My parents divorced when I was 16, and let's just say it wasn't an amicable split. Did that make me afraid to marry? Not at all. Did I learn a lot from their relationship? You bet I did, both good and bad. Contrary to the reasonable notion that children who witness their parents' lousy relationship or bitter divorce may be more likely to have relationship problems of their own, I like to think that we can either mimic our parents' relationship or pave a new path for ourselves. The experts say it's possible. In fact, some even say that observing a bad relationship while growing up can make us even more determined to make our relationships strong, healthy and happy.
Just what do we learn from our parents' marriage? Plenty, according to iVillage women -- some less-than-positive things but also some wonderfully helpful tips, too. Here are some of the most helpful lessons iVillage members learned from watching what went on at home.
Communication is Key
"There is no open communication between my parents," says Newyorican. "There are too many secrets and no affection. They've been married for 38 years, and I can't figure out why they're still together." Not a pretty marital picture, that's for sure, but Newyorican is using her parents' problems to help build a better relationship for herself. She says that even though her husband can be quite closed when he wants to be, they are working to keep the lines of communication open between them.
Mini17 has a good communication example to follow. Her parents have a wonderful relationship, she says: "I'm sure they've had their share of problems, but my mom is a great communicator. She makes sure she and my dad talk about everything. They understand each other and are really comfortable with each other. In fact, after 40 years of marriage, they would be lost without each other. From them, I've learned how important communication is in a relationship. So far, it has worked well -- I've been married for eight years now."
Shaynarivka says that although she knows her parents loved each other, they never showed any visible signs of affection in front of her or her sister. "I think their lack of tenderness has affected me, because I have difficulty feeling comfortable being affectionate with men," she says.
Dnmegg's parents didn't show affection for each other, either -- in fact, she used to beg her mother to leave her father. Now Dnmegg is getting out: "Just like my mom, I put off leaving my husband for years. I thought I could and should stay until our girls were grown and out of the house. But my children deserve to know what it looks and feels like when two people love each other and show it."
Naug was more fortunate. Her parents used to kiss a lot. "Whenever they did, me and my sister would yell, 'They're married!' as if the kiss were at the end of a wedding ceremony," Naug says. "I try to do the same with my husband -- we kiss and hug a lot in front of the kids. There's a lot of affection in our house, just like there was when I was growing up."
Marriage Takes Work, But It's All Worth It
"I have been very fortunate to have a positive example of marriage in my life," says Staceyinsf, whose parents have been happily married for nearly 40 years. "Their relationship makes me believe that a lifelong marriage is possible. But it has also made me aware that to achieve that takes work and commitment."
French 5 agrees, saying that she learned a lot from her parents, the most important thing being that marriage isn't easy. "You have to work at it," she says, "but the rewards are worth it."
Natmor learned a similar lesson the hard way. After watching her parents divorce when she was only four, then remarry two more times, she vowed never to put her children through that kind of turmoil. "My husband and I have been together for 25 years," she says. "They haven't all been years of bliss. We've had major fights, loved and hated each other, cared for each other. But we made a commitment to each other years ago, and we're sticking to it. The only exception would have been if my life or the lives of my children had ever been in danger. Then I would have left. But barring that, I think it's important for children to see the realities of marriage -- words of love as well as arguments."
Wait for Mr. Right
"My parents have six marriages between them. I grew up not ever wanting to marry for fear the marriage would fail," says Bjmoth71. "So I spent many years reflecting and figuring out what I really wanted in a mate. Thanks to my parents' failure, I learned that waiting for the right person to come along is the best thing that anyone can do for themselves. At 28 I found a wonderful man, and I married him. It was the best thing I ever did."
Friendship is Key
"Every day I feel more and more fortunate and thankful for the family I have," says Ricamg. "My parents loved each other to the point of worshipping the ground each other walked on. And they loved us kids unconditionally. The good things they taught me about relationships are too numerous to count, but one thing stands out: You and your spouse have to be friends. If you can't stand just hanging out and doing fun stuff with your partner, the relationship won't work."
Create Your Own Relationship Style
"My parents had a lousy relationship," says Kree8ive. "They never talked, always yelled, and it was clear that my mom didn't want to be there. My relationship with my husband is very different. We are supportive of each other, we talk about everything. When we disagree, we talk things out instead of fighting. And we try to admit when we are wrong. Our marriage is pretty damn good and worth all the work we put into it."
In the end, perhaps the best lesson we can learn from our parents -- whether their relationship provides a positive example or a negative one -- is to live in the present and not in the past, the way Kree8ive is doing, and to build healthy relationships with our partners based on who we are as individuals and the love and respect we share.