On 13 July 2015 my parents would have celebrated 45 years of marriage. Except that ‘celebrated’ probably isn’t quite the right word. My dad passed away 16 years earlier and, by the time he did, he and my mum had already been estranged for about 3 years.
My mum often recounts the story of their wedding day and I listen, fascinated at the stark differences between their nuptials and my own. Just like this year, it was a Monday, of all days. Monday, 13 July 1970. “He went to work in the morning and married me in the afternoon,” says Mum each time she tells the story.
There was no fancy wedding dress. In fact, I’ve never seen a photo of their wedding day, probably because there are none. Mum was 19 and already sporting a 3 month baby boep. She recalls that there was little to no encouragement and support from her family as she exchanged vows with the man who, despite all the best advice to the contrary, she loved with all her heart.
I wish I could say that theirs turned out to be a life-long love story despite all the warning signs. But it didn’t. Over the years since my dad has no longer been around, my mum has done her utmost to ensure that we remember the good things about him as a father and a husband. And so we do, with great fondness and love.
However, my parents’ unhappy marriage has taught me the following non-negotiable ways in which I’m trying to model my own union with my husband.
- Never go to bed angry. I saw my parents engage in stony silent treatment with each other for weeks and months on end, and I swore I never wanted to have that kind of prolonged anger in my relationship. There has been only one night that I broke this golden rule and slept on the couch in fury at my husband. People, the couch is a kak uncomfortable spot for a full night of slumber!! I shan’t be doing that ish again. If we have a squabble, it absolutely always needs to get sorted out before we both go to bed.
- Talk it out. Women (like my mum and like me as well) have it in their heads that men are adept at reading code language and hints and badly veiled attempts to communicate through body language and grunts. But we give them way too much credit. They’re not that evolved. Talk it out. Put it into words, and if you suck at verbalising stuff like me, write it down.
- It is never OK to be verbally or physically abusive to the person you love. Yes, we all get angry and say and do things we will regret afterwards. But the benefit of being humans and not animals is that we can exercise some kind of restraint, mentally, psychologically and physically when our first instinct is to lash out in fury. There were many, many times I heard and saw my parents being absolutely hateful towards each other and I have no doubt in my mind that my intense dislike of conflict as an adult stems from witnessing so much of it as a child. In my own marriage, there have been a few occasions where we have both lost control verbally. But generally when I am angry I prefer to remove myself from the situation and then revisit it later when I am calmer. I get in my car, take a long-ass drive, gather my thoughts for a few hours and then when I feel a bit better I’ll go back home to talk it out, as per #2.
- Home should be the place you enjoy the most in your marriage and family life. My dad worked away for a big part of his life. Then when he was home for the weekend he spent much of his free time at the pub or somewhere else with his mates. My mum on the other hand tried to keep us busy, and out and about of the house all the time. She knew she’d be in trouble, but she did it anyway. Home was not a sanctuary. It was a miserable place that none of us really wanted to spend too much time in, from the parents to the kids. This is why as a couple, it is a non-negotiable that my husband and I spend the majority of our free time at home, together, building a happy and healthy home environment for our son. I cannot put up with a husband off doing his own thing alone all the time, and vice versa. There are many things we enjoy doing separately, but at the end of the day the agreement is that we do most things together, even when it means massive compromise. Idle time on your own can be absolutely healthy, but not when it clouds out quality time together as a family.
- Respect each other’s parents. There was no love lost between my maternal grandparents and my dad. And for many years my mum could not develop a healthy relationship with her own mum-in-law. This means we had a strained relationship on both sides, and there is not one time I can recall where both sides of our families intermingled. One of the biggest beauties of getting married, having kids and forming a family is the way in which these things bring together two parts to make an entirely unique, new whole. You can bitch and moan about your in-laws, sure, that’s a part of life and the human experience. But never lose respect for them and never cut yourself off from them because that’s just one more hurdle to add to this already complex thing called marriage.
- Sometimes leaving is much better for the kids than staying. I fully understand why my mum chose to stay in an agonisingly unhappy marriage all those years. She had 2 teenage sons and a young daughter she needed to provide for. She eventually did leave, once my brothers were out of school, qualified and working, and it was only me to worry about. But that was after years of upheaval at home. We left and went back more times than I care to recall. How we all turned out to be relatively well-adjusted adults is testament to my mother’s strength and resilience. If it ever gets to the point where my husband and I can’t stand each other, I hope we’re adult enough to end it amicably.
- Choose your battles. My dad had a volcanic temper. Anything could set him off. But not everything needs to be a fight. I’m probably a bit of a walkover according to some of my friends. But I do believe that we all get enough stress and tension from the normal grind of working, building homes and raising families. If something makes me unhappy in my relationship with my husband, I do what any normal person in the 21st century does. I Google it, duh! Hahaha. And then I vent with friends, get advice and then compare these with my own thoughts. That’s usually a good way of sussing out whether I am being ridiculously over-reactive or if there is a genuine need to fight about it.
- Never fight in front of the kids. And if you do, explain it properly. I can vouch for the insecurity and confusion that arises from seeing the parental units engaging in war with each other. Recently my husband and I raised our voices and yelled a few unmentionables at each other in front of our son. The look on his little face took me right back to being a confused 5 year old trying to comfort my mum and not knowing how. Lesson learnt.
- Regular fighting does not mean you just have a very passionate relationship. There are many other ways to demonstrate unbridled passion in a relationship than frequent screaming, jealousy and tearing each other apart. The idea that somebody loves you so much and that is why they are jealous and over-protective is just archaic.
- Say I love you and share affection. Daily. This is such a small but effective way to build a healthy relationship. But it’s something I never saw my parents doing. They were like housemates who stayed together because they couldn’t get out of an acrimonious lease agreement. Now that I’m a wife, almost every call or dash off to the shops ends with “Love you. Stay safe.” That is the kind of marriage I want my son to see between his parents.
This week The Hubster and I celebrate 4 years of marriage, although we’ve been together for 11 years. By remembering all the not so kosher things I saw in my parents’ marriage, I’m more certain than ever of the qualities I’d like to nurture in my own.
What are some of the things your parents’ union has taught you? Please feel free to share a few in the comments section below.