Growing up, I had an atypical childhood. Like most, it had its ups and downs and in some ways, though debatable, my parents raised me well. But, anyone can see that my parents do not have the healthiest of relationships. There is always constant miscommunication, drunken yelling, corporal punishments—the whole nine yards.
To wit, I’ve always wondered how much my view on love has been shaped by the way I see my parents’ love. In retrospect, I realised that it has influenced my approach to relationships and the way I communicate with others. This Valentine’s month, I examine the many ways my parents have shaped how I love as an adult and the valuable lessons I’ve learned from them. Now that I’m cognizant of these behaviours, I know that I’m not responsible for my parents’ relationship, and although it has in some ways, damaged me, I forgive them.
Lesson 1: Love need not be selfless
My mother holds a rather traditional view of marriage—it is her sole duty as a wife to serve her husband. She obligingly accommodates my father’s requests, impractical as it may be. There is a power imbalance arising from the inescapable fact that my father, as a sole breadwinner, supports her and the family. She feels that she has done the bare minimum as a wife by miraculously bearing three children for him despite her age. In her eyes, this is what love is supposed to be—to selflessly serve her partner, regardless of how she’s treated.
But I hold the view that love should not be selfless. Don’t give what you cannot handle, and make an effort to self-love instead of constantly giving and giving until one of you turns resentful.
I love my mother, but I could never imagine myself as the woman that she is now.
Lesson 2: Codependency is very real, unhealthy, and ugly
From a very young age, my siblings and I knew that our parents don’t have the best relationship. At different times all three of us have individually asked my parents to separate.
“I will never divorce your mother.”
“I will never give your father the satisfaction of a divorce.”
What is this satisfaction you speak of? Arguing goes two ways. I shared this with my friends and one of them said: “At least they still care to argue.” Yes, but this is definitely not a fighting-for-each-other type of romanticism. But rather, a stubborn insistence to not let the other party win. They see marriage as a contest, not a partnership where it’s okay to lose.
As a result, my mother projects her frustrations from her arguments with my father onto my siblings and I in the form of all-bark-no-bite classic emotional manipulation. “Just you wait, when I leave this house, none of you will be able to survive without me!” She says this every time she gets angry at us.
Lesson 3: Miscommunication is everything
If I were to describe my parents’ relationship in one word, it would be miscommunication. And this stems from one cause—them refusing to listen to each other.
They are prideful individuals, never one to back down or admit defeat. A simple disagreement can turn into a screaming match in seconds. Their habit of miscommunication unconsciously bled into my first relationship. Whenever my partner and I would argue, I wouldn’t be able to deal with the situation and would literally walk out of the room to avoid confrontation. A PTSD of sorts—I did not know how to healthily resolve issues in my relationship.
Lesson 4: Being good parents ≠ a good marriage
My father is a responsible man—he made sure we were comfortable and graciously funded my overseas education. My mother nurtured us in the best way she could, and I would attribute my trait of being patient directly to her. My parents are wonderful as individuals, but together they tear each other down
Marriage and parenting are also two separate entities. I know that my parents hold the belief that there’s nothing inherently wrong with their relationship. I’ve been told before that my parents would never want to raise children in a ‘broken home’ fearing repercussions. But dear parents, have you thought about how your arguments affect your children?
In the future, should I decide to have children, I know that any problems with my partner and I have to be solved healthily, lest they bleed into the way we raise our children.
Lesson 5: Desperate for love
My parents ruminate in their anger, making my siblings and I terrified to approach them for fear of being yelled at. This resulted in us seeking support and comfort with each other or channelling the need elsewhere. For me, that translated to a codependent relationship I had with my first ex-boyfriend.
I would resent time alone and would be irrationally sad when left to my own devices. I leaned so heavily on my partner for company and comfort that I totally forgot how to exist on my own. I was a damsel desperate for love and could not rationalise my actions.
In retrospect, I now understand that part of the human condition is indulging in replacement behaviours for things we lack in other aspects of our life. But we need to learn to recognise when habits become detrimental and unlearn them.
After all that’s said, I will never know the true nature of my parents’ relationship for I am not them. These are simply my observations as their first-born.
The whole point of this rumbling is not to shame my parents’ marriage. But to recognise destructive behaviour and ensure that I don’t adopt them in my next relationship. I owe my future partner and myself that, at the very least. And if your parents are anything like mine, know that you’re not alone. And that there’s still hope. I think.
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