When I speak to youth groups one of the things I say often is, "It is great to have goals and aspirations in your life but also be open to change. Don't be afraid of allowing life to take you where it will take you." I also say, "I would bet that all adults, and you can ask them, would say that their life did not turn out the way they planned. This is one of the truths in life, life changes all the time."
When I was a teenager I had my future laid out. My main focus was to get married and have a family, make a home, etc. I didn't think much past that point in my life. Imagine my surprise to be in my late 30's, looking back, to see how I could have never predicted what unfolded. Married and divorced then married and annulled TWICE and finally married a fourth time to an amazing man. I have learned in my life to never say never.
Each of my relationships were challenging to say the least. Recently I have had several conversations with friends where I have noticed how much the topic comes up around unhealthy relationships. Why do people choose into them? Why do we not see what is in front of us? I have thought a lot about these questions and relating it to my experiences. In knowing that so many struggle, like I did, I wanted to write about what I had experienced in hopes they might help someone else.
I have experienced relationships with abuse from borderline personality disorder, narcissism and bi-polar disorder. With these relationships I had blinders on, there is no question about it. It was only after time passed and I was ready to step out of the relationship when the blinders would start to come off and I would have the courage to be done. Usually it was at the help of someone else that started helping me to see, however I wouldn't have seen unless I was ready to.
What is fascinating to me is that with any unhealthy partner there is a brilliance to how they navigate the relationship. They are quite smart, and very good at what they do. While I feel I am a strong, independent woman, I fell for it a few times. This is one of the hardest things for me to look back and heal. Why did I choose into these relationships?
Here are some of the flags that I have experienced in my relationships:
Did you answer yes to any of these? If so how many?
I want you to know this, if you answered yes and your heart is racing right now, you are not alone! It's okay and you have a choice. Love, I have learned, is a choice. What do I mean by this? Let me tell you a story... but first I want to explain that I have a belief that we choose experiences for lessons and understanding we want to have in our life. There is a reason why I, or anyone, choose into these unhealthy relationships. And sometimes it takes us awhile to understand why.
In my relationship with my former husband that had borderline personality disorder, let's call him Joe, it was a very turbulent relationship and moved very quickly. It was months into our relationship that I had pushed my friends out of my life, had experienced abusive behavior and starting feeling really alone. In a conversation with my mother I communicated a few things, which I normally would never do as I knew Joe would be very upset, but I was desperate as my heart was hurting. Her response to me was, "Mandy that is abuse." I was taken so back by this comment and started to cry. It had never occurred to me that this was abusive behavior. This new realizations for me gave me the courage to have a conversation with Joe as I didn't want to have an unhealthy relationship. After all, I had already had one before! We started therapy quickly and it was challenging to say the least.
One day we were going to a store. Something happened that triggered Joe, I don't remember what, and he had an outburst. Yelling at me in the store and then storming out. He took off and I had no idea where he went. He had done this before and it had become a normal thing. I would get blasted with texts next. This was the normal behavior for him. The texts usually were something around being done with our relationship as I wasn't supportive of him. He would threaten to move out, etc... Often during fights he would take of his wedding ring and throw it. This time, however, because my blinders were starting to come off I could see more clearly and did not want to get into the drama with him. His threats were empty threats to me now. So I didn't respond at first. Then, after I started driving home as I wasn't going to wait around for him this time, I texted that maybe we should be done. This was the first time I had agreed to his threats for ending things. I am sure you will be surprised to know that his tune quickly changed. He called saying he was so sorry. That we were getting better, that he was getting better, that he loved me, etc, etc. I agreed to go pick him up and we drove home.
The usual pattern after we would have a fight, usually the fights lasted hours, Joe would need sex to re-connect. This time I couldn't do it. I couldn't be intimate with him so I told him I had a migraine and went in our bedroom to lay down.
As I laid down I started feeling emotions that I had not allowed myself to feel up to this point. I felt a huge weight start to come over me. I could see myself going down a very dark tunnel and I had the instant knowing that if I chose to stay in this relationship that I would go down this tunnel and never come out. I did not want to choose this. Panic started to come over me as I wasn't sure what to do. My friend Holli came to mind. She was the one person that I knew had unconditional love for me no matter what. I hadn't talked to my friends for quite awhile and was grateful when she answered the phone. I told her I didn't know what to do. I said to her that I knew this was unhealthy, that I could feel I was falling down a dark pit, but I loved him so I felt confused. Her response, and what I was here to learn from this relationship was this, "Of course you love him. Love is the constant thing in life, it is everywhere. You can choose in with him or choose out." This is when I recognized that if I loved myself first, I wouldn't choose into an unhealthy relationship - even if I did love him. I choose me.
The next day I flew out to be with my mom and her friends in Maui. The rest was difficult to navigate as with any unhealthy person it can be scary to get out of a relationship with them, even if they are constantly threatening to leave.
Here is some advice for leaving unhealthy relationships that I have learned:
If you, my sweet friend, are reading this and are in a relationship where you aren't sure if it's unhealthy or don't know how to get out of, please reach out to someone for help. You can also reach out to me at [email protected] Again, you are not alone!
If you have a friend that you believe is in an abusive relationship please support them as best as you can. Sometimes this may mean stepping out of the friendship and sending them love and protection. When they are ready you want to give them a safe place to go with no judgement.
With love and light!