Facing Forward

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 (Colleen Patrick-Goudreau)

This year my husband and I celebrate 21 years together and 14 years married. By either calculation, our relationship has lasted longer than that of my mother and father, whose bitter divorce shaped who I am more than either of them ever realized, for better or for worse.

The unhappiness in their marriage was palpable by the end of it, and although separation was the better alternative to miserable co-habitation, it's safe to say I didn't have a healthy, loving relationship to look to as a model for my own.

Yet in a way, that may be exactly why my own relationship endures - and thrives. After all, knowing what we don't want is sometimes even more important than knowing what we do want. 

Even more than that, once I identified the areas in my parents' relationship that contributed to its demise, I saw the chance to avoid the same fate for my own. It wasn't a good marriage I had the opportunity to emulate; it was a troubled marriage I had the opportunity to learn from.

In other words, it is precisely because my parents' marriage failed that I work to make sure mine doesn't.


Because I saw the pain caused by not having your partner's undivided attention, I strive to be fully present when my husband and I are talking, when he's telling a story, when we're in each other's company. We even have a name for it. We call it facing forward.

Because I saw how lack of respect can corrode a relationship, I never fail to hold my husband in the highest regard - when we're alone, when we're in the company of others, even when we're separate. I believe that the way we talk about our partners when they're not around speaks volumes about how much respect we have (or don't have) for them.  

Because I witnessed the carnage of things you can never undo and words you can never unsay, I avoid those battlefields altogether.

In appropriating the marriage that didn't work out for my parents, I've been able to save my own. I know we can't change our past, but we can certainly change how we react to it. 

With a Perspective, I'm Colleen Patrick-Goudreau.

Colleen Patrick-Goudreau is an Oakland-based vegan author and educator.