Growing up, I never had a decent “model” of a loving couple. My parents’ marriage was bizarre, to say the least, in that my dad did whatever he wanted and my mother was very submissive to him because she believed he knew what he was doing (little did she know!). She eventually divorced him when I was about 16, after getting wise to some of his behavior. We (my brothers and I) were very supportive of her decision as it was pretty black and white. There were loan sharks after my father who would come to the house in the afternoon and scare my mother by threatening to kidnap her children. It got to the point where she had no choice. She had to leave him so as to protect us. Like I said, pretty black and white.
During that time, she had an awakening. She had been in therapy (Al-anon) for many years, trying to deal with his drinking and I suppose it finally gave her the courage and the strength to get out. When she did, she dated, but she seemed to have this immense fire to her. I remember her singing “I am woman here me roar, in number to big to ignore…” by Helen Reddy and stating that she will “never put up with that kind of behavior in a man ever again!” It was very inspiring, to say the least. And taught me a thing or two about being independent and courageous. But, it was still not anything I could relate to as far as what I wanted for my own life. And it certainly had nothing to do with having a healthy relationship with someone else.
Eventually, she met a man (DM) who would become her husband (but only after seven years of refusing to marry him). They would have one of the most beautiful, most healthy relationships I have ever seen. Their relationship, in fact, became the model for what I went out and looked for myself later in life.
DM (whom my brothers and I love dearly), has always supported my mother and stood by her. Through the years he never stopped buying her flowers or helping her do dishes. They wake in the morning at the same time, and go to bed at the same time. They work together, live together, travel together and eat together. They are very kind and loving towards each other.
They’ve been this way since 1989, when they first started dating. My mother was 40. DM was 36. But for all those years, I refused to identify with him or see him as any kind of father figure because I had my own father. And so, all those years, I still used my father as a model of the man I wanted. I guess I did that because I was a devoted daughter. My mother left him, but I would not! And I didn’t. And I dated men like him for many years even past his death in ’04. Especially then. Something in me felt far too loyal to my dad to ever think of abandoning him by dating someone unlike him. How messed up is that?
The trouble was I didn’t really like my dad. I didn’t trust him or feel safe with him or feel comfortable when I went to visit him. Sure, I loved him. And sure, he was entertaining and exciting. And there was a great sense of danger and adventure when I’d go see him. You never knew what kind of weirdness would be going on when you’d visit. In fact, his life always gave me so many stories to tell. And I did love telling stories. But I wasn’t mature enough to recognize that using him as a model for a boyfriend of mine was not wise. I didn’t realize that I could love my father, be faithful to him as a daughter, but still seek out someone more compatible and who felt RIGHT to me. I mean, heck, for many years I thought like my mother. That my father’s way was the right way and that it felt normal and good to be loved the way he loved us.
Little did I know that his way was not the best way–at least for me. It didn’t even come close. It took a lot of growing up to realize that no one has a choice when it comes to picking and choosing a dad or mom or any parental figure. But we all have a choice when it comes to whom we choose as a mate later in life!
So…I guess it had been happening all along, but I wasn’t aware of it until about five years ago (when I divorced) that I was starting to look at DM as a better model for me. This was huge, because it meant making an emotional connection to a father-figure that was not mine. It meant abandoning my father and loving another male father-figure when my first one betrayed me. Identifying with DM meant that I was changing the course of human history and making decisions about who I wanted to become, despite who I was! I was challenging my very history. It didn’t have to repeat itself after all. My survival depended upon it.
So, even though I was still dating bums, I would ask my mother important questions about her relationship. Here are my questions along with her answers:
- “Do you ever feel a sick feeling in your stomach when you’re with DM?” Only in the beginning when I first started dating him and didn’t know him. You feel a sense of doubt and dread and confusion in the beginning, this is normal. It comes from being hurt in the past and being scared of the future.
- “Do you ever feel like you want to run away, or date someone else?” No.
- “Do you want to change him?” I love everything about his core, who he is. He does, however, have some annoying traits- like he collects piles of magazines and holds on to them for years. If I had my druthers, I’d throw them out (the magazines). But no, there’s nothing I would “change” about him. I love him as is and I can handle any of his less appealing qualities.
- “Do you hate him sometimes?” Hate? No. He can get on my nerves sometimes, but there’s always a bigger picture. Do you ever “hate” your kids? Or do they simply annoy you from time to time? It’s the same thing.
- “Do you always trust him or do you doubt him sometimes?” I always trust him. There is nothing he has ever done to prove other otherwise.
- “Are you always happy?” No one is always happy. But for the most part, I’m happy! More than happy, I’m grateful.
- “Do you think he would ever cheat on you?” Years ago the thought crossed my mind. And of course, you go through phases where you always have to say to yourself, “Nothing is certain,” but we’ve been together 20 year and he has always been true to me.
- “Were there or are there now any red flags with DM?”: When we first started dating, I made assumptions about him. I came from a very bad relationship, so I didn’t trust any man at all. That distrust in me led me to initially harbor suspicions about him (that he was a liar, that he was boring, that he was hiding some big secret). It was like I was shell shocked those early days. Looking back, my suspicions about him, though they all turned out to be unwarranted, were my way of protecting myself. They also kept him at a safe distance until I could get to know him better BEFORE making an emotional investment in him. So, to answer your question, he had no red flags and still has no red flags (there are men and women without them, can you believe it?!) but at first I wouldn’t believe it. I think to be suspicious and have doubts, at least in the beginning, until they prove they can be trusted through their actions, is a good thing.
- “What are your overall thoughts of DM?” That he is a gift. And that I have been very fortunate in my life to have him after what I’ve been through.
From these questions and from observing their relationship over the years, I knew I wanted that same kind of relationship too. I wanted a man who was decent and trustworthy and loving and affection. I wanted a family man who put family before anything else. I wanted a man who had no addictions, who didn’t lie or cheat or embarrass me. I wanted a man who was stable and reliable and hard working.
When we use our own fathers or mothers as models of the perfect man or woman, we do so subconsciously, instinctively. It seems a natural, biological manifestation of being human and passing on our genetic traits. I suppose it’s not good enough to just pass on 50% of our physical genes, we have to go on to try and recreate those genetic similarities in the next generation and the next. We are most likely designed to look for mates similar to our parents to continue passing on similar genes. It’s part of evolution. So…to consciously reject instinct and re-identify with a healthier father-figure or mother-figure is really going against evolution. And yet, for the sake of inner- happiness it needs to be done. Part of being human is to make logical decisions and have the mental capacity to not have to act on instinct alone.
If this is too scientific for you, think about this: by finding a new, healthier model of a loving relationship you are taking control of the way you choose to live your life. And when we take conscious control of our own lives, we make better decisions and feel better about ourselves. We also create a healthier pattern of living for our children. I think too often when we don’t have a healthy model of a loving relationship, we turn to Hollywood, or romance novels. We also tend to think a healthy relationship is one in the same as “passion” or “hot, steamy sex” or drama-driven LOVE. It is none of those things on their own. They may be components, but they are not the complete definition of “loving relationship.” I’m sure many of us know how to love. But how many of us know how to sustain a “loving relationship.” Love (passion, infatuation etc.) is the first step. It’s the infantile stage of development. A loving relationship is adulthood.
Recovery helps bring us to these realizations so that we may make better choices for ourselves. RAnd although recovery feels unnatural at first, you have to get used to it before it can work its magic on your life.