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I recently became a divorce statistic—a statistic many of us married and previously married people fight hard not to be.
I felt like a failure, like I was somehow sucky at making good choices. The emotions of shame, blame, guilt, victimhood, and other hot mess emotions followed me around like a dark cloud until recently.
When I finally stopped gaslighting myself and realized that no one is perfect at anything in life, I was reminded that people get divorced all the time and go on to lead happier lives.
Relationships take work and effort. However, if the action is only coming from one side and in breadcrumbs at best, there will always be a tipping point where the massive internal and external imbalance will need to be rectified.
We may need to look ourselves squarely in the mirror and say, “You know what you need to do, now do it. You have expended enough energy; it’s time to regain yours back.”
I grew up in an era where love was based on conditions and transactions: if you do this for me, then I will love you; if you get that for me, then I will love you. If you’re a good little girl, then I will love you.
This is conditional and transactional love. This kind of love is formed in childhood. As a child, if the attachment to our primary caregiver is based on conditional love, then we will sure as sh*t believe in adulthood; that’s what “real love” is.
I incorrectly believed I needed to give to everyone else and never to myself, which only emptied my mental, emotional, and physical tank to the point of burnout. Thankfully I had one thing left—my spirituality—which I have clung to for dear life. Unfortunately for me, self-love was never taught in school. If we grew up in the 80s and 90s, self-love was thought to be “up yourself” or egotistical.
So, I became one of the COVID-19 separation statistics, the first waver of sorts. I heard so many people complain about the lockdowns; for me, it was a blessing in disguise. It made me take a long hard look at my life, my future, and what it was that I wanted for myself and my daughter.
I came to two realizations:
>> I realized that my marriage was over; in fact, it was over years ago. I was so used to being a people pleaser and a fixer that I held on far longer than I should have, which was unhealthy.
>> The grief that followed wasn’t so much the end of the marriage; I think I had done that part already. It was the fact that I had been divorced from myself the whole time.
The divorce from the self I now know happened in childhood. It continued to play out in my relationships well into my late 30s until I decided to call time on being a people-pleasing, perfectionistic fixer of everyone else. I decided I needed to fix myself first then see what would follow.
What followed? There are a series of overwhelming emotions, sadness, grief, anger, bitterness, and resentment. Going through a grief cycle, the cycle of despair over the loss of self. I believed it was my job to “be a good little girl” and do as I was told not to rock the boat. To make sure I was available to the wrong people, people who benefited from me having no boundaries and never saying no—breadcrumbing me just enough to stay to continue to play in their game of life.
A game that was not my own.
Once I picked myself back up, I learned how to love myself day by day. I reinstalled and reviewed old and new beliefs. I threw out old ones that no longer made any rational sense and reworked my values. I made sense of whose thoughts and stories I was repeating internally and asked myself, is this my story or the story of someone else?
Doing this saw me open back up to love again. But not the love one would imagine. The love of myself. Boundaries and the word no started coming out of my mouth. Thankfully I got to use my no training wheels on some beautiful people who gave me the space to do so.
When we don’t have healthy boundaries, don’t know how to say no, and feel we need to fix people, we open ourselves up to a cohort of people who require us to keep those boundaries down to be used and abused and controlled emotionally, physically, mentally, and financially.
My advice on stopping this from happening again is to start by fixing ourselves first. If we find ourselves wanting to fix someone, that’s a big red flag that we need to heal something from within ourselves. We need to learn what healthy is and how unhealthy and healthy relationships make us feel.
If we can’t say no without it causing us physical harm in the present, we need to quietly heal ourselves and find support so that our inner strength becomes so strong that when the day comes to say no, we do so loudly. They finally get the message and hear it.
This is a powerful moment. Saying no to the right people will see us cherished, supported, and high fived. Why? Because it then gives them permission to say no to us or someone else. That is a healthy relationship. No is a complete sentence, answer, and powerful statement. If someone gets upset at us when we say no to them, we should run for the hills!
We need to teach our kids to say no—teach them love. Teach them that love is not conditional; it’s unconditional. Love is not based on what they give to us physically, mentally, emotionally. Love is whole, healthy, and accepting. It also uncrossed boundaries.
When we love ourselves wholly and solely, we would never allow anyone to treat us in a manner that serves to keep us stuck in transactional relationships.
What to look for to determine unhealthy relationships from healthy relationships:
1. Unhealthy relationships.
If we leave feeling depleted and drained, love is based on what we have to give to a person. It’s transactional and based on us fulfilling the other person’s unmet needs. It is not our job to fulfill another person’s unmet needs; this is where empty tank syndrome happens for people-pleasers, healers, and people with no boundaries.
Another sign is minimal healthy conversation, gossip, gaslighting, competition, or more conflict than positive interaction. Suppose there is always one person who needs to be the center of attention, creating drama, conflict, or love bombing followed by gaslighting. In that case, this is a distinct cycle of up and down happy and sad and transactional and conditional love.
2. Healthy relationships.
We leave the connections feeling uplifted and inspired; healthy conflict happens when we encounter triggers. A healthy approach is to talk it out and resolve the conflict there and then. Both people feel heard and accepted; there is no blame. Instead, there is a deep understanding of each other’s part in the conflict. We move on quickly, having learned from the experience.
We equally lift each other and want to see them meet their ultimate potential. There is no competition because we both know we are playing our own game of life, and we both get to witness each other unfolding. It feels deep in our core—good, healthy, unconditionally love.