I grew up hiding in the hall when my dad would sneak home late at night. I lay in bed and heard my parents argue. I caught my mom crying in the bathroom, at the stove and whenever she thought we werenâ€™t looking.Â And there were a few weeks, when I was eight, when my dad left on a â€śreally long tripâ€ť as my momÂ called it. Years later, my dad again left. But this time it wasnâ€™t under the guise of work. We were grown,Â so this time he used the word â€śdivorce.”
After a tumultuous summer, my parents got back together.Â Sometimes, I feel like Iâ€™m holding my breath, waiting for the cycle to happen again. Because theirÂ marriage has been like this for over 30 yearsâ€”a back and forth dance of happiness and heartbreak,Â adultery and absolution. â€śBreak up or shut up,â€ť I once yelled at my father when he told me he wanted toÂ leave my mother, again.
As I grew older, I scoffed at my motherâ€™s decision to keep her marriage intact. In college, newlyÂ enraged with my newfound feminism, I confronted my mother about her relationship. â€śYou should leaveÂ him,â€ť I said.
She responded: â€śYou love your father too much for me to do that.â€ť
â€śWell,â€ť I snapped, â€śthat hasnâ€™t stopped him.â€ť My mother walked away.
A year later, when my husband and I got engaged, I immediately approached him with my demands. IÂ was the daughter of a lawyer after all. I knew how to drive a deal. One evening, before we sat down toÂ plan our wedding, I laid out the terms of our marriage contract: House work would be 50/50, he hadÂ to be fine with no more than one kid, and adultery and abuse were automatic dealbreakers. Jail wouldÂ be assessed on a case-by-case basis. Dave laughed at the earnestness of my demands, but he agreed.Â The negotiations were simple. Adultery and abuse were dealbreakers for him too, but not for the sameÂ reasons. Dave had been raised in a religious household, where trust and faith were important virtues.Â For my husband, the worst thing I could do was break his trust and thatâ€™s what he saw adultery as theÂ ultimate betrayal.
Not long after Dave and I hammered out our marriage contract, I again asked my mother about herÂ marriage. We were cleaning my kitchen. She was at the sink, clinking cups in soapy water. I shovedÂ dishes into a haphazard stack. â€śWhy,â€ť I wanted to know, â€śwhy didnâ€™t you leave him when he cheated?â€ť