Like so many people, F. had suffered an emotionally deprived childhood. She tried to make sense of that world more or less unsupported. When I asked her what, for her, were the 5 most important qualities in a relationship, she looked at me like I was an idiot.
The first thing she named was the one whose lack she had felt most keenly in childhood: communication. Because she had not had it she assumed that it would be the panacea for all evils: that talking would be enough to ensure that two people share the same beliefs, attitudes and values. If only.
Then came monogamy. After monogamy came integrity. Then commitment. You can see what F.'s partner had put her through.
I pointed out to her that she was still one thing short. She was struggling now. Eventually she came up with 'love'. When I asked her what 'love' meant to her, she talked about faithfulness, commitment and communication.
Now, I'm not knocking any of these values. They all have their place and I would not want to be in a relationship without them. But the point is: were they enough to sustain and nurture her? When I asked her that question she was visibly thrown. She had thought of relationships in terms of what she gave, not what she received. The net result was that she received very little that was not damaging.
It's a useful question. Do those qualities that you deemed the most important in a relationship sustain and nurture you? Or have you chosen them reactively, in an attempt not to experience old hurts again?
How would you like to be treated in a relationship?
What kind of treatment do you need to feel:
The list could go on and on. Maybe you would go for different things. Maybe you had not given it much thought. Maybe you do not find it easy. It might take you a while, and a good few pieces of paper, to become clear about what really matters to you. Still, it's worth doing. Far better to spend 5 or 10 minutes, now and then, writing what you want down on paper now, than to end up in another damaging relationship.
There is no reason on earth that you should not feel loved, respected, cherished, safe etc, provided you have freedom of choice. It's your right. Establishing what matters most to you in a relationship, and being as clear as you possibly can, is the key to exercising that right.