When I was in the middle of a toxic relationship I pulled in close for survival. I felt like a victim. I felt like my partner was creating this toxicity on purpose to punish me for not being the woman he wanted. It did not matter what I did to try to become the woman I thought he wanted, I never felt like I was enough.
But what I could not see due to the bubble I had crawled into to try to protect myself, was that if I was in a toxic relationship, SO WAS HE. He was not choosing to live in a toxic place on purpose. Who would do that? He was miserable too. No one actually wants to live that way. This is powerful now, in looking back. It strips away the animosity I have felt about this period of my life. He was not to blame. I was not to blame. We were both just bumbling through a really terrible time in life and we had no idea how to do that together – I don’t actually think we were built to support each other in this way. We did not fit together in this vitally necessary way a couple should.
I did not know how to strip my life of this toxicity. I did not want to quit on my marriage; I wanted a healthy and strong relationship. I wanted to honor the covenant I made before God until my very last breath. But, I am human and I was full of self-doubt and self-loathing at the time. This was on me, by the way. Other people do not have the power to strip me of my confidence, not even my most loved ones. It is a response to situations and people and one I am in complete control over, even when I don’t feel like I am. I did not possess the understanding, at the time, of what was happening to create this bad juju in my home because I was only beginning to research alcoholism and I had beaten myself down instead of facing my reality. I knew I could not escape, I didn’t want to. I wanted it to get better. And, the only way that could happen was if I worked on myself. I could not change him. I could only work on me. It was his responsibility to work on himself. I was ready to be a woman I loved again and one my children could be proud of.
I feel I should mention here that counseling was a part of our efforts to find a way forward, both individual and couples counseling. I believe in counseling. I saw great value in sharing a marriage counselor that we both saw – together and independently – this meant the counselor could see both sides and did not blindly advise either of us without knowledge of the personality and narrative from the other side. Believe me, this was sometimes quite irritating. I mean, what woman doesn’t want her therapist to agree only with her and the way she sees her life? But, alas, that was not an incredibly healthy approach for me from inside my bubble. The marriage counselor was able to bring my spouse’s perspective and hurt to me where I could see it. I sure as heck wasn’t allowing my spouse to broach that beautiful bubble of emotional protection very often. More importantly, the counselor helped me recognize the need for communicating when things were NOT ok – recognizing emotional abuse is not easy for a Positive Polly in a defensive position. I also saw a counselor to help me work on ME, independent of what I wanted in my marriage. Perspective is a wonderous thing.
I wonder now, how many other women sit in the toxicity of a marriage that is plagued with bad juju and see only the abuse instead of two people no longer having any idea how to do life together. When people crouch down into protection mode their defenses are thrown up and their offenses are not always kind. When we place a protective bubble around ourselves, the good stuff can’t get in either. The one who is supposed to be battling life with us is all of a sudden battling US, and it breeds the worst kind of fear – and, I admit, I engaged in the blame and deflection game to help me build myself up to get through this fear. Is this common? I think it is. It has taken a TON of self reflection to get to a place where I can see how my protective armor also kept me from seeing any good, or seeing any responsibility I might have had for our misery, for that matter. The bad always outweighs the good, whether I want it to be that way or not. It is human nature.
Now, I am NOT saying that emotional abuse was not present. What is that common saying right now?? Hurt people hurt people. I am also not saying that this mutual battle stance was an excuse to engage in emotional abuse, really, there is never an excuse for such behavior. What I am saying is that without this bubble I think would have SEEN it and I would have freed myself sooner (my care is my responsibility).
When I look at the whole of my marriage, things changed. I cannot prescribe the end to the beginning because that would be lying to myself and to my kids to help justify the end. Instead, I know, and my children will know, that it was good, once. We loved each other and cared for each other differently then. The parents they saw divorce are not the parents from their childhood. And, that is ok. We changed, life changed, circumstances went south – and not in the pretty southern hospitality kind of way. My bubble kept me from seeing my reality and kept me rooted in the past – a magical place of potential that, without my bubble, I would have recognized could never be realized.
Divorce is like a living death. Nothing is going to change that. I can see, though, from here, WHY we hurt each other the way we did. I can understand how protection prolonged our inevitable end because we did not allow ourselves to feel or to see the other person’s pain and deal with it in a healthy way. And, in some couples, I can see where the opposite may be true and that this protection may actually push the couple closer and closer to divorce when, if only they could pop those bubbles, they could find their way back together.
My walls of protection KEPT me from being vulnerable. That was the purpose. I didn’t want to feel the hurt. I didn’t want to deal with my own role in the spiraling chaos of my marriage. I wanted to be Pollyanna and play with my babies and visit with friends and wish it all away. If I could have only seen the value in sitting in my hurt and opening myself to the vulnerability I have now – I could have seen the necessity of the ending that inevitably came. I kept myself in the toxicity. I did that to myself. I also know that my sweet counselors tried to coax me there but I wouldn’t hear of it at the time. Ohhhhh hindsight. You are sometimes cruel.
Today I offer grace. I offer it to myself for being a woman who was experiencing emotional trauma and for the times when she did not handle it from a place of love but instead from a place of protection. I offer grace to my ex for the same.
I will make it a point to always remember that time in my life. Being conscious of where I have been will be a barometer for future relationships. I will fully understand the worth of a partner who treats me well and who has my best interests at heart. I will argue and fight, when necessary, with a new awareness of the fragility of love and the importance of respect and self-reflection in the care of this love. Most of all, I will remain aware of the ease in which that damned protective bubble begins to rise and I will pop it with open communication with my person. I will recognize emotional abuse and toxicity immediately this way. Remaining vulnerable will keep me rooted in reality. I will only know if I have found the man God has meant for me if I remain open and communicate with him all that is me, in spite of my fear of being hurt. I know, now, that a life partner who can handle my worst, my most anxiety ridden paranoid fear level, from a place of love – he will be the one worth holding on to forever. I will not settle for anything less, God does not mean for me to settle for anything less.