I’ve heard this and similar statements frequently—most often from adults with divorced parents. However, while the spouse in counseling with the struggling marriage will say this, a stressful marriage is normally the trigger for the ACD.
Usually it’s said after we’re talking and they find out what I do. Then it’s, “Oh I’ve seen the numbers and I’m determined that we’ll never divorce.”
They are sincere and the words sound noble, but their determination isn’t rooted in love and commitment. They’re driven by fear.
The need to avoid threats
Fear creates a mindset (often subconscious) where we’re constantly looking for potential divorce threats. For example, since conflict equals divorce in our minds, any conflict creates a threat and must be avoided.
Elizabeth Marquardt, in her book Between Two Worlds, writes, “When we achieve a happy marriage, we are thankful for it every day. But at the first sign of conflict, we become numb with anxiety.”1 This is what I hear from ACD and have experienced personally. We’re always on the lookout for threats. Conflict is a big one.
Unhappiness is another threat. ACD believe all unhappy people leave marriages. That’s what we experienced as kids (or adults in the case of Gray Divorce). So, unhappiness must be stopped at all costs!
I speak with ACD whose goal in life is to keep their spouse happy. Sounds like the kind of person you’d want to marry. But love is not the motivation, fear is. Unfortunately, fear can feed a cycle of overreacting when we think our spouse is unhappy,
…which makes our spouse unhappy
…which makes us feel more threatened
…which makes us try harder to please them
…which makes them more unhappy because we don’t “just relax”
…which makes us try even harder to make them happy
…which makes them fed up and angry
…which creates conflict that triggers our fear
See how it goes?
So what can we do?
Learn how your parents’ divorce affected (and affects) you. The basic building blocks of a strong marriage are commitment (trust), open communication (fearless sharing), mutual respect (accepting the strengths and weaknesses of each other), and love (intimacy—in-to-me-see or vulnerability). These are the very issues ACD struggle with due to their parents’ divorce. Find a good book like Choose a Better Path, Between Two Worlds, or Home Will Never Be the Same, and learn about common ACD issues.