** Caution: Could be triggering **

My therapist asked me about relationships last week, and specifically who my role models were for good relationships.

Me: “I don’t think I have any.”

My therapist: “Really? No relationships you admire or want to emulate?”

Me: “No.”

Therapist: “Will you think about that for next time?”

So here I am, thinking about it.

It came up because a friend has asked me to babysit for her and I said to my therapist that I couldn’t remember a time when my parents went out together and left me with a babysitter. Really? Yea, really. I can remember two weddings they went to – one I had a babysitter, and the other I got to stay home by myself (I was 17) – but they never went out together. Never just them, as a couple.

I remember Mum leaving me at home with Dad one night. I was about 6 or 7, I think. She left me a book, and told me she’d read it with me when she came home. I spent the evening standing at the window crying for her to come home. It took me another few years to actually read that book.

I can’t remember my parents ever showing each other any affection. No holding hands, not even a “hello” kiss at the end of the day. Mostly my mother and I were home before my father, and we would lie in wait, anxious to see what mood he was in. Usually it wasn’t good. And even when it was I used to wonder how long it would last, tap dancing around in the hope that I wouldn’t set off his foul temper.

I think I was about 20 before I was conscious of seeing other married couples holding hands. I remember thinking “wow, they must still love each other.” See I grew up thinking that you probably fell in love with someone in the beginning, then that faded and you just “put up with” each other for the rest of eternity. I didn’t realise love could be an enduring thing.

I also thought that being in a relationship meant having someone lord it over you, night and day. I learned that as a child, and had it reinforced in my last (only) adult relationship. It wasn’t until I watched some of my friends (older friends as well as those my own age) that I realised people could be equal partners in a relationship.

It wasn’t until my friends started getting married that I realised all couples have troubled times, but that doesn’t mean they shout at each other, or hit each other, or anything like that. It took my friends to show me that people could disagree about things but work it through, and still love each other at the end of the day.

I look at older couples now (even ones that are not that much older than I am) and admire their gazes, or their holding of hands, or a gentle touch here or there. I admire the relationships where people know each other so intimately they can finish each other’s sentences. I even admire much simpler things, like relationships where the couples can speak to each other without venom on their tongues.

I long for all of that, but I’m also afraid that I won’t know what to do if I ever get there. I just don’t understand how relationships are supposed to work.

I’m reminded of a friend of mine who grew up in the 1950s. She tells tales of growing up Catholic, knowing there were people in her street who didn’t go to church on Sundays, but she just didn’t understand what they did instead. It’s kind of like that for me: I know there are good relationships out there – I just don’t understand what they look like.


7 thoughts on “Relationships

  1. While I don’t think I can ever completely understand where you come from- because my parents are one of those who are still “in love”, I still agree with you- I don’t understand what they (relationships) look like. I don’t think I ever will.

    Despite our situations being completely different, your post really struck a chord deep within me.

    I hope everything works out for you.


  2. You will find it – because you are looking.

    There are many people I want[ed] to emulate: teachers, my friend’s parents (oh, how wonderful they were), my horse (he was so patient), my dad (funny and happy), my daughter (loyal to the end), my therapist, my friend… but I always feel I come up short. My T says no matter what’s going on in my head, people just seem to like me – so I’ve started believing him. It’s new, it’s scary, it’s fun. I truly hope you find your way.

  3. I didn’t have role models for good relationships, either — no good models for partnerships, or even friendships. But I found that a really good place to start was to be hyperaware of what I didn’t want to do. Reading your post, it’s clear that you know what constitutes a not-good relationship … so by inverse reasoning, you know what a good one is, as well. And there are lots of good books about healthy relationships and what they look like; it’s a type of thing that can be learned with a basic framework that you then tweak to suit your exact needs. No two people’s good relationships look exactly alike, but they all have common features of mutual respect, mutual goals, etc.

    In a way, it’s kind of exciting to be able to construct your own template of a good relationship … in some weird way, people who grew up with a template that was good on the surface, but bitter underneath, have an even harder time than those of us who *know* that our parents’ relationship wasn’t good. We haven’t been fooled by appearances, and that, in the long run, is a really great thing, even though it feels like we’re left drifting without an anchor when we first start to try to redefine relationships for ourselves.

  4. I know what you mean (((Kerro)))… I’ve never seen a healthy relationship that was based on mutual love and understanding. I never understood why some couples still smiled at each other and others didn’t. I just thought you got married for some reason and then had to stay that way because there were no other options.

    I agree with David that you seem to know what constitutes a bad relationship… but I’m not sure that I could us a book to find out what a good relationship does look like. It could just be me, but I read the books on an intellectual level and can’t translate them to emotions or real life… So the role modelling you talk about is vital for me. I now look for the glimpses of that role modelling where ever I can find it. It’s not about finding a perfect relationship and studying it, for me it’s about looking for the looks and touches that you talk about and taking that little interaction as something to look for in a future relationship. I then sort of “build” what I’m looking for and how I want to act – like editing together the good bits. When I was in respite care, I had a meal with the family who joked, teased and still loved each other… I’d never experienced that and was in total awe of this family and the way they interacted. This is how I would now know if the family I was thinking of joining were healthy – the teasing would be with love, not with sarcasm or with the intent to belittle. Until I’d seen that family, I never knew there was anything different.

    We both know what pain and hurt looks like, when that’s all you’ve known it’s hard to imagine anything different. But we do know there’s something different, that alone is a start…

    Take care

  5. hmmmm, all of the role models were bad, bad, bad, except for tv and that wasn’t realistic. I guess I patched up a hodge podge image of what I wanted from literature, my own terribly unrequited desires, and unfortunately the tv shows and movies I loved.

    It is never perfect, and even people that are “in” love have rough, dark, trying times..But real love involves compassion, and patience, attraction, and some damnable, intangible, illogical thing that I can’t quantify for you.

    The only advice I can give you for the future is compatibility is key, temperament, sex drive and common interests can have a positive or negative impact depending upon whether or not the couple is well matched.

    Also I believe you deserve and will ultimately find satisfying companionship 🙂

  6. @ Musical Rambles – Hi. I so envy you – for having parents who were in love, and who are still in love. With love in your parents’ relationship, I’m sure you’ll recognise a good relationship when it comes along. Thanks for stopping by.

    @ Ivory – I also wanted to emulate others – teachers, friend’s parents, even bosses – it’s just that none of these “models” came in a relationship form. I am sure that you don’t fall short of being a great model for others, including us online and your daughter. In fact, I know you’re a good role model. 🙂 My therapist also talks about my misperceptions. While I can’t believe the good that others see for myself, I can believe now that they see something that I don’t. I’m glad you’re moving to this space as well.

    @ David – you’re right, knowing what we don’t want helps us identify what we do want. I’m still puzzled though and feel like I lack even a “basic framework”, as you call it. No matter, there’s no prospect of me needing this in the immediate future. Hopefully I can learn more before time runs out.

    @ Castorgirl – I agree, I also thought you got married and then stayed that way because “that’s what you did”. Like you, I lack the “basic framework” within which to use the material from books. Editing together the good bits sounds like a good idea. I have also been bemused by the “healthy” banter around the dinner tables of other families. It just baffled me. I always expected the mood to turn and the “healthy” jokes to immediately turn caustic. (((Hugs to you)))

    @ Phoenix – TV role models were what I turned to as well. Sad as this sounds, I loved the Brady Bunch and longed to have a family like that. I hope you’re right in that I will ultimately find satisfying companionship. Take care.

  7. Hi Kerro,

    Like many of the sweetest people I have ever known, you are a better person, a better friend, and a better human being than most normal people are. It takes time to figure this stuff out. Relationships are hard things to figure out. I believe you will find your way, it is okay to take time working on it now, when you are not looking. You will find your way.

    Good and healing thoughts to you.


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