Everything My Parents' Divorce Taught Me About Making Relationships Work

by Michael Starr Hopkins

Like a lot of people I know, I grew up with divorced parents. I had the opportunity, for better or for worse, to see all the ways a relationship between two loving individuals can end in pain and heartbreak.

I say for better or for worse because while their divorce was preventable, it was also predictable. Hindsight may be 20/20, but we've all seen relationships we knew wouldn't last. Not necessarily because of one person or one flaw, but because of the failure of two individuals to participate in the give and take that's necessary to sustain a relationship.

Watching my parents' marriage end taught me a lot, but these three takeaways in particular impacted how I treat my relationships now.

1. What you say matters — you can't take it back.

Whoever first said, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me," is an emotionally defective person. Physical pain may hurt for a moment, but emotional pain lasts a lifetime.

Listen carefully when a friend talks about a previous relationship. What commonly ends even the strongest of relationships are words that can't be unheard -- words that were spoken in the heat of the moment, but never intended to be said the way they were.

We're all guilty of saying something we wished we'd never said. It's all too easy to allow verbal vomit to unleash all of your frustrations in an unorganized and hurtful way. Don't do it. You can never take those words back.

To this day, I still remember the agonizing words said to me by an ex. Deep down I knew how she felt, but once she put words out there, there was no turning back. From that point on, it was all I could hear.

2. There are no winners or losers.

One of the most common phrases you hear in an unhealthy relationship is, "I give up, you win." However, there are no winners or losers in a relationship -- there's not even a score.

If you're in a healthy relationship, you should constantly be doing things that make you vulnerable and exposed.

That's the magic of being in a relationship. You're allowing someone to see you raw and unfiltered. Not the pretty Instagram version that you allow everyone to see, but the rough around the edges, pre-coffee, haven't had a chance to brush your teeth yet version.

You can't be the best version of yourself every day, it's just not possible. On the flip side, neither can your significant other. In a healthy relationship, you recognize when your significant other needs a pick-me-up and support him or her. You don't instantly jump to blame.

For there to be a winner and a loser in a relationship, it means both people in the relationship are on opposite teams. You can't be on opposite teams and make a relationship work. Your goals are diametrically opposed, then.

The goal should be your team together wins -- anything else is a loss.

In order for the team to win, you need sacrifice. I don't want to sound like an NFL locker room, but well, team work makes the dream work.

You can't win every argument and you can't be right all the time. The easiest way to build resentment and acrimony in a relationship is to be inflexible.

You have to be willing to see where your significant other is coming from. Ask yourself "Why are they so upset?" or "What could I have done differently?" or "How would I have felt if they did that to me?"

It's not complicated -- at the end of the day, everyone wants to feel like they matter. Everyone wants to feel like their feelings are valued. If you really value your relationship, you have to be willing to listen, not just talk.

3. Once trust is gone, it's almost impossible to get back.

Trust is hard to obtain, but oh so easy to lose. I knew my parents' marriage was over when they stopped talking. They didn't stop talking because they ran out of things to say, they stopped talking because the words had no meaning anymore.

If you don't trust the words coming out of your significant other's mouth, how can it even matter what's being said anymore?

I watched as they struggled to save their marriage, but none of their efforts mattered because of a lack of trust. Little things like tardiness to dinner, work phone calls and cancelled plans became much bigger issues because they suddenly could have been nefarious activities.

Whether the suspicions were actually true or not was completely irrelevant, because all that mattered is what each person thought was true.

It's like you have a crack in a glass and you continue to use the glass, just hoping the crack doesn't grow. At some point, something will happen that will force you to deal with that crack.

It may be you put the glass in the microwave and it exploded in the heat. It may be the crack cut you and now you have to throw out the glass. Either way, if you try and ignore the crack, it'll only get worse.

Communication is the foundation of any healthy relationship. You have to be able to talk through your issues. Without a doubt, there will be tough conversations.

Feelings will be hurt, but what separates the good relationships I've been in from the bad relationships was our ability to talk.

That's how you avoid losing someone's trust-- through communication.

Watching my parents' marriage end made me realize while no relationship is perfect, there are common missteps that will doom a romance. Realizing when you're about to make those mistakes and preventing them from happening is how you keep a relationship going strong.

It's a fact that relationships won't be completely smooth sailing. Still, some people are worth rocky waters.