Woe Is Me! “My Parents’ Toxic Marriage Has Scarred Me. Will I Ever Want a Relationship?”
Woe Is Me! is a series in which The Swaddle team indulges your pity party with advice you’ll probably ignore.
“A guy (very well-educated and well-mannered) approached me for a relationship and marriage. However, since I witnessed domestic and sexual violence in my parent’s marriage, I kept pushing him away, drawing parallels (even if they didn’t exist) between him and my father. Any act of kindness from him would shatter me and I always kept looking for mistakes to pick up fights — somehow unintentionally turning my relationship similar to that of my parents. I don’t even understand now why I pushed him away, why every word of compassion felt like an assault — and why I was hell-bent to prove that he was like my father. Ultimately the guy left with an apology and I realize, after he’s gone, how much I love him. “
— Learning to love
PB: Hello! You’ve stumbled upon something innately relatable to children from toxic households — and that number is sadly much higher than is fair. As we grow up, we tend to equate love or relationships to the one that is closest to us, our parents. Rarely is it a good example though (once again, sadly). The toxicity always takes root in ourselves, and we subconsciously compare all our relationships, not just romantic, to our parents. We parse through all our relationships with a fine-toothed comb, convinced that people mean snide harm rather than kind words.
It’s a habit that is difficult to break, but not impossible; we can only personally strive to fix the issues we see in our family. Introspection, retrospection, self-care — they do yield results. Not immediately, obviously, but over time we can slowly fill the crevices of our understanding. And now, in hindsight, I can see that you’ve perhaps realized all this too. So if you really do feel so strongly about this guy, who seems like a nice young man, for sure — try apologizing for your actions. Maybe you’ll be able to mend your relationship in ways your parents couldn’t.
We can only try.
DR: I’m so sorry for the impact your parents’ relationship has had on your love life. I’m not an expert, but it seems to me like the trauma you endured as a direct witness to domestic violence determined the decisions you made in your relationship as an adult — by coloring the way you perceived your partner, or perhaps, the entire relationship. I would strongly urge you to work with a trauma-informed therapist.
If you want to give it another shot with your ex-partner, perhaps, you can talk to him about it, and also let him know that you’re seeking therapy to work on the issues that led you to distrust his kindness, and eventually, push him away. If, understandably, you would just like to move on and start afresh, I think your therapist may be able to help you do that too. Moreover, therapy could also help you not repeat behaviors that may have contributed to your present break-up in future relationships.
RN: This sounds incredibly painful and I’m so sorry you went through this. Obviously, you’re traumatized from your parents’ marriage and this happens for much less than what you witnessed. It isn’t your fault if your own relationship fell apart because of this — when we carry so much hurt in us, it’s bound to manifest in one way or another. You need to find a way to heal from your parents’ relationship first and let go of this man. There are several wonderful people out there who will come into your life when you’re ready. For now, acknowledge that you were hurt, this man was hurt. It’s great that you’ve already come to a place of self-awareness about what transpired here, but please do also see a therapist to talk through this. Maybe this man may come back into your life when you’re ready, maybe he won’t. But the most important thing for you right now is you and your healing.
AS: If this guy was actually as nice as you’re making him sound (though education and manners don’t actually indicate niceness) and you still have these feelings for him, maybe you could reach out to him again? It might help to explain what was going on with you and be honest about why you were pushing him away. It must have been very difficult witnessing what you did in your parents’ relationship, and I’m sure it’s hard to live down that trauma. Perhaps if you have the means, you could speak to a therapist about it? It might help you process what happened and figure out how to stop it from affecting your present relationships.