When bad relationships make great inspiration

0:23 to 0:56 seconds is the perfect example of my parent’s relationship.

I have a relationship I’ve been contemplating as of late. My main character and her ex. In my first draft of my novel, they were trying to make their rocky relationship work. Time after time, my critique group said it wasn’t working. At one point one person basically said that no logical person would be with such an asshole or in this type of relationship. She said this whole up and down relationship was completely unrealistic.
I didn’t respond to this critique out loud but inside I was screaming. I knew first hand that a relationship like my main character and her ex was painfully realistic. I grew up watching my parent’s roller coaster of a marriage. They hate each other one minute, love each other the next. There’s been ball grabbing while pancakes are cooking, hair pulling by the laundry room, and long kisses in the hallway. And lets not forget the occasional Mexican cursing and passionate slap in the face. Yes, my parents could be characters in a Mexican soap opera.
Then it really hit me. My main character’s ex was eerily like my father. He’s brutish, overbearing, destructive, had the cops called on him, and emotionally abusive. How had I not seen this before? But thankfully, my main character was nothing like my mother.
Let’s take stock here. My main character who has traces of me, is trying to repair a relationship with her ex who is creepily like my father. Hmm..weird.  I tried not to think about it.

Then last year I pitched my story to an agent. She liked it but didn’t see why my MC would stay with her ex if he didn’t grow as a character. Lighting struck me, I had make revisions. I finally realized, my MC wouldn’t allow herself to be in this situation. I had to change it up and it’s been a welcome relief out of freudville.

Making the changes I did was because it didn’t work in that particular story. But bad relationships are very real and people stay in them for all sorts of reasons. How my parents have stayed together for almost 36 years astounds me. It is the greatest mystery I will never solve. There isn’t a week that goes by where I don’t dissect their relationship in my head and compare it to me and my husbands calm and drama-free marriage.

But which would make a better story? My parents and their soap opera marriage with hair pulling or my rather calm marriage? I say my parents. I’m happy in my marriage but I sure as hell wouldn’t want to spend 200 pages with us. We hardly ever fight, never curse or belittle one another, and never throw things at each other than the TV remote. Ours is a quiet love with lots of nerd jokes. We’re the cutesy romantic comedy. And while that’s fun sometimes, nothing gets the juices flowing like passionate embraces and face slaps.

Maybe I’m biased. I’ll admit, my favorite movie couples are often tragic, doomed, and overly passionate. I don’t often like happy endings. I prefer when a lover dies in a painful way, or sacrifices themselves to save their lover, or something huge makes them part. These tragic affairs have inspired me over and over again. I’ve written countless poems and stories based on these sad loves. The thoughts of what could have been and the forever longing haunt me after the credits roll.

But my parents aren’t tragic, they’re both healthy people who have no idea how to communicate with each other. Somehow they’ve managed to stay married in a society where the divorce rate for heterosexuals is high.   Their relationship is a rocky one that is always up and down. Looking from the outside in, it makes no logical sense for them to stay together. There is something that pulls each one to the other, an unexplained force that defies logic, reason, and anything else. There have been many times I hoped for them to part but not any longer. They have their happy moments as they get older.

It’s these quiet little moments I can peek into that also inspire me. Because despite all the bad, there are secrets of good. Maybe one day their passion will burn a little slower and calmer but I doubt it.

Look inside your character’s romantic relationship. Why do you like it so much? Is it similar to a relationship in your own life? If so, does it work for the story? If it isn’t, maybe it’s time to examine it and either change it up or get rid of it.

You as the writer, have the privilege of knowing the whole story with your characters. But as people, we may not get the whole story in other people’s relationships. Before you judge someone for staying in a bad relationship, realize you don’t have all the facts.

It’s not always easy to just get up and leave when you’re at the mercy of love.



  1. Aw, I like this post! I agree that passionate, volatile relationships do make better reading, although I can't stand physical violence (face slaps) in any context. If a character slaps someone, they've lost any and all hope of me rooting for them, no matter how deserving the recipient was. But passion can be there sans-violence. Just look at Cathy and Heathcliff! It’s the boiling and burning under the surface that draws me in. To characters, that is. In real life I’m with you – I like my relationships drama-free.

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