published Sunday, January 16th, 2011

First Things First: Do children of divorce have marriage problems?

By Julie Baumgardner

"When I go out with a woman, I can always tell on the first date if she's from a divorced family," said a young man. "The women from divorced families are overanxious, eager to please. They're exhausting." ("The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce")

"My parents have been married 35 years, and I want a long marriage like they've had. I love my boyfriend, but he's from a divorced family and, I don't know, it just seems like he had to be a lot more independent growing up than I ever was. Frankly, it worries me." ("Between Two Worlds")

As a researcher and an adult child of divorce, Elizabeth Marquardt is all too familiar with statements like these.

"I will never forget a conversation I had with my ex-stepfather about the possibility of marrying the man I was dating at the time," said Marquardt. "He suggested that because of my parents' track record on marriage, that I might not make great marriage material. I was devastated, angry and scared."

If you ask a group of people what their chances are of making it in a lasting marriage, practically everyone will say they have a 50/50 chance of making it. And many have heard that if you come from a home of divorce you are at an even higher risk for divorce.

"For a new generation of children of divorce leaving home and looking for love, I know the anxieties are there," said Marquardt.

"While it is true that it is really hard to do a dance you have never seen before, I don't think it is totally fair to look at adult children of divorce as 'damaged goods,'" she said.

"I am 14 years into marriage with two happy kids. I have definitely had to learn some things about building a healthy relationship, including the fact that some days the way you make your marriage successful is by putting one foot in front of the other."

Marquardt agrees that divorce on average makes life much harder for kids and for the adults that they become but cautions people against making the children bear the burdens of their parents' decisions. She would contend that many adult children of divorce want to work extra hard at making a marriage work because they don't want to go through what their parents went through.

In spite of what you may hear in the media, almost 90 percent of Americans want to marry at some point in their life. The good news is that for the estimated 40 percent of adult children of divorce ages 18-40, research shows they can learn the skills to help them be great marriage partners.

"To those who grew up with married parents, hear this: We children of divorce value marriage because we know what life is like when it's gone," Marquardt said. "We grew up fast, and we know how to take care of ourselves. Many of us are, frankly, quite wonderful. Marry us."

E-mail Julie Baumgardner, president and executive director of First Things First, at julieb@firstthings.org

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