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why kids from broken families are afraid of falling in love

divorce

One of my all-time favorite songs is Sigh No More by Mumford & Sons.

The ballad is rhapsodic by nature – it stutters along in both arcs and parallels, crescendoing in and out, almost mimicking the breathing pattern of ocean waves slapping at the shore.

This flow continues until around halfway through the song, at which point the band reveals their ringing climax:

Love, it will not betray you, dismay or enslave you, it will set you free.

Be more like the man you were made to be.

I absolutely love this line.  Every time the words leave my lips, I find myself very badly wanting to believe that they are true.

It’s a really nice idea – that love will never betray you, dismay or enslave you; that love will set you free from a prison you didn’t know existed, actually helping you become more like the person God originally intended you to be.

Author C.S. Lewis echoes this idea of love not as risk management, but liberation (man, what a beautiful word):

To love at all is to be vulnerable.  Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken.  If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal.  Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements.  Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.  But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change.  It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.  To love is to be vulnerable.

It’s a powerful warning – that love is the only thing that can free you from yourself.

“Love, it will not dismay you, betray or enslave you, it will set you free!”

But I personally find it really hard to believe what Mumford & Sons and C.S. Lewis are saying about the beauty of (falling in) love – while I can only speak to my own story, my personal experience leads me to believe that love will betray you, will dismay and enslave you, and will absolutely not set you free.

I was talking about this with my little sister the other day.

Almost everything my siblings and I have seen in terms of romantic relationships has been unhealthy.  Nearly every familial experience we’ve had screams that love is the opposite of freedom, that it can ruin everything – that Mumford & Sons and C.S. Lewis are pretty much full of it.

family

Others who come from broken homes can tell you that there’s a phrase folks like us sometimes use when we’re being truly open about our fears.

We say that we’re afraid of “marrying the wrong person.”

We’re afraid of meeting someone, falling in love, getting married, having kids with them…and then watching everything fall apart.

It’s not that we fear commitment – we just fear it going south.

Because we’ve seen this before, from a front-row perspective.  The tearing apart of a family has had an enormous impact on our own lives, and the last thing we ever want to do is replicate that same trauma in the lives of our children.

Kids from broken families are afraid of falling in love because we know that no one’s parents woke up on their wedding day and thought “well, this whole thing’s gonna end in screaming matches, bitter years in divorce court, and alimony.

That’s probably the scariest thing to us, that our parents were once deeply in love and now they barely speak to each other.  We’re not quite sure how to sit with that or how to make sure love lost doesn’t happen to us too.

So we flee from the possibility of romantic love.

Folks like us dread more than anything the spark of attraction that flickers up in our gut when we discover that we feel an abiding romantic connection to someone who has up to this point been “just a friend.”  We usually react by hardening our hearts against the risk of possible erotic attachment and shoving our feelings down, pouring black water over the hot flames of attraction until they’re all but drowned in a soggy, repressed mess.

We flee because living alone and never opening up to the chance of finding that Special Someone seems much safer than potentially creating a family situation as devastating as the one we survived.

We strangle love before it can take root because we fear it will someday enslave us, betray us, dismay us, and trap us in a prison of misery.

studdad, mom, and a young me

Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl, reflecting upon the meaning of life, said that “love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire.”

Again, I want to believe that he’s right.

Underneath our blaring pain and fears, we who come from broken families really do want to believe that there is a deeper frequency operating in secret.  We love the idea that love’s call is the fullest fate that humans have access to.  We daily strain to spurn our doubt and hear the humble buzzing of a most precious truth that insists we were made for and by and through love.

I don’t know if I buy that yet.

But what I can say is this:

We who come from broken families must either continue to hide from our destinies as creatures made for relationships and community, or swallow our fears and take a step of faith, daring to risk at love and loss.

At least until I’m proven otherwise, I guess I’ll keep nodding along with C.S. Lewis and singing the words to Sigh No More.

Meanwhile, my fingers’ll be crossed that this whole love thing isn’t a scam – that romance is ultimately worth it and that love really is liberation.

* * *

What do you think?  Can you relate?  How may I have mischaracterized those of us who come from broken homes?

13 Comments Post a comment
  1. Searching for perfection #

    Hi Ryan,

    I was wanting to add to your article that I, as a child of a broken family, feel somewhat different from what you described. I agree that I am cautious about my romantic relationships; I spend time wondering if the person I’m with is perfect enough for me to marry. Some people have told me that marriage is full of compromises. Does that mean I should compromise on some of the qualities I believe I want in a partner? How dissimilar from myself is too dissimilar? Would certain differences between us break our marriage? Could I possibly find someone who is my perfect match? And then the Biblical qualifications get in the mix. Is he Christian? Does that matter? Will he become Christian? Does that matter? Will our beliefs tear us apart? Can I find the depth of thinking, complexity of character, and willingness to challenge the status quo that I find attractive all in a Christian man-parcel? I don’t want to date or marry someone who is simple, narrow minded, or unwilling to try new things. What matters more for a marriage: Christian or the qualities I find attractive? Don’t get me wrong. I know it is possible for a man to be both Christian and complex of character, but in my experience, I haven’t run across many of those. I’ve found immature, sheltered boys hiding behind the narrow door example of the Law as an excuse for not getting out of their Christian comfort zone. All these things swirl around in my head when I’m in a relationship. I do get into relationships because I want to find my match, but I find myself constantly analyzing my partner and saying “how different is too different?”

    September 5, 2013
  2. We’ve talked about this. I’m the broken-family child, too. But I think I fall on the side of believing that love really does free people. I mean, God is love, right? A good question is: what TYPE of love have we seen as the example in our lives? Faithful, unconditional love? Or slightly self-centered, self-conscious, self-reliant “love”? (Which, p.s., isn’t really love.) And which type are we emulating? Because that is what makes all the difference.
    The type of love demonstrated as I grew up was a bit on the selfish side, in an accidental, unaware, human way. So the hope lies in returning to the heart of God, and seeking the brand of love only He can develop in the hearts of men.

    Hope you’re well Ry,
    Jordan

    September 5, 2013
  3. Ashley #

    I have to say that you spoke to apart of myself that I don’t get to talk about. The part of myself that is afraid of relationships. I am afraid of losing myself in someone else, and yes, becoming enslaved.

    Coming from a broken home, I see how a relationship can hide the very best qualities that you have to offer as an individual. I have seen how relationships can eat you up inside and leave an empty hole. And most important, I have experienced the pain that comes from a mother who is never emotionally there and a far who lives thousands of miles away and couldn’t be bothered to call you once in a while. I know the hurt that comes with letting yourself truly be with someone and having it all thrown in your face. It changes you, it affects you.

    Being with someone on that level is a complication that I am not sure that I am ready to deal with. The world is already complicated and scary enough without the added discomfort of being with someone and worrying they’re going to hurt you. I, too, want to believe that love is freedom but how can I when everything in my own life tells me otherwise. When the only love that you experience is that of the conditional kind, it is hard to look forward to any other when nothing seems to support the existence. I wish that I could throw away all my worries and allow myself to love and be loved but I am not sure if that is possible. For me, it seems there will always be the mistrust and hurt lingering in my heart.

    Without trust, can you have true love? I believe not and for that reason I will also be patiently wait for my heart to be ready to trust again. Thanks so much for this article. It was honest and true.

    September 5, 2013
  4. Dudu #

    I come from a broken-family too, and im afraid to fall in love, at least i was, but i felt in love with a boy. I regret about that, cause now my heart is broken and it feels just so wrong, i always thought things u wrote, but when i met that guy i said “I shouldn’t be afraid, he loves me back and i have no reasons to be afraid” and yea, i felt 😦 Now my heart is broken, im even more scared to fall in love again, in fact, i dont wanna fall in love again. Thanks so much for things u wrote, i just felt that there is someone that understands me. Thanks.

    September 13, 2013
  5. Checkyourmetrics #

    Love comes in many different forms; it is multifaceted. I too, am a survivor of a tumultuous, sanity eroding marriage that took far too long for the fracture to break. The amount of self reflection, courage, and maturity that it has taken to recover has been enormous but worth it many times over. Love is not a thing to possess but an act. A relationship is a process of relating not an item to stuff into your pocket. The pain and suffering so many of us have experienced is from a deficit of love not the agent itself. Out parents tortured themselves and others because they forced an alien nature onto one another, were blinded by the idea of a marriage or love, and completely missed what it really is. We have inherited their legacy of heartbreak and learned that this is the immutable truth. It is not. The clinging, the confusion, it was all spawned from twisting what was true and real. The fact that neither of them belonged with one another and were unable or unwilling to do the hard work required as payment for the joyously lofty heights of a soul in love. This is why they neverreaped the benefit. What we all bore witness to was not love; it was ego. You cannot own anyone. You cannot control anyone but yourself. Love is selfless. Love is patient. Love is kind. There is a reason it is rare. It challenges you to admit to your deficits and overcome them. It takes facing fear. It takes having faith. These are things people claim to be prepared to do but in most cases they aren’t. It is absolutely possible. In fact it is staring you in the face. But you are not ready. Sincerety and conviction are required. There is a damn good reason it is considered the pinacle of human success. It is rare and costly but rewarding beyond imagination. Working through your own issues, learning to grow, and admitting fault are key. It exists I assure you. You just aren’t ready yet and to be truthful I often question whether I am as well. I’m close though. You can make it too. Be ready for the undertaking of your life. Sometimes you get what you ask for. It is no game. The war is over my friends. Life believes in third chances. Love conquers all.

    Good luck.

    September 19, 2013
  6. ann #

    reading your article, makes me feel am not alone, and tears just came like stream… i feel those pain, doubts, fear, uncertain…

    July 23, 2014
    • thank you for reading, ann…please reach out anytime. that is the goal of my writing when i am being most honest with myself. to help people feel less alone. thank YOU, friend : /

      July 23, 2014
  7. Sasa #

    Totally relate fell in love n got married been terrified ever since

    September 28, 2014
  8. Conflicted #

    Hi Ryan,
    Yes, your article is very relatable for anyone who comes from a broken home or has been through pain, abuse or neglect in place of unconditional love. I have to say that having come from a broken home, the first time someone wanted to be with me, I was terrified of the idea of love and letting someone in. I just couldn’t open up although I really liked this person and I lost my chance at what could’ve been something real.
    I’m still trying to figure out what love is all about..It’s very conflicting…but I guess its a hurdle each of us will have to overcome on our own. We have to learn to open up at the risk of being hurt or imprison ourselves in our own fear and uncertainty created by our past, never giving ourselves a chance.
    I hope I, and others like myself can find the courage to fall in love and let it set us free..as you so well stated using that beautiful definition.
    One can always hope 🙂

    September 3, 2015
  9. Lily f. Johnson #

    You all are missing so much about love! I do not know about your parents, (with much respect to you guys for remaining a little positive about life and holding on by the edges of inches on the metophorical cliff.. that takes extreme hard work.) but I do know that ONLY true love, made by God, can set you free.

    But, there is a catch, and you guys clearly have seen it, that ALL HUMANS ARE IMPERFECT There is no such thing as “the right person”!!!!! noone is perfect!!! including yourself!!!
    I can tell you, that in my short life, after seeing my parents be married for 25 years, with two older siblings, and I am the youngest.. (I hate it haha)

    I am a teenager. I have been in a “relationship” before, and I miss him. But I don’t want him back neccessarily……(too much explaining to do. but in the future.. we may find each other again, because sometimes people fall in love at the wrong time and place, even though they are meant to be together.)

    I DO know that love cannot be hurry-ed. I am a reader of c.s. lewis, and if you remember, dear friends, that c.s. lewis was once an atheist for a very long time, then, after many old years he became a christian. HE FOUND GOD’S LOVE.

    I too, have many doubts, many fears. (I may have actual anxiety problems.. including social anxiety.. but I dont know yet.) I dont like my parents relationship, as pure as it is, its always been annoying to me. But I do know that they could never survive without each other. I cannot even begin to explain how they work, play, and live together with talent.

    A few years into their marraige, they both found God together. My dad had a hard, (litterally satanic masonic past, in his family, and he overcame it by reading the Bible and removing the curse on his family.) (it wasnt a physical curse, but it very much heavily involved witchcraft and intrest in freemasonry.) My mom is a whole ‘nother story.

    This is a bit overly detailed, and I do not excpect you to understand any of this… but I can assure you, love is real, But only, when it is Unselfish. Love is not a feeling, it is a commitment. feelings are nice, but they die away. You have to know, that If and when you fall in love, you have to be ready for dealing with a lot of—- .. well, excuse me, but— Shit.
    because humans are imperfect we make mistakes, and love is never sunshine and rainbows. Your parents.. well, they couldnt deal with eachothers shit. they quit. they gave up. (forgive me, but quitters are loosers.)

    There is so much more that I could write, but Im running out of time and there would be a lot more detail.

    Please understand, that hope, and love, are not fairytail subjects. They are not just hormonal feelings. They are real, and must be taken care of, because these things ARE THE ONLY REASON why this world has not fallen apart!!!!!!!

    I know this is alot and probably overly strict sounding, but Im not trying to make it seem that way.

    Try not to marry too young and try not to move in or you know… (THAT stuff) with anybody, until you’ve made the relationship like a busniess deal.(after marraige.)
    marraiges and long term love commitments are buisness deals. think of it that way, and all the happy feelings will come after.

    But what do I know? Im just a writing blogger teenager on the internet.
    with a past.

    January 4, 2016
  10. HMMMM! wow! I had to read this twice! And with a bit of tears in my eyes and certainly with a heavy heart! I was google searching to find this kind of material! And this is a gold mine of a piece! I came to find as many materials i could get because i am in love with a lady who is from a broken home! Recently, just yesterday, or even early hours this morning, she suggested (and in order to please her, i agreed) we take a real long break because she needs time! Imagine! She asked for two whole months of no contact! Please, how does that help? To make matters worst, we are not living in the same state; it has been a long distance thingy for a while, and we never pass a day without communicating! And now, she wants to break off all communication for two whole months!

    The picture you painted really described her: “you don’t deserve my awful treatments. And i don’t seem to be getting any better. A wise man like you should bargain wisely before taking on any deal”. Those are her words!

    I had complaint about her silence which usually surfaces at least once every week! I sometimes ask myself if i can really cope! But I still believe she can get better and we can make it together, if she is willing to let me help her work on it! But really, i wonder if this what i want, at times!

    May 17, 2016
  11. felicia #

    I too, come from this kind of world. I am so lost until now, can’t loving anyone, can’t socialized and so alone emotionally. I’m too afraid, yes i have boyfriend. I forced myself because i want to know about love.
    Will i found one?

    December 5, 2016
    • felicia, I hope you are able to find the kind of love and peace that you were made for. I pray that community is able to come alongside you and that you will discover kinds of love in healing ways that don’t even seem possible to you now.

      I don’t think you need to force yourself to do anything – caring community can remind us how loved we are, and that is where I hope we can start.

      December 16, 2016

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