Recently, while choosing photos to put in a Facebook album celebrating my son’s fifth birthday, I came across a series of photos that his father and I had taken of ourselves one month before I finally left him.
I paused, and looked at us—the happy and in-love us, the good side, the side that kept me in a destructive and difficult relationship for nearly four years—and I was grateful I hadn’t deleted the photos as I so nearly did a few months after we broke up.
Then, I didn’t want any reminders of the good times, of the love and the fun and the laughter. I was still angry and resentful and hurting that he was the way he was and hadn’t been able to pull it together so we could stay together. (Notice the assumptions in that sentence?)
Because that’s the thing about our relationship. We were compatible in so many ways and there was a great sexual and loving connection between us. We were intellectually matched.
There was boundless love between us.
But it was still a toxic, destructive and co-dependent relationship.
Neither of us had sufficiently worked through our relationship wounds and neither of us were coming from a place of self-love.
I was insecure and needy with poor—almost non-existent—boundaries; he had addiction issues which were partly what lead to his frequent emotional, reactive states.
It was my fourth back-to-back long-term relationship in ten years—something that played at the back of my mind.
I didn’t want to fail at another relationship and I was determined to stick this one out.
When the relationship got bad a few months in, I blamed myself. I knew I had issues, and recognized my fear and insecurity. I figured that if I could sort myself out, our relationship wouldn’t have issues anymore and everything would be fabulous.
It was classic behaviour from a woman with poor boundaries: I took sole responsibility for the health of our relationship.
I overlooked his poor behaviour, making excuses for him and putting up with verbal and emotional abuse. I even justified it by noting how I was growing and changing within the relationship—that the toxic relationship was making me a stronger and clearer person. That was true…it was. Yet that’s a lousy reason to stay in any relationship.
There are other ways to grow and become stronger.
I also stayed because of the love, the fun and the good times. And I stayed because I was afraid of being alone, I was afraid I wouldn’t find that kind of love again, and I was afraid I wouldn’t find someone as charismatic and sexy again.
I stayed because I was co-dependent with poor boundary issues.
When I finally left, on the eve of New Year’s Eve 2010, I had a good understanding of all of these factors. I was clear on how I had been co-creating the toxic atmosphere that we’d been living with. Yet I was still pissed off and resentful towards him.
Despite all the crap, all the deceit and lies, even when I left him, I had still wanted us to grow together and create a healthy, loving, strong relationship.
I still wanted him. And I still thought he was capable of being the man who could create that relationship.
So I was angry that he didn’t bother to become that man, failing to see that he couldn’t, failing to see that he didn’t know how.
Because we had a child, we still needed to communicate about contact. Plus I was generally concerned about my ex’s mental state of being and so would take long phone calls from him where he would talk 80% of the time and I would support and encourage him to get his life together.
Even though we weren’t together anymore, the way we related was still toxic, and it flummoxed me. I thought that I had it together now – how come we were in the same pattern of relating?
I began to put in stronger and stronger boundaries, something that seemed absurd to me. I didn’t want to be this woman, I wanted us to have a mature, adult attitude to managing contact with our child. But his erratic behaviour eventually led me to taking him to the Family Court and enforcing supervised contact through his parents.
I ceased all contact with him completely, except for emails.
Those emails are telling.
When I stood up and did something he didn’t like, I would get a nasty email. Generally within about a day or so, I would get another email apologizing and saying nice things. If I didn’t respond to that the way he wanted, another nasty one would usually follow.
I got to the stage where I felt like I was operating an automated machine – if I push this button, I get this response, if I push that button, I get that response.
I realised it had always been like that in our relationship and I had always been trying to work out the magic combination of buttons to push that would deliver a mature, emotionally stable and adult relationship.
I believed that a great relationship was in there somewhere and I just had to figure out the right way to act for it to come into being.
The truth was, despite my ex’s generous and loving heat, his charisma, his intelligence, his wisdom and insight, he was deeply wounded and still acting out of his wounds. That great relationship was never possible between us.
If I had loved myself and had strong boundaries, our relationship would have been lucky to last three dates. I would not have stood for any of his crazy-making behaviour. I would not have been foolish enough to open my heart and fall in love because I would have seen him for who he was, instead of who I wanted him to be.
Instead, my desperate desire to be loved and be in a relationship meant I ignored all the obvious warning signs, labouring under the delusion that I could be supportive and help my ex-partner heal so we could have the kind of relationship I wanted.
Not terribly smart is it? But of course, I didn’t know all that then. My behaviour was still unconscious.
Now, I know the only person I can blame for my heart ache and dashed dreams is myself. Not him. He was as unconscious and clueless as myself. He was doing the best he could and got just as frustrated at the messiness of our relationship as I did. He was on the receiving end of my wounds and we’re both responsible for the failure of our relationship.
A few months ago, I met a man I was interested in. We had an intensely strong sexual connection. Once upon a time that would have been enough for me to jump into whatever was on offer, boots and all, even if it wasn’t exactly what I was looking for.
This time, I didn’t. For the first time in my life, I didn’t let my sexual desires lead me down the garden path. I stood in my integrity and named what I wanted, refusing to accept anything less.
It was frickin’ powerful.
Recently, dropping Samuel off with his grandfather, I saw my ex for the first time in two-and-a-half years. It was a brief encounter, yet I could feel that the stickiness between us, the hook that created the dynamic that ruled our relating all the way through our relationship and beyond, it was gone.
He was just another man. He didn’t have any power over me anymore.
The next day, while practicing yoga, I was coming out of a lunge posture and spontaneously a prayer of forgiveness for my ex spilled out of my heart.
I watched, somewhat astonished, as these words made themselves in a prayer and released from my heart. Forgiveness had spontaneously arisen.
It was the four year anniversary of me leaving this New Year’s. It seems that’s how long it’s taken me to fully learn the lessons of our relationship and finally let go. It’s longer than the three and a half years we were together.
I will always love my ex-partner—that has never changed. I will always be grateful for the role he played in mirroring back to me all my weaknesses and issues around men and relationships. Our relationship and my desire for a healthy version of our love motivated me to sort my sh*t out.
There is no greater tool for growth and awakening than love and relationships. Sometimes that growth happens within the context of a destructive relationship. Sometimes it happens within the context of a constructive relationship.
Next time, I’m choosing constructive. Destructive? Been there, done that, got the war stories to prove it.
*Thank you to my ex-partner for allowing me to publish this personal story of our relationship and use the photos.
Author: Kara-Leah Grant
Editor: Renée P.
Photo: author’s own, shared with permission