Does Divorce Run in Families?

The short answer is no. Divorce is not hereditary, because it’s not about DNA. It’s about life choices and maturity.

The long answer is: Possibly. Meaning, not the divorce itself. But yes, marrying a child of divorced parents raises your risk of getting divorced. Your risk is even higher if both your parents and your spouse’s parents are divorced.

I know a family with 3 generations, possibly soon 4 generations, of divorced women.

The great-grandmother divorced, when her children were grown. They “just didn’t get along, and hadn’t for years,” but waited until their children were grown to actually separate.

The grandmother and her brother also divorced. Only her sister is still happily married.

The mother divorced, too. Her sister and brother, though, are thankfully still happily married.

And now the second daughter is on the verge of divorce. (The first daughter, thank G-d, is happily married; the rest of the siblings are not yet old enough to marry.)

Honestly, it was black-on-white even before they married. And it was even more obvious when they became pregnant so soon. Neither was ready to become a parent and their marriage was not yet strong enough to support pregnancy, birth, or parenting.

But they knew “better” and made their own decision, ignoring their rabbi’s, friends’ and family’s advice to wait. And still, with proper counseling and a lot of work on both sides, the marriage could have worked. (Note: I am not pro-birth control in any respect. However, having a solid relationship is a *must* before you add a kid into the equation.)

The problem is, many children of divorce don’t know what it means to work on a marriage. For that matter, they don’t really know what “marriage” is – unless they take the time to educate themselves. And many of these children believe themselves to already be educated.

I’ve recently realized that I owe a huge debt to my aunt and uncle, because, in many ways, it is they who taught me what a normal marriage, and a normal life, looked like. For about two years, I was with them for Shabbat; one of those years, I spent from Thursday night to Sunday morning with them . . .  almost every week. Then I met my best friend, had a dorm that was an apartment instead of a huge building, and started doing Shabbat just with her.

Around that time, I also met my “adoptive” parents, and they were the ones who walked us through the preparations for the wedding, held our hands through the family feuds, assured us that we really were right for each other . . . and to this day, “Mommy” still gives us both over the heads when we’re being stupid. She is the one whose advice both of us trust, almost with our eyes closed. They are the ones who keep us in perspective, and when we need help, they step in and help.

They’ve helped us smooth over arguments, they’ve watched Shlomo when I had a medical emergency and needed to go to the hospital; they took Shlomo and I to the doctor to get a referral to the ER when we thought Shlomo had swallowed Jack’s medication. “Mommy” went with me to mikva before the wedding, and she was there when Shlomo was born. She would’ve been watching Shlomo when Tova was born, except that they live in Jerusalem, and we don’t, anymore.

Having a set of happily married “parents” means that you have someone to turn to, someone who will give you sound advice because not only do they want the best for you, but they *know* how to make a marriage work.

That’s what people who “inherit” divorce *don’t* have: A set of parents (or “parents”) who they can turn to, who know how to make a marriage work.

The mother of a daughter who has just had a baby and is going through a really bumpy period with her husband, needs to help them smooth it over. But if the mother is divorced, she will subconsciously or consciously encourage the daughter to divorce.

Part of being happily married means letting molehills stay molehills, and not making mountains out of them.

A mother who made mountains out of molehills, and that is one of the factors in the divorce and what came after – will make mountains out of molehills for her daughter, too.

A daughter of a mother who made mountains out of molehills, will do the same in her own marriage. Because that is all she knows . . . to make mountains out of molehills, to scream, to blame.

For instance, my “adoptive” parents: He does not hold babies. At all. Why? Because he is scared. He did not hold Shlomo, and does not hold Tova, and does not hold his biological grandchildren, either . . . and he did not hold his children, either, when they were babies. From when they are about two years old, he is willing to play with them. The *one* time he picked up baby Shlomo was when he was afraid that Shlomo would crawl out of the house. He put Shlomo down as soon as he could, and called me over to pick Shlomo up.

He does not change diapers or do laundry, either. Sometimes, he clears the table. He *does* take out the garbage. So? I’ll tell you a secret: She doesn’t want him in the kitchen. And she doesn’t want him cleaning, either – because he won’t do it as perfectly as she does. They still have a happy marriage. And as much as she’ll complain that he doesn’t help, she also admits (only when I confront her about it) that deep down, she doesn’t want him to help.

I have a cousin whose husband is the same way: He is willing to take four bigger kids across the street, as long as he doesn’t have to hold the baby. He will do *anything* to avoid having to take care of a baby. When they get older, he holds them, plays with them, feeds them, showers them, and dresses them. A baby? Nope. So?

But if a daughter of divorced parents comes to her mother (whose husband *did* help with the babies) and says, “My husband won’t watch the baby and won’t help take care of him,” then the mother will say, “He must be a really neglectful person! Yes, you *should* divorce him! He doesn’t even care about his baby, much less about you!”

What she should say, instead, is something along the lines of, “Hmmm. That’s interesting. But do you remember that he wanted to take night duty? And that he does the heavy scrubbing, the shopping early in the week, and laundry two weeks out of every four? Maybe he’s nervous? Have you tried asking him why he won’t help with the baby? Not accusing him – asking him in a non-threatening fashion. Try saying something like this, ‘I noticed that you don’t seem to want to help with the baby. Do you want to tell me why? Is it because you’re nervous?'”

Or, let’s say the daughter comes to her mother and says, “Mom, he kicked me!” A divorced mom will say, “I can’t believe I gave my blessing to this match! How did I not see his abusive behaviors before the wedding? OMG OMG OMG.”

A sane mother will say the same as she did when her daughter was 4 years old: “Why do you think he did that? That doesn’t sound like what he normally does. What happened prior to the kick?”

Let’s get this straight: Kicking a spouse isn’t okay. But if a husband kicked his wife, after his wife hit him, then the issue is not necessarily one-sided abuse, but two-sided immaturity . . . and the solution will be different, too.

Did the wife scream, threaten, name-call, blame, and in general raise a big ruckus because the husband accidentally dropped the last egg on the floor, and all the stores are closed? Well, I gotta say: I can’t blame the frustrated, trapped husband for kicking.

No. It’s not okay. But it’s also not abuse. It’s simple, two-sided immaturity. Period.

[Oh, and about abuse? It’s not okay. And when there *truly* is abuse, the solution is out, immediately. Full support for the victim, no questions asked. But just like many girlfriends call rape, so too, many wives call abuse. That doesn’t mean that every wife who claims abuse is actually a victim. And sometimes, she may be the perp. So what I’m saying is this: Before believing anything 1000%, do your research and check the facts.]

But many divorced moms won’t see that and won’t say that. Instead, she’ll support her daughter’s angry feelings, justify them, and help her see that this husband really isn’t treating her properly . . . her daughter deserves better!

Except that it doesn’t work that way. There are no long lines of men waiting to marry divorcees, especially not if they have kids, especially not if they were only married a short time, and especially not if they are products of a broken home themselves.

And nobody in their right mind should be taking *marriage* advice from a divorcee.

So no, divorce doesn’t run in families.

But the personality traits that make marriage extremely difficult, the lack of understanding of what a normal marriage and healthy home are, and the lack of support to keep the marriage intact, *do* play a large part in ensuring that divorced parents mean divorced children.

If your parents are divorced, do yourself a favor, and board with a happily married couple. Even if you pay to board there, it’s worth the money. Because I can promise you that it costs less to board than it does to divorce.

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Note: I am aware that not all divorcees are the same; not all divorces are the same; not all children of divorce saw the same things. In this post I am referring to a *specific* case, and I believe that the general community of divorcees and their children have what to learn and ponder from the specifics of this case.

Yitzchak adds that,according to his developmental psych professor, children of divorce usually fall into one of two categories: 1. Those who are *more* likely than their peers to divorce. 2. Those who are *less* likely than their peers to divorce. The difference, according to his professor, is that the second group says, “Heck this sucks! I’m going to do everything possible to make sure I *don’t* divorce!” and then they go roll up their sleeves, put in a lot of elbow grease, and make their marriages work. The professor said that he’s pretty sure that the second group believes that nothing is worse than divorce, that divorce doesn’t solve anything, and that life was much better – and could have become *even better* – prior to their parents’ divorce. The first group, on the other hand, simply thinks, “I’m smart; I know what my parents did wrong, I’ve fixed myself, I’m great and totally mature, and *it won’t happen to me*.” Uh-huh.

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6 thoughts on “Does Divorce Run in Families?

  1. Can I just say, I love the falling snow on your blog

    Also, I don’t know much about divorce thank G-d, but I do know a little something about dysfunctional families. I think finding strong role models outside your house is imperative, and also realizing that you are a different person than your parents and not bound to make the same mistakes. Is it hard to not repeat a cycle when you live by example? Yes. But you can choose to be different, stronger, try harder, pick a better spouse, etc. Like you said, it has nothing to do with DNA and everything to do with your inner fortitude and putting in the effort it takes to make it work.

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    • Altie, I also like the falling snow. Every year I’m surprised when I open my blog and see it snowing. And then I remember that I set it up to do that. 😀

      Did you mean dysfunctional families as a general idea, or that you think the one I’m talking about is dysfunctional? (I won’t be insulted if it’s the latter. I’m just curious.)

      Not bound to make the same mistakes – correct. But there’s a reason that alcoholic dad means that daughter has a high risk of marrying an alcoholic. It needs to be a conscious choice, and more than that, there needs to be an action plan and a lot of research done.

      That’s the main reason I said that children of divorced parents need to board with a happily married couple for at least 6 months . . . seeing them on Shabbat, or in the evenings just isn’t enough. We learn by osmosis.

      Glad at least someone agrees with me. 🙂

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  2. Hi,
    Hitting a woman if she yelled is not normal. If she cried, and even if she hit you. A man can never hit a woman. Not because of the hit, but because he won’t protect her, cherish her and he will never respect her. The marriage may last but the partnership is gone. You say this wife needs to change for her marriage to be successful, but in reality she needs to be safe emotionally and confident that her husband is a man worth trusting or else how can she be happy in this “successful” marriage. Also you put “truly” abuse in quotations and I can’t seem to understand…
    Happiness is not the price of marriage. Also I question your morals if u write so honestly about your family.

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    • Why is a woman allowed to hit a man, but a man is not allowed to hit a woman?
      Why does the man have to cherish anhd respect a woman, but a woman doesn’t have to cherish and respect a man?
      Why does a woman need to be safe emotionally and confident that her husband is worth trusting, more than a man needs to be safe emotionally and confident that his wife is worth trusting?

      What’s with the double standard?

      I never said happiness is the price of marriage. I think that happiness is something that people create. I think that in order to have a happy marriage, you need two mature partners.

      Truly abuse in quotations: because many people claim abuse, falsely. Many abusers say that they were the abused. And many people count anything that hurts their fragile feelings as abuse. Abuse is one person who is stronger (not necessarily the man, and not necessarily physically), who is controlling the other and using him/her for their own benefit. We’ve muddied the waters, and it’s benefiting no one.

      Why shouldn’t I write honestly about my family? And why is it better to keep lying to myself and to others? Do you know my name and who my family is? No. So, it’s not shaming anyone – and hopefully, it will help many people.

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      • Chana, marriage is a partnership, but in this partnership according to Torah a woman should move to her husbands town. She should follow him. How can she follow a man happily and respect him at all if she doesn’t feel safe. She will never feel safe if he is not trustworthy. It’s a mans job to prove his trustworthiness to his wife in order for her to let down her guard and truly follow him. She should never trust a man who hit her. And a man with any chivalry or respect for women would never hit HIS WIFE. A person he married so he could care for and so she could care for him No my opinion it is morally wrong to write about your family unless u have their permission. I’m sorry I jumped to the conclusion that u do not have ur family’s permission. If I was ur family I would not concider is my family. In refused to the double standards, men abused women for years and it’s important for them to know that even if they r physically stronger they can never hit their wives.

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      • Again, today, not always does a wife even *think* to follow her husband – even before they are married.

        I’m not saying men should hit their wives. I’m saying that if a wife is hitting her husband, she shouldn’t cry, “Abuse!” if he hits her back.

        I never thought to ask my family’s permission – their story is my story; I grew up in a certain house and I think I have a right to write about my experiences in that house. I’m not using names or even locations. It’s not “their” story more than it is “my” story. To this day I suffer the after-effects of the dysfunctional home I grew up in. I, as the eldest child,suffered more than either of my parents – and even more so, because to this day, the entire extended family denies that I suffered at all. To them, I was the perpetrator, not the victim. (Classic case of ‘blame the victim’ – how can a child cause either parent to act abusive? The definition of abuse requires that the abuser be in a more powerful position than the abused.) So my apologies, but I will not ask anyone’s permission to write my story.

        I don’t understand your last few sentences – if you were my family, you would not consider ____ your family? Me? Very well, I have indeed been disowned, and long ago.

        You are forgetting that many women are physically strong, either as strong or stronger than their husbands.

        It’s not about okay-ing men hitting their wives.

        It’s about opening your eyes to the fact that women abuse men as often as men abuse women.

        It’s about opening your eyes to the fact that an abused woman has all the support she wants – and an abused man has no support at all, only guilt, shame, and blame.

        It’s about the fact that, like you said, marriage is a partnership. Both are equals. Laying all the blame on the man is unfair, unjust, and just plain wrong.

        A man has to prove his trustworthiness? Fine.
        But so does a woman.

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