10 Things I Learned From My Parents’ Failed Marriage

Divorce isn’t something most people associate with happy memories and warm feelings, but the ending of a relationship that just isn’t working, while painful, presents an opportunity to learn some pretty important lessons. Watching my parents’ marriage crumble when I was 10 years old and having to deal with the residual drama for years afterward wasn’t easy, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t make me a stronger person. Here’s what it taught me:

  1. You can’t be afraid of failure. Yeah, watching a once-happy marriage end is enough to keep some people away from long-term relationships for good. I get it. It’s difficult to commit to someone when there’s always a thought in the back of your mind that says, “This could end badly.” No one wants to set themselves up for that – but if you want to be with someone (“want” being the keyword there) then this possibility is a fear you have to conquer. Yes, it could fail, but you can’t be so afraid of that possibility that you end up missing out on something potentially amazing.
  2. Mediation is a skill you’ll have for life. There were so many times that 12-year-old me felt like a middle-aged woman, wondering if I was the only adult in this messed up situation. Children of divorce often become self-appointed referees to dramatic situations, which takes a certain level of maturity that you have to learn fast. The ability to see two sides to a story, calmly discuss the issue with someone decades older than you, and help to work out a reasonable solution are skills that I constantly use in my adult life. It’s definitely worth the prepubescent stress.
  3. Don’t take everything so seriously. It sounds cliché, but I firmly believe that being able to laugh with your partner is crucial to a healthy relationship. I watched my parents argue about ridiculously trivial things, which I now know happened because of deep underlying tensions that had nothing to do with where we got takeout that night. The ability to take things lightly (when it’s appropriate) and laugh at myself is something I pride myself on now.
  4. Life means going with the flow. You probably have a life plan, which is great, but you’ve probably figured out by now that said “plan” isn’t going to work out exactly how you hoped it would. Life is unpredictable and plans are constantly changing; trying to hold onto those plans is fruitless and only means that you’re going to waste your energy dwelling on what could have been. Whether it was getting over not being able to go to Sara’s party Saturday night because it was my dad’s weekend or coming to terms with the fact that I didn’t get my dream job, learning to go with the flow of life’s unpredictable plan has served me well.
  5. Parents are people too. Sometimes, parents get put on a very stressful, very unrealistic pedestal. They can be your idols, your role models, and the ones that always know what to do. Learning that these gods in our lives are mere mortals like us isn’t easy. The truth is, parents are human. That means they do things they regret, they can be mean, and they can go down horribly dark paths. It was hard to wrap my mind around that as a kid, but coming to terms with my parents’ imperfection has allowed me to be there for them like they are for me.
  6. It’s not all about you. I might be in the minority here, but I never believed my parents’ divorce was about me. My mom and dad were so great, always assuring me that I had nothing to do with their separation, and I was always thinking, “Obviously not, guys.” As humans, we can be a little self-centered; that not only gives us a limited perspective on life but it often forces us to carry guilt about things that have nothing to do with us. Not everything is about you, and sometimes that’s a very good thing.
  7. You can’t always get what you want. That sounds a little harsh but it’s the truth. I firmly believe that eventually, things will shake out in the way they’re meant to – but not always in the way you want. Having that realistic mindset isn’t easy and it shouldn’t hold you back from chasing big dreams, but it’s important to stay grounded.
  8. Big decisions don’t fix things. I have no idea what I’m going to be like 10 years from now, but I know this: I’ll never be that person who has a baby to save a marriage. Making big choices (getting married, having kids, or even taking an epic trip) isn’t going to fix the problem. It’ll temporarily distract you and even make you happy for a little while, but the issue isn’t going away because you decided to put a ring on it.
  9. It’s okay to be alone. Our society tells us – especially women – that value and happiness can only be found in a relationship. Healthy relationships can offer a lot of wonderful things, but growing up with parents who were dating and sometimes single gave me a different standard of “normal”. My mom and dad had careers, friends, hobbies, and a life when they were single, and that was always cool to me.
  10. Communication is key. This relationship advice may be beaten into the ground, but it’s my biggest take away from my parents’ failed marriage. If I know anything, it’s that any relationship without communication is not going to end well. Whether it’s with a co-worker, a friend, or a romantic partner, open communication is the backbone of a stable relationship. Talking about your feelings can be scary, but breaking down your walls and opening up is the key to success.