Are you a child of divorced parents? Don't worry -- your romantic life can be successful.
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.
|Dr. Wendy Walsh holds a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and her area of interest is Attachment Theory, a psychological, evolutionary and ethological theory that provides a descriptive and explanatory framework for understanding interpersonal relationships between human beings. As a psychological assistant registered with the California Board of Psychology, Dr. Walsh has treated individuals, couples and families for a variety of mental health concerns including personality disorders, anger management, eating and substance disorders, and depression. Connect with Dr. Walsh on Facebook.|