Being a child and witnessing the degradation of my parents’ marriage, I can offer up a firsthand account of the effects of an unhappy marriage. Everything starts so calm and lovely. In the earlier days of my youth, my childhood seemed like a dream. I recall pure elation and receiving so much love that I never had to ask for anything, or want anything, really because love occupied my entire mind and time.
I was born in the country ghetto. Growing up in a trailer, in a community where I was related to literally everyone. My grandmother’s house was a minute walk from mine. ONE minute. 60 seconds. I would often walk to her house and eat her delicious cooking and listen to her sing to me as the fan on her ceiling drove me dizzy.
My mother was a nurse. She drove 45 minutes to the city to go to work everyday. She was always about saving people. I don’t really recall what my father did. Now that I think about it, I think that was the start of their marital problems. Although the real issues didn’t start until we moved to a different state in 2008.
My father became a different person.
The effects of an unhappy marriage as I’ve seen them go a little something like this:
1. Paranoia and Feelings of Uneasiness
This is how it starts. Delusions of grandeur that appear from almost nowhere. Once the fairytale that I had lived in came to a screeching halt, it seemed like everything was going to end. There was an ever-present anxiousness that began to manifest very quickly. My father started it all. He started to become paranoid that my mother was cheating on him. Probably because she was going to work and heeding a normal life while he stayed at home. He began to whisper lies into my siblings and mine ears. “Mommy’s with another man” “She doesn’t want to be married to me anymore”. As we sat there, confusion on our lips. “Why?” I would inquire.
“I don’t think she loves me anymore” he’d say. Imagine being 10 years old and hearing this. My little sister was 5 years old. I felt terrible for her and honestly, still do to this day. These whispers from my father created paranoia and confusion in all of us. I couldn’t even look at my own mother the same. I started to wonder if my mother was actually cheating on my father and why? Was she not happy coming home to us and inadvertently, him? Every time she came home late from work I would think about who she was out there with and what she was doing.
2. Explosive Accusations and Low Self-Esteem
Next comes expedited and raucous accusations of anything that the accuser can come up with. Initially my father was simply paranoid of my mother of cheating, but he soon began to accuse her very loudly and dramatically. I remember vividly one night after 11:00PM of my mother screaming at my father and him matching her by roaring back. I remember running downstairs to see what all the fuss was about only to be met with a thunderous “go to your room” by my father, to which I replied: “Stop yelling at my mother” and this was a huge no-no and form of disrespect in my house. There was no talking back. So then he turned his attention on me and pushed me. To which my mother raged at him for. I retreated back upstairs and continued to watch the entire debacle. It caused a huge strain on my family and fundamentally changed me. It made me want to fight. And I started to in school. I got written up and called to the principal’s office for outbursts in class, fighting in the classroom and yelling. Everything that I witnessed at home. My self-esteem was the real victim and I failed to believe in myself. I couldn’t talk to girl verbally. My method of communication was writing because I didn’t want to even let it be perceived that I was hurting someone.
3. Tyrannical Tirades
My father loved attention. My parents’ marital problems reached their peak when my father would start hitting everyone and having loud explosions of emotion. The worst was when one day he burst into my room and started whooping me with a belt. This act in itself was not uncommon as I was a very bad kid, but what set it apart from the countless other times was that he didn’t stop. At one point I had rolled off my bed and one of his strikes landed on my genitals and caused the most profuse pain I have ever felt in my life. My father was 6’2, 200 lbs. and I was 4’11, 85 lbs. The force of his downward swing was unprecedented on my fragile frame. He then proceeded to trash my room so bad that it looked like a tornado had came through. He made my siblings and I clean it up. He would drink and throw fits. We would be driving to destinations and he would stop the car just to yell. He even got out of the car to jack me up.
4. Guilt and Blame AKA Responsibility
Probably the most common side effect of marital problems for kids. My father used to blame us all for the problems in his marriage. He specifically would target me though. Familiarity breeds contempt and my whole life everyone has said that I resembled my father. I guess so much so that he saw all the parts that he hated in himself, on me and resented me for it. He blamed me for my mother’s infidelity. And I suffered for it. I started to feel guilty for something that I had no part in. He forced me to feel responsible and held me accountable as he served as judge, jury and executioner of my consecutive life sentence.
5. Lack of trust and insecurity
My parents’ failed marriage inspired a lack of trust in me and my siblings. My sister is 16 now and still has problems trusting men. I am 22 and overcompensate in my own relationships and give my all only to be met with failed attempts. I also have trust issues while dating and sometimes believe that my significant other is cheating. We were all made insecure by watching my parents. I never feel safe unless I’m alone. There’s no one to let me down.
6. Feelings of Hopelessness
After being so heavily involved in my parents’ issues it has left me with feelings of hopeless and a disbelief in love. I remember growing up, I would love to watch romantic movies and fantasize about love. What it would be like to be in love and be loved by someone. And after being in three failed relationships it seems as though it simply just isn’t feasible.
7. Long lasting trauma
The effects of watching a disintegrating marriage will be deeply ingrained in both the adults and the children. After leaving my father and living alone with us, I would listen to my mother cry herself to sleep because she gave herself to a man that she thought would be her forever. I know she blames herself and is torn because she fell in love with him and now resents him, but she knows if she hadn’t, none of us would have existed. I feel so guilty for not doing more and protecting my family sooner. I eventually did stand up, but I feel like I am blamed. I also blame my older brother for being so very passive throughout the whole thing. He was supposed to protect us all and he did nothing. Of course I blame my father for all of his foolishness and failing to set a good example for all of us. I am very anxious and insecure still. I still want to fight. The only versions of actual love that I feel like we’ve seen have been on television. I think all of us are moody and we struggle with depression. The effects of watching a disintegrating marriage will be deeply ingrained in both the adults and the children.
Healing does come, but it will take time. As long as the toxic environment has ceased to exist. Everyone has to make a conscious decision to let it go. This can come in many different ways and means something different to everyone. Letting go is you acknowledging that what happened actually happened and realizing that it changed you. There’s no going back. Don’t dwell on what happened. There is only moving forward and growing. To everyone who is a product of an unhappy marriage between their parents: Relinquish and Replenish. Relinquish the hold that the trauma has on you and Replenish your soul with art. I act and through that I tell my family’s story. Everything you need to be better is in you. You just have to dig deep and utilize it.