The Impact of Divorce
About the Guest
Authors Dave and Ann Wilson talk to Ron Deal about the impact divorce can have on a person's life. Dave, who lived with his mom after his parents' split, shares what it was like visiting his dad and how he felt about his dad's new family. The Wilsons share how the divorce impacted Dave's ability to resolve conflict in a healthy way.
Ron DealRon L. Deal is one of the most widely read and viewed experts on blended families in the country. He is Director of FamilyLife Blended® for FamilyLife®, founder of Smart Stepfamilies™, and the author and Consulting Editor of the Smart Stepfamily Series
Authors Dave and Ann Wilson talk to Ron Deal about the impact divorce can have on a person’s life. The Wilsons share how the divorce impacted Dave’s ability to resolve conflict in a healthy way.
The Impact of Divorce
Bob: When a child grows up in a home where mom and dad have gotten a divorce, that experience will follow him into his own marriage. That was the case for Dave Wilson.
Dave: I had no idea how the past was coming like a bag of luggage into my marriage; Ann had no idea, so that—she’s a strong woman; and she was pushing, and I was leaving—you know, whether I went to another room or, literally, just emotionally shut down—again, not connecting any of these dots. It took years. We connected them, eventually; but that’s where we started.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, March 19th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. Dave and Ann talk today about how their marriage was impacted by the fact that Dave grew up in a home where mom and dad got a divorce. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I just have to say—you got pretty transparent this week, and you’re always transparent—I mean, that’s just who both of you are. You are kind of: “Here’s who we are—not hiding anything,” people; right?
Dave: Yes; but this conversation—
Bob: This was a little different.
Dave: —on a counseling couch. Can I get up now? [Laughter]
Bob: No; no!
Dave: You guys have me laying here—
Ann: This is good stuff. [Laughter]
Dave: Ann is loving this. I don’t know—this is crazy.
Bob: We have Ron Deal joining us this week. Ron, welcome back.
Ron: Thank you.
Bob: Ron gives leadership to FamilyLife Blended®. He is giving leadership to an event that’s taking place in three or four weeks—it’s Saturday, April 27th. It’s a nationwide/actually, a worldwide simulcast of an event that’s going to be hosted in Minnesota. This is the Blended and Blessed® event, and it’s designed for who?
Ron: Well, it’s designed for couples in blended families; also appropriate for dating couples, who have kids. We would love for pastors, and youth leaders, and people who just want to understand blended families a little better to be a part of it as well; but it’s an enrichment day for couples in blended families.
Bob: And folks who live in the Minneapolis area are invited to attend the live event; but folks all around the world—on their cell phones, on their laptops, in their living rooms, in local churches—can connect to the Blended and Blessed event. You can go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, to find out how you can connect or how you can be a host church for this event. You have a lineup of speakers that include—
Ron: —our very own!
Bob: —the new hosts of FamilyLife Today, Dave and Ann Wilson. As we’ve already heard this week, part of the reason for that is because Dave’s story/your story is an all-too-typical story of the American family in our day.
Bob: More and more, this is what young people are experiencing as families dissolve and disintegrate.
Ron: You know, one of the things I want to say to people, who are listening that know and love somebody in a blended family—or perhaps you’re in a blended family—Dave’s experience won’t be exactly like every kid, who has a stepparent or has divorced parents, but there will be some themes that I think people can find in common.
Bob: Let me just do a recap of where we’ve been already. Christmas Eve, when you were seven years old, Dave, the family went to church; came home—more presents than you’d ever seen. You opened them up on Christmas Eve, which was not the normal practice. You wake up the next morning; and your mom says, “Dad’s gone.” You didn’t know what that meant, but what that meant was the divorce was final. He had moved out.
You and your family, eventually, relocated to Ohio. Your relationship with your dad was pretty sporadic and strained—and all kinds of emotions that you were processing as you were going through all of that—we’ve had that conversation. In fact, Ron—because you have been doing counseling for decades—this felt a little bit like you [Dave] said—you were on the couch, and it’s been a counseling session.
Dave: Yes; how am I doing, Ron?
Ron: Yes; you’re doing great.
Dave: Doing okay?
Dave: Alright. Can we end this now? Do we have to keep talking? [Laughter]
Ron: Well, unfortunately, we always have to figure out how the past is affecting the present; so—
Dave: Yes; oh, there’s no effects.
Ron: No residue?
Ron: Okay; good.
Dave: Just ask my wife; she’ll tell you. [Laughter]
Ron: That’s why we brought her here—to keep you honest. [Laughter]
Bob: That’s right. [Laughter]
Ron: You know, one of the things that’s interesting is—that we haven’t talked about yet—is just how you coped with all this. I mean, I’ve heard you, in the past, in different venues, say different things; so let me just toss a couple of words at you.
Ron: I’m not exactly sure that these are right, and you can comment on those.
Ron: I heard you say you were jealous of your dad’s new wife; and she had a son, I believe, so you had stepbrother.
Dave: Yes; I had a stepbrother.
Ron: Okay; so a little jealous of how dad spent time and invested in them—his new family—and not in you.
Ron: It made it hard for you to move toward them; so part of your coping was to just withdraw, and retreat, and stay away.
Dave: Oh, definitely; I stayed away. I really lived in a little cocoon with my mom, up in Ohio. My dad would come in every once in a while. I didn’t want to go down and see them, now, in Miami. Again, I was so sad; and felt betrayed and abandoned.
Dave: I did—it was sort of mandated I go see them—I’m glad I did now, but it wasn’t something I looked forward to.
Ron: So let’s connect some dots. When you feel abandoned, and hurt, and betrayed—and you’re worried about your mother and you’re concerned about her—you retreat from some people; you move toward other people; in this case, your mom, to kind of protect and honor that relationship.
Ann: And I would say, too, Ron—like Dave had a full life and became really obsessed, a little bit, with sports. He was good at it.
Ron: He threw himself into that.
Dave: Is that possible?—to be obsessed with sports?
Dave: I don’t think so! [Laughter]
Ann: Oh, it wasn’t an obsession.
Ron: Okay; so now, we’re doing a program on denial. [Laughter]
Bob: —and idolatry, it sounds like.
Dave: I don’t know what you guys are talking about! [Laughter]
Ann: This is so good!
Ron: Alright; so yes, perfectionism—not necessarily perfect—but excelling at something that gives you worth—
Ron: —like, “I can’t get it over here—this is a mess; that’s confusing—but man, I can do this; and I can be really good and matter.”
Bob: Did it make you mad that your dad didn’t come to your games?
Dave: Yes; I can remember when he showed up—
Ann: —in college.
Dave: —at a college football game, and he hadn’t been there. He shows up—I didn’t even know he was coming. I walk out of the locker room and there he is, with my mom. I can remember—I can see it in my mind’s eye right now—walking out of the locker room, like, “What are you doing here?” I didn’t say that to him—“I don’t want you here,”—but I immediately went to, “Oh, now, you’re going to show...” I connected all the dots: “You’re here because, now, you’re reading about me; and you’re thinking I’m going to be possibly making you some money, playing after college”; so I was mad.
Ron: I can’t imagine that you weren’t resentful; I mean, you had to be.
Dave: Oh, totally resentful. I covered it up—I was your, you know, all-American quarterback-type kid—you know, trying to put on the façade.
Ron: Did you pull away from him? Did you kind of distance yourself, like, “I’m not going to let you have the satisfaction of getting my love and affection”?
Dave: We had a relationship, but we didn’t have a relationship.
Ron: So this is where we turn to Ann.
Ron: We’ve noticed some themes in Dave’s life, and understandably so, you know:
When you get hurt and abandoned/rejected—keep your loyalties tight, where it’s good, and be distant where it’s not good.
In moments of distress, pull away/back up.
Excel at something—have something you’re really good at and throw yourself, 100 percent, into that thing and do it great—because that’s part of giving you identity and meaning/purpose in life.
Did any of that carry over into your marriage?
Ann: Yes; I think the biggest repercussion was the ability to resolve conflict in our relationship. I was 19 when we got married; Dave was 22, so we weren’t thinking about our past. We weren’t thinking all these things would affect our present; and yet, we would have our fights; and he would leave. That wasn’t my style—I grew up in a family that—we would talk about everything—even yell at each other—but still feel secure in the love, so we would talk about everything.
When Dave walked out of the room, it would make me furious, not thinking/not even having the thought, “Well, of course, he would leave and withdraw; because conflict is a bad thing to him.”
Dave: You know, I’m not even connecting those dots. She would follow me into the kitchen—wherever—and say, “We have to talk,” and I—
Ron: Which probably just made it worse.
Dave: Oh, I’d be like: “Get out of here. What are we doing?”; because, now, I know I had this belief about conflict: “It’s bad You avoid it at all costs.
Dave: “It ended in divorce.”
Ann: I remember sitting on this bed. He left, and he went upstairs. He closed the bedroom door, and he sat on the bed. I knock open the bedroom door, and I sit right beside him. I put my hand on his leg, and I looked at him and said, “We just need to talk.” He said: “What are you doing? Get out of here!” I didn’t know what to do!
Ron: Yes; so there’s a mechanism in him that he grew up doing a lot of, so of course he just continued to do that; and that is—in the face of distress, and conflict, and a really hard situation—you just withdraw; you pull away; you retreat; you go back to where it’s safe. It wasn’t safe to be with you in the conflict; so of course, he would retreat.
But I can totally see how, from your point of view: “Family—we stay engaged. We talk this out. Even if it’s hard, we stay.” That must have meant that “He doesn’t love me,” or something. Now, you said a minute ago, “I would get furious.” I’m wondering if you were really afraid: “He’s leaving.”
Ann: To be truthful, I wasn’t afraid he would leave; but I think I disrespected it. I thought, “What kind of a man leaves?” To me, it appeared to be weakness, which—think about how that relayed to Dave. What a horrible thing for me to relay to him, “I think you’re weak,” which made him withdraw even more.
Ron: Exactly; so if he’s weak, what’s the follow-up to that? If he’s weak, then what?
Dave: Hey, I like it; you’re getting counseling now! [Laughter] This is sort of fun.
Ron: Turnaround’s fair play.
Ann: I’m not sure what I think of that. If he’s weak, maybe it means I have to become strong: “Who will be the strong one in the family? How will he lead me? How will he lead us?”
Ron: “We’re not safe and secure if he’s weak,”—
Ron: —there’s the fear; see. There’s this huge, looming thing that says: “Oh no; this is going to get bad; this is going to get worse. I don’t know how we’re going to be safe and secure. I have to get mad, so he won’t be that way anymore.” Furious is how it came out, but fear is what was underneath it.
Ann: You’re right, and I think I would push his buttons to get a reaction. Anything was better than silence.
Ron: —to try to get him to not be weak.
Ron: Isn’t that ironic?
Dave: And that worked really well, Ron.
Ron: Did it?
Dave: Yes. [Laughter]
Ron: I bet it did.
Dave: No; it did not go well. You know, we’ve shared how hard our first year was in marriage many times—it’s in our marriage book. I had no idea how the past was coming, like a bag of luggage into my marriage; Ann had no idea. She’s a strong woman, and she was pushing; and I was leaving—
Dave: —whether I went to another room or, literally, just emotionally shut down—again, not connecting any of these dots. It took years.
Dave: We connected them, eventually; but that’s where we started.
Ron: Yes; this is why, Bob, I always say: “You’re always working on your marriage, because God is always using your marriage to work on you.” You know, there’s so much about ourselves we don’t know until marriage forces us to look below the surface and to wrestle with the deep, deep stuff.
I know we have listeners, right now, going: “Oh my word; that’s us! I get furious, but I’m really fearful of something?—what is that?” They’re doing self-examination in a really healthy way. That’s what God wants—is to mature us through our marriages. Of course, if we leave—of course, if we stop—if we abandon, or divorce, or just check out—we never do the hard work; but when we do, we end up in a totally different place. So let’s have fun with this—[Laughter]
Dave: Is this fun, Ron?
Bob: I was going to say: “Is this fun?” [Laughter]
Ron: This is great! [Laughter]
Ann: It’s fun for Ron.
Ron: Let me ask the two of you to talk to that younger self—that 19-, 20-, 22-year-old person—who all they knew to do was get furious / all they knew to do was retreat, but they had no idea why. If you could coach them, what would you say to that younger self?
Dave: What I know now I wish that I’d known then; and it is this: “You are loved. You are, actually, secure, even if it’s only your mom’s love you can feel at this point or see tangibly. It’s real,” and “There’s a heavenly Father that’s there, even though your earthly father—you can’t see it or feel it.” I didn’t know that then—I wish I’d have known it then.
And “You don’t have to become your dad.” In many ways, my withdrawal—even that I brought into my marriage—was a copy of the sins of the father. The man I don’t want to become—I’m becoming in many different ways. That could have been avoided if I had known I was truly, truly loved; but I just didn’t know it.
Ron: That would have given you a source to hold onto.
Dave: Oh, a foundation.
Ron: A foundation—
Ron: —to help you, perhaps, calm down in the midst of all that chaos, and anger, and conflict with Ann—and stay engaged rather than retreat, like Dad did.
Ann: I think I would have—if I was sitting across from me, I would have reminded myself that marriage is this beautiful agony. It’s beautiful in the fact that you learn how to love someone unconditionally, and that doesn’t come naturally or easily. The agony is—it’s a mirror, and it’s showing you your weaknesses and flaws.
I think, before I got married, I would have never thought that I would be an angry person and I would ever yell. She was always deep down there—it was just the pressure of marriage exposed it. So, I think I would have told myself: “Be patient and don’t be surprised,”—and here’s the biggest thing—“Don’t expect Dave to meet all of my needs, and don’t expect Dave to be just like you.”
It’s beautiful—the way God made Dave—and us having to figure out this whole conflict resolution pattern became one of the best things in our marriage. So I would say: “Take your time. Don’t be surprised at the baggage you’re going to discover, but be looking; and then, go to God and say: “God, I can’t do this. Give me wisdom.” James 1 says, “If any you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, and He gives generously to anyone who asks.”
Bob: So, here’s a question I have, listening to this. Everybody, who gets married, brings bags into their marriage; right?
Bob: We all have a past, and our past comes with us into our marriage. “If you’re coming into marriage, and your childhood experience was a broken family—mom and dad split—is there anything that we can say, ‘It’s likely that, in the bag you’re bringing into marriage, there is fear,’ ‘…there is insecurity,’? Are there some common factors that are going to accompany those?”
I married a woman, whose parents got divorced. I don’t know that we ever stopped to think about, “Oh, I wonder what’s unique about your experience.” I do know that, in our dating relationship, I learned pretty quickly that Mary Ann had, as a presupposition: “Men can’t be trusted. I can’t trust Bob; because, in general, men can’t be trusted.”
Are there things like that that a couple today—they’re getting married—and one or both of them are from a family that mom and dad split up—are there things that you would say, “You ought to expect that this is in the suitcases you’re bringing with you”?
Ron: You know, I want to say, “Yes,” and “No”; so let me explain. “Yes,”—like in this booklet, “Life in a Blender”, that we’ve written for kids—there’s those common emotions that we’ve talked about with Dave: loss, sadness, fear, guilt, confusion. Those are predictable, to some degree.
At the same time, the answer is “No,” because every one of our childhood experiences leads us to certain bruises on our heart—certain emotions that tap those bruises and set us off. It’s what we do with the bruise that is unique and different. It’s that mechanism that we have to analyze, in terms of how we carry that in our own marriages.
For me, when I feel attacked, I withdraw; and I don’t just withdraw to step away/to find safety—that’s part of it—but it’s also to let my wife know that she’s out of line. [Laughter] So I’m making a statement with my withdrawal; right?
Dave: It took me 20 years to learn that!
Bob: Ann just laughed a little too much. [Laughter] You could relate to that?
Ann: I can’t relate; I just think that’s funny.
Dave: Yes; oh, she can relate. She’s the violator. [Laughter] She has done that for years to me. Come on, what are you talking about? [Laughter] How about denial; right there? [Laughter]
Ann: I admit; I am so messed up. There are so many things I have—
Dave: I mean, I’ve done it to her; she’s—
Ann: Ron, I think I need to meet with you every day. [Laughter]
Ron: So, I’m coming back to what Ann just said a minute ago: “Marriage is a beautiful agony.” The agony is: “I have to deal with me—my pride, my blind spots, my past—my mechanisms of how I cope and respond to distressful situations in my life.”
What we want to do in marriage is marry somebody that just brings out the joy, and the happiness, and the great things in us. The odd thing about marriage—again, we’re always going to be working on our marriage, because God is always using it to work on us—He will constantly reveal in us another piece of the flesh that needs to die. If I’m open and willing to look in the mirror and be taught, then I will grow and I will mature; and I will connect those dots.
Bob: That’s true in every marriage, whether you come from a broken background—
Ron: That’s right.
Bob: —or from an intact family—whatever it is. We bring our patterns, our habits, our flesh—we bring our sin patterns into the marriage. Marriage is a great tool that God uses to bring those to the surface so those can be dealt with.
Ann: And when we get those dealt with, then we have kids. [Laughter]
Bob: New things come to the surface.
Ron: May God bless them.
Bob: And you know what? When the kids leave, new things come to the surface.
Bob: I mean, it’s just the ongoing—this is God’s refining/sanctifying work in our lives.
You and David Olson wrote a book called The Smart Stepfamily Marriage that is designed for couples to think through some of these issues that they’re bringing to bear and to navigate the, sometimes, choppy waters of a new marriage if you’re stepping into a stepfamily.
Ron: It is a marriage enrichment guide for couples in blended families—includes an online profile that gives you insight into yourself; so you can begin the agony journey, whether you want to or not, and really grow and mature your relationship.
Bob: This is less for people [in a first-time marriage] who come from a broken family; but if you are starting a blended or a stepfamily, this would be a good book for a husband and wife to go through together—learn some things about each other and, with a lot of grace for each other, say: “Oh, okay; I didn’t realize this. I didn’t know about this. How do we work together to pursue God in our marriage?”
Ron: And of course, we want them to move toward their children—children and stepchildren. The “Life in a Blender” booklet helps you do that. It helps put words on your child’s experience for them and their benefit; but then, it also gives you a guide to help you engage them in dialogue around what they’re feeling and experiencing in your family.
Bob: We have both resources in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center: “Life in a Blender” for parents of kids; or grandparents of kids; or aunts and uncles, friends, youth pastors. If you know a young person, who comes from a blended family, go through this little book with them and help them identify the emotions that are attached to their experience.
And then, if you’re starting a blended marriage, get a copy of Ron’s book, The Smart Stepfamily Marriage. It’ll help you be prepared for some of the things that are just around the corner for you, and there’s a good path for you to be on so you can build a strong marriage. You just need a little guidance; and Ron provides that for you in the book, The Smart Stepfamily Marriage. You’ll find these resources, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call to order: 1-800-FL-TODAY.
And then don’t forget—on Saturday, April 27th, in Minneapolis, Ron—along with Dave and Ann Wilson, Shaunti Feldhahn, Chris Brooks, and others—are going to be presenting a one-day event called Blended and Blessed. This is a live event in Minneapolis; it’s going to be simulcast all around the world. You can be a part of the audience for this, either as a couple or with your small group or your church. There are all kinds of ways that you can plug in and benefit from this one-day Blended and Blessed event.
Again, it’s Saturday, April 27th. Information’s available, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com. You do have to be registered to tune in, so go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information on how to register for the Blended and Blessed one-day event.
As always, we want to take a minute and say, “Thank you,” to the people who have made today’s program possible. If you have benefitted from the conversation you’ve been listening to today, here’s who to thank—thank the people who make this program possible, either as monthly Legacy Partners, who support this work, or those of you who donate from time to time. It’s your financial support that is the lifeblood of this ministry, and we’re so grateful to be able to partner with you to bring this kind of practical biblical help and hope to couples and families in your community and all around the world.
Thanks to those of you who have made today’s program possible. If you’re a regular listener and you’ve never donated, we’d love to have you be part of the team that helps expand the reach of this ministry—helps us reach more people, more regularly, with this kind of helpful information. You can donate, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call to donate at 1-800-FL-TODAY. We’re grateful for whatever you can do to be part of this growing work.
And before we wrap things up here today, the President of FamilyLife®, David Robbins, is here with some thoughts about the conversation we’ve been having today. David—
David: Hey, Bob. I think conversations like this are so important in our day, and I’m so grateful for Ron and the leadership he gives to FamilyLife Blended. Yes; I just want to share why I think it’s so important, and I hope that you’ll notice more and more conversations like this happening to keep growing our understanding and compassion for different types of families.
I want to be clear—I’m not abandoning or backing away from the traditional notion of family, but I do want to expand our thoughts on how we journey alongside all families in the body of Christ.
David: Jesus was from a blended family, and 40 percent of married couples with children in the U.S. are blended families today. As a parent of biological children, I can be unaware of the unique challenges that are facing blended families. We want every family to experience God’s riches through the resources of FamilyLife and to be a blessing to others, so that Jesus can be more and more known in the world.
Bob: Yes; it’s why we say, “Every home a godly home.”
David: —“a godly home”; yes. God offers to show up in every home, and we want to help be a part of that. So let’s move toward others in community. Let’s learn people’s unique stories. Let’s learn what is unique about their families, and let’s serve one another in love and the power of the Spirit.
Bob: That’s good. Thank you.
Now, tomorrow, we want to talk about a new verb that has entered the vocabulary of the nation; in fact, it’s become quite a hashtag. It’s the verb, “adulting.” It’s what young people do to grow up and embrace adult responsibilities. Josh Burnette and Pete Hardesty will be here to take us through Adulting 101 tomorrow, and I hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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