Is this what a family should look like?

I am not sure whether to label my parents’ marriage as toxic but I sure do know that it’s not healthy.
I think it’s around when I was ten, I started to notice my parents would fight often. And every time they do, the problem was never resolved because their focus are mainly on proving their point. After that, they would not talk for a couple of days and then they would act like nothing happened. During my teenage years, my mom would open up to me about how dad would belittle her in front of people if he couldn’t have what he wanted with her. He would scold her if she made a mistake but held back his praises if she did something well with the family business. All in all he was not a safe place for her.
I think the same can be said for myself as well. He was pretty absent in my life now that I think about it. Even on weekends, he would either be at the teahouse with his friends or doing something. I don’t remember a single time me sharing my day with him or him sharing his with me. The most vivid memories I have of him are the times him scolding me. I suppose the blame is on me as well since I did not try to connect enough with him.
According to my mom, he’s not all that bad since he’s not an alcoholic or a gambler. And that he’s good at doing business and supports the family well. And I agree with her. Yes, to a certain extent he is somewhat of a father and a provider. Even now I can recall bits and pieces of him teaching me how to swim, how to ride a bike and him saying “That’s my girl” when I do well in my academics. But compared to all the bad memories I have of him, the good memories are like a grain of sand on a beach.
Lately, my parents’ marriage is deteriorating more than ever. With both me and my brother moving out to study abroad, they had no reason to hold back anymore. According to my mom, they had not been intimate for a long time. And very recently, she shared that he had been talking to someone online. Right now, I am not sure if talking counts as cheating or not but mom said that she wouldn’t mind if it’s just chatting online and that she would only confront him if he gets physical and that as family we have to uphold his dignity in our circle. And since fathers are softer towards daughters, I should be the one to hold him back.
Right now, I am very confused and angry. Why should mom or us be the ones to protect his dignity when he’s the one crossing the line? If he is thinking about me or my brother at all he would not be doing all this in the first place. When I told those to my mother she said that I am young and inexperienced and that I should not put my pride first in a marriage and that I should try to see the good in him. I am trying really trying to see my dad in a good light, but it is so difficult with everything happening throughout our entire family life. He is not all that bad but he’s not good as well and the most frustrating part is that he is not trying to be better. For him, he’s never wrong and he’s the head of the family so he knows best. So here are my questions-

  • Are all marriages and families supposed to be like this? There was a time I believed that “one big happy family” concepts like the ones in movies is possible but seeing this not only in my family but also in my relatives and everywhere around me, am I just being naive?

  • With everything I’m going through, do I need therapy? How can I know whether I really need therapy or just being dramatic over a bad bump in our family life or am I having victim complex?

  • If I were to encounter a similar situation as my mom in my marriage, should I be prideful like I am right now or find reasons to stay in the name of keeping the family together?

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Hi @MissPudding

Thank you for sharing about what you’ve been through – it sounds like a lot and I’m going to try my best to address your questions. First up, I want to say that you have a lot of insight into your situation and that parenting should not need to run on conditions (e.g., hold back praises, “I know best”, etc.). This just sends mixed signals about how to respond to a person and also leads to certain needs not being met (e.g., support, comfort, growth) within the family. At the same time, your thoughts and feelings given the situation are valid! I would imagine feeling lost, confused, angry, upset – although you’ve been saddled with these for a very long time (i.e., ‘studying abroad’ – ten years old). It must’ve been very difficult having to cope with this alongside being a teenager! Whatever you’re doing to keep yourself going – keep doing that! :muscle:

Additionally, I find that being told to be the one “to hold him back” is going to be so tough on you to decide what to do. It almost sounds to me like you’re being triangulated. What this means is that you’re being relied upon to communicate with your father. Although it can work in some cases by taking the load of the parent through a neutral 3rd party, it can also go the opposite direction – being dragged into the conflict and putting everyone in a lot of stress! Perhaps, trying to speak to your parents openly and in a safe space just to allow yourself to be heard can be something worth giving a shot.

As for your other questions, here’s what I think…

  • I think that every marriage and family comes with its own idiosyncrasies and that perception can be reality. However, a family should provide each member with the basic need of support, comfort, love, shelter, and growth; and if it doesn’t then something needs to be changed.
  • Therapy can be for a variety of reasons: from learning new skills to changing unhelpful behaviours to working on mental health conditions. Some people find that speaking to someone they trust can also bring about insight into their situations although some prefer to engage in a professional. The commonality here is that they can engage you in a non-judgmental manner (and dissect with you those burning questions you’re having) and potentially work together to come up with ways to cope. Also, this thread could be helpful for you to learn more about therapy.
  • I wonder if you kinda have a feeling about the answer to this question. I mean, it does involve a lot of what-ifs and clashing of important values (staying together, happiness of all VS happiness of one, etc.). I’m not sure if you’ve tried listing down all the pros and cons to really weigh what’s most important to you; if not, you can give this a try.

Till then, let us know how else we can support you. Take care!

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I think every family is different and there isn’t one way that marriages and families should be. It also depends on what your definition of happy is. Every family would have their fair share of troubles but I think it’s probably best for your mum to talk to your dad instead of going through you. You should focus on addressing the father-daughter relationship regardless of the relationship between your mum and dad.