Dear Dr. Darcy:
I’m about to start college this year and I’m an only child. Although I love my parents very much, I can’t stand living with them and I’m very excited to be moving to a dorm this month. My parents have one of the worst marriages I’ve ever seen. It’s worse than any of my friend’s parents. If they’re not fighting, it’s so quiet that the tension could strangle you. I don’t even like to have people over the house. I’ve never seen them hug. I’ve never heard them compliment each other.
Over the years, I’ve asked my mom why they don’t get a divorce and she tells me that they want to keep the family together for me, especially since I’m an only child. This makes me feel so guilty because all I want is for them to be happy and I don’t want to think of myself as the reason for their unhappiness. Is there anything I can do to get them to understand how sad I am for them?
There’s nothing you can say to them to get them to understand. If they were open to hearing you, they’d have heard you over the years. With that said, there’s PLENTY I can say to enlighten them on the subject. To that end, I’m requesting that you send them the link to this post so that I can speak directly to them.
Dear Mom and Dad:
As you can see, your daughter took the time to write to me, a complete stranger, because she’s so distraught over your marriage and moreover, her family. I don’t know anything about your relationship other than what she’s told me and for the purpose of this post I’m going to presume that her impression is accurate. Actually, now that I think about it, it doesn’t matter if it’s accurate or if it’s just her impression, because what you need to know is how you present to her – how you appear to her.
You are her parents and as a result, you are her most influential role model for what she should expect to find in a relationship. Your marriage sets the bar for what she should tolerate from a husband, for what her expectations of happiness should be, for how to love, how to resolve conflict and most importantly, how to feel about herself.
Like many, many, parents, you have erroneously identified your child as the reason that you should tolerate the intolerable – and you have cast yourselves as martyrs…people who will suffer for the sake of her happiness. Here’s a newsflash: You have not made her happy. Not only have you failed to make her happy, your atrocious relationship model will likely require her to invest in years of therapy so that she has a shot of having a decent relationship.
What you have done and continue to do is to deflect responsibility for your decision to remain in your unhappy marriage. You say that you stay together for your child when really it’s because you’re unwilling or incapable of taking responsibility for your happiness. You don’t want to divorce. You don’t want to transition to separate homes. You don’t want change. It’s not for her.
If you really want to do something for your daughter, be the role model you’d like her to have. Show her that people can change. Demonstrate to her that you have enough self-worth to tolerate the discomfort of separating in order to have a better life. But for the love of God, stop telling her that you’re doing her a favor by staying in your miserable marriage. If you can’t end it, at least own that it’s for you and not for her.
Writer’s Stats: Female, Straight.