For as long as I can remember, my parents were always the golden couple. Friends of theirs would look to them for relationship advice because they seemed to be the perfect match; my Dad as a successful businessman with a wacky, yet charming disposition, and my Mom the beautiful farm girl turned city woman with looks and elegance that would make Diane Lane self-conscious.
Their love story was one for the ages. My Dad called it love at first sight. He spotted her in line at the airport and was so taken with her that, without asking, he upgraded her to first class so that he could spend the plane ride next to her. Three months and two dates later, they were married.. For their 25th wedding anniversary, they renewed their vows in a tasteful, small ceremony at our Summer getaway in Southampton. I had just returned to Manhattan after spending two years in Paris, studying film and and drinking wine. Within a year the pretty picture disintegrated.
My Dad called and said he was “worried about Mom” and that she had been drinking a lot lately and seemed very depressed. She started spending her time staying out late with her girlfriends, lamenting about her woes. My Dad grew to suspect there was another man, but we didn’t believe it. How could that happen in our perfect family? That November, my Mom went on a girl’s trip to Miami, which turned out to be a weekend away with a new man who had stolen her heart. Needless to say, that Thanksgiving was one for the books at our house. My Dad roamed the apartment crying and started journaling late into the night, and my Mom was sleeping at hotels around Manhattan. Their marriage was falling apart and my brother, sister and I couldn’t help but wonder if our entire lives were a sham.
There was a two month period where I was so angry with my mother, that I was unable, or unwilling, to see both sides of their marriage. Lifting back the curtain to adjust the view of my parents from “Mom and Dad” to flawed human beings was extremely difficult. Ironically, it was during this time that I met my now husband. Shaun and I became instant friends and started spending more and more time together at bars around Brooklyn.
Coming from a family of divorce himself, he offered an understanding ear. Throughout the three year saga that was my parents’ divorce, he would meet me in an instant at my request for a listener and a friend. He became my rock. Two years into our deep friendship, we started dating and I’ve never been happier. But I know that in an odd way the happiness of my relationship is thanks to some of the lessons I learned from the divorce.
Heading into this relationship, I knew how important it was to communicate. What if my Mom had better tools to share her unhappiness with my Dad earlier in their marriage? And what if my Dad had been a more active listener? Yes, it’s true, some people just aren’t meant to be together, but so much is left unexpressed and unresolved. Relationships are bound to ebb and flow. It’s just as crucial to be open to sharing your most inner feelings as it is to be open to listening to your partner’s. My husband and I are by no means a perfect couple (is there such a thing…besides Chrissy Teigen and John Legend?) but as long as communication is on your side, you can get through most things.
I also understood how important it is, within a relationship, to have your own sense of self, your own stuff. My parents’ lives revolved around my Dad’s job and business partners, which made my Mom feel the need to rebel. My Dad tried to help by creating a jewelry line for her to run, which did not sit well with her. Business was his interest, and although he thought he was genuinely helping by giving her something to do, it only caused more resentment. Early in our relationship, my husband was very adamant about having our own interests and space at times. It was so foreign to me that I was reluctant at first, imagining my mother’s loneliness while her husband was working, but it turned out to be something that helps our relationship tick. I can go out with the girls and have a great night dancing to T Swift, and he is thrilled to stay home with our pug and play video games.
I also learned not to be afraid to say what I want. Sometimes I imagine what would have happened if my Mom had been more vocal and forceful about her concerns to my Dad. Marriage is definitely all about picking your battles, and there seems to be an innate desire in some women to swallow their pride and fake it ‘til they make it. But if something is truly bothering you to your core, speak up!
My parents are now happily remarried to other spouses. They have both found their own happiness, and it’s lovely to see. It has been a process to see them beyond what I understood them as parents. They are people. They are husbands and wives.
Our parents strove to give me a better life than they had and I am forever grateful that they shared all of their marriage advice. It helped me grow immensely.