I’ve had emails from half a dozen people over the last few days who are struggling to end relationships they know are not healthy. Knowing what you need to do and doing what you need to do are two different things. One requires awareness, the other demands action and we’re not always ready or able to act on our own behalf.
I have a guy I’m talking to* who’s suffering because his wife wants an open marriage and he does not, and she’s not willing to try therapy or talk to him about it any further, she’s already dating other men. He’s sick to his stomach but they have two almost-teenage daughters and he feels paralyzed. He says he’s still in love with her, and even though he’s physically ill when she’s out late he can’t imagine a life without her. He thinks she knows him like no one else, and he’ll never find that again. He doesn’t want to leave his kids. One of the girls is old enough to know something is off, and she’s asking questions. Last week she and her mother had an argument, and she slapped her mother in the face and her mom slapped back. They both retreated to their rooms and cried. The younger daughter is having problems at school for the first time and has dropped several pounds. There’s a lot of pain in the house, and everyone is feeling it, and everyone is suffering.
At the same time I’ve been exchanging emails with a woman whose boyfriend is very unkind to her. He belittles her privately and publicly, and has told her he can’t bring her home to meet his family because she’s not “of their ilk.” He tells her she doesn’t dress well and she needs to lose weight, and he corrects her pronunciation of certain words, even though English is her second language and she speaks three others. He sneers if she orders at a restaurant and the person taking the order asks her to repeat herself, and when she tried to surprise him at work one night with dinner because he was on a deadline, he pretended not to know her in front of a group of his colleagues.
Sometimes we get hooked on a person’s potential, or the way they may have been at one time but aren’t any longer. Abuse of any kind is never okay, and it isn’t love. Usually this stuff is insidious. A relationship begins, and the hormones are raging and you’re positive this is the person you’ve been waiting for your whole life. Maybe it is, or maybe it’s smoke and mirrors; the truth is, it will take time to tell and sometimes more than you think. But at no time and under no circumstances do you want to allow another person to make you feel less than. Not enough. Who wants to be vulnerable with a person who’s hurting them? If someone else can make you feel you aren’t measuring up, it’s only because something in you agrees with that, believes it to be true. That’s the thing you need to solve. Our guy in the open marriage he’d like to close again is struggling because he loves his wife. Or maybe he loves the way she used to be. He wants to excuse it because he was her first and she now feels she missed out on a whole chapter of her life. They have years of history and beautiful memories, good times and tough times, and two amazing daughters. But this chapter they’re in is a mess. It’s a mess of clinging and longing and desire and pain. You cannot nurture yourself or anyone else when your heart is being crushed and you’re participating in the crushing. That’s simply not good for anyone.
Figuring out how to remove yourself from a heartbreaking and/or abusive situation is not always easy. If you’re hooked on the dynamic because you’re trying to heal some very old pain, it’s essential that you figure out what that original wound is about. That’s the key to your freedom — knowing yourself, opening to what’s real for you, sitting with your pain when you need to, and releasing the heat of it so it doesn’t rule your life, so it doesn’t spill all over your present and your future. Sometimes we all need help with this stuff. Finding the strength to act when you barely have the energy to get out of bed is not easy. When we push feelings down, it’s exhausting. Better to let it all up and out, and get help grounding yourself if you need it. Find someone who can help you remember your power and your beauty, and before long you’ll put one foot in front of the other and find a way out of where you are and into something that doesn’t insult your heart.
Sending you love and strength,
*All identifying characteristics have been changed, and everything written here is done so with permission.