I've been blessed with a wonderful relationship. My husband, Martin, and I have been together for over twenty years.
I'm always amazed when unhappy couples stay in a marriage. Isn't the goal to be with someone who makes you happy?
Not because each party feels some obligation to stay in the marriage.
When questioned as to whether they are wasting their time, energy and emotions on a relationship that will never get better, the reasons they usually give for sticking it out never has anything to do with his or her own happiness, but some sense of obligation: to their children, their parents, their perception of relationship success.
I feel sad for them. So much time is spent complaining about the fact that neither can satisfy the other.
What they don't realize is that either one party has lost the respect, or trust, of the other. Unless they take the time to earn it back, no amount of passion will ever make it right again.
My own parents' union was not a happy one. I reveled in the unabashed love both
my mother and father showered on me, and I will always appreciate them
for inspiring me to never doubt my own abilities or my potential. That is all a child can ask of a parent, is it not?
But children want their parents to be happy, too.
As a child, I remember wishing they'd break up, so that each could find the happiness that eluded them in marriage.
When I was sixteen my parents had one particularly raw argument. Afterward I sat on the front porch with my mother during a thunderstorm. As the sky crackled overhead, I asked her: "Why don't you two just get a divorce?"
She paused, then answered: "Because children should have two parents."
"But we're happy when you're happy. And you aren't happy."
She nodded in response, but my words never moved her to action. She stayed in the marriage until the day he died, some three years later. During that time, she was angry. Nothing he did for her made her happy.
Maybe she was afraid she couldn't be happy without him, either. The devil you know is better than the one you don't. Isn't that how the saying goes?
I've always wondered if, had they made the break, he might have lived longer.
People who are happy don't want to give up on life.
In my book Secret Lives of Husbands and Wives, my heroine, Lyssa Harper, ruminates on her own parents' divorce, and how it affected her views toward dating and marriage. This small excerpt gives you a small piece of her backstory, in her own words.
Enjoy, and happy new year,
I accepted Ted’s proposal even though I wasn’t really sure that he was The One.
I said as much to my mother, the day after he proposed.
“What is ‘The One,’ anyway?” The smoke from her Kool Menthol streamed out from the high corner of her curled smirk and floated toward the ceiling like a serene genie. “Hey, nothing’s perfect, right?”
It wasn’t a question, but a warning. During the twelve years of her own marriage she had assumed my father had been The One for her. I had, too. He’d been my first and only love.
As it turns out, Father wasn’t The One for either of us. He proved it when I was ten. That was the year he left us both for his secretary, the giggly Patti-with-an-i, and the penthouse apartment where he’d stashed her.
Our consolation prize was our two-acre country club estate in tony Atherton, with its over-extended mortgage. But of course we couldn’t afford the house on our own. Within a year we had downsized to a one-bedroom rent-controlled walk-up in San Francisco's Upper Tenderloin—a “transitional” neighborhood—where we crammed in as much of our large overstuffed furniture as we could fit.
The only good thing about that roach-infested hole was that it was a five-minute bus ride to the Saks Fifth Avenue on Union Square. My mother got a job at the cosmetics counter alongside the same women who, when she was married and flush, showered her with Clinique and Estée Lauder samples as she swept by them on her way to the designer showroom. After the divorce, the Puccis, Guccis, Yves St. Laurents and Blasses she wore to the weekly cocktail parties at her country club either subbed as very expensive work attire, or found its way to consignment shops, where they sold quickly at bargain rates. Whereas she was no longer living proof that you can never be too rich, she certainly proved that you could be too thin—if all you could afford to eat is canned tuna on Saltines.
Like a good girl, I didn’t blame my father or complain to my mother. Instead I threw myself into my other love: painting big sad canvases that made people stop, look and react . . .
Copyright © 2010 by Josie Brown
Simon & Schuster/Downtown Press