‘Broken Homes and Failed Marriages’ ~ Divorce and Your Wedding Day

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Can I talk about divorce on a wedding blog? Is that even allowed?

DivorceImage source

It’s just that we celebrated my step-father’s 80th birthday at the weekend. As I watched guests mingle in the garden between showers and caught up with people I hadn’t seen since our wedding six months ago, I found myself thinking about the complexities of my family.

My parents separated a little after my 9th birthday. My sister was just 5 at the time and she has no memory of our Dad ever living with us, a fact I’ve always found rather sad.

I remember coming downstairs the morning after my parents had broken the news to us. My Father was just waking up. He’d spent the night on the sofa in a blue sleeping bag. Despite my youth I understood the significance of him having been ejected from the marital bed. That moment bought the realisation that things weren’t ever going to be the same again for my little family.

Being a child of divorced {and subsequently remarried} parents gave me a lot to consider on my wedding day. My Mother, a second generation divorcee whose parents split when she was in her late teens, had long regaled me with horror stories from her own wedding in the late 1970s. It was a tale of tension and worry, of disgruntled step-siblings, and parents who couldn’t {or wouldn’t} sit with one another.

I’ve experienced the awkwardness of family gatherings after divorce numerous times. There was the Christmas performance of Handel’s Messiah where my parents and their respective partners sat at opposite ends of the church. As I stood with the choir at the front, resplendent in my neatly pressed school uniform, I can remember not knowing which direction I should be smiling in as I peered over the top of my song book.

At other events I dreaded uncomfortable silences and sullen looks equally as much as heated confrontations, and often wondered why all involved couldn’t just behave like sensible adults.

In the run up to our wedding day, being part of a divorced family informed many of the details I agonised over the most.

Would my step-mother even come? Should I sit my step-siblings together, or force them to mingle with the biological side of my family? Would they be offended by their Father giving me away? Who gets to join in the formal photos? Would it be considered bad taste to include a picture of my parents on their wedding day among the family photos we planned to display with our guest book?

Divorce2Image source

It’s all very well being guided by the belief that your wedding day is about pleasing yourself and your husband, but when there is a very real risk your actions could upset what may already be fragile and vulnerable relationships, it’s not quite as simple as that.

Although I would never deny the breakdown of my parent’s marriage was an incredibly traumatic experience, in the years that have passed since I have adopted a fairly philosophical view of the whole thing. For every painful scar left behind, and there are many, the huge transition my family went through almost 20 years ago has also exposed me to a number of amazing people and experiences which I might otherwise not have been.

As my parents both married for a second time, a new family developed around me, picking up where the old, broken one had left off. My Step-Father is Danish and over the years parts of his culture have become imprinted on mine. I’ve visited the country twice with my parents and am well versed in many of their traditions.

My children’s use of the Danish words ‘Mor Mor’ and ‘Mor Far’ to describe their grandparents not only illustrates the incorporation of his heritage into ours, but also provides an opportunity to look at the concept of family through the innocent gaze of childhood. My children’s unquestioning acceptance of our unconventional family constantly reminds me that it doesn’t need to be blood that defines who we are related to, who we consider our own.

My parent’s divorce, and the series of life events it set in motion, influenced and shaped me massively as a person. I may have a deep fear of abandonment that a therapist would simply love to discuss, but I also have a gamut of experiences under my belt that I think give me an interesting, open-minded view of family, love, relationships and marriage.

This leads me to the question of forever. That’s why we marry, right? Because we believe in, or at the very least hope for, forever. But divorce is the exact opposite of that. I’d be lying if I said it was easy for me to picture my marriage lasting indefinitely, not because I doubt my commitment to my husband {or indeed his to me}, but because it’s just not in my frame of reference. Which is kind of sad when you think about it.

While I cower at the prospect of learning from my parent’s mistakes {I’d rather we make our own and learn from them instead}, I know I have entered marriage with a realistic view of how much effort is needed for it to survive. I’ve heard my parent’s complaints, their criticisms of each other, and their admissions of guilt. I know what it is to embark on this journey in the wake of another’s failure.

But the entrepreneur Brad Feld suggests failure is an integral part of things. To deny its existence is akin to faking reality.

Which is kind of like saying ‘divorce is part of who I am, but it’s not all that I am’.

So there.

Have you experienced the breakdown of your parent’s marriage? Perhaps you have been through a divorce yourself and are now embarking on another marital journey?   

How did you cope with the complexities of family relationships on your wedding day? Can you offer any advice for brides who might be facing the same sort of tensions?

Has divorce made you think differently about marriage? Do you believe in ‘forever’?



 You can join in many more discussion posts on Love My Dress right here.

28 thoughts on “‘Broken Homes and Failed Marriages’ ~ Divorce and Your Wedding Day

  1. Really good post and something which I know many people deal with when planning a wedding – family politics. At nearly 30, my parents are still in the wrangles of their own divorce which I’m hoping will provide some closure before my big day next year. Makes all the politics very raw though for them AND the rest of either side of the family. 37 years of their marriage later and they called it a day. Fingers crossed they can be civil for just a few hours!

  2. Thank you for this post! My parents got a divorce this year after 29 years of marriage. It happens to be the same year I got engaged. This has been a very trying time for me because parents divorce makes me question marriage in a way. I’m completely in love with my fiance whom I’ve been together with for four years. I can’t imagine my life without him but I’m still thinking a lot about what it means to get married.

  3. lovely post Frankie (as usual!). My parents divorced when I was very small – like your sister I have no memories of my father being part of my home life. In addition, my father is Israeli, so when my folks separated, he went back there and I was out of sight and out of mind. Whilst this was very difficult in some ways, when its come to wedding planning its made my life much easier. My stepdad came into my life when I was 8. He’s been such a huge part of my childhood and adult life and it would never occur to me to ask anyone else to give me away.
    My biological father and his side of the family will not be invited to the wedding. I don’t feel bad about it, they all live in Israel, I rarely speak to any of them (least of all my father) and I’d feel like I had a bunch of strangers at my wedding if they were there. My biological father also re-married and I have three half-siblings but I don’t even know their names. On the other hand, my step-father came into our lives with three boys, and he and my mum subsequently had my sister, so I feel like I have a full compliment of siblings, all of whom I love very much.
    My heart goes out to people whose parents can’t keep it together for one day. They should be celebrating the amazing thing they created together, and the amazing things their son/daughter will go on to do. However, I guess sometimes differences are irreconcilable – sadly on a wedding day its the bride and groom who have to worry about it!
    Finally, (sorry this is very long) I think the phrase ‘blood is thicker than water’ is a load of tosh and I think my family and many others prove that. Your family are the people who make you feel your best, your most secure, your most loved. Their biological relationship to you is, frankly, irrelevant.

  4. Both our parents are divorced- and while my parents made every effort to remain friends (not even civil, but actual friends!), his don’t speak to each other and there’s a lot of bad blood. It’s the main reason why it’s fair to say my boyfriend is dreading our wedding day (but not the actual marriage- thankfully!).
    Coming from a ‘broken home’ we’re both well aware that marriage doesn’t necessarily mean for ever… but we’re also damn well determined to make it so, which we know is going to mean a lot of hard work, sacrifice, and ups and downs.
    A lovely post Frankie x

  5. My parents are divorced. I don’t speak to my mother at all and my step-mother treats me like her own. So that’ll be easy when it comes to W-day!

  6. This is a great post Franky. I know my boyfriend’s reservations towards marriage stem a lot from his parents having stayed in an unhappy relationship for the sake of him and his brother. They only separated five years ago, when he was 27, but from what he’s discussed with me, it would have been better for all concerned had that happened sooner. His view of his childhood is coloured by their arguments and disagreements. It’s sad that he doesn’t believe in marriage anymore, but I can understand why.
    I remember my Mum telling me about having an argument with her mother-in-law, because she said she couldn’t promise that her and my Dad would always stay together. My Grandma took this as a personal affront, but as my Mum explained, you never know what the future holds. I like to think that this realistic outlook on marriage is what has kept my parents together. I think it’s possible to make it work forever…

  7. Thanks for this post Frankie. This is the only potential issue which could be problematic at our wedding. My Dad remarried about 5 years ago after my parents divorced when I was an adult. I have a very good relationship with him, but his wife is pretty much a stranger to us. We have never really had the opportunity or desire to build a relationship with her, which suits all parties fine for most of the time, but when it comes to our wedding, it poses a problem as I’m not sure I feel comfortable having a virtual stranger there in such a prominent role. Particularly one whose presence is certain to make my Mum feel extremely uncomfortable and for whom my sister and Grandma have very little time.
    I’m also concerned that my Dad will be fulfilling a traditional role on the day, escorting me to the ceremony – giving me away, and helping host the reception, so his wife will be on her own for big swathes of time. The only people at the wedding she knows are my aforementioned sister and grandma, neither of whom will be falling over themselves to make her feel welcome. It’s hardly likely to be an enjoyable occasion for her, but she’s a bit emotionally neutral, so I think she would just get through it without feeling particularly bothered.
    I need to have a conversation with my Dad since as it stands, I have no idea what his expectations are regarding her attendance. He could be completely in tune with my concerns and have assumed his wife would not attend anyway, or equally not have given any thought to any potential issue and be put out at the suggestion she doesn’t come. It’s very hard to gauge. I know I just have to tread very carefully to ensure this doesn’t blow up into a massive, upsetting issue for everyone…

  8. My parents separated when I was 16, by the time new partners were established I’d left home thankfully as I wouldn’t want to be parented by either step-parent! For our wedding we sat them on different tables, much easier!

  9. My own Father has been divorced but he did so before he and Mum had children {me and my Sister} though his divorce still caused some degree of faction within the family in the past, which made it difficult for me too to work out what to do to keep *everyone* happy when it came to invites, seating plan etc. In the end I chose to listen to my gut instinct which seemed to suggest the right thing at the time.
    I can imagine this matter is a real headache for many however, which is such a shame given the joyous occasion a wedding should be – and well done Franky for addressing it so very eloquently and sensibly.

  10. “This is a great post Franky. I know my boyfriend’s reservations towards marriage stem a lot from his parents having stayed in an unhappy relationship for the sake of him and his brother. They only separated five years ago, when he was 27, but from what he’s discussed with me, it would have been better for all concerned had that happened sooner. His view of his childhood is coloured by their arguments and disagreements. It’s sad that he doesn’t believe in marriage anymore, but I can understand why. ”
    This makes me so sad is is a subject I often think parents with the very best intentions get wrong – it’s that loaded question isn’t it? What could be worse and more damaging, a physical split? Or staying together and battling through arguments and disagreements which then produce an unhealthy set of memories and experiences for the children to dwell over. Such a difficult, difficult subject.

  11. I find the term “broken home” really offensive. My parents divorced when I was ten and my little brother five. My mum did a marvellous job of bringing us up in a “love filled home”, not a “broken home”.
    Despite my parents being divorced, my maternal grandparents were together until they died in their eighties and it is that example of “forever love” that I aspire to.
    I just got married and was really worried/nervous about my parents coming together for the first time in twenty years, and with their other halves too. But I needn’t have worried at all, they got on so well and that was down to them both wanting my day to be the best for me (and my husband!). It was such a special day and it was great to have everyone together.
    I now have a four year old step son who is going through that phase of asking those questions “what happens when people die”, etc and “why?” is his response to everything. He has even asked why other boy’s mummy and daddy live in the same house, as for him it is normal for them not too and we’ve never made an issue out of it! I would hate to think that anyone would ever suggest he came from a broken home, please can we stop using this term!

  12. I totally agree! I hoped the use of quotation marks in the title would emphasise that these are phrases used by other people rather than myself. I would like to see the phrase die out too, I think it shows narrow mindedness and a lack of understanding of how the notion of family has evolved in recent years.
    I don’t think of my family as broken, and that was something I tried to put across in what I’ve written. Your step-son reminds me of my daughter who once said ‘I want a step-dad too’. It took me a while to explain to her that in order for that to happen Mummy and Daddy would have to split up!

  13. Thank you for replying. I didn’t want to be too negative!
    PS: A friend’s six year old recently asked if his mummy and daddy could live in separate houses as it would mean he had two houses full of toys just like his friend at school!

  14. Not too negative at all! Discussion posts are all about discussion, and I am glad of an opportunity to make it clear that I agree with you!
    Yes, I remember friends being jealous that my sister and I got to celebrate Christmas twice. 2 trees, 2 Christmas dinners… the works! Funny how the mind of a child works, hey?!

  15. Dreading my big day due to stifled communication with my father. He bitterly regrets his divorce. My mother has since remarried (as has my father) and my step dad is lovely.
    The giving away part will be dealt with by using my wonderful brother in law but how do i seat people? My father would come alone and know only me and my immediate family. But i can’t sit him with them as my step father will be there and it would be their first meeting.
    It’s a mine field….
    My sister avoided this by ‘doing a Gretna’ and dragging witnesses off the street for a quick registry office affair. That’s not me though. I don’t want lavish meringue dresses or flocks of doves released but i do want a ‘proper’ wedding. I want a ceremony and a wedding breakfast and to sit and watch our loved ones dancing, feasting and making merry while celebrating our lives joining together.
    I don’t want to have to worry about the dynamics and view the day as a carefully orchestrated plan to keep both dads apart.
    Wonderful and very thought provoking post Franky xxx

  16. Hi Mandy, I’m in a fairly similar position in as much as it’s potentially going to be very problematic with one remarried parent and one single (see above). I feel exactly the same as you describe in your second paragraph. I hope you manage to find a solution which doesn’t cause you too many headaches. xx

  17. Very similar Vivi. Both parents have remarried here but i have never met my fathers wife and have no desire to. The same with my step siblings (who are about 24 and 20 years old by my calculations)
    I too have a sister who would give them very little time and it would be awkward. They won’t be coming. It would be my dad on his own which makes things difficult. I don’t want to spend my day ‘babysitting’ my dad!
    All and stressful. Hope your conversation with your dad goes well x

  18. Franky again a post which needs discssion,and written beautifully
    I got divorced in march 2011,after 17 years of marriage,which i hoped would last forever.we go into it hoping for the fairytale,sadly it wasent for me,my daughters who were then 14 and 12 took the news badly,and im still having trouble with the eldest,her father now has a new partner and i am now in love again with someone who is also going through a divorce.
    my girls spend weekends with their dad,and we remain friends,it has been very hard as i took on the mortgage and in the beginning i had little time for my emotions as i had the girls to think about,and running the home and working.
    I havent lost my faith in mariage i lost my faith in my husband,i would love a second chance at it,and this time to succeed,im older and hopefully wiser.
    if the girls get married,we will have the situation of new partners and the photo,top table scenario,and id like to think that we could put the past behind us and think today is their day.
    thanks for this post,thank you franky for your discussions,you know im a fan of your blog,and im a fan of love my dress,the features and wedding stories delight my day.

  19. My parents are divorced, and my dad re married my god mother (obviously once a close enough friend of my mothers to ask her to by my god mother), thus making her my step mother too. Sams parents are in the middle of a very messy divorce where they communicate only via letters, although they love 6 miles apart. He has now got together with an ex girlfriend, but who also happens to be an (ex) best friend of Sams mum. Confused? Yes me too. I am not looking forward to the table plan for our November wedding. We will have a sweetheart table and no top table, which will make things slightly easier.
    I also had qualms about walking down the aisle with my dad, as he actually took very little part in helping me to grow up as I saw him once or twice a year from 7 years to now, 19 years later. However I don’t know him well enough to tell him that I would rather strut down the aisle on my own, and it clearly means so much to him that who am I to deny him 2 minutes of pride.
    On a lighter note, it was his parents failing marriage that made Sam more determined to propose. I enjoyed reading this, and all the comments following it too… food for thought indeed.

  20. Coming from parents who separated before i was born (unheard of in a small devon village in the 70s) and subsequently having been married and divorced myself and now getting married again next year you can probably appreciate that i have seen most sides of this post first hand!
    As a bride i think it is about feeling your way through gently and being comfortable with your decisions in the end. There are no hard and fast rules. My stepsister recently got married with all 8 parents happily in attendance (2 sets of divorced and remarried) and everyone ‘behaved’ quite admirably.
    i do hope that this, my second, marriage is my last (even if i do joke about mark webber being husband no 3) as i want to be as happy as my future in-laws have been over the past 40 years but in order to acheive this i now recognise the hard work that that takes a i swear to bear in mind the wise words of my 94 year old grandmother.. “i always loved your grandfather. sometimes i didnt like him very much and there were some months we barely spoke or i would have clocked him one, but you hang on in there and ride the ups and downs. that’s marriage.” a wise old lady indeed. x

  21. Aww Nicole, I just wish I could hug you right now! I’m lucky enough to have happily married parents, but my fiance’s parents are unhappily divorced. I think it’s always made him slightly wary of the idea of marriage generally, and the wedding day in particular. Ultimately though I think marriage is a celebration of your love, and sadly that love may not last forever but it doesn’t make it any less special while it lasts.

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