This week my long distance boyfriend met my mom for the first time, over dinner at her apartment.
My mom seemed to really like him; she even pulled out my baby pictures to show him. I was happy and relieved. But as she was talking to my boyfriend, I heard her refer to my dad as her “ex-husband” for the first time.
My parents have been separated for about five years. They have not spoken to each other in about two years, but they have not officially divorced. While I had been aware for almost the entirety of my childhood and young adulthood that my parents’ relationship was broken in many ways, her words were still hard for me to hear.
I remember once asking my mom why she married my dad. “Because I thought it would make my life better,” she said “but it only made it worse.”
She didn’t mention that she loved my dad, or that she hoped to make his life better, or that she hoped their marriage would make life better for their families or communities.
Something that struck me in my mom’s words, and that I have reflected on since this conversation, is that her reasons for wanting to marry my dad were focused on herself.
Both my mom and dad had parents with difficult marriages. I think these painful and confusing experiences may have led them to enter into marriage in a defensive posture, not fully trusting each other and waiting to see who would be the first to betray or abandon the other.
They fought in ways that were belittling and hurtful. They started to live separate lives, at each other’s expense. My mom made major financial decisions without my dad’s knowledge, while my dad became involved in illegal activities that would ultimately harm our whole family.
Learning to create a relationship that is different than the one I have most closely witnessed has been challenging.
The painful example of my parents has led me to try a have a different approach to relationships. Instead of wondering if he will make only my life better, I ask myself these questions:
Am I good for him and is he good for me?
Will our relationship help both of us grow into a better people?
If we decide to get married, will it be good for him and me? Will it help the other people in our lives?
Will our marriage be good for any children we might have?
I have also made it a point to be completely honest with my boyfriend about my family’s history, sharing both the good and the bad. We have also built trust in our relationship so that neither of us is left in fear about where we stand. Love helps us to focus on what is best for one another, and I think this honest, trusting and giving love is what will ultimately keep our relationship anchored on what is good for each other.