Stories of Healing: A Mountain of Relationship Fears
Our next installment in our ongoing Stories of Healing series below is a story about the fears and perils of dating, engagement, and entering marriage as an adult child of divorce. Enjoy and let us pray for each other!
“A Mountain of Relationship Fears”
By Joanne A.*
Denial about the Impact of the Divorce on My View of Marriage
Like many children of divorce, I thought I came through the whole experience unaffected. I was a happy enough kid, I got good grades, I played sports, I had friends, I didn’t make any terrible teenage life choices. But looking back, I see lots of blazing red flags that reveal that I wasn’t as happy and well adjusted as I seemed to be. This is especially true when I look back on my dating life and the years leading up to my marriage.
My parents divorced when I was very young, and as I grew into my teenage years, I never developed much interest in marriage or even in dating.
As a matter of fact, my life plan included becoming a single mother. I loved the idea of being a mom, but I couldn’t picture myself married. I didn’t dream about my wedding or my perfect husband.
The Beginning of My Healing and Struggles with Dating
But when I was teenager, I met a young man who was different from anyone I had known before. He was a Catholic, one who really believed in and loved the teachings of the Church. Although he had a difficult life, he was happier than anyone else I had met. I began to be intrigued by the Catholic Church and to learn about Catholicism and about real love, the love of God and the love God wants us to have for one another. This teenage relationship was far from perfect, but the wounded places in my heart began to heal just a little. Our relationship ended when I was in college, which was devastating and left me feeling alone and abandoned by the one person I had ever really let into my heart.
Despite the relationship ending, my conversion to Catholicism was in full swing. I became Catholic one Easter during college, and my new relationship with Jesus brought me enormous amounts of healing, especially from the wound of divorce I was carrying around.
Knowing that I was loved unconditionally by the Lord helped me to move past some of the wounds of divorce, and having access to the sacrament of Confession taught me the depths of Jesus’s mercy.
However, the Lord had much more work to do on me.
Slowly Changing Expectations
A desire for marriage slowly grew in my heart, but deep down I also had serious fears. My mom has been married multiple times , and she told me that when she walked out of the church after her first wedding, she knew immediately that she had made a mistake. This thought haunted all of my dating relationships.
I was 100% committed to never getting divorced, but I fully expected that when I got married, I would be very unhappy. I would suck it up and live with it. I thought that everyone who was married was going through life this way. After all, I hadn’t met anyone who was in a happy marriage, as far as I could tell.
These thoughts remained below the surface, but they began to crystalize once I left college and began to study at graduate school.
While at graduate school, I learned about God’s plan for marriage and family, and as I learned, the Lord showed me how my parents’ divorce affected the way I understood love, marriage, and so many other things. My negative expectations about marriage came to the surface, and I was able to see how wrong they were. During these years of studying, my prayer life grew deeper. I gradually came to trust in my Father in Heaven to share his Will with me and not to deceive me. Maybe this marriage thing wouldn’t be so bad after all!?
Dating and the Blessing of Life-Giving Wounds Ministry
After grad school I was introduced to the Life-Giving Wounds ministry and helped in some focus groups to develop the material for the Recovering Origins retreats. Being involved in the initial stages and attending retreats showed me where some of my wounds still hid and how the Lord could go about healing them. These experiences set the stage as the Lord was preparing me for marriage.
Around the time I encountered this ministry, I also started dating my future husband. We had been friends for a while, but convinced that he was not the guy for me, I turned down his invitations to go on a date. Eventually he convinced me by saying, “It’s just one date. It doesn’t mean we have to get married!” One date turned into several, so he asked if I’d date him exclusively: “It’s just dating. It doesn’t mean we have to get married!” He realized at this point that marriage was my fear. I agreed to date him, knowing I could back out at any point. After nine months of dating, he started talking about marriage. “Sure,” I said, “maybe in a couple years.” He had a much faster timeline in mind! I was praying like crazy to know God’s will for me and for our relationship. Through prayer I began to see that God was calling me to marry my boyfriend. This man knew my wounds and my fears and wasn’t afraid of them. He remained confident that we were called to marry one another—never faltering or doubting—and his faith was contagious.
After a few more months of dating, he proposed, and I said ‘yes.’ But honestly, dear blog reader, I still wasn’t sure this was the right choice. I decided to go to spiritual direction and poured out my heart to the priest. I told the priest the story about my mom and about my fears. I was doing a lot of crying, but through my snot and tears he asked me the most important questions:
Did I believe that this man would be a good and holy husband? Did I know that God had led me to this moment? Did I want to marry this man? The answer to all of these was YES. The wound of divorce had snowballed into a mountain full of fears, but through God’s grace, they all came crashing down.
I left the priest’s office with a heart full of joy and confidence.
Taking the Leap of Marriage
With happiness and no fear (or at least much less fear!) I married my husband and entered into a new life with him. Unlike my mother, I walked out of the church knowing that this was God’s plan and not a mistake.
Marriage has brought me so much joy and peace, more than I ever thought possible. God knew what I needed in order to heal, as he knows what each one of us needs.
New difficulties and experiences continually reveal where I need more work, but at least now I know that healing is possible and is happening in my heart every day.
Some Heartfelt Advice to Others Like Me
If you are in the same boat as me and feeling fear or apprehension about dating or marriage (or religious life), then know that you are not alone. Many adult children of divorce struggle with these life milestones. The first thing that helped me was forming and maintaining a life of prayer and receiving the Sacraments regularly.
If you make time every day to talk to Jesus and let Him tell you of His perfect love for you, His words will begin to heal your wounded heart. The Sacraments especially are powerful encounters with the Lord’s love for you.
Secondly, I would recommend finding someone to talk to and to offer you advice as you work through your wounds and discern God’s will for you. Different people need different things, so keep your mind open to finding a good Catholic therapist, a spiritual director, a mentor, or to joining one of the events of the Life-Giving Wounds or Recovering Origins retreats to talk to others who are on the same journey, and others who are perhaps a little further along in their healing and discernment journey.
Finally, remember to be patient with yourself. Healing takes a lifetime! Let the Lord lead the process, which will happen in his time and his way. He has a perfect plan for you.
*Pseudonym used for privacy sake and with the permission of the author.