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The picture is clear that children and adults whose parents divorce really are living under a curse. And the curse spreads from generation to generation until someone manages to break it and establish new patterns.
In the introduction, I had you imagine being asked to paint a landscape that you'd never seen. Now let me give you another word picture to help you understand what adult children of divorce (ACODs) are up against.
Today, when we hear the word curse, we envision a horror movie or an image out of a Stephen King-type novel of someone standing in a graveyard at midnight, shaking a bloody chicken leg at us. Those are imaginary pictures that may haunt us but don't really touch us. But the "curse" you and I grew up with, if you're from a divorced family, is real.
In the Bible, when it speaks of someone's being "under a curse," the image is that of a stream that has been dammed up. Much of the Holy Land is arid. So streams flowing with fresh, life-giving water-when they can be found-are vitally important.
Imagine, then, that you're stumbling through a desert, exhausted and thirsty. Your water gave out days ago, and your mouth feels as dry as the sand. The relentless sun bakes yourbrain and blinds your eyes. The bleached-white bones of a long-dead camel remind you of how perilous your own situation is.
What keeps you going? What gives you hope? You know that somewhere up ahead-not too far now-is a spring-fed stream. Even in the driest times, this stream is known to keep flowing. If you can just get to it, this water will give you new strength and energy, refreshing you enough to complete your return to civilization.
At last, the stream comes into view as you crest a hill! At first you're afraid it might be a mirage. But as you lurch down the far side of the hill, gathering speed as you go and drawing closer and closer, you recognize that it is, indeed, the stream you've been counting on to keep you alive.
Stumbling to the stream's edge, you want to just wade in and immerse yourself in the cooling water. As you plunge in, though, the realization hits you-there is no water! Finding yourself in the middle of a dry, rocky creek bed, it dawns on you that you had heard no sound of running water as you approached.
What could have happened? Where's the water?
Driven by your thirst, you head "upstream" to search for the problem. You know that the spring feeding the stream is not supposed to be all that far away. Staggering with weakness and fatigue, you move out.
Before long, your journey takes you around a hill and up a small valley. And there you find the problem. A short distance from where the water springs out of the hill, before it has had a chance to grow into a stream, someone has built a tall, solid dam. The flow of water down the hill, into the valley, and then into the familiar stream has been cut off.
And there you have a picture of what the Bible means when it says someone is under a curse. The flow of life-giving love and encouragement has been cut off. The person is without hope in a "dry" land.
Everyone and everything below the dam is now without water in a dry and barren land.
And there you have a picture of what the Bible means when it says someone is under a curse. The flow of life-giving love and encouragement has been cut off. The person is without hope in a "dry" land. It's a picture of life-giving water, dammed up and out of reach.
ACODs like me grew up under this kind of curse. The flow of love, support, and good modeling of a healthy marriage that should have been theirs from two parents while growing up was instead cut off. And they live with the effects of that curse every day of their lives.
Perhaps you're thinking that curse is too strong a word to use in describing the impact when parents divorce. Don't try telling that to Allison.
As a young girl, Allison watched her parents fight constantly. Her mom took to drinking, and Allison became the de facto parent. Then one day her dad caught her mom in bed with another man, and the marriage was over.
Allison now found herself torn in half. She loved both parents, but any loyalty she showed toward one of them was seen by the other as treason. Her father sued for custody and got it, but it soon became clear that he was only using her to get revenge on her mother.
When Allison went to spend time with her mom, Mom's new boyfriend saw Allison as competition for Mom's time and attention. So he berated her, kept her under his thumb, and generally tried to make her life miserable.
At age 15, Allison came to the realization that the guidance and care she still desperately needed from loving parents were never going to be hers. She was on her own.
Not surprisingly, Allison developed a chronic mistrust of relationships. How could she believe anyone who claimed to love her (as her parents had)? How could she trust that others wouldn't try to manipulate her? And how was she supposed to get over the anger? She became convinced that if she ever did marry, she was doomed to repeat her parents' history.
Life Under the Curse
Allison's case highlights what life under the curse of being an ACOD is like. Seeing her parents divorce makes an Allison wonder if any marriage can survive. Knowing that one of her parents committed infidelity makes her doubt that any marital partner can ultimately be trusted. Or maybe, she thinks, she herself will eventually follow her mother's example, even though that's the last thing she would intend right now.
In addition, if Allison marries but feels that her spouse doesn't understand her anxieties and so can't offer the support she needs, that, too, could become a source of constant tension in the home.
Statistically, studies have shown that children of divorce suffer from more depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, feelings of rejection, drug and alcohol abuse, delinquency, poor interpersonal relationships, and criminality than children from intact homes. Sixty-five percent of children from divorced families will never build a good post-divorce relationship with their fathers. Thirty percent will be unable to develop a good post-divorce relationship with their mothers.
As cited in the Introduction, ACODs are also at least two to four times as likely to divorce as are adult children of intact homes. (And if both spouses come from divorced homes, the odds that they will divorce increase by 189 percent.)
The effects of divorce on childhood happiness may be more pronounced than the effects of death and may have deeper consequences on quality of life or emotional health.
Statistics like these led one expert on the impact of divorce to write, "The effects of divorce on childhood happiness may be more pronounced than the effects of death and may have deeper consequences on quality of life or emotional health."
As further evidence of the dramatic impact of parental divorce, consider the case of Frank and Betty. They met at college and became romantically and sexually involved. Then Betty discovered she was pregnant. They lived together until they graduated, then got married shortly afterward. But it was an unhappy marriage, marked by emotional abuse, constant fighting, and failure to resolve conflicts. After eight years of this, the relationship ended in divorce.
And not one bit of that was surprising.
Why? Because 20 years earlier, Frank's parents had met in college, become romantically involved, and gotten pregnant. Then they had married and fought amid emotional abuse and unresolved conflict. Finally, after 10 years of contention, they had divorced.
I could go on and on, but the picture is clear that children and adults whose parents divorce really are living under a curse. And the curse spreads from generation to generation until someone manages to break it and establish new patterns.
I, too, should have been one of those stories of living under the curse of divorce and the aching thirst it creates. My mother had been divorced once before meeting my father. My dad left my mom and divorced her when their three boys were all still under the age of three. He would go on to divorce twice more.
My own marriage, therefore, should have been a train wreck waiting to happen. To say I was a mess growing up would be putting the case mildly. As a young boy and then a teen, I longed for my dad's presence in my life. I was painfully aware-especially in my high school years-that other guys had dads who played catch with them, helped with their homework, attended their ball games to cheer them on, and then took them out for burgers afterward. Am I really such a rotten kid, I wondered, that my dad couldn't stand to be here and do those things for me (and my brothers)?
Like any child of divorce, I grew up asking all the "why" questions. I grew up with a model of marriage that said it's not permanent. I grew up with anger and frustration and got in trouble as a result. Early in dating, I broke off my relationships with girls whenever the girls started to get serious, because I didn't want to be hurt again.
By God's grace and with the help of a number of people, however, I beat the odds. I've been able to break the curse and avoid the wreck. I have a strong marriage, and I've worked hard at being a loving father to my two girls. I'm far from perfect in any way, but I have discovered that there's a way to "reverse the curse" and move toward the commitment and caring you and I really long for.
This book is designed to help you break the pattern, or cycle, of divorce as well-the curse you grew up with-and experience success in life and in marriage. To begin, let's look at some of the common manifestations of living under the curse in case you have any doubts about whether you're still under its spell.
Questions for Reflection and Application
1. How well can you relate, as an ACOD, to the word picture of thirsting for life-giving water, water that was cut off by your parents' divorce? Why?
2. In your own words, why are ACODs so prone to repeating their parents' mistakes and getting divorced themselves?
3. How important is it to you that I, though a fellow ACOD, am able to write from the experience of having built a lasting marriage? Why?
Excerpted from BREAKING THE CYCLE OF DIVORCE by John Trent Larry K. Weeden Copyright © 2006 by John Trent, Ph.D.. Excerpted by permission.
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