I realized my mother wasn't happy with my father in my early teens. They didn't fight, although there was affection, mainly because my mom was a warm person and very touchy-feely. She was also vibrant, curious, alive, and full of sass. My father was shy, reticent, quiet, and controlling. When I would suggest activities she and I might do together after I moved into New York City, my mother would usually decline because my dad wouldn't want her to do them, or so she thought. She seemed sad. But she and I didn't talk about any of that until my first divorce, when she asked me if I was angry with her for marrying my father. It was a shocking question.
Like my mother, I accepted my first husband's rules of conduct as my own. Other than being truthful, liberal, and active in politics I have no idea what attitudes I would have called 'mine' back then, an embarrassing admission. In my own defense, I married for the first time in the late 60's when no woman I knew thought about personal values, her own or her partners. During that long ago conversation my mom didn't tell me what traits she thought I should look for in the person I might choose to marry, or ask me what had drawn me to the man I was divorcing. I don't think she knew it was important.
As a teenager I had wanted to act or dance, interests that fell away after I had surgery in my late teens, and nothing had replaced them. I knew I was creative and loved the fact that my husband was as well. He also had less fear than I, and pursued his interests and his career with a vengeance. I actually thought I would experience creativity through his pursuits. I loved that he was smart and that we could discuss anything. I thought I'd have children, and that they would keep me busy. They did, although I certainly hadn't thought that I might be raising them alone.
By the time I married for the second time at least I knew I was a separate person, thanks to my therapist and the Murray Bowen work I had done with him. I didn't expect to live through his work; I had my own. I also knew I was in love. By then I no longer discounted that experience as something that only happened in Hollywood movies. I knew what I felt for this man was real, and I was delighted. Again, I didn't think about his values, or how they differed from mine, which they did in very significant ways. I believed we'd figure out the compromises we would need to make to stay together.
When he and I were divorcing my therapist suggested an exercise to me that changed my life. She asked me to list the ten qualities that were most important to me in life and then to put them in order. I was to compile a second list of the ten qualities I wanted my significant other to possess. Although I didn't think I would try marriage again because I obviously wasn't good at it, I did work on those two lists. It was interesting, and not easy. I learned a lot about myself choosing the ten qualities that mattered to me and putting them in order. What was totally startling was how few of those attributes mattered to either of my two husbands. No wonder I had suffered through two divorces! I still can't understand why no one had suggested this was important information for me to have in order to be able to choose a significant other.
Though I don't think I will marry again, I am now in a long-term committed relationship. He possesses all of the traits from my second list, including honesty, sensuality, humor - you can see how varied my list was. His values are much closer to mine, though I think what he might include in list #1 is somewhat different than what I did in mine. Creativity might not make his top ten, though it is close to the top for me. Spirituality is more important to him than it is for me. Following a dream, love of family, integrity - all of these things matter a great deal to us both. We are 'in love' though we both know that 'in love' feelings lessen and something deeper must remain when they do. Not surprisingly, we have a much easier time with each other than I did with either of my two husbands. I know why I married each of them, but I wouldn't make that choice today. Now I know what matters to me in the deepest sense, and also understand that those things must matter to the person I choose as a partner if I want that partnership to last.