Reversing the Curse of Divorce
About the Guest
John Trent, author of the book "Breaking the Cycle of Divorce," gives some sound advice to couples coming out of a divorce background. As he tells Dennis Rainey, history does matter, and it's important to understand your own history before forging ahead to holy matrimony.
John TrentJohn Trent, Ph.D., is President and Founder of 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
John Trent, author of the book “Breaking the Cycle of Divorce,” gives some sound advice to couples coming out of a divorce background.
Reversing the Curse of Divorce
Bob: If you grew up in a family, where divorce is a part of your background, and you find yourself in a marriage—things just aren’t going the way you hoped they would and there is pain—what do you do? Here’s how John Trent counsels couples in a situation like that.
John: Realize that Almighty God can reverse the curse. We need to be around people that can provide the kind of models we never had and, then, it doesn’t take a 180 degree change—or we don’t want to wait until we need a 180 degree change—but we want to begin doing those small things that can keep us between the lines, and keep us safe, and get us to where we want to go.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, April 10th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. We’re going to talk today about some of the things all of us can do to make sure our marriages stay on track. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. If you knew a couple today, Dennis—a young couple getting married—she had grown up in a home, where her mom and dad had gotten divorced / maybe, he grew up in a home like that as well. But these are two young people who know the Lord / love the Lord. They are committed to one another / they’re getting married. Would you have any special word of counsel to them because they come from a background of family divorce that you might not have for couples who are getting married out of intact families?
Dennis: Absolutely. In fact, this is a tough culture to begin a marriage in, regardless of how good or how not so good your home was that you grew up in; but I would strongly encourage them, before they get married, to go to a Weekend to Remember®, find someone to walk them through a good marriage preparation course, and then a mentor for the first couple of years of their marriage.
I think all of those are vitally important, as a young couple starts out their marriage today.
Bob: But you’d suggest those same things for a couple that grew up in an intact family; right?
Dennis: I would. I would.
Bob: Okay. So, now, back to my question—the ones who come from a divorce background—do you have any words of counsel for them that would be different than you’d have for the couple who grew up in intact families?
Dennis: Yes, I would recommend that they spend some time—before they get married and, then, again, after they get married—addressing the issue of their family’s divorce and its impact on their lives. I think the tendency of young people today—who get married / when they fall in love—is they are in love with being in love. They minimize the impact of the home that they came from. In fact, in some ways, they may resent anyone talking about the past.
But I think that’s all the more reason why the subject needs to be broached, before they get married, and have a common vocabulary for talking about some of the common experiences that they are going to have together because they will find that they approach marriage and raising a family in two different ways.
Bob: We are talking this week with Dr. John Trent, who has written a new book called Breaking the Cycle of Divorce. And I’m guessing, John, that you would agree with Dennis’s recommendation because, if you wouldn’t, you’re off the show; okay?—[Laughter]—just wanted to make that clear, right off.
Dennis: John knows how to play ball.
John: That’s right.
Dennis: John, welcome back.
John: Well, thanks! It’s great to be here with you. And you know, that was a good question, though—and even a good follow-up is to say, “Well, what’s different?” Now, obviously, if a couple came from two intact families, I’d put them through just as rigorous a boot camp as you can—
John: —just because—not to try to break down—
—I still teach the premarital class; but if they’ve grown up in a home of divorce—you’re exactly right—there is even more that has to be discussed.
Bob: When you and Cindy were dating—
Bob: —when you decided, “Let’s get married,” did you guys sit down and open up the closet and say, “Let’s look at all the stuff that’s in here and how are we going to deal with this”?
John: You know, when Cindy and I got married, our premarital counseling was the minister going, “Do you love her?” And I go, “Yes.” And he said, “Okay, well, what kind of songs do you want?”—that was it.
John: That was it. So, we had no premarital preparation.
Bob: So, when did that stuff get opened up and how did it get opened up for you guys?
John: We just did it the old-fashioned way, which is—six months into marriage, every—just she’s crying at night.
Bob: Wait for conflict to emerge.
John: That’s exactly right. Now, thankfully, I think the thing that we did do, going into marriage is—even though neither one of us came from great modeled backgrounds—
—is we had a huge commitment to Christ and a commitment to do what it would take to really build a relationship that was going to be loving and lasting—and so like for example—we didn’t get to go to your conference because this was a long time ago. It was before you started doing yours. But Norm Wright—you’ve had Norm—
John: —on, I think, in the past.
John: Right when we first got married, we went to a Norm Wright conference. That was one of the best things we could do. That’s why I believe your conference, Weekend to Remember, is so unbelievably helpful for couples today because, when we went to a conference, when we were young—guess what?—we were sitting around other couples, and we finally got to talking with them. They were just as messed up as we were.
John: Yet, up, in front of us, were people; and they still had problems. They weren’t perfect; but they were saying: “Here are some solutions. Here are some resources. Here’s the encouragement,”—and you pray together, and you sing together, and you spend a weekend together. I mean, I push more people—I should get a royalty, I think, for pushing people to your conferences, all over the country. [Laughter]
You do such a great job, I think, of holding out that hope. That’s what a lot of us need—is we need to realize that “Okay, that’s one thing we can do to help break that cycle of divorce—is to be around people that they’re really making a commitment to reverse that.”
Bob: Let me ask you—if you had a couple—
Bob: —let’s say, instead of them being pre-married, now, they are two years in. They come from divorced backgrounds. They’ve got conflict in their marriage. They go: “We don’t want to get a divorce. We want the cycle to end with us”—
Bob: —“but there is pain here that we’re not sure where it’s coming from or what to do.” How would you begin to counsel them?
John: Well, there are a couple of things. Number one is—I think it is hugely important for the average couple to realize that history does matter. For a lot of us, we go, “Oh, the past—that doesn’t affect me,” “…affect me,” “…affect me.” Well, it does affect us. There is that sense, with me, when I finally began to look at “Who was my dad?”—
—now, not “Who was the idealized…?” but “Who was he really?”—you know? Then, for Cindy, as she began to deal with some of these things—so, number one is—you’ve got to be honest with where you’ve come from.
The other thing that I think is hugely important is—for a lot of us, we really believe, I think, that what builds great relationships is something dramatic. It’s—now, I’m all for going to a conference. That can be a dramatic change kind of a thing but, then, we get home. The thing that’s going to sustain growth is really a two-degree change. Can I explain what I mean by that really quickly?
John: Now, both of you are better than average drivers; right?
Bob: I’m stunning!
John: Much better than average. I am, too, even though I just went to traffic school again. But the point is that—it’s really interesting. There’s—
Dennis: How fast were you going, John?
John: Well, no, it was one of those red light camera things that are in Arizona. It must have been off—I’m sure the camera was off.
Dennis: It’s a good illustration, though, that this kind of thing occurs in marriage.
John: Oh, yes.
Dennis: And there has to be some changes made.
John: Oh, yes. But I think, for a lot of us, what we think is—the word, “righteousness,” in the Bible literally means to stay between the lines. The reason why you guys are good drivers is because you stay between the lines. Now, how do you do that? Well, you make two-degree changes.
For the average person—I mean, if you think about it—if you’re driving home, what keeps you between the lines—you are consistently making small changes; okay? Well, I mean, go home—and make ten- or twenty-degree changes to the steering wheel—and you get picked up by the DUI taskforce; right? Well, because you—or do what I did—which was I fell asleep at the wheel, outside of Socorro, New Mexico. I went across six lanes of traffic. Does the drifting wake you up? No, it’s when your tires are hitting the side, and that terrible sound, and I woke up. Now, I think: “Man! I’ve got to make a huge change.”
The problem is—if you’re at speed, and you yank the wheel 180 degrees, what happens? You roll the car multiple times, like I did.
Now, that’s exactly what I see in couples all over the country. They come from a background where we think—we didn’t see an intact family—we didn’t realize, like you and Barbara have taken—I mean, seriously, you have to work on your relationship.
John: Just because you run a great ministry and help people all over the country—I mean, you still have to work on your relationship. Cindy and I have to work on that.
Well, one of the problems, when you grow up in a divorce background is, you don’t realize the two-degree shifts—the small changes—that have to go on all the time: the weekends where you guys go away; the times with Cindy and I, with our kids, where we’re praying; or we’re working through a problem. You don’t see that in a divorce background.
What I challenge people to do is—go to a conference, like you guys—the Weekend to Remember—but then, go home and start making, all the time, little small course corrections. Can I give you a quick example of what I mean by that?
Dennis: Yes, that’s what I want. I want a couple of the course corrections.
John: Here is what I am getting at—I used to walk in the door—
—you know, you’re tired / you’re busy. I’d say to Cindy, “Well, how was your day?” She’d go, “Well, it was great!” Then, I’d take off and go do something with the kids or whatever.
We were sitting down one time; and she goes: “Would you do me a favor? Would you just ask me three questions when you get home—just three questions?” I sat down and I said, “Well, that’s pretty small”; right? So, I sit down. “Well, first of all, ‘How was your day?’”—and she answers. Then, “Well, how did that make you feel?” Well, I mean, that one always works—“How did that make you feel?” Then, “What do you think you ought to do about it?” Well, now, just by going home and realizing, “I need to just do these three questions,”—that’s a small—that’s a small thing.
For Cindy, one of her two-degree change things was for me to hold her. Now, I didn’t grow up in a touchy/huggy kind of home. I grew up in Arizona where it’s okay to hug your horse, not your kids; you know? So, I didn’t grow up with warmth/huggy stuff. Well, that wasn’t on my list of two-degree things but, for Cindy, it was.
What we literally did—Cindy and I is—we literally came up with:
“What are some small, specific, positive things that we could do for each other that help us stay between the lines?”
Sentence prayers—I don’t know about you guys, but has praying together ever been a challenge?
John: And the problem is, too, part of it is I’m a night person / Cindy is a morning. So, I’d want to pray at night—she’s gone. She’d want to pray in the morning, and I’m just—I’m so groggy. So, what we began to do is—every night—and this is just a two-degree change—but we began to say: “Well, you know what? Before we go to bed, whoever is the first one to go to bed—her or I—we sit down, and we’re going to pray together,”—even if it’s just sentence prayers, not necessarily a half an hour or whatever. See what I’m getting at?
That’s very much what I try to get people to do in this Breaking the Cycle of Divorce—is realize that Almighty God can reverse the curse—that we need to be around people that can provide the kind of models we never had and, then, it doesn’t take a 180-degree change—or we don’t want to wait until we need a 180-degree change—
—but we want to begin doing those small things that can keep us between the lines, and keep us safe, and get us to where we want to go.
Bob: Your mom had been through two divorces.
Bob: Yet, she instilled in you the whole idea of the sanctity of marriage.
Bob: How does a parent do that when their track record is blemished?
John: Well, that’s a great question because you’re right. You might think that: “Well, there’s got to be some inherent disconnect. Here she is—telling us to do this, but she didn’t do that herself.”
Well, her first husband walked out on her. She moved to Arizona—met my dad, and my dad walked out on her. Both of them were alcoholics. What a shock she would pick somebody from that—that was her background. She was somebody that was part of that curse, I think—where it just went on, generationally. Well, she just decided, “With my family, you know what?—things are going to be different.” She did a great job in her commitment to us—
—of demonstrating what real commitment was.
Then, we came to know Christ—remember? I came to know Christ through Young Life. Our Young Life Leader, Doug Baram—who he and his wife—that’s whose house I used to go over and watch how he interacted with his kids, and his extended family, and things like this.
Well, Doug led me to Christ and my twin brother, Jeff, to Christ; and my mom to Christ; my older brother, Joe, to Christ—led our whole family to Christ. Once we had that going for us too—I mean, that made Mom’s encouragement even more. But I think her commitment to us—and then, just telling us: “You know what? You’re”—she must have told us a thousand times—“You’re never going to get divorced. You guys are going—you’re going to have great relationships.” That began to put this positive future in our minds. I’m really thankful for what she provided as well.
Dennis: In the spirit of keeping hope alive, here for an adult child of divorce—John, speak to the person who has just crossed six lanes of traffic—
Dennis: —and it’s not a two-percent adjustment. They are listening to us today and they’re going: “Man! Would be to God if it was just a minor two degrees this way / two degrees that way, a little prayer together, some changing of how we have conflict—
Bob: You’re saying, “They’re in the ditch, and they need a tow truck.” Is that what you are saying?
Dennis: I’m saying—yes—maybe, they’ve had a head-on collision. They’re sitting there, wondering, “How do I make this work?” What advice would you give to that couple who are in crisis?
John: Well, you know, one of the studies we bring up in the book—and you’ve talked about it here on the program—is remember—there was a University of Chicago study that asked couples, after they had divorced—five years later: “Would they have gone ahead and gotten divorced if they knew what they know now?” Almost—it is 70-some percent said, “If we had tried a little harder, we could have made it.”
The average person drowns ten feet from shore—
—99.9 percent of people drown almost within reach of shore. I think, for a lot of people, when they were in that trauma—they’ve gone across six lanes of traffic, they are in the ditch, they are just—and they think, “Oh, nothing is going to help!” Yet, as difficult as it is—five years later, the average person that did divorce looks back and says, “We could have made it”—
John: —“if we had just tried a little harder.”
Bob: Well, not only that, but in the state of Oklahoma, they did a study of people who were on the verge of divorce and decided to stay married. Those couples—five years later—rated their marriage, on a five-point scale, a four or a five—
Bob: —the majority of them. These were folks who were right on the edge, hung with it, and five years later, they go, “We’ve got a great marriage.”
John: Yes. I think part of that is—is because, once we hit that rock bottom and there is nowhere left to go—number one is—that’s where a lot of people turn to Christ. And we realize—
I know, early on, in our marriage—you asked the question—
—Dr. Rainey asked me the question, “Do I ever think about divorce?” Of course, my first thought was, “No, I…”—but as I began to think about that, I can remember, when I was in my doctoral program, and was looking at all of my background, and all these divorce things, and all this stuff back here—you know, I think there really have been some times in my life, where I’ve thought: “It would be almost easier to just quit working. This is so hard.” I look at some of these other couples, and they don’t have to—seems like they don’t have to work hard at all. They just—
Dennis: It seems like.
John: Seems like—and that’s right—until you get to know them.
Dennis: You don’t know the hard work Barbara and I do. [Laughter] You just think your work is harder than ours.
John: I know; but you look at them and you think: “Oh, they have it so much easier; and Cindy and I have it so tough—she came from a tough background and I did too. You know what? Maybe, we just didn’t find the right person” and so, it’s “…and so, maybe…”
Bob: Or it’s: “I just want the pain to stop.”
John: Yes. And yet—and yet—“Please Lord,”—the person, who is listening right now—
—and they realize we are talking right to them. I mean, they’ve had to pull their car over almost because they realize this is who they are. I would just pray that they would realize that they are ten feet from shore.
I mean, they are close to a church that can provide some help for them if they’d just reach out to that church. They could find another couple. They can grab a book. They can go to one of your conferences. They can, maybe, just get down tonight and say, “Lord, I feel like we are at rock bottom.” Well, that is a great place to meet Christ. I mean, that is a great place to be—is to just say, “Okay.” I can remember—it was during those early years of marriage, with Cindy and I—that I just realized: “We can’t make it on our own. Lord, we need You to reverse that curse.”
Dennis: And it’s at the rock bottom—
Dennis: —that many people find Christ. As you were talking, I was thinking about a passage that I don’t hear preached on near enough today—it’s Romans 12:1, 2—“I urge you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice acceptable to God which is your spiritual service of worship.
“Don’t be conformed to this world”—stating that another way—“Don’t do as the world does.” How does the world do it?—it severs the relationship, it tosses the towel in, It calls it quits. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind that you may prove what the will of God is that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”
And the hope of my marriage is with Jesus Christ being the Master and Lord—
Dennis: —of Dennis and Barbara Rainey. I mean, we would not be married today—we are both two very strong-willed people. Even though both of us came from intact families—I’m going to tell you something—I think we worked every bit as hard, John, as you have.
John: Yes; amen. [Laughter]
Dennis: And I say that to say, “Marriage is hard work.” Even with Christ, submitting to Him, it’s not always easy because it means death to self. I would just challenge that person, who has thought about pulling off the road and doing some business with God—maybe, you just need to come to the conclusion: “You know what? You’ve done it your way. Where has that gotten you?”
Dennis: “How has that worked?” Maybe, you’ve failed before in a marriage relationship. Where are you now? What’s your plan for making this marriage better than the last one? Well, it’s—there is none. You’re just Plan B.
Instead, why don’t you submit to the One who can take two imperfect people and meld them into one? I think a part of the solution to that, Bob, is getting a copy of John’s book, Breaking the Cycle of Divorce, because undoubtedly some of those who are listening right now have that as a part of their background.
It is a part of what is contributing to the thought of ending their relationship in divorce.
Bob: And I just appreciate the fact that the book is not simply a study of this issue, but it comes from the heart of one who has had to walk through it—who has had to live through it and knows about his own past. You’ve learned this, not just clinically—you’ve learned this experientially. We’ve got copies of the book in our FamilyLife Resource Center.
I think, next— there is another cycle that John needs to break. It’s the cycle of calling you, “Dr. Rainey.”
John: Oh, yes.
Dennis: Oh, I thought that—
Bob: Did you slip him some money?
Dennis: I thought that was cool.
John: High honor. Yes.
Dennis: I think that was cool.
Bob: Have I ever called you, “Dr. Rainey”?
Dennis: No, I don’t think you have.
Bob: Would that give me any place if I did?
Dennis: Probably not.
Dennis: Too many years together behind the microphone. I do want to say, “Thanks,” to John for joining us again on FamilyLife Today. You’re a good friend, and I just appreciate your biblical-centric approach to addressing the needs of marriages and families. You’re a good comrade in the battle for the family today.
John: Well, thanks.
That’s high praise. The Lord bless you guys. Bob, thank you for getting to be with you too. It’s an honor to get to be here.
Dennis: Just call him “Doctor”—“Dr. / Dr. Lepine.”
Bob: I don’t have it, but you can go ahead and call me it. Yes. [Laughter]
We’ve got copies of John’s book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. If you’d like a copy of the book, Breaking the Cycle of Divorce: How Your Marriage Can Succeed Even If Your Parents’ Didn’t, go to FamilyLifeToday.com. When you click on the link in the upper left-hand corner that says, “GO DEEPER,” it’ll take you right where you need to go to find out more about John’s book. You can order it from us, online, or you can order by calling 1-800-FL-TODAY. Again, the title is Breaking the Cycle of Divorce by Dr. John Trent. And you can order, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY.”
Let me just say—if you want to do some preventative maintenance for your marriage—
—get out to one of our Weekend to Remember marriage getaways, as a couple, and spend a weekend talking about how you are doing, as a couple, and learning about what God has to say about how a marriage can thrive—what His intention for marriage was in the first place / His design for the marriage relationship. If you’d like to find out more about the Weekend to Remember, call 1-800-FL-TODAY. We’ll answer any questions you have; or go, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com.
I also want to mention a couple of resources we are making available this month to the folks who help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today. I think most of you, who listen regularly, know that FamilyLife Today is sponsored by you—listeners, like you, who periodically will pitch in to help cover the costs of producing and syndicating this daily radio program. You make this program possible for your community and, of course, for your family as well.
And this month, we’d like to say, “Thank you for whatever donation you can make to help support us,” by sending you your choice of either Scott Stanley’s book about commitment in marriage called A Lasting Promise or Ron Deal’s book called The Smart Stepfamily. Both of these books have recently been revised and updated, and we’d love to send you your choice of either book when you help support FamilyLife Today with a donation.
You can do that, online, at 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 let us know which of these two books you’d like for us to send to you. Or you can request a copy of either book when you call 1-800-FL-TODAY to make a donation; and you can also request a copy of either book when you mail your donation to FamilyLife Today at PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR. And our zip code is 72223.
And with that, we’ve got to wrap things up for this week. Thanks for being with us. Hope you have a great weekend. Hope you and your family are able to worship together this weekend. And I hope you can join us back on Monday when we’re going to do a little eavesdropping. We’re going to sit in on a conversation that Barbara Rainey had recently with a group of young moms talking about issues moms face. You’ll get a chance to hear her tackle some of their questions on Monday. 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 host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We’ll see you next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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