How My (Messed Up) Relationship With My Parents Influenced My Marriage

Delani Miner grew up with controlling parents, and eventually married (and divorced) a controlling man.

Time can be a harsh mistress.

Time is of the essence. Time can be on your side. You can get time off for good behavior. Sometimes you’re at the right place at the right time. You can have the time of your life. Time flies when you’re having fun! All good things, in all good time. There’s plenty of positive associations with time, and so, our love affair with the roundabout remains boundless. But it seems as though time can be really difficult to wrangle still for a moment to get some goddamn answers.

Time held the key to why my marriage failed and was, probably, doomed right from the start. And yet, time held out on me, shrouding itself in distractions and withstanding the prying of several psychologists even, over the course of a decade. But at some point I quit all of my responsibilities and distractions to have all the time in the world once again. Only then did my inner world begin to reveal itself to me in tidal waves of emotional trauma. I gave time the time, and it gave back to me the untimely news that I was three years into a marriage and falling out of love…with him, but also, too, with myself.

The time, it would seem, was ripe.

When I think back to my first counseling session that I booked as soon as I realized I was crying far too often at 3am on the front doorstep of my house because of having daily fantasies of my husband dying (yeah, I’m a real treat), my therapist asked me to go back in time, back to my relationship with my parents. Ugh, so typical, I thought. And my response to her was, “Oh, you know, it was basically the usual stuff. I think I’ve dealt with a lot of that at this point. That’s not really why I’m here.”

Flash forward a month into those counseling sessions and my relationship with my parents was the number one thing I prattled on about.

As cliche as it sounds, our parents really do a number on us. Some good, some bad. In my case, maybe more bad than good. What I do know is that I’ve given myself a lot of credit for coming across to the general public like the most even-keeled individual you’ll ever meet. The problem is that I’ve worked a lot harder at appearing like I have my shit together rather than actually having a handle on, really, any of my deeply embedded issues. While I’ve succeeded deftly at being an actor, I’ve failed miserably at being honest.

As it turns out, becoming an actor was borne entirely of self-preservation, saving me from both a mother and a father who were (and still are) extremely controlling. While they’ve hounded me on every aspect of my being, little white lies allowed me some freedom, some self-expression, and some peace. My honesty really only ever got me into trouble. And, in my house, being in trouble meant more than just a good talkin’ to. I’m pretty sure a kid shouldn’t get their ass beat for missing curfew by 15 minutes, but there you have it. It was much better to lie.

And so, as with any honed skill, I got better and better at doing and saying whatever was necessary to make them both comfortable and accepting of me, while I lived a different life altogether. This survival tactic, over time, mutated in a weird, all-consuming personality trait. A way of life. My form of control when I had none. At almost every turn, I would sacrifice my own voice to make absolutely sure everyone else around me was taken care of first. And too, if confrontation could be avoided, all the better (for me). I was conditioned to understand it was always better than voicing my own opinion and the subsequent backlash. And this continued to leak into pretty much every interaction I’ve ever had, friend or foe or a no-name Joe, for the better part of 30 years.

The only exception to this is if I can sense a person’s unconditional acceptance upfront. I certainly have many fruitful relationships of this variety. However, if you’ve placed any sort of conditions around yourself and me, you likely don’t know me half as well as you’d like to think you do. But, I’ll have done my job of gaining your acceptance either way. However, too much of this pathology has made me a rather unhappy individual.

For me, unhappiness equates rebelling. If you’ve seen this side of me, then you’ve reached the heinous status of being my parents. Which is, essentially, what my husband became.

While I’ve been running around as a subservient “listener” type, this behavior has, in turn, continually attracted to me even more people with overbearing, bold personalities: the highly opinionated, the control freaks, the talkers, the manipulators, the naggers, the know-it-alls, the lives of the party. It’s not to say that these people are bad societal seeds or to be blamed, per se. It’s just to say that in the way I’ve sought them out as a platform to perform my twisted, self-serving benevolence, they too have looked for me. And they are likely the way they are because of their parents. And their parent’s parents, etc.

And looking back (in time) at all of this now, it’s really not surprising that I landed myself in a decade-long relationship with a man who felt entitled to control everything. Together we were like a slow-growing cancer, the kind where you don’t even know you have it until there’s the tumor the size of a baseball in your skull. Do I wish I would’ve come to this conclusion before we had to lawfully bind ourselves together? Sure. Hell, even when we were fighting before splitting up, it would’ve been nice to not have flung a bunch of ugly pointed fingers at each other and realized we do this because this is who we are. That certainly would’ve been much more pleasant and productive.

The answers were there all along, but for whatever reason, they didn’t reveal themselves until time let it. The effects of growing up in a controlling home was not even something I fully realized until well after it was time to hit the road. Honestly, I may have never come to this understanding without, of course a ton a therapy, but also my own family’s overbearing, unaccepting, controlling, opinionated, manipulating, three-pronged head rearing its gross self again. They did everything but listen to me during what was the most difficult thing I’d ever been through. And while they conducted their ritual, my husband conducted his, and I conducted mine, and this time around it couldn’t help but be clear that one of these things was not like the other. The light bulb went on. Butting up against these controlling fruits for all this time was, in fact, the source of my sorrow.

I read somewhere a while back that in order to be happy you have to take a part of yourself out to the back yard and shoot it dead. Maybe that’s what all those weird dead husband fantasies were really about. Not him literally dying, but the idea of him and everything he stood for, as the controlling fuckedupness of my world, dying. In the end, my divorce decidedly became about more than me divorcing my husband, but about me divorcing all of the ties binding me to that which made me so depressed.

When I made the difficult decision to leave my marriage, for maybe the first time in my life, I was beginning to get honest with myself and everyone else. And, as the pattern has shown, the resulting backlash ensued. I was the bad guy. The jerk. The person “giving up.” The person making a rash decision. The person at fault. And that hurt far worse than almost anything else. Essentially, I got the belt yet again.

But, it didn’t kill me like I thought it might. It was something I was long prepared for, and high time I looked that devil squarely in the eye. It was the ultimate battle of ultimate destiny, and I showed up with both guns blazing.

In the year that has passed since all of this, I feel lighter, more free, and not nearly as depressed as I was. And if I ever feel myself slipping back into the old routine, I have a huge win under my belt now that gives me everything I need to be otherwise. Of course, there are new wounds from the war, but, well, time is doing its part in fixing them, too.

And if family or anyone involved in this matter were to happen upon this essay, I must say that I don’t love you any less because of all of this. In fact, I probably love you more. If I held any of this against anyone, I’d still be holding it all against myself. And that’s simply not happening.

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