Bonding in parent’s marriage is template for bonding in children’s marriages

Young couple bonding
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Bonding in children’s marriages reflects bonding in parent’s marriage

… the give and take of living with another person,… how to deal with differences, and… how to resolve conflicts… is knowledge that children acquire from growing up with both parents in reasonably harmonious, intact families.

… members of the comparison group, even those raised in disappointing marriages, were hopeful that sooner or later they would meet the right person and enter into a satisfying, committed relationship, usually involving marriage.

“I never doubted I’d marry and have a family” was a typical comment.

They expected ups and downs in their relationships, but they did not expect to fail, if they chose carefully. The issue of choice of partner, which was so baffling to the children of divorce, was where the comparison group told us they put their greatest efforts. Their confidence that things would eventually work out well enabled most to survive heartbreak and to delay marriage until they felt ready.

Often they drew on their family of origin for images of what they wanted. “I didn’t want a volatile lady like my mom.”

Many men and women mentioned that they wanted someone who would be a good parent to their future children.

Asked how she chose her husband, one woman laughingly answered, “Besides his being devastatingly good looking, you mean? I wanted someone who wasn’t too serious, who would treat me well, who would be a good father, and was someone I’d like to wake up with 50 years later.”

Bonding weakness in children’s relationships is predicted by bonding weakness in parents’ marriage

I remember feeling so alone. I would go for days with no one to talk to or play with.” “I remember being angry at everyone.”

“I remember the sun striking the patterns on the living room carpet in the late afternoon. It was the last time that I saw my dad. I was 4 years old,” said one 30-year-old woman.

One 30-year-old suffered with severe nightmares that occurred twice weekly and recapitulated a particularly violent scene in which her father burst into the home with a gun and attempted to shoot her mother but was arrested in time. When told of the dream, her mother explained that it had happened just that way, when the girl was 4. The daughter answered, “I don’t remember it.”

One 34-year-old man described how, at age 5, he would bang his head repeatedly against the wall when his father hit his mother in the adjoining room.

Violence was sometimes an overture to sex for the parents, which the children also remembered overhearing.

“My mom never taught me about men. She didn’t know anything.”

One woman said, “I could never do to another human being what my mother did to my father.”

Unlike the men, all of the women from both the divorced and comparison groups had been in relationships, either brief or longer lasting affairs. A subgroup of over 20 women from the divorced group sought out multiple lovers.

Ten women told us that when they were with a man they did not care for, they enjoyed the sex, but that when they liked or loved the man, they froze.

Many eventually overcome their fears, but the struggle to do so is painful and can consume a decade or more of their lives.

One woman in her 30s told us that her strongest memory of her parents’ divorce, when she was 11 years old, was of her father crying as he walked slowly down the flower-bordered path away from the family home, after her mom threw him out because of his adultery. This memory flashed before her eyes whenever she contemplated leaving her alcoholic boyfriend.

Some attractive, very young women accepted the first marriage offer they received, whatever the man’s attributes. When asked why they had married, they replied, “I was afraid no one else would ever ask me.” In one such instance, the 23-year-old woman turned to a man she hardly knew, on their second date, and said, “Marry me. It’s my birthday.”

“I learned from my dad how not to parent,” said one man, who was then expecting his first child.[2]


  1. “Love Couple Images.” bjstlh.com/group/love-couple-pictures/index.htm. Accessed 6 Nov. 2016.
  2. Wallerstein, Judith S., and Julia M. Lewis. “The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: Report of a 25-Year Study.Psychoanalytic psychology 21.3 (2004): 353-370.

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