A Tale of a Dysfunctional Relationship
When a relationship ends, everyone goes through the different stages of grief. Denial. Bargaining. Anger. Depression. Acceptance. Through each stage, you see your ex differently. You hold onto the good times, refusing to believe it is truly over. You tear yourself apart, carrying the blame for everything you could have done differently. You swear they were the Anti-Christ personified, convinced they were placed on this earth to torment you. You sob and cry your heart out about all that you’ve lost and all that will never be again. Then a miraculous thing happens. Acceptance. With acceptance comes clarity.
Everyone always says hindsight is twenty-twenty but never is that more true than when looking back at a failed relationship once acceptance has sunk in. Unlike the other stages of grief, where you’re viewing your ex through a cloud of emotions, everything becomes so transparent once you have accepted things are over and there is no going back. Everything you overlooked out of love or glossed over and begrudgingly accepted because it was easier to let it slide than to argue becomes shockingly clear. There is no more lying to yourself when those blinders come off and acceptance shines brightly in the stark light of day.
When I look back at the last eleven years with my ex, I’m reminded of an old nursery rhyme about a little girl with a little curl, right in the middle of her forehead. It goes on to say “When she was good, she was very, very good. When she was bad, she was horrid”. No words could more perfectly describe my last relationship than that. There were times when it was the most amazingly perfect relationship I could have ever imagined; Other times, however, it was so soul-crushingly agonizing that no amount of tears could wash away the pain.
My ex was the first person I had fully shared everything with – every last scar, every trauma I had endured. It was not an easy task because I had enormous trust issues and had built mile-high walls for self-preservation. He was the first person that saw all of me and made me feel like it was okay to be me; Though I saw myself as damaged and broken, he saw someone that was still beautiful, wonderful, worthy of being loved. It began as a great love affair where everything in life finally made sense and I finally felt like I found a place where I belonged. For the first time in my life, I truly felt loved and accepted. I felt safe. I could face anything with him at my side.
Everything was not always perfect between us, though. We had both endured a multitude of abuses growing up and our demons reared their heads in different ways. My flight response was always high. I could not handle conflict. Yelling, screaming and personal attacks would make me withdraw and want to flee. The demons that haunted my ex were of a different breed. When he became upset, he would rant and rage, unyielding and reiterating until he felt he got his point across. Problems would arise, he would yell and harp; I, in turn, would flee, all the while begging him to please stop.
Though his rage when we fought terrified me, in so many ways he was my protector and guardian. When my ex-husband would come to the door screaming about issues regarding joint-custody of our kids, my ex would stand defiantly between us, making sure he knew his behavior was unacceptable and had to stop. When I fell apart after my daughter chose to live with her father, he was there to comfort me and pick up the pieces. He wrapped his arms around me tightly as I broke down about loss after loss I had endured, from the death of my parents to the loss of my babies. He stood by me through multiple breakdowns, telling me it would be okay, that he’d always be there. It felt safe to be vulnerable around him because when I wasn’t strong enough to face things alone, he would be my rock.
Our insecurities and poor self-esteem reared its head in different ways, as well. We both were fiercely jealous. I worried and questioned any woman who entered his life because they all became a pursuit or an affair over time. He was jealous of everyone that took my attention or affection away from him, whether it was my children or my friends. I had been so convinced that I was inherently unlovable that I needed constant validation and reassurance from him that I was still loved and wanted. He, on the other hand, sought validation through others. Knowing he was loved and accepted fully by me for who he was would never be enough; He needed constant reaffirmation from others, to convince strangers that he was worth being desired and adored. He was so convinced that he was garbage that the only self worth he could achieve was through others. Over time, those feelings even extended to me – he began to only value me when others saw value in me, as well.
Over the years, our relationship dynamic changed and warped. The infidelities and fighting made my depression increasingly worse and with each breakdown, it became harder and harder for me to function. I still managed to get dinner on the table and go through the basic motions of life, but I found myself struggling more and more to get out of bed every morning and hiding in the bathroom to cry every night. In many ways, I think a part of me gave up because I no longer felt loved or appreciated. I went from being reassured I was beautiful and wonderful to hearing that I was a burden he was tired of carrying. He would mentally and emotionally knock me down then rage that I no longer had the strength to pull myself back up. Where we used to talk for hours, sharing stories and thoughts, he now tuned me out or cut me off, informing me he had already heard things or was not interested. I withdrew to playing online games with friends, hoping to feel wanted or needed by someone. He withdrew into further affairs with other women, often making me the brunt of their shared jokes.
Our relationship was a roller coaster of ups and downs. We would take long drives, holding hands and feeling like it was us against the world and nothing could break us apart. We would go out and listen to bands or stroll through the farmer’s market or do one of a hundred different things, smiling and holding onto each other like the world only existed for the two of us. No matter how bad the day felt, laying my head on his chest and having his arms wrap around me made the world feel right again. Everything felt wonderful and perfect when he was at my side. Except sometimes it truly wasn’t. We’d have huge fights where I would leave the house sobbing at 2 a.m. and walk for hours before checking myself into the hospital because my mind was tormented by thoughts of dying to escape the pain he had caused. In the beginning, when I would run out in tears, he would chase me, apologizing, begging to talk and make things right again. Over time, he no longer cared and I would walk and walk alone down dark city streets, along the sides of highways, feeling lost and hopeless, wanting to die. Eventually, he would use that time to message other women, hoping to hook up while I was away in the hospital for a day or two.
Over the years, I lost so much of myself because it was easier not to argue. He didn’t like some meals I enjoyed so we ate them less and less. He didn’t like some shows I enjoyed so I only watched them when he wasn’t home then eventually not at all. He thought this friend of mine had a crush or that friend had a problem with our relationship, so little by little, I pushed people away. The more I conceded to his wishes, the more he pushed for me to change. I lived so fully for each of the highs that I was willing to give up anything to avoid the lows. Eventually, I lost myself completely and felt like I was living solely for him yet I was still never enough. Though I had avoided all the addictions that had plagued my family, I still succumbed to the same codependent relationship.
When my ex eventually abandoned me for the last in a long line of women he had cheated on me with, I felt utterly heartbroken and lost. At first, I could not believe he would leave me and walk away after all we had been through together, all we had built. I wanted so badly to talk to him, to understand where things went wrong. I was so angry that all he cared about was himself. I laid in bed, sobbing, feeling like my life was over and nothing would ever be okay again. Then clarity hit and I began to write. Truthfully, he will always be one of the greatest loves of my life because he was the first person that ever saw past all of my damage to see the beauty underneath. He will always have a place in my heart for that. But our relationship was also the most unhealthy, dysfunctional period of my life. While part of me will always love him for the good times, I can never fully forgive the bad. He was toxic to me – the longer we stayed together, the more of me died. I fully accept that life after him will never be the same because those eleven years with him changed me in so many ways. But, truth be told, it’s a far, far better place I am at now that I am no longer with him.