Living Under the Curse of Divorce
About the Guest
Christian counselor John Trent revisits his past to understand the generational curse that often falls on children of divorce. John, now married for over 25 years, tells Dennis Rainey how he broke the curse and is modeling a loving, lasting marriage to his own children.
StrongFamilies.com, a ministry committed to building strong relationships in these stressful times. Dr. Trent’s main focus includes writing and speaking at retreats, conferences, business settings, churches, and seminars across the country. In addition to building family teams, Dr. Trent regularly speaks to corporate America on teambuilding, recruiting and retaining outstanding employees. He has authored an...more
Christian counselor John Trent revisits his past to understand the generational curse that often falls on children of divorce.
Living Under the Curse of Divorce
Bob: If you look back on the history of your family, do you see intact families and marriages; or do you see a history of divorce? Here’s John Trent.
John: I can remember—I was in my doctoral program. We were doing these genograms, which were you sit there and you look at “Who’s in the past?” and “What were their relationships like?” and things like this. If I go back three generations, there were nine divorces—my professor, looking at me and saying, “You’re married?” I go, “Yes.” He said, “Well, when are you getting your divorce?”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, April 9th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We’ll talk with John Trent today about what married couples can do to break the cycle of divorce in a family. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Thursday edition. You have seen the statistics that show that, if you grow up in a home where Mom and Dad got a divorce, it’s more likely that, if you get married, you will go through a divorce yourself; right?
Dennis: That’s right.
Bob: Have you ever stopped and asked yourself the question, “Why is that?”
Dennis: Well, apart from the obvious—of the model that has been put before them—even though they may vow that they will never participate in divorce because of its impact on them, I’ve seen it happen all too often in some of my friends’ lives.
Bob: Yes. You might think it could have that reverse effect because, if you grow up in a family where divorce happens, and you experience the pain of that, you think, “I never want to do that.” And yet, it seems almost like a pull here that is—it is hard to understand.
Dennis: Well, there may actually be a curse that’s associated with divorce—a generational curse. You know, it does speak, in Scripture, of sin being passed down, generation after generation, if we don’t repent of it.
We have a guest, here on FamilyLife Today,who has written a book—Breaking the Cycle of Divorce—Dr. John Trent. John—welcome back to FamilyLife Today.
John: Well, thanks. It’s an honor to be with you men again.
Dennis: I want to ask you about that curse in just a minute; but for those listeners, who don’t know John, he is the President of the Center for Strong Families. He has written a number of books with Gary Smalley and had a great ministry for a number of years. He and I are both graduates of Dallas Seminary. This book is really all about your life and trying to break the cycle of divorce that you experienced when you were a child.
John: Well, in large part, it is. You know, it was interesting—back, when I was a kid in a single-parent home, I was the anomaly.
John: In fact, in our grade school—this is no kidding—we were the only single-parent kids in our entire grade school. Well, my wife Cindy is a kindergarten teacher. She had 24 kids in her class last year—18 out of 24 were either blended, reconstituted, or single-parent families. Think about that! I mean, you get to hang around some of the younger generation. I wrote a book, a long time ago, called The Blessing—in fact, we talked about that.
John: And when you ask a young kid today—very often—“Did you get your dad’s blessing?”—what’s the first thing they’ll say? They’ll go, “Which dad?”
John: I mean to tell you—it is just rampant today—just growing up in a home that hasn’t provided that model. So, we’ll get to talk about that today and how to, perhaps, break that curse.
Bob: We have talked on past programs about some of the pain you experienced, growing up in a home where your dad had left—
Bob: —where the marriage dissolved. Did you grow up thinking, like a lot of kids: “Boy! This will never happen with me!”?
John: Well, no. I do think there are some people—and maybe it’s by temperament—where it is like, “Well, okay, maybe that happened; but I’m going to go the other way!” You know? The problem that I had was just more fear. What I was afraid of was—number one—commitment. People from homes, where there’s been divorce—we’re great at courtship; okay? But the problem comes in with commitment. As soon as it got serious, I’d break up because there was that fear factor there.
The other thing that was just really hugely significant to me was—not just the fear of “Could I maintain a marriage?”—but also, as a parent, because my mom never remarried. There were three of us under two when my dad bailed out. The way you get three under two is having twins. So, if anybody’s counting, you have to get a multiple in there. There were three of us under two, dad bails out, my mom never remarries—so you don’t have a model.
You’re thinking—not only, “Can I maintain a marriage?”—but also “Am I going to be able to actually have a family that’s intact?” For me, it was more fear than it was a motivating factor.
Bob: What is it about the fact that your dad bailed out that causes you to think, “I wonder if I can sustain a commitment”? Why would those two intersect; do you think?
John: Well, what I’m going to say—I know will be controversial; you know? Dr. Rainey has hinted at it; okay. I think—I really and truly believe—that, at work in these homes that are broken homes, like I grew up in, is a curse. Here’s what I mean by that. Can I define that?
Bob: You’d better define it!
John: Well, I know, as soon as you say that—that’s controversial. People are going: “Wait a minute! My mom did the best she could!” or “My dad did the best,” or “That was never their choice.” I’m not saying that—but what people need to understand is, I think, some biblical terms.
The word, “curse,” in the Bible is not what you think. It doesn’t mean bloody chicken leg in the middle of the graveyard at midnight, like a Stephen King novel; [Laughter] right?
John: What it literally means to curse someone—it literally means to dam up the stream. So, with my dad, what I got was—not a blessing and not this life-giving water / a model that provided this kind of life-giving water—I got a muddy stream or a trickle.
I think what happens, for a lot of us from divorce backgrounds, is that we just don’t have—not only the modeling—but we also grow up with this sense of deprivation that really digs down deep into our lives. That’s what we’ll get to talk about today—is: “How do you reverse that, and how do you break the cycle?”
Dennis: Let’s talk about what’s dammed up—
Dennis: —because a family, I believe, begins with a marriage covenant—
Dennis: —and it begins the stream.
The stream is a life-giving stream, as it flows downward, and it gets broader when it gives forth life. There are children that come into the relationship. You’re saying that when divorce occurs, if there is a curse that does fall upon those children moving forward, it keeps the benefits of the marriage and the family relationship from flowing into their lives?
John: Well, I would say that’s exactly right because, now, think about your family. I’ve had the great privilege of meeting your bride and meeting several of your kids over the years.
If you think about what happens with these intact families—like, for example, I used to go over to this one friend of mine’s house. Now, I wasn’t a Christian when I would go over to his house; okay? But they were like these third-generation Christians. The whole extended family would show up. We would get the opportunity, when we’d go over to this person’s house, to see this unique stream of life that was, actually, generational in a positive way.
Well, again, just picture a stream that gets dammed up. Instead of getting to see all of this great modeling and—not in just one generation but, sometimes, two and three generations—when you’re in a home, like I grew up in, it’s all just today. What that does for a lot of us is—it just focuses us right on the immediate—not on the long-term. Then, when things get tough: “Hey! If the going gets tough, let’s just go get another relationship.” We end up in serial relationships and things like that.
I think you’re exactly right. What gets interrupted or dammed up is this life-giving modeling stream. There is a way to reverse that; but boy, if we don’t address it, head-on, it can be hugely significant.
Dennis: John, you talk about a number of effects that occur when this dam is in place—
Dennis: —isolation, unhealthy family secrets, false guilt, fear-based procrastination, breaking commitments—you’ve mentioned that one—blaming others.
Dennis: Unpack a couple of the most important of those.
John: Well, there’s a book that came out, a few years ago, that actually made it to the New York Times Bestseller List, unfortunately. It was called The Starter Marriage. Now, isn’t that sad? You know, you almost think, “Well, this first marriage isn’t going to work for sure—it’s just a starter marriage.” That’s how we begin to define things.
Unfortunately, when we come from a home where, again, you don’t have that life-giving stream of water—where it was broken—then there’s this sense that: “Well, you know what? I’m not going to be able to sustain anything, long-term. So, maybe, the idea—maybe what really brings about closeness is that I just picked the wrong person,” rather than staying with the person and work through issues. That’s one issue, I think, that’s big.
Another one—and you mentioned it—procrastination. Now, I read a really good book on procrastination. I didn’t actually finish it—[Laughter]—but the part that I read—
Bob: But you’re going to someday; right?
John: I’m going to—yes! [Laughter]
John: —it’s on clinical studies about why people procrastinate. I mentioned this earlier, but guess what is right at the heart of procrastination?—is fear—fear of failure, fear of success, you know, fear of intimacy, or fear of being controlled. There are just so many damaging things. We could go through all of the statistics and everything, but the bottom line is that the curse will remain unless we do something about it.
Bob: You know, I don’t want to get too mystical on this whole deal, but I do think there is something that is beyond maybe our understanding about the power of a covenant and the ending of that covenant.
Bob: When we’re a part of a family, and a covenant is broken, I think there are things that are going on that we can’t put our fingers on. We can dig around, psychologically, and say, “There’s some of this or some of that,” but I think that there’s something like a piece of fabric has been torn.
To try to understand all of the implications of that—there are scars, left on the soul, that we really can’t put our finger on; don’t you think?
John: I would agree. I think and I hope people, who are listening, aren’t discouraged and sitting there, thinking, “Well, I’m just damaged goods.”
John: “So I need to just turn off the radio and just—
John: —“wallow in that kind of a thing,” because the whole point of this book, Breaking the Cycle of Divorce, and what we’re talking about is: “Are the challenges real?” They absolutely are! And are they multiplying? They are like crazy!
Dennis, you and I have spoken at Promise Keepers conferences. I remember—I was in Indianapolis. There was just me and 53,000 of my closest friends. I asked all of the men there—I shared my story and I said, “All of you, who grew up in a single-parent home, I want you to stand to your feet.” Half the stadium stands up! Well, that’s our churches today!
John: I mean, half of the churches today—the people who are in there are either on a second marriage or they’re from a divorce background.
Even though there’s this commonality of hurt, I think you’re right—there are some vestiges. It’s kind of like you need to deal with that hurt because just to leave it embedded in there can really, really cause some real problems.
Bob: John, I grew up in an intact home. My wife grew up in a home where her parents divorced. Is it harder for her to honor her commitment to me than it is for me to honor my commitment to her; do you think?
John: Well, you know, again, people are unique. I’m not trying to say, “Just because you grew up in a divorce background, you now, instead of a 100-yard playing field, you’ve got a 140-yard playing field,” but that’s the truth—I mean, that’s just the way it is.
John: Now, is she probably really good at saying, “I’m going to be committed, no matter what”?—absolutely. So, we all still have 100 yards. I mean, even if you came from an intact family, your kids—you know, my kids—they’re still going to have to make very real choices.
John: However, you’re adding a degree of difficulty.
Bob: There may be some ankle weights on her ankles.
Bob: Did you feel—have you felt that, as a husband?
John: Oh, yes! And, again, where I struggle so often is, not even just with my relationship with Cindy—I mean, because I have certainly, at times—and I’ve tried really hard to build a relationship with my wife that’s honoring to her and everything else like that—but even, too, with the kids.
I get these people that, you know, “Well, my dad didn’t do things right.” Well, at least, they had a model.
John: I think that’s what a lot of us struggle with—is that, even if you had a bad model, at least, you could say, “Maybe I’m going to do something different.” When you have no model, then what you’re left with is TV or whatever the culture says is how you dictate this. You find yourself watching TV shows, and seeing TV families and how they deal with things, and that’s how you think you deal with things because that’s the only model that you see.
Dennis: You know, all of us come from imperfect homes; but we’re to run the race well. It just occurred to me, John, as you were talking—a man or a woman today, growing up out of this culture—where six out of ten, who get married today, will spend part of their first 18 years of life, before they get married, in a single-parent home—
Dennis: Six out of ten!
Dennis: —it’s a new ball game.
Dennis: So, as they enter in to the marriage relationship, there are all of these effects, like we talked about—fear-based procrastination, breaking commitments, blaming others. I understand why it would be more difficult for someone, who grew up in a broken home. I don’t understand becoming a victim.
Dennis: Blaming someone else can’t get me out of my peril today.
Dennis: Only I can make a choice, before God, for Him to empower me to step out of where I am today.
John: No, that’s absolutely right. When we sat down—it was interesting—when we sat down to write this book, Breaking the Cycle of Divorce, and I looked at my life—we’ve been married 27 years now—all of the fear, going into marriage, and then all of the challenges—because my wife, Cindy—her folks stayed together—but her dad was an alcoholic. She had lots of struggles growing up, bless her heart. The two of us had a clear plan on how to have a crummy home, frankly.
But the one thing—if you’re ready to reverse the curse / if you’re ready to break that cycle—I think you’re exactly right—it begins with realizing that “We don’t have to stay a victim”; okay? Now, maybe we were victimized or maybe we just grew up—again, there are a lot of people of divorce—and they’ll take on false guilt—you know, that “Maybe they could have kept their parents together,” or “Maybe they could have kept their relationship together,”—there are all kinds of things like this.
But the issue is: “Where are you at today?” and “Can you do something about it?”
Dennis: As I was thinking about talking to you today, I thought about a very hard question for you. [Laughter]
Dennis: Because, you know, it’s not wrong to have the thought of divorce in your marriage. What’s wrong is when we take that thought and we begin to entertain the thought.
Dennis: We begin to give it credence, and we speak the thought, and turn it into words and say, “Maybe divorce is the solution.”
Dennis: I wanted to ask you—and this is anecdotal, first of all, from your life. You grew up in a home where divorce entered the stream; okay?
John: Yes, yes.
Dennis: Have you ever found yourself thinking about divorce, and do you think it was because your parents introduced it into your stream of your family—
—in part—not to blame it on them—but just to say: “It’s a part of your family tree. It’s a part of your stream now.” Do you find yourself thinking about it?
John: Well, I can remember—I was in my doctoral program. We were doing these genograms, which were you sit there and you look at: “Who’s in the past?” and “What were their relationships like?” and things like this. If I go back three generations, the best I can tell, because my dad’s family I didn’t know very well, so we had to kind of—it could be more than this—but there were nine divorces, just going back three—because my dad was divorced three times. My mom was divorced twice. I can remember, you know, having all of this charted out—my professor, looking at me and saying, “You’re married?” I go, “Yes.” He said, “Well, when are you getting your divorce?”
John: I remember driving home from Denton, thinking: “You know what? That is such a lineage,”—unfortunately; you know?
I think there have been times—I think, for me, where I realized: “Boy! I am—
John: —“surrounded by that.” That’s exactly right!
Dennis: It’s part of your heritage.
John: Yes. You go to family gatherings—and it’s trying to figure out which sibling goes with which family, and who’s now remarried to whomever, and this kind of thing. And now, you’re trying to reverse that curse—but it’s not self-help / it’s not self-hope. It’s in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
John: So that’s what we get to talk about here.
Dennis: But back to the question.
Dennis: You have had a thought—
Dennis: —about divorce?
John: You know—
Dennis: I just want to take some of the pressure off of you, John—
Dennis: —because, in the heat of the moment, with my wife—when we’ve had some spirited disagreements—because of, I think, where we live in this nation, it is a culture of divorce—the thought—the thought has crossed my mind.
Dennis: Now, the word has never crossed my lips.
Dennis: And I can consciously say I have never spent 60 seconds/30 seconds—I mean, I have not pondered on the thought / I’ve not given it credence—but I believe all of us are tempted.
John: Oh, yes.
Dennis: I just wondered if an adult child of divorce has a few defense mechanisms that are broken down, where divorce creeps in and that thought lodges there?
John: Well, and particularly, from the standpoint that, even though you see the trauma of divorce and the aftermath of it—you know, there are survivors that are still on their feet. So, you realize, “Well, you know, we could divorce and maybe it would be okay.” But I’m kind of like you—it’s like Luther said, “You can’t keep birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.”
John: So, the thought can come up but, boy, you don’t let it—you don’t dwell on it. I think that’s hugely important.
Dennis: You know, Bob, as we’re talking with John, I just think of this generation that has grown up in this culture.
Here’s where I think FamilyLife has a great offering, to this generation, of a different set of blueprints.
Dennis: The Weekend to Remember® will put them around a lot of survivors of marriage and many, many thrivers in marriage today. I think what is desperately needed, in this generation, is hope. We know that faith comes from hearing and hearing from the Word of God. What happens in the Weekend to Remember is that we give the Scriptures that, I think, cause faith to grow and hope to blossom.
Bob: And, as you know, we’ve got a lot of folks, who are coming to the Weekend to Remember marriage getaway, who are in a blended marriage or they’re considering marrying for a second time in a blended marriage. They’re looking for a plan for marriage that works because they’ve lived through what you talk about, John—the pain of a broken marriage relationship. They want this marriage to be different—the one they’re in today.
I would just encourage our listeners—if you have not been to a Weekend to Remember marriage getaway, this is great preventive maintenance for a good marriage; but it also gives you the blueprints Dennis is talking about so that the two of you are building your home off the same set of blueprints—you can be doing it together, with one mind and one heart.
You can go to FamilyLifeToday.com. When you click the link at the top left-hand corner of the page that says, “GO DEEPER,” you’ll find a link for the Weekend to Remember marriage getaways. We still have many getaway weekends scheduled for this spring, and we’d love to have you join us at one of these events. Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com and click the link that says, “GO DEEPER” to find out more about the Weekend to Remember marriage getaway.
We also have copies of John Trent’s book, Breaking the Cycle of Divorce: How Your Marriage Can Succeed Even if Your Parents’ Didn’t.
You can get copies of that book from our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. Order, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call to order.1-800-FL-TODAY is our toll-free number—1-800-358-6329. That is 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY.”
Let me also mention a couple of books that we’re making available this month to those of you who can help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today with a donation. We are listener-supported—so it’s those donations that help cover the cost of producing and syndicating this daily radio program. If you’re able to help with a donation this month, we’d like to give you the option of either getting a copy of Scott Stanley’s book, A Lasting Promise. I was talking to somebody recently who said this book was the turn-around for their marriage. It talks about how to deal with conflict, how to solve problems together, improving your communication, and dealing with the core issues that couples deal with in a marriage relationship.
You can select that book as a thank-you gift when you make a donation this month.
Or you can request a copy of Ron Deal’s newly-revised and updated book, The Smart Stepfamily. If you’re in a blended family—or if you know someone who is, and you’d like to give this book to someone as a gift—all you have to do to receive either book is go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link in the upper right-hand corner of the screen that says, “I CARE.” When you make an online donation, you can select which of the two books you’d like to receive as a thank-you gift. Again, we do appreciate your support of this ministry.
You can also request your copy of either book when you make a donation by calling 1-800-FL-TODAY—1-800-358-6329. And, of course, you can always mail a donation to us. Our address is FamilyLife Today at PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR. The zip code is 72223.
Be sure to let us know whether you’d like the book, A Lasting Promise, or the book, The Smart Stepfamily, when you make a donation by mail.
And I hope you can join us back again tomorrow when we’ll continue our conversation with John Trent about how you can break the cycle of divorce that is often a part of a family’s heritage. We’ll talk more about that tomorrow. I hope you can tune in.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today
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