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Can Kids of Divorce Have Happy Marriages?

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Are you a child of divorced parents? Don't worry -- your romantic life can be successful.

child of divored couple looking at wedding picture

Dr. Wendy Walsh: I was reminded of the underpinnings of love today by a comment posted by one of my Facebook blog readers. He was wondering if being raised by a single parent and not witnessing the bumps and joys of marriage would make his own relationships tough. The answer is, probably not any tougher than someone who had parents who never divorced but demonstrated far more conflict than cooperation.

We all carry an internalized model for how adult relationships should look and feel. And everyone has a different picture of committed love. Many psychologists believe that a kind of blueprint is formed in our minds during our formative years. And that blueprint is a hybrid of three primary relationships:

1. The child's relationship with their father.
2. The child's relationship with their mother.
3. The child's witnessing of his parents' relationship.

These three relationships combine in an individual way to become our blueprint for love. So, if our mother was a perceptive caregiver, we might value care in our adult love relationships. If our mother was intrusive and smothered us, we might value a little distance and autonomy in our partner. If Dad was a strong, silent type and we longed for closeness, we might choose someone more communicative, or we might prefer the familiarity of a quiet person. It's a bit of a crap shoot, how we combine these traits to create our own special comfort level.

Our parents' relationship is a crucial piece of the puzzle. Children are like little sponges absorbing communication styles, conflict rituals, boundary enforcements, acts of love, sexual messages, and supportive behaviors. This relationship is like an artist's basic sketch before the layers of paint add color to our idea of love.

So, what if Mom or Dad was MIA? How does a child form a blueprint for love if they are missing the first sketches? The answer is a bit complex. Children take bits and pieces from surrogate relationships and other kinds of relationships that they witness. And their blueprint gets heavily weighted with lessons from the relationship with the available parent. It may also be riddled with feelings of longing because of the missing parent.

Is long-term, committed love possible if a child never witnessed it while growing up? The answer is a resounding YES! Humans have an amazing ability to adapt and create love. Some children of divorce use their parents' marriage as a model for what NOT to do. For others, exploring new ways to relate can feel a little like heading down a tunnel without a flashlight, but humans have an innate tendency to connect with other humans across the lifespan. The degree of closeness and style of relationship is our own blueprint. The real growth-enhancing experience comes when we lay our blueprint on top of our partner's map. The areas of conflict are our opportunities to grow and learn and examine our childhood blueprint with the consciousness of an adult. Love is an opportunity to grow. It is the very best catalyst for human development. And it's something that all humans crave.

next: Shirley Jones Reunites on Small Screen with David Cassidy
8 comments so far | Post a comment now
ame i. September 15, 2009, 9:38 AM

My mother’s parents were divorced yet my parents have been happily married for 42 years.
My husband’s dad was dating his current wife before divorcing my husband’s mother, but Hubs and I are happily married.

Christina September 15, 2009, 12:36 PM

Children don’t just learn from positive examples, but from negative ones too. I learned what NOT to do from my parents. My husband and I have been together for 16 years now.

lilikindsli October 1, 2009, 7:02 AM

AmYwg5 I want to say - thank you for this!

Globals October 3, 2009, 5:13 AM

all good things

Rusty Wickson December 21, 2010, 11:57 AM

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Renato Klawuhn December 21, 2010, 12:08 PM

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Luis Davidson December 21, 2010, 11:21 PM

It comprises a lot of info that may be useful to many of us.

Gerry Senatore December 23, 2010, 10:40 PM

great blog, some of thoughts are meaningful and so well written.

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