3 Ways Children of Divorce Struggle in Their Adult Relationships

Most of us know our past experiences can have an effect on how we relate to other people. Children of divorce seem to have a reputation for having more relationship problems as adults. Research shows that they are, in fact, more likely to divorce themselves, compared to children who grow up in two-parent, intact families. By understanding how divorce affected them, adults can take steps to have more stable relationships than their parents.

How Divorce Affects Children

Here are the three main ways that divorce can affect children in future relationships:

1. They often struggle managing relationship conflict.

2. Their level of commitment in intimate relationships can fluctuate.

3. They often struggle with trust issues in relationships.

Sadly, as children struggle through the painful process of their parents’ divorce, they rarely escape unscathed. They can experience relationship instability for an extended amount of time, before trying to better understand how their parents’ divorce affected them.

Learning How to Manage Conflict

Children of divorced parents learn how to manage, or more accurately, how not to manage, conflict with their partners. They have likely seen their parents engage in frequent, heated arguments while growing up. Witnessing this conflict can impact how they manage conflict themselves. Unfortunately, they are more likely to struggle.

Learning About Commitment

Adult children of divorced parents often mirror their parents’ shaky level of commitment in relationships. Witnessing the pain and dissolution of their parent’s marriage may make adult children reluctant to commit to marriage. This means they are more likely to give up on a relationship and end it instead of trying to work through difficult problems with their partner. It’s often just easier for them to throw in the towel and give up.

Learning About Trust

Also, children of divorce typically have less trust in their romantic relationships. Issues that can arise include:

  • Fear that their partner is going to leave them.
  • Worry that their partner doesn’t love them.
  • Concern that their partner “doesn’t have their back.”

The consequence of this limited trust is that, as adults, the children of divorce will often drift towards shallow relationships and shy away from seeking out deeper, more loving connections as a way to protect themselves. They shy away from this deeper connection for fear of being hurt and often break up with their partner when their trust is compromised.

Less Likely to Marry, More Likely to Divorce

Even if they have been in a loving and committed relationship for years, frequently, children of divorce will still remain reluctant to “pull the trigger.” If they do get married, they will be more inclined to get a divorce when the relationship hits a rough patch. The lesson that their parents modeled for them in childhood is that breaking up is more acceptable than remaining committed to working through the tough issues.

A Greater Chance, But Not Set in Stone

So, what should children of divorce do? Just because their parents’ relationship didn’t work out does not guarantee that their relationships will fail. While there is a higher risk for these children to struggle in adult relationships, it doesn’t mean their destinies are set in stone. When it comes to having healthier relationships, children of divorce can be proactive. Individual and couples counseling can help to work on these three areas where children of divorce typically struggle most.

We know that children of divorced parents may have a tough time in their own relationships as adults. Yet, it doesn’t have to be that way. By being aware of their past, taking proactive steps to understand themselves better, and learning effective relationship skills, they can absolutely have loving and enjoyable partnerships. They can break their parents’ cycle for good to create healthy, satisfying, and lasting relationships of their own.

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