[Edited to add that if you have arrived here through a search engine, you’ll probably want to read my post of July 7, 2008, also: Less than zen. You’ll find a direct link in the comments below.]
As my other half said at Laura’s blog*, the happiest couples are the ones who have worked through the crap together and come out the other side.
(*If you’ve not read the “Our Story” at Snerkology, I highly encourage you to do so! Laura writes beautifully and has a very special insight that I love to read. 🙂 This is a multi-post story, and I link you to the latest installment at this time because she links all the others there. I don’t usually directly refer to situations in another blog like I will be here without spelling them out, but there’s too much! I refer directly to part 6. Go, read. Or, skip over those here if you must!)
At my parents’ anniversary party not long ago, a friend of my mother’s who is about my age looked at a picture of my husband and I and said, “See, I LOVE that picture because it is so obvious that you two are in love and really cherish each other.” I laughed and said, “Yeah, well, that’s the after picture: We’d spent the entire year before that deciding whether we should get divorced and working through YEARS of crap that we’d been ignoring, so at that point, we really were in love with each other again!” She thanked me profusely for letting her know that ‘look’ isn’t just some magical thing that falls out of the sky because she’d been going through a lot with her husband recently too and the work was so challenging; it was nice for her to know that we had made it out the other side, not just alive but better for it.
Second, and very importantly, I hope that in retrospect, it is obvious to Calvin that the dissolution of his marriage is the best thing that could have happened to his children. I am the product of a home that is (long pause here while I tried to figure out how to word this adequately) shattered like a mirror. My parents stayed together, and their relationship is, to this day, like a shattered mirror for me – constantly stabbing and cutting at me with sharp edges and tiny pieces of glass that get stuck in my skin and burn. I am the only child of people who cannot stand each other, and I have had a whole lot of counseling to understand that I am not a product of hatred and animosity just because, like their relationship, I am made up of both of them. Their relationship still pains me to the point that I moved a few states away in part to get the hell away from its poisoning effect, I almost can’t handle visiting them, and it is very close to agonizing at times to have them visit us because of the way their hostility infects the peace of my own home.
Because they both use me against the other, solicit my support in their battle, and then also blame me as well, I do not and cannot trust them – and have not done so from a very young age. There is a whole of story that follows that for me, and I’m sure that some of it will show up here in the future, but suffice to say that I understand Michael and Marie’s trauma in the early divorce at not being able to trust their mother to protect them, love them, and not hurt them. I simply cannot imagine what happened in her mind to hurt her children in that way; there is no hurt that justifies that. I’m not saying that a parent can’t snap – we are still human, but when you find yourself in that situation, you REMOVE yourself from it as quickly as possible. But then, I guess, I have the experience of having been the child.
When I was a child, my mother chose to stay in the marriage because of who I might end up being exposed to as family if they divorced because my father had known affairs with, we’ll say, women who would be less than suitable in the stepmother department. On that level, I totally understand and can certainly respect her decision (I know these people now). BUT, I was obviously also seriously damaged by their relationship in other ways that have taken me years to get over, so I can’t say that at least once I got older, it was still the right decision to make. And now that I have my own child who visits them too, I have become more assertive with them in order to look out for him – realizing that demanding some restraint from them was the best thing I could do for myself and, therefore, for my son.
The point is this: Our kids learn from us. By watching their parents, children learn what they should accept from another person in a relationship. They learn when to bow down and when to stand up. They learn how they will define love, respect, and partnership. They learn about self-respect and how to define boundaries. They learn when to stick it out and when to let go and how to go about making those decisions. They learn about self-preservation and being true to who you are. And they learn all of these incorrectly if that is all they ever see.
Never do to yourself what you would never do to your child because they will learn it from you and do it to themselves.
Calvin ultimately did right by his children by that standard, and I sincerely hope that he knows that.
If there is anyone else out there reading this who is in a similar situation in a bad relationship, please think long and hard about what you are teaching your child by how you are treating yourself and/or allowing yourself to be treated. I’m not advocating leaving or staying, but know that what you’re doing is what you’re teaching your children to do for themselves. It should be an important part of your decision.