Calling my first marriage "toxic" is a huge understatement. My ex and I didn’t see eye-to-eye on, well, anything. The space between us was big, and the silence between us even bigger. For the most part, I learned to cope being married to a narcissist. It wasn’t easy, but it was doable. Then we had kids, and our toxic marriage started to impact them, too. You see, there are parenting choices you only make if your marriage is toxic. Unfortunately for us, this is something that I didn’t realize, until our marriage was well past it's expiration date.
Our relationship wasn't always toxic, though. The poison seeped in, slowly coloring our interactions. The first to go was communication. The silence between us was deafening. Some days we would go without talking at all. I learned that when you don’t communicate with your partner, it’s impossible to co-parent efficiently and affectively. We didn’t talk about the hard stuff, and we never really got on the same page about so many little things, either, which directly impacted our parenting. I found myself either making decisions completely on my own, which he would inevitably criticize, or letting him call the shots and parenting in ways that were not in line with my style.
Then he started spending more and more time away. He was rarely at home, and when he was he didn’t do a damn thing unless I left the house and he was forced to. I was pretty much a single parent long before I left, even though we were still living in the same house. We fought a lot, and even even though we never fought in front of our kids, they knew something was up. And I'm convinced my kids knew not just because kids are perceptive, but because living in a toxic marriage changed the way I parented them.
You Don't Ask For What You Need
When I was in a toxic marriage, self-care was nonexistent. I was so burnt out. Every time I left the house to do something for myself, like go for a run or take a solo-trip to the store, I would hear about it when I got home. It was if parenting his own kids was the hardest thing for my then-husband to accomplish. It sucked.
You Don't Parent The Way You Want To
My toxic ex-husband was so controlling. He had ways he did things and found it impossible to deviate from his plans. Enter children, who honestly couldn't care less about your plans and are impossible to control. So, my ex often ended up making decisions that made my life as a parent much harder. Things like buying a treat in exchange for being good at the store. I didn't want to parent this way, but he set the precedent, and it was easier to give in than face a tantrum-throwing toddler.
On the other hand, he would make idle threats to lock my daughter in her room or take away a treasured toy if she didn't behave. She was a little kid, and threatening her was only doing more harm than good. But, again, it was his way or the highway, and I wasn't able to parent the way I wanted to and the way I knew my children needed.
You Continue To Co-sleep
When things got really bad in our marriage I honestly grew to love my bed time routine with my kids, but I admit that it totally became a way to avoid sleeping with my husband. If my kids needed me to co-sleep with them, I had to do it, right? It wasn't my best decision-making, but it was my way of coping and avoiding an inevitable fight about our nonexistent sex life.
You Do Everything Yourself
When you have a toxic marriage, you start doing things on your own rather than talking about them beforehand and risking an inevitable argument. The last year of my toxic marriage was the worst, but on the bright side, I definitely learned how to be a single mom before I even thought about leaving my marriage. It's funny how single parenting two kids under 4 ended up being easier than parenting in a toxic marriage. I didn't have to face criticism, fight, or parent my co-parent anymore.
You Fix Your Partner's Parenting Mistakes
I spent so many days cleaning up for my now ex-husband, literally and figuratively. He would forget to pick up the kids from daycare, so I would rush out of the office to make it there just before they closed. I couldn't count on him to do much of anything regarding our children, and spent my days trying to make things work.
You Make Excuses For Your Partner
I made so many excuses for my partner. Whether it was my family members, my friends, or my coworkers, I always had something that could reason away his behavior. The worst, though, were the excuses I made to my daughter for "daddy's bad mood," and the promises that tomorrow would be better.
You Take Things Out On Your Kids
When your marriage is toxic, it starts impacting all parts of your life — even the way you treat your kids. You lose patience, your temper shortens, and you even yell at them,for things that are totally not their fault.
You Have Another Baby To "Fix Things"
I can say from experience that having another baby won't fix your toxic marriage. In fact, that's arguably the worst idea ever. Having a baby might make you feel good in the short term, but once the sleep deprivation kicks in, the excitement subsides, and your responsibilities double, everything is harder. Everything. And if you are shouldering much of the parenting load? Well, that everything is all on you.
You Stay Together For The Kids
So many people think that leaving your partner makes you a bad parent. So, they stay together "for their kids," when it's arguably the worst thing you can do for your children. Fortunately, when I figured that out I left, because my kids didn't deserve to be in that kind of an unhealthy environment. And, well, neither did I. It turns out that leaving my ex-husband was the best thing I could’ve ever done for my kids. I just wish I would have left sooner.
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