The major thing I learned from being in a very difficult relationship was: DON’T.
I wish I had let go sooner and maybe saved both of us years of hurt, but I learned a lot about myself and it forced me to develop self-love. In that way, it was a gift.
Why do people stay in difficult relationships? It wasn’t always bad. In fact, there were many good times and I did really love the person. I loved so many things about him and he made me feel safe in many ways. However, when it was bad, it was devastating. I didn’t know that the good times can’t outweigh the devastation of the bad times.
I was addicted to chaos.
I grew up in an unpredictable environment, which didn’t feel emotionally safe to me. From day-to-day, ignored or the reason for everyone’s bad mood. I was unaware that this shaped how I chose relationships.
I wanted a partner who paid attention to me to combat the neglect I felt as a child. I wanted a partner who wouldn’t leave me to combat the abandonment I experienced in childhood. In addition, I wanted someone to love me, make me feel secure and not be critical towards me.
Those are great things to expect in a partner when it is in a healthy relationship. When you have a toxic background, you choose the same thing in unhealthy ways. My partner paid me attention but was also jealous and manipulative. He would make me feel guilty when others paid attention to me. Or, make me feel like I had to compete if I wanted to spend time with other people. Desiring time apart was a power struggle creating insecurity on either side.
I didn’t have to worry about him leaving me or not being with me, but he would also sabotage his own efforts so we couldn’t progress together. The price I paid for having someone with me all the time was no forward movement and the heavy lifting in the relationship.
And, he wasn’t critical towards me, but he held silent resentments against me. He didn’t tell me what was wrong with me but acted passive-aggressively towards me. His love was conditional and I had no clue what the conditions were. He made me feel like my love was a prison and I stood in the way of everything he wanted out of life.
I was getting what I desired in a twisted way that I was unaware in many ways created an emotional rollercoaster that kept me handcuffed to suffering.
It was so much easier to blame him and point the finger to him than it was to admit that this version of love is what I believed I deserved. I was trying to fix him to feel emotionally safe. Meanwhile, our relationship was mirroring everything that made me feel unsafe as a child. I couldn’t strip him of all the triggers to my wounds.
I wanted my love to inspire him to change for me. I wanted his change to validate my existence. And, I wanted him to love me for changing him.
When simply loving and giving him what I thought he needed didn’t work, I would manipulate him with guilt into feeling like he should want to be different.
I was putting all this emotional work into him to make myself feel better.
After almost 6 years of running and chasing one another, we hit a wall and I really had to look at myself. I was miserable. He was miserable. It was clear neither of us wanted the future to resemble what we had been doing, but neither of us was making the changes necessary for it to be different.
I remember one day coming to the realization that I was failing. Maybe I was just in the relationship because I refused to fail. I wanted to win. I didn’t even know what winning meant.
I allowed myself to fail. I allowed myself to let go and I chose my sanity over telling myself that I was in love and that meant I had to suffer through the chaos.
I did love him. There is no doubt about that. Was it for the right reasons? I don’t know. Maybe in many ways it was and maybe in many ways, it wasn’t. But, if I loved him then what I was doing to him and what he was doing to me wasn’t love.
So, the huge takeaway from my most difficult relationship is that I had to stop trying to turn a relationship into what I want it to look like. I had to find someone with the same vision and we can work together to make it what we agree it should be.
I also learned that I don’t need chaos. I found calm to be a sign that things are going well. There’s no need to test someone to see if they love me. I don’t have to push them away to make sure they won’t go. I don’t have to keep destroying the foundation to feel relief that it’s still standing. I am allowed to feel secure in things going good.
Lastly, I put effort into making sure that I am not using the toxic tactics in future relationships. I will see myself as one-half of the problem and figure out my part. I know now that my job is just to love the other person. It’s not to change them. If they change, it will be because we both are committed to the evolution of the relationship and our life goals require.
I was ultimately healed by being wounded so badly that I had to heal myself.
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