“Are you guys getting a divorce?”

My younger brother, who was then 9 years old, asked the question that we were all thinking. He, my older sister and I were in the backseat of the family car on the way to one of his little league games.

My parents, seated up front, were at each other’s throats. Again.

The last three weeks since my father had been back from one of his weeks-long work trips had been trying on everyone. The arguments were longer and louder; the attempts to “keep it quiet” had flown out the window; and the worried unuttered questions shared among my siblings and I had become more desperate.

It all came to a head that day in the car when my brother, the youngest and therefore the most unfiltered, asked what we all wanted to know.
A long weary silence followed

I specifically thought about this moment after interviewing 23-year-old Somali-Brit poet extraordinaire Warsan Shire earlier this month for National Poetry month.

For those unfamiliar with her work, she is best known for her poem “For women who are difficult to love,” a triumphant must-read piece for women who have loved deeply and honestly. Released in early 2011, it was made popular exclusively by word of mouth (and even featured here on Clutch).

Like the aforementioned poem, much of her work deals within the space of love, so I asked her who she had learned the most about love from. Her answer was compelling:

“I think it was probably my parents. They taught me more about the absence of love. They taught me about love through the loss of it…for a long while; I was obsessed about the breakdown of my parents’ marriage. Because I admired both of them so much separately, I couldn’t understand or make sense of how it couldn’t work. And as I grew up, the more I learned and the more I realized that sometimes it just doesn’t work out. The more I saw them as human beings and as people who have feelings and have memories, secrets and all the rest of it…I definitely made peace with it.  I learned what I want from what I don’t want.”

Anyone can take something away from her words no matter the current state of their parents’ relationship. As their child, you have front row spectator seats to their dynamic. You see the love, you see the fights, you see the highs and you see the lows. With age and maturation, you see what works, and you definitely realize what doesn’t.

I was surprised both by the honesty and vulnerability of her answer. It made me reflect on my own parents’ love and relationship and how I live my life according to the things I chose not to take from their own relationship into my adult life.

For example, I am extremely wary about long-distance relationships, or anything involving seeing more of each other via technology than face to face.

I know the basis of my parents’ arguments during that time was due to the strain of constant work-related travel put on their relationship. It is difficult to maintain your marriage when you are not there a majority of them.

I learned what I want from seeing exactly what I don’t.

And yes, my parents are still together today years later. A bump in their journey called marriage didn’t spell the end of their entire relationship.

What has your parents’ relationship taught you about what you want and don’t want in a relationship?

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  • S.O.B

    My father was a psychically abusive alcoholic who thought nothing of punching and choking and pulling a gun on my mom in front of me and my sister. By the time he finally walked out the door my Mom turned on me and my sister. We were the brunt of her verbal and physical abuse. You know us Black folks won’t seek professional help we just in turn abuse those weaker than us.

    How I turned out halfway normal I will never know. My parents taught me absolutely nothing about marriage. The only positive was that my Mom taught me how to be an independent woman… physically, financially and unfortunately emotionally. I have a distrust in men that I can’t seem to get past in my thirty years living. I can’t commit and emotional closeness is almost nonexistent.

    I was married once and now divorced. Don’t think I will ever do it again.

  • Tricia

    Wow all the comments were very deep How ever, my parents taught me not to ill speak about each other around the children. I learned that hate is somthing that lasts for years (my dad) and not to depend on a man (my mom). But I’m newly married despite everything because I still have hope that people can make marriages work!

  • This is a great article and even better comments.
    Good for you Ms. Information and Kam! :) It’s good to know there’s hope.

  • rhea

    It’s a shame that so many of the comments here are negative. My parents had a volatile relationship; they argued all of the time before they got divorced. I hate arguing and raising my voice for that very reason, and I’m still learning to confront people when I’m angry .Yet I have still been able to get married and have a healthy relationship. My husband has admitted that he was afraid that I would be bitter because my father was absent during my childhood, but, like the author, I used my past to teach me what I didn’t want.

    I am not a therapist or anything, so I cannot hold myself up as some example of emotional health, nor can I prescribe a method to heal yourselves from your past. But I can say that I feel you, and that I hope that the people who are posting negative things about relationships will find a love that helps them to see differently.

    • Dreaming

      “I hate arguing and raising my voice for that very reason, and I’m still learning to confront people when I’m angry.”

      This sounds like me all the way. I don’t recall my parents arguing out loud, but my mother likes to yell and argue. My grandmother argues a lot, too.

  • I’m not sure what I have learned from my parents on how to love or how not to love. My parents aren’t married but have been together for a long time (around 15 years) through many breakups and many fights. I’m only 14. I learned at a very young age that I don’t want my parents to stay together. When two people love each other I feel as if they should at least be able to coexist. One shouldn’t have to walk on eggshells around the other to avoid conflict. Sure, they can skirt around thee problem for a whole but then when it finally comes down to it, the outcome it horrible. When my parents fought, I used to get really afraid and cry. I would get yelled at for crying because “it didn’t concern me”. The last few years I realized that it did concern me. Parents are supposed to be role models for their children. They are supposed to lead by example, right? My mom always tells me and my older sister that we shouldn’t date losers and to not be with anyone that treats us badly and that we should be with someone who is kind and loves us. It mind boggles me because my father treats my mother and ME badly(he’s not my sisters father), he’s only ‘kind’ in public and the love… well, I don’t know what that is. The love that I have experienced from watching my parents is violent, bloody, rocky, unsteady and unstable ‘love’ if you could even call it that.