“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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