how they reconciled this pragmatism with the all the traditional language involved in wedding ceremonies!

    • TeaforTwo

      I would love to hear more about this: would you consider writing a Reclaiming Wife post about it?

      I grew up with an understanding that the whole point of marriage is that it is for life, for better or worse, and that’s the understanding that my partner and I still work with. Essentially, that the vow until death isn’t just a part of the package – it’s the whole point.

      I don’t find it surprising that there are couples who don’t want to vow “for as long as we both shall live,” but I am interested in what compels you to marry without that part – specifically, how is being married different from not being married when you are not committing to permanence?

      I hope that doesn’t sound like I am prying, I am just always so fascinated by how other people’s relationships and views on marriage work.

      • rys

        Speaking from an academic rather than personal perspective, different religious traditions have very different views of marriage (sacraments, covenants, sealings, contracts, etc to name a view) and those often have different time durations attached to them. From one extreme to another, Mormon marriage, as sealings, reflect a view of eternal marriage whereas Jewish marriages, as contracts, reflect a temporal state, with no sense of foreverness intertwined. Breaking a contract is different from breaking a vow or sacrament or sealing. In this sense, forever may not be the starting point of what marriage means or encompasses, depending on the traditions one is working amidst, though I don’t think this makes divorce itself any easier.

      • K

        Honestly, being married doesn’t really have different meaning for me than just living together and knowing that we’recommitted. Our decision to get married was mainly for legal reasons (taxes and such), and to have a great party with our families. I think decisions like choosing to buy a house with someone or having kids together (the ultimate committment) are far more serious and potentially permanent than marriage. We’re also not religious, so that probably plays a big role in our view of marriage (which for us is simply a civil institution).

        So we vowed to love each other, to share joys and sorrows, and to support each other through hardships. And while ideally we will do these things our whole lives, it just felt dishonest to me to vow to remain married til death when I definitely consider divorce an option when two people aren’t happy being married anymore. In fact, I think part of loving and supporting my partner no matter what would be ending the marriage if we were no longer happy in it.

    • Claire

      So interesting to find someone else who shares that perspective! Thought I was the only one. I also believe one can have a “good”, successful marriage that ends before death. And I don’t really buy into the message that a divorce means you or your marriage failed. We wrote our own ceremony and pointedly did not reference ’til death or as long as we both shall live.

      I guess I’m more interested in having a partner IN life than a partner for life, if that makes any sense. The quality of the marriage is more important to me than the quantity of years it has lasted. The questions my husband and I ask are: Do we make each other better people? Do we help each other have a better life? That’s what a successful marriage means to us. If we aren’t, then we’ll work to fix that. If we try and realize we’d be better off not married to each other, I hope we will be able to accept it and end the marriage gracefully while still treasuring the years of our successful marriage. At least that’s what we’ve discussed. (Yeah, I know it wouldn’t be that easy).

    • “I wouldn’t consider getting divorced a failure or ‘giving up,’ and I wouldn’t consider the married years pre-divorce a waste of time.”

      So very much this. I’m not sure how many people realize it, but throwing the ‘giving up’ label down on a divorce is one of the more hurtful things you can say about the situation. It’s entirely understandable, given how divorces are depicted in most media, that we expect big and dramatic when bearing witness to the end of a marriage but, as all relationships are inherently different, it only stands to reason that there would be variances in the termination as well.

      My parents divorced when I was 26 and, though I could sense something was amiss with them for much of life to that point, there was no visible ‘trigger’ and I found myself, like the author, wondering if they’d just stopped trying. It was only later on that I discovered that my father had had an affair and they’d spent decades trying to recover from that (and chose to spare my sister and I the gory details).

      Just over a year into my first marriage, after convincing myself that I wouldn’t make the same mistakes and wouldn’t ‘give up’ the way I thought my parents had, I found myself trying to stave off divorce. When that attempt was unsuccessful, I received a lot of “you gave up too easily” and “you just ran when it got hard.” This couldn’t be further from the truth (my ex abandoned me during my cancer treatments) but, given that we chose to keep our marriage very private, I understand that it seemed this way for outsiders looking in.

      Finding a definition of marriage that works for you, as a couple, is incredibly important. Using the missteps of our parents as a cautionary example while creating that definition is wise. My new husband and I did something akin to what K describes and it was an invaluable exercise that we try to live and embody daily. It may not be forever, but we’re going to give it our best shot.

      • K

        I think it was also really valuable to talk about our expectations before getting married, too, to find out what our different perspectives on divorce were. Presumably you’d already know how your partner feels, but it’s possible one of you could see marriage as something that you preserve at any cost (including each other’s happiness), while the other feels more the way I do.

      • CourtneyKelsch

        Wow, thank you for sharing this really personal story. I can totally understand how the phrase “giving up” could be hurtful, and to be honest, I agonized about that when I was writing this because I would never want to hurt my parents. Also, I hope it’s clear that I was definitely not attempting to apply that phrase “giving up” to anything other than my own personal situation. I certainly do not assume that this is the case for everyone by any means. But something you said about your own situation really resonated with me: “I understand that it seemed this way for outsiders looking in.” This is exactly how I feel about my parents’ marriage and their divorce: I am an outsider. From my perspective, everything seemed fine. Their attempts to protect me from whatever discord existed led me to grow up feeling that that discord was minimal. This was, I’m sure, not the case. But from the perspective of someone who is both outside their marriage and deeply affected by it, it sure is hard to fight off that feeling sometimes.

        • VIOLET

          “But from the perspective of someone who is both outside their marriage and deeply affected by it, it sure is hard to fight off that feeling sometimes.” This! I honestly don’t judge anyone else’s divorce OTHER than my parents’. It’s weird. But I feel like it was my divorce too, in a way, because it affected me so deeply. Or else, it was their marriage and their divorce, but *my* family breaking apart. I try to be more “rational” about it (I didn’t see the work they did put into it, they hid the strife from me), but to quote Marie from down-thread: “my crazy divorced-child brain just won’t shut up about it.”

      • I am so sorry to hear that your ex abandoned you when you needed him the most, and that on top of that deeply painful experience, you received those kind of comments. I wish you all the best in your new marriage.

    • Erin E

      Yes!!! Thank you for this comment. I, too, struggle with the “forever” language and am wondering what to do about it in my upcoming wedding. Both my and my fiancee’s parents were married for over 30 years and both have divorced. I know that for many, many years my parents had a happy marriage. Saying that marriage was a failure because it ended in divorce seems to unfairly invalidate the fact that it was a great marriage for a long time. Many of us have been witness to the fact that a marriage’s “success” (or lack thereof) is not defined solely by its longevity or by how it ends. So how to translate that to vows? “I promise to be with you until we decide not to” sounds like… dating. This has been a big theoretical stumbling block for me and I’m happy to see other people talking about it.

      • K

        We just took the time frame out of our vows all together, and I doubt anyone noticed, but it made a big difference for us.

        So instead of “I vow to love you til death do us part”, we simply said “I vow to love you.” (It sounds better too if you stack your vows, like “I vow to love you support you, and laugh with you as your partner in life”)

      • “Saying that marriage was a failure because it ended in divorce seems to unfairly invalidate the fact that it was a great marriage for a long time. Many of us have been witness to the fact that a marriage’s ‘success’ (or lack thereof) is not defined solely by its longevity or by how it ends.”

        I like that.

      • The first stanza of a celtic vow goes “You cannot possess me for I belong to myself.
        But while we both wish it, I give you that which is mine to give.” I like that.

  • Iz

    I wonder if this is something you could talk to your parents about? Voice your concerns and maybe ask if they have any advice, anything they wish they’d done differently in their marriage, any signs they ignored? You mention you talked to them about their break-up when you were a teenager, but this woud be coming from a very different angle…

  • C

    I’m in the same boat, the child of divorced parents, and I’m also divorced myself. I’m now engaged again and I’ve found myself processing some serious emotions regarding my last marriage — why *didn’t* it last, why *couldn’t* we make it work? And sure, there are the cliches of “we were too young” or “sometimes people just grow apart,” but I’m not sure those are adequate reasons for breaking such sacred vows. Now I’m in a position where I’m making that commitment again, and I’m SO confident that my fiance and I are committed to making our marriage last a lifetime, but it’s still terrifying to look around and realize I don’t have many role models to show me the way.

    • KC

      I think “we were just too young” or “sometimes people grow apart” are often filler answers that cover a lot of ground that isn’t pretty ground. They’re ways of representing a divorce that doesn’t assign much blame to either party – a mistake or a drifting, not an “I screwed up” or “they were a jerk about something I was sensitive about”.

      I suspect some of these might get at what “we were just too young” or “sometimes people grow apart” mean sometimes (but obviously, not comprehensive):
      (other person) didn’t support me in the ways I felt I needed to be supported.
      (other person) didn’t share the weight (usually in some dimension; housework, financially, socially) and I was not okay with it but they didn’t even things out.
      (other person) guilted me constantly about not sharing the weight.
      (other person) didn’t appreciate me.
      I didn’t trust (other person) enough to be myself around them.
      (other person) made decisions that I felt I should have had a say in without my input or against my input.
      (other person) did not spend enough time with me/on our relationship/on things that are important to me.
      (other person) started sounding too much like (family member with whom I have dysfunctional relationship) and I/they/we couldn’t solve the communication barrier.
      We stopped being affectionate towards each other and/or being interested in learning about each other. (made more complicated by jealousy, whether it’s reasonable jealousy [person A is, in fact, more interested in new person than in spouse] or not reasonable jealousy [person A knows someone’s name at the office, but that’s about it, but conclusions are leaped to])
      We stopped treating each other or each other’s feelings/perspectives respectfully and lovingly.
      We disagreed deeply about spending money, or how to divvy up holidays amongst family, or how to raise/whether to have kids, or acceptable levels of risk (job-wise, insurance-wise, moving, etc.), or some other button-pushing, hard-to-compromise-on thing.
      We ended up seeing each other as opponents, not as part of “my” team.

      A lot of these can fester or can be self-replicating (communication problems especially – if you start hearing things a particular negative way, it’s hard [but not impossible!] to break out of that).

      But you can cover most of them with a polite “we just grew apart”, rather than the less-pleasant-sounding “he cared more about video games than about me” or “she thought having a new smartphone was more important than covering rent” or the getting-at-probably-still-pretty-ouchy things like “he thought my art was a waste of time and money” or “she refused to stop contacting Old Flame X even when I told her how insecure and helpless it made me feel”. So… yeah. How are you? Fine.

      • Helen

        I’m in the same boat C. Child of a pretty happy divorce, and partner in one of my own. Hard to recapture that trust and belief for marriage number two. It took me a long time to get here. The difference I see in myself for this marriage is that I now understand what work and commitment mean in real terms. So I can’t promise forever, but I CAN promise to work. I’m not advocating staying in a poisonous marriage, just based on my own experiences, I’m thinking about my new relationship like going for a run up a big hill on a glorious hill. It know it’s good for me that I’ll love doing it, that the alternative, staying safe and easy on the ground is not how I want to live my life, I know there’ll be amazing stuff along the way and that it’ll also get really hard at some points, when it might be easier just to stop. But the ultimate reward – the view from the top and the incredible high after a long run – is a something I’ll need to fight for.

  • Emmy

    I married a man who is not only a child of divorce, but who also got divorced himself. It’s been hard for him to build a healthy relationship with few models. But we got a ton of great advice from people during our Quaker ceremony.

    Look to the healthy marriages around you. They may not be your parents, but they are there: aunts and uncles, cousins, friends, coworkers. Ask those people for help when you need it. And remember to tend to your marriage. Don’t sweep things under the rug or hope problems will go away. Marriage is hard work, and I think a lot of people forget that and that’s how things just kind of slide away.

    Also, and this is controversial advice, my friend’s pastor told her that her relationship with her husband is the most important relationship she has. More important even than the one she has with her child. Because a strong marriage can strengthen you and your other relationships, but it’s very easy to lose sight of your marriage when you’re in the trenches with young children or caring for an ill relative or what have you.

  • js

    I love this. Every marriage is risky, even when you both have happily married parents. It’s jumping together, with this person who knows and cares why I am scared and maybe a little sad, that makes it all worthwhile for me. Every time.

    Also, I don’t want to minimize the way you’re feeling. You’re right to be scared, if that’s how you feel. But having someone who loves you enough to put your happiness ahead of their own is, sometimes, a large part of marriage. I’d say you have a good foundation for building a partnership in the example they set for you.

  • Michelle

    I had a very similar experience – my parents divorced when I was young and I didn’t think it affected me… until I got engaged. Josh’s parents are happily married so it was hard for him to understand exactly what I was afraid of. Sometimes it’s still hard for me to explain.
    I think the best thing we can do (and it seems like this is my answer for every marriage-related question) is communicate. I know it sounds simple, but if you KNOW that you can look at your spouse at any time and say, “I am feeling really vulnerable and I need to hear that you still love me and we are in this together,” it kills the fear.
    When we do go through the occasional rough patch and I start to feel like we’re doomed, I just tell him. And then we can start trying to fix it early, instead of building up secret resentments.
    I know it sounds strange, but in a way, I am thankful that I experienced my parents’ divorce. I used to be angry at them for the way it affected me. But now, a few years into marriage, it just keeps me on my toes. It makes me more proactive in meeting my husbands needs and being honest about my own.

    • CourtneyKelsch

      I can so relate to this, Michelle! I have a very difficult time explaining to my fiance why I feel the way I do. Fortunately, he’s always willing to listen to me try. I know what you mean about it keeping you on your toes, too. If anything, I think my parents’ divorce has made me more committed to taking my marriage seriously and giving it the nurturing it needs to thrive.

  • Abbey

    Thank you for writing this–I too have divorced parents who have managed more or less to be perfectly civil where I am concerned. Mine split when I was fourteen, which meant that I was old enough to hear a lot more about why it ended. There was in fact a scandal to uncover, but as I’ve moved toward thinking of marriage for myself, what I keep thinking about is not the scandal, but the years before it, basically my entire childhood, when things were not right between my parents but no one (least of all me) would ever have known. I remember being certain that both of my parents would rather spend time with me than with each other, which at the time didn’t bother me. Now I wonder if I will somehow gravitate toward a style of parenthood that leaves no space for a healthy marriage.

    I have talked to my parents about this, and both of them in their different ways have said that the key is not to pick the wrong person–that they should never have gotten married in the first place and that I have to be absolutely sure. That seems too black-and-white to me. I know that even if I pick the right person, there will be times that will be hard. I know that even with the wrong person, there will be reasons to stay. I’m afraid I won’t know when to hold on and when to walk away.

    • Kristen

      “I know that even if I pick the right person, there will be times that will be hard. I know that even with the wrong person, there will be reasons to stay. I’m afraid I won’t know when to hold on and when to walk away.”

      This. You’re so right. This is one of those facts of life I’m currently feeling tons of anger and frustration about. How are you supposed to know?

      I think the right answer is to trust yourself and trust you’ll take care of yourself no matter what. That maybe that’s how you know – what ultimately will make you the happiest – staying or going. I guess if you agree with this concept, it also speaks to how important it is to know yourself and value yourself, especially when considering marriage.

    • CourtneyKelsch

      “I know that even if I pick the right person, there will be times that will be hard. I know that even with the wrong person, there will be reasons to stay. I’m afraid I won’t know when to hold on and when to walk away.”

      YES! THIS!


    Courtney, thank you so much for being so brave and writing this! While my parents divorced when I was 11, there are many similarities in our experiences (including my dad’s childhood home and my mom moving nearby, once a week switches and feeling like a nomad).
    I still feel angry with my parents for breaking their vows, because like you, I don’t really “get” why they divorced. I certainly wasn’t a witness to them working on it. So to me, it pretty much seems like they quit when the going got tough. I know they weren’t happy, but most research shows that people aren’t happier after the divorce either. No one can make you happy, no relationship can make you happy. YOU make you happy (maybe with the help of therapy, meditation, religion, medication etc). I feel angry that my peaceful existence was shattered because they asked for something from their marriage that marriage was never intended to provide.
    Anyway, I’m not enlightened at this point either, but in my marriage it goes like this: Step 1: Don’t get divorced. Step 2: Actively work on the relationship, every day, so we can get the most out of it.

    • CourtneyKelsch

      I love this: “Step 1: Don’t get divorced. Step 2: Actively work on the relationship, every day, so we can get the most out of it.” So simple, and yet so difficult and important. I feel like I should print this out and hang it on our bathroom mirror. Thank you!

      • VIOLET

        I’m glad that is helpful to you! Simple sure doesn’t always mean easy, does it?

  • Teresa

    My parents also divorced when I was seven. Even though they seemed like it was fairly amicable (we vacationed together once, they could still be in the same room together, etc), I remember the fighting. I know most of why they got a divorce and, even though they are very, very good reasons, it still scared me. Before my husband and I got married, I felt extra aware of just how bad things can get and that was scary. The only thing that helped was talking to my mom about really what went wrong and also reading loads of books (mostly from APW and Meg’s recomendations) about healthy marriages and what that 50% divorce statistic really means. It didn’t erase all of my fear, but it helped.

    • Hannah

      Teresa, would you mind sharing some of the books that you read and helped you sort through things during this time? My fiancé and I are getting married in February, and I never expected to be dealing with so many emotions around my parents’ divorce during this time of planning a wedding.

      • Teresa

        The Five Love Languages by Gary D Chapman and For Better by Tara Parker-Pope were the two best books. The Five Love Languages (minus the religious parts, for me) helped explain that just because you think you are showing love, your partner might not view it as such. It is important to show your love in the way your partner needs you to show it. For Better was the book that kind of dispelled the 50% statistic in a way that was easy to understand. There were a few APW posts that helped, most specifically the post from a few years ago about love being a choice (at work right now, otherwise I’d search for it and link!) and all of the posts about reclaiming the word wife and what that means. Check the old APW book club suggestions as well!

  • My parents divorced when I was 14 and it was definitely not (and still isn’t) amicable. My husband’s father committed suicide when David was just three years old; his mother remarried, but it’s not a healthy relationship. In fact, neither my husband or I have ever had a healthy relationship modeled for us. I say jokingly to him sometimes, “We have the best relationship of anyone I know!” but the fact is that it’s sort of the truth, at least when it comes to our families, both immediate and extended.

    In some ways I wonder if that makes it easier? We don’t have good role models for marriage, but we have very clear models for things we absolutely do not want to emulate. And we work really hard to make sure we’re not unconsciously mirroring the unhealthy relationships we grew up around.

    • Claire

      Ooh, that’s interesting. It’s something my husband and I have talked about too. That we have the healthiest relationship in both of our extended families is not bragging but just ridiculously obvious. Both our parents are divorced (at least once), almost all our siblings are divorced (at least once) and the only things we’ve learned by looking at their marriages is what not to do. We’ve talked about the way those marriages are and how we can choose differently, behave differently, work together differently to hopefully have a different outcome.

    • anon

      Thank you for this comment. Although my parents’ marriage is actually one that is a good model for me, my FH’s parents (while not divorced) very much have a not-healthy relationship that neither of us wants to replicate. We have talked a lot about it, and so I think we also consciously put effort into making sure we’re not following those patterns — but, oddly enough, I have much more anxiety about replicating those behaviors than FH does (for me, this is based on the reasoning that we imitate what seems “normal” or natural from our own childhood). Now I’m thinking about how sometimes a poor relationship model can be just as powerful as a good one, if you use it the right way — and realizing that he probably uses his own parents’ marriage in just such a way.

  • Helen

    “When we talk about our future, my fiancé looks to the marriages in his family to understand how two people can build a life together and maintain a relationship over many decades; his parents, aunt and uncle, cousins, and sister provide examples whose experiences he can draw from for guidance. But these conversations quickly brought to my attention the lack of these examples in my own family.”

    You said it yourself. You are about to marry into a family with multiple examples for you to model. You didn’t grow up with them but you have the rest of your life to learn from them.

    My parents separated around the same age and my experience was very similar. I am very lucky that my SO’s parents have been married for 30 years and they are a great example for us. I admire them a lot.

    • CourtneyKelsch

      So true, Helen. I am incredibly thankful for my fiance’s family. They are incredibly loving and supportive – of each other and of us – and I know I will learn so much from them over time.

  • Allison

    Wow…just yesterday I was thinking about how I would love to see a post addressing this topic on APW. My parents divorced when I was a baby and I have no memories of my father. I am okay with this, and because my mom was so amazing I didn’t grow up feeling like I was missing out. It wasn’t until other people (adults) pointed out to child-me that it was “odd” I never saw my father or strange that I didn’t want to know him. My fiance’s parents are also divorced, and he was just old enough (10) to watch it all play out. Both of our families are filled with divorced relatives, leaving me looking for examples of strong, healthy marriages.

    I was also touched by Kelly (commenter above) who said that instead maybe we have a better picture of what we don’t want to do. My mom’s marriage dissolved (in part) due to my father’s substance abuse and when that issue found its way into my own relationship, I immediately knew I could not and would not be a marriage where drugs had any place. I vividly remember saying to him, “I have to protect myself from this.” Thankfully, the problem was addressed, worked on tirelessly over the course of our 6 year relationship, and ultimately resolved. It wasn’t until a considerable amount of sobriety time was reached that we approached the topic of being engaged. I do think if it wasn’t for my mom’s divorce that I would not have been as careful and deliberate in making sure we worked on the substance abuse problem before we became engaged. I am sure we still have plenty to learn from the divorces around us, and I continue to feel confident in the strength of our love and relationship.

    • Teresa

      This is why my parents divorced as well. Addiction is my only deal breaker–I will not and cannot repeat those mistakes.

  • Amy March

    Loved the line about how they took those vows and broke them. I think we’ve gotten away from the idea that honoring vows means sticking to them, even when it’s hard and painful and unpleasant. It’s not easy to reconcile that belief with a firm sense that sometimes breaking those vows is the best option, but I think it’s a good idea to sit the two ideas next to each other and make them chat from time to time.

    • Erin E

      That’s a really good point. It can be so hard to find the line between “staying through my unhappiness is right because I’m honoring my commitment” and “staying through my unhappiness is wrong because it’s not healthy for me.”

    • KC

      (By the way, I really like the image of getting the two ideas out and making them chat from time to time. I think a lot of things are improved by doing this, but I’d never thought about it in exactly that way before!)

  • My parents divorced when I was 3, and I feel like you are writing my life. They lived in the same neighborhood, I saw them equally, they were always welcome at both grandparents house. They parented together, and regularly see each other and maintain a great friendship. I didn’t realize until reading this, but often times I do think they must have given up too quickly, because I was never given a great answer as to why it had to end.

    I know sometimes there’s not an answer. Sometimes these things do fade, and the hardships get too hard, but it doesn’t make it any less comforting on the brink of my own marriage. Thanks so much for this.

  • Kestrel

    This has been a very real struggle for my fiance. While his parents are still happily married, that’s really the only marriage he grew up around that survived. His dad was married previously, and that ended quite badly, including a child that his dad didn’t know initially was his. So the ramifications for all of this greatly affected his childhood.

    His aunts and uncles are nearly all divorced, and the majority of his friend’s parents growing up were divorced as well.

    I, on the other hand, find it actually quite difficult to find a relationship that I know where they are divorced. I have one aunt and uncle that are now divorced, but beyond that, no one in our family and no one I even know have gotten divorced. And, AFAIK, they aren’t just not getting divorced because that’s a ‘bad thing to do’.

    It definitely affected our thoughts on marriage. I really am not too worried. He has a lot more trepidation. It’s something we’ve had to work through, but is something I think we both understand more now.

  • BS

    I am also a child of divorced parents … they told us they were divorcing on Christmas Day when I was 8 years old. My dad moved out on New Year’s Day. For a long time, I was “team Mom” and as I got older, and reconnected with my dad (we would visit in the summer, but I never really liked it) I realized then how much it impacted me and my future/current relationships. My fiance’s parents are still married, and his grandparents celebrated their 74th anniversary last summer. For a long time while we were dating, our reason for not talking about marriage was because it was scary how many people around us were divorced or headed toward one. I, too, didn’t realize how scary planning my marriage was in comparison to just talking about it. Some things I’ve come to terms with though through this process is that 1) I am not my parents, and am not destined to have terrible relationships because my relationships are a reflection of the effort and work that I, personally, put into them and 2) we take our relationship one day at a time. Thinking about life 25 years from now is overwhelming, but thinking about just today and what we need to do today to be happy, and feel loved and love each other is a lot easier to take in.

    Thanks for this post.

  • Future Mrs. D.


    It’s quite possible, that this might be my daughter’s experience when she decides to get married 15-20 years from now (she’s 12, and her dad and I separated 4 years ago and soon divorced). We also didn’t fight, and there wasn’t much drama around our divorce. I never bad-mouthed her dad, nor did I put our business out there for her to hear 3rd party.

    He’s now remarried, and I will be remarrying in 67 days (YAY). We have a very healthy, friendly co-parenting relationship…in fact, it’s a team effort, involving the step-parents as well. I hold my “was-band” and his wife in high regard, and I believe they feel the same towards me and my fiance.

    I will NEVER have the heart to let her know that the reason for our marriage’s demise was that her father cheated…twice. To me, this is her male hero. And though he betrayed me and OUR union, this doesn’t mean that he’ll do it again in his current marriage, or that he loved HER any less. So, it may seem like we divorced “out of nowhere”. I explained to her then that Mom and Dad grew apart, and could not get along like a husband and wife should, and we needed to move on so that we could both be happier (which she would benefit from)…and this has been so. I feel like, as a parent, there are certain dirty details that we choose to protect our children from. Hurts my heart that she may later be damaged by our healthy separation. Guess you really can’t win in divorce…

    • Erin E

      Don’t beat yourself up – it sounds like you are doing wonderful things for your daughter by setting great examples and shielding her (right now) from knowledge about her Dad that could hurt her. Marriage and divorce are messy because LIFE is messy and there’s no way you can completely protect your daughter from that. Keep on your awesome path. Just my ¢2!

      • Future Mrs. D.

        Thanks Erin! You know, you just try to keep your daughter off the pole, off the pipe, and off the shrinks couch if at all possible! LOL

        • KEA1

          Keep her off the pole and the pipe. Support her when she needs the shrink’s couch, because she might need it for reasons that weren’t anything close to your fault. And know that, by approaching all of this with so much compassion and deliberation over what will be best for her, you’re already doing the right things. You sound like such an awesome influence on her and I am sure that you’ll continue to be. And *lots* of best wishes as you begin your new marriage!

    • CourtneyKelsch

      For what it’s worth, I think you’re doing it right. It’s hard no matter what you do, but I am super grateful for the wonderful relationship that I have with my parents and step-parents. I really do think of us as a very functional family, and while I struggle to reconcile that with the fact that we are not a more traditional family, I still know that this life I have is very blessed. Your daughter is lucky to have parents that are so committed to her well-being and happiness. Sending internet hugs your way!

    • I spent a bit of time thinking about your story.

      For what it’s worth, I think I am happier as I am now–grown up after my parents divorced when I was 4, still in the dark as to why it happened (though it was not amicable, took them years to be able to be in a room civilly together, no one has ever said why they ended their 17 year marriage)–than I would be if I knew the reason was because one of my parents cheated, or physically hurt the other, or whatever.

      Being able to love, respect, and cherish my parents without having to reconcile some darker image of them is a gift I haven’t appreciated until now.

    • Helen

      I think you’re choosing right. I’m your daughter all grown up, and I’m grateful every day for the functional family environment I was given. it means I’m totally emotionally equipped to grapple with whatever life chucks at me – including struggling with whether I want to get married or if believe in ‘forever’. No one is a perfect parent, but it sounds like you’re paying attention to the important parts.

    • z

      You really can’t win in divorce, and I don’t envy your situation with your daughter. But I will say, just because nobody has addressed this angle, that I’m glad I know about my mom’s infidelity. (Although I was 16 when I found out, 12 seems young.) I found out on my own, acting on my suspicions, and I think I would have a really hard time making sense of my family and my relationship with my parents without having all the pieces of the puzzle. It really helps to know where the sensitive spots are, instead of having taboo topics and being stonewalling discussion of important aspects of my childhood. For better or for worse, I’d rather know my parents and my family as they really are, rather than deliberately blocking out things that are hard or uncomfortable. The story of our family is my story too. Also, what if your daughter finds out about the affair on her own or from a third party– is that better than hearing it straight from her parents?

      Of course, I was devastated to learn of both of my parents’ shortcomings, but coming to terms with that is just part of growing up. The people who love us most are still capable of treating us very badly, and that’s a hard lesson to learn from your mom as a teen, but it’s the truth and I’m better off knowing it. It caused a permanent loss of respect and moral authority, but that’s the choice my mom made when she decided to have an affair. It isn’t my dad’s responsibility to protect her from the consequences of her actions, or to micromanage our relationship.

      I felt doubly betrayed because my mom used my ignorance to get me to accept her boyfriend in a step-parent role– I certainly would not have done so had I known the truth. I kind of respect my dad for being willing to keep the secret, but I also think they just didn’t want to deal with the hassle of a even-more-pissed-off teenager. It’s humiliating to be deceived and manipulated, especially by the people you’re supposed to be able to trust above all. It took a long time to rebuild any trust at all, and knowing that my mother is capable of cold, calculated, long-term deception has prevented us from being as close as we could be. An affair doesn’t just hurt the betrayed partner, it hurts everyone whose trust is abused.

      But I definitely don’t worry about getting divorced because it seems “easier.” It’s obvious to me that even a relatively amicable divorce has been really, really hard for my parents and their children, and it’s only getting more difficult as I have kids and my parents get old. Even the best divorce is hard as hell.

  • Astro A

    A lot from this post and the comments has resonated with me and stirred up all kinds of Feelings, as my parents got divorced when I was young (separated when I was three, long and messy divorce finalized when I was five), and my family feels like it’s full of divorces, while my fiancee’s family is full of decades-long happy marriages. These Feelings have been festering for awhile, and I’m honestly trying to come to grips with them now that we’re i n the “real” stage of wedding planning.

    I was lucky in that I was young when they separated, so I didn’t see the fighting, or really have too many dreams of them getting back together. I was also lucky because they were (fairly) civil to each other as my sister and I were growing up. There were some tensions, and I know full well that they still harbor strong feelings of dislike, but they truly made an effort.

    I’d like to say, though, that the line:

    “Sure, the living situation had made me into a strange combination of restless wanderer and extreme nester…”

    struck me like a brick wall. Ever since I’ve been on my own, once I went to college, I have always felt that tension between needing to continuously go somewhere new, have a new living space, and nesting like hell whenever I get there. I’ve just never really put a finger on the reason, and I think shuffling to Dad’s house every other weekend and every summer and alternating holidays and having different families to celebrate big things with has got to be part of it. And exactly contrasts with my fiancee’s desire to stay in the metropolitan area where she grew up, where all her extended family and their extended, happy marriages are. So that really touched me, for what it’s worth. Thank you for writing this, and striking up this conversation.

    • CourtneyKelsch

      I could probably write a whole essay about that line! Every time I move to a new place, I take all kinds of action to make it feel more permanent, but then I start to feel itchy for something new after a year or two. The best example of the absurdity of this in my life is this: in the last 5 years, I’ve been the DMV three different times to get a brand new license so that my address would be correct and official on my ID, even when I knew I wasn’t going to be staying in a place very long. It took me a long time to realize what I was doing and why, and I haven’t figured out what to do about it yet. It’s heartening to me to find others who can relate though. Thank you for sharing your experience.

  • Marie

    So much of this post and what people have written in the comments resonates with me. My mom’s parents were divorced, most of my mom’s siblings are divorced, and my parents are divorced. Literally no one in Fiance’s extended family is divorced except for some distant cousin. On one hand, I am grateful for the examples of happy marriages that his family provides, but on the other hand, it makes me sad that my partner can’t look to my family for the same thing. I know my parents are great role models for many other aspects of our lives, but especially now that we’re engaged I’m just feeling self-conscious about my family’s lack of marriage success.

    I actually struggle with this a lot, especially as we’re starting to plan our wedding ceremony. I want to honor our families at the ceremony without drawing attention to the fact that my parents are divorced. As if their blessing of our marriage is invalidated because they are divorced. I KNOW this will not be what people are thinking at my wedding, because everyone there will be happy, but my crazy divorced-child brain just won’t shut up about it.

    • CourtneyKelsch

      “I want to honor our families at the ceremony without drawing attention to the fact that my parents are divorced. As if their blessing of our marriage is invalidated because they are divorced. I KNOW this will not be what people are thinking at my wedding, because everyone there will be happy, but my crazy divorced-child brain just won’t shut up about it.”

      So much this! One thing we are doing for our wedding is collecting old family photographs to honor all the wonderful people in our lives, and I’ve been stressing out about whether or not to include photos from my parents’ wedding. On the one hand, I LOVE these photos and there are clearly so many happy memories in that day for my family. On the other hand, will it make people feel weird? Is it jinxing my own marriage somehow by including artifacts from a wedding that didn’t work out? Of course this is all crazy-brain, but it’s a weird wedding detail that I’ve really struggled with.

      • Marie

        Oh yes. I went to a friend’s wedding over the summer where they had a whole display of past family wedding memorabilia- dresses, photos, veils, etc. And as awesome as it was to look at all the pictures, I also immediately felt resentful that my family didn’t have such a display-able history of marriage.

        And I also love my parents’ wedding photos.

  • Kat R

    “Will I be able to make and keep these promises even though my parents didn’t? Will I be able to build a healthy marriage without ever having witnessed one? Will I have the strength to stay when my marriage becomes difficult? Will I have the courage to leave if divorce truly is the only healthy option? I don’t know.”

    I related so much to this and the rest of your post. Thank you so much for sharing! I have had a harder time processing what my parents’ divorce means for me since I got engaged, too. It’s weird how that happens. My family is wonderful and I consider myself to be pretty well-adjusted about all of it, but it still makes me worry. That said, I think the fear can be used for good. In my situation, for instance, I truly feel the gravity of the words I’ll say to my partner because I’ve never taken for granted that they will be kept. I’ve also been able to push us more toward counseling and marriage preparation than he would have otherwise. In those ways, I feel like I’ve been able to use something I thought of as a weakness to bring more strength to my relationship, and that feels really good.

    • CourtneyKelsch

      Couldn’t agree more, Kat! I also feel like I’ll be more prepared for marriage because I’ve thought about all of these things in advance. The situation makes me feel afraid, but the attempt to quell that fear with lots of thinking and preparation will, I think, ultimately be a strength for us.

  • mimi

    Thanks for this. My husband’s parents divorced when he was a senior in high school, and from what I know, it was a surprise to everyone. Now, 10+ years later, they get along fine and jointly celebrate birthdays, holidays, etc. They worked together on the “groom’s family” stuff for our recent wedding. I don’t know why they got divorced and I don’t know that my husband really knows either, but I’ve also wondered whether they gave up too easily. My husband and I were together over 2 years before we got engaged and I know that his hesitation about getting married was mostly due to his parents’ divorce. We’ve talked a lot about how we need to be on the same team and work at it (which I think he really got because he’s a huge baseball fan). I really like the comment above about speaking up any time you feel like there’s a problem brewing.

  • CourtneyKelsch

    Just wanted to say a quick thank you to everyone who has commented. I’m truly touched by all your kind words, advice, and shared stories. I love the APW community for being so smart and thoughtful and supportive, and I’m getting an extra dose of those heartfeelings today. You guys are all super awesome!

  • L

    I don’t have time to read all the comments right now at work, so I’ll need to come back!

    But I could have, and wish I had, written this post before I got married. I wish I had because I wish I had been able to articulate all of this before I got married. My parents got divorced when I was 10 and I thought I had it pretty easy, but now two years in I realize I replicated my parents marriage and it’s failing as a result. I didn’t know what I didn’t know then, and I wish it were different, but it isn’t. That’s just to say that you should be very proud you are at this level now.

    My husband and I are both trying to work things out, but we may have let things fester unspoken for so long that it’s just too late. It’s been a slow, quiet death for sure. Because we love each other so much and didn’t want to hurt each other, we did more damage than we may recover from. I can say that it happened for us because we didn’t have to courage to face our own feelings and express them openly. And those were learned behaviors from our families of origin. But if you had asked me when I got married if we had communication problems? I wouldn’t have even realized that it was an issue because I didn’t have a model of what good marital communication consisted of, and we didn’t fight. I could go on, but I wish you the best! Keep your marriage center in your life, and check-in often, even if it is uncomfortable. Especially when it is uncomfortable.

    • I am sorry things are so hard right now. And I think honestly talking now about what brought you to where you both are is very courageous. I wish you well…

  • Emily

    I’m on the other side of this coin – the partner with a lot of happy marriages to look to in my family, marrying a partner with unhappily divorced parents. In his case, being the oldest when the divorce happened means he is very very aware of all the ways in which his father was an a-hole (his words), and his mother raised him and his siblings from then on.

    We still haven’t had an official Conversation about how that affects his view of our life together, but we have talked about things like if they made these kinds of promises and said these kinds of things to each other, what went wrong? And we didn’t put “til death” into our vows, but we did put something to the effect of “connected for life”, because even if we were to decide later in life that the best thing for us is to not be married any more, we would want the kind of relationship that the OP describes of connection and co-parenting. And I know we’re going to talk about it a bunch more over the next few months. Plus, he is still weirded out by the fact that I have a dad – he is just so not used to a present father figure.

  • Sierra

    I really loved this part: “Marriage—getting married and staying married—will always be a risk. But when I look at my relationship, I know that to choose not to build a life with this man that I love would be a far greater risk with a tremendous potential for loss.” This is the reason I got married a second time.

    • I loved that part too.

    • That line and your comment about that’s why you chose to get married a second time made me think of the following quote in a book I am reading. I really respect your courage to marry a second time.

      “If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.

      I know this is hard to believe, especially when we’ve spent our lives thinking that vulnerability and weakness are synonymous, but it’s true. I define vulnerability as uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. With that definition in mind, let’s think about love. Waking up every day and living someone who may or may not love us back, whose safety we can’t ensure, who may stay in our lives or who may leave without a moment’s notice, who may be loyal to the day they die or betray us tomorrow—that’s vulnerability. Love is uncertain. It’s incredibly risky. And loving someone leaves us emotionally exposed. Yes, it’s scary and yes, we’re open to being hurt, but can you imagine your life without loving or being loved?”
      -Brené Brown, Daring Greatly (p. 34)

  • Katie

    Oh dear. I read this post yesterday and it made me so sad that I decided I had to comment on it today. Even if no one else reads it, it will make me feel better!

    I got divorced a few years ago. From the outside, I’m sure it looked like we just gave up, and just didn’t try hard enough, and that the relationship died with a whimper. But nothing can actually be further from the truth. Getting divorced is the single most horrible experience of my life. My marriage died, not with a whimper, and not with a bang, but with nights of sobbing alone in the dark. With years of personal therapy and marriage counseling. All of which I kept to myself, because how could I not? How could I go around to friends and family advertising the wretchedness of our relationship? And how that wretchedness was changing us as people? How could I disrespect my husband that way? I couldn’t. So we kept our struggles between us, until we had made a decision to end it. And then we had to tell everyone.

    I cannot tell you what it feels like to make the rounds of calls to tell people you are divorcing. Remember what it was like calling all your friends and family and telling them you just got engaged? Now imagine the total opposite. The total opposite, PLUS making those calls REMEMBERING how wonderful the engagement calls felt. I picked up the phone, or met up for coffee, and each time feared the judgment I would receive. The “how could you make those vows and break them?”, the “couldn’t you work on things?”, and worse yet (and comments I actually got from my mother), the “did he even hit you or cheat on you?”. And that need to remain respectful, and to honor the remainder of the vows I had made even though I was breaking the “forever” part, meant answers similar to what your parents, and many of the other commenters’ parents, said to you. That we had grown apart, and that our love had changed. They were wishy-washy answers completely unrepresentative of the misery that leads to such a horrible choice as divorce.

    I am so glad we did not have children together and that I can keep the experience of parenthood to share with my future partner. But I have to say that if we did, I would be broken hearted to know that my children felt even MORE victimized by our divorce because it was amicable. Or that my divorce so destroyed their respect for me, that they thanked God they had a “new” family in their in-laws, and could replace theirs. I’m not a parent yet, but I can imagine how that particular judgment would feel, especially if their best interests were a major factor in going through with it at all, or waiting to do it until they were older and better able to handle the situation emotionally. That somehow the years of being a cohesive family, or the experiences I had worked hard to provide for them, or the love I had for them, were suddenly “tainted” in their eyes when nothing could be further from the truth.

    All of that being said, I would say to you “don’t be afraid”. I think if you could get the straight story from most “amicably” divorced people, most would probably tell you that things weren’t right from the very beginning. That they got married to each other despite those niggling feelings of wrongness, thinking they could work through whatever it was and build a strong marriage. But it’s hard to get over your instincts. And if your instincts, or your heart, are giving you an unequivocal “YES!”, as it looks like they are, then I would say the two of you can handle whatever else comes your way. And hopefully, you can use your parents’ dedication to their vows to honor and respect each other as a model of how to treat your husband, and find models for the “forever” part as your marriage grows.


      I just wanted to thank you for your response and your honesty about your situation. Your description of your marriage and the process of divorcing sounds incredibly painful, and I think it shows great strength that you were able to make the choice that was healthiest, even if wasn’t easiest. I also want to say that I don’t at all feel more victimized by my parents’ divorce than I would have if their split hadn’t been amicable; I feel incredibly lucky to have had the family life that I had growing up, and that I continue to have now. I also don’t at all feel that my in-laws are or ever will replace my parents. I’m grateful to be marrying into a great family, and to add to the wonderful role models in my life, but no one will replace my parents. I wouldn’t say that anything about my childhood or my family has been “suddenly tainted.” My parents are amazing, supportive people who just happened to be better off not married to each other. The reasons for that are unknown to me, and it’s something I think about as I plan for my own marriage. But that doesn’t change my love or respect for them at all.

  • Very insightful article. I agree that divorce isn’t the same for every couple or for every child. And sometimes it is “the right thing to do.”

  • C

    “Will I be able to make and keep these promises even though my parents didn’t? Will I be able to build a healthy marriage without ever having witnessed one? Will I have the strength to stay when my marriage becomes difficult? Will I have the courage to leave if divorce truly is the only healthy option? I don’t know.”

    EXACTLY the questions I’ve been wrestling with, but I couldn’t put them into words so clearly. Zomgomgomgomg, thanks. My parents split after 28 years. In contrast to yours, I’d seen plenty of moments in those years where divorce would’ve been the healthiest option. Their split seemed more inevitable than anything else. But like yours, they’re not acrimonious, and in fact divorcing has given them room to love and respect one another again. Which leaves a hell of a lot of messy confusion about taking on a marriage of my own. To your list of questions, I’d also add: “how will I know the difference between difficult, and unhealthy?” With my parents’ as a model, that line looks awfully hard to locate.

    I used to think I needed to answer those questions before tackling marriage. That changed when I met someone I trust enough to figure it out alongside, even with the messiness that’s going to entail. It’s scary as hell, but thanks to your post I feel a whole lot less alone.


  • Sandra Belek

    Hello I’m Belek Sandra if
    not for Dr. Oraede my marriage would have become a history, I got married to my
    husband in the year 2006, so we had a son, we were living happily everything
    changed suddenly, he don’t come home anymore, he even asked for a divorce, I
    was so shocked to hear that from him, because he was not like that when i met
    him, i saw Dr. Oraede website and I visited it, I saw different types of things
    he can do so i know he can also change my husband’s mind, I contacted him via
    his email, he advised me on what to do, which i did, I did all because of my
    wonderful son, he did a spell and my husband came back and canceled the divorce
    and now we are living happily, he even bought me a car; Contact him via his
    email, contact me on or
    visit his website on

  • Sandra Belek

    Hello I’m Belek Sandra if
    not for Dr. Oraede my marriage would have become a history, I got married to my
    husband in the year 2006, so we had a son, we were living happily everything
    changed suddenly, he don’t come home anymore, he even asked for a divorce, I
    was so shocked to hear that from him, because he was not like that when i met
    him, i saw Dr. Oraede website and I visited it, I saw different types of things
    he can do so i know he can also change my husband’s mind, I contacted him via
    his email, he advised me on what to do, which i did, I did all because of my
    wonderful son, he did a spell and my husband came back and canceled the divorce
    and now we are living happily, he even bought me a car; Contact him via his
    email, contact me on or
    visit his website on…

  • Joan

    Thank you for taking the time of bringing my man back to me. I went to 3 different spell casters, but only you got the job done. Like I said before I appreciate all your time, effort, and energy you put into the Back To Me Spell and Trust My Love Spell he is more open and he admitted he loves me and really want to be in a relationship with me. After 2 years of separation we are a couple ……Joan