I’m excited to introduce you to Tracy Clifford who has extensive experience in counseling and is the co-author of Love We Can Be Sure Of. Her book is about and for women who grew up in divorced homes as they face unique vulnerabilities related to love, trust, commitment and self-esteem. In this guest post, Tracy shares how the independent streak shared by many daughters of divorce is robbing them of love and intimacy. Here’s Tracy:
The internet is rife with material about helping women overcome their divorces, move past the pain, and start a new life for themselves. There are thousands of websites about how to find a divorce lawyer, how to calculate child support, and how to deal with child custody. There’s been much written about dating after divorce, second marriages, and stepfamilies. But one area that’s been overlooked by many is what happens to the children of divorce when they grow up? What happens to their relationships?
My mother and I, who are both daughters of divorce, launched our website Moving Past Divorce and wrote a book, Love We Can Sure Of because we know that many women struggle silently and needlessly. My mother saw her first marriage end in divorce and I struggled through two unhealthy relationships of my own, unaware of the root cause. Women who grew up in divorced homes lacked positive role models for relationships, and feel challenged to find lasting love as adults. Judith Wallerstein, a pioneer in the area of divorce research, famously conducted a 25 year study which concluded that children of divorce struggle to build healthy relationships and live with the fear that they will end.
Wallerstein studied many young women who suffered from what she dubbed the “sleeper effect.” As children, they may have done their best to be “good girls” and roll with the punches that divorce dealt them. But as young women, they tend to pick partners who are all wrong for them. Most daughters of divorce have trouble with trust and intimacy, and fear that no matter what they do, they will be left. When they fall in love, it reawakens long hidden emotions that they tried to bury in childhood.
We conducted our own descriptive study, a follow up to Wallerstein’s ground breaking work, and interviewed 126 women who grew in divorced homes. Without exception, every one of these women described themselves as being fiercely independent, and they prided themselves on this trait. Many recalled working hard in school, holding down multiple jobs, paying the bills, and making sure they did everything on their own. What we came to discover is that while autonomy is surely positive, it can also rob women of the love and intimacy they so deeply desire. The truth about self-reliance is that it’s not simply an assertion of independence – it’s a deep fear that if you let someone in, they will leave you.
A universal human desire is to love and be loved, but the problem for many daughters of divorce is that they fear they won’t be loved and cared for, and that their partner will not have their best interests at heart. This is after all, the wound that was created in childhood. Divorce is outside of a child’s day to day experience. Even if a child is told a divorce is not their fault, they can internalize the pain of the breakup and feel something is wrong with them. These emotions can resurface when children of divorce forge adult relationships of their own. And the results are not pretty. If a woman who grew up in a disrupted home gets married, her chance of getting a divorce is twice as great as her counterparts from intact homes.
Like all struggles in life, greater awareness and a willingness to work on an issue can bring about change. And the fact of the matter is that most daughters of divorce can and do improve, once they’re able to get to the bottom of where their relationship problems come from. Moving Past Divorce is a resource for women of all ages to restore their faith in love, and understand that they are worthy of finding love they can be sure of.
We invite you to join us on this journey.
If you’re looking for guidance, support, or information about daughters of divorce, please visit Moving Past Divorce. Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW and Tracy Clifford are a mother and daughter team with extensive experience in counseling and writing. The topic of Moving Past Divorce is a personal one for them – divorce goes back five generations in their family. Having experienced divorce in their own lives, they have a keen understanding of how it can affect the inner lives of children, and impact the kinds of adults they become. Their book, Love We Can Be Sure Of, is about and for women who grew up in divorced homes, as they face unique vulnerabilities relate to love, trust, commitment and self-esteem. Follow them on Twitter and Facebook.