AUDREY: HOW DO I EMBRACE MY ‘NOW’ AND NOT LET MY PAST GET IN THE WAY?

Audrey,

I have been dating a wonderful woman for a nearly a year and although there have been some challenges, I am really happy. She is everything that I thought I always wanted in a partner and lots of things I didn’t think that I wanted or needed. I feel challenged, desired and significantly, she puts up with my individual weirdness. She doesn’t make me feel ashamed to be me, nor does she try to hide me from view like in my previous relationship. So yes for the first time in my life, I am fucking happy!

Yet, I can’t help but experience these niggling thoughts that are beginning to gnaw away at my insides at what we have built so far. Thoughts that coincide with feelings of inadequacy and are causing me to feel anxious. So what am I doing? I am looking for faults, errors of judgement on my part; how could this woman be into me?

I am not looking for fights, but I often have to check myself when I realise that I have said something rude in response to a question she has asked, or when I feel that I have been short with her for no reason other than I am surprised by her selflessness. At times like these, I have upset her and caused arguments that I am worried will leave a lasting mark.

I don’t want to ruin this relationship with some self-inflicted torture of questioning what is an amazing thing, but it is as though I have my girlfriend of relationship past, sitting on my shoulder watching over me biding her time before she is able to say, ‘See, I told you it wouldn’t work. You’re not good enough for her.’

How do I kick the ghost to the kerb?

From,

Ghost-Hunted

 

Dear Ghost-Hunted,

Ghosts of relationship past can permeate our very being. Some, of course, have more significance over your present self; it can take people years to exorcise themselves of these ghosts, as given the opportunity they become all consuming.

Google and self-help aids (much like this you may think…) have a lot to answer for when it comes to how we deal with relationships. We may hold hope that reading some advice from someone more experienced and hopefully more worldly-wise has the ability to provide the answers and provide the medicine that will make our pain fade away even if just for a moment. But generally, nuggets of advice profess that there are concrete steps to the process, roughly: break-up, cry, do some crazy breakup stuff (like drink, partying, late-night questionable texts, for instance) and only then comes the healing. But here is where some guides are misguided themselves, as the healing comes from the process itself. And only you can decide when the healing party is over and you are ready to move on.

I make it sound so easy! Just click the back of your heels Dorothy style and you can be back in Kansas pre-crappy feelings. But feelings are meant to be experienced, the good, the bad and the occasional ugliness of them all and they are what will help you reach a point where you can look on those ghosts and remember why the feelings associated with them are fleeting.

We tend to put past relationships into one of two camps; memorable and not memorable. There are those who we meet, dance with for a short time and then we say goodbye. There may have been tears at the relationship’s demise but there is no lasting mark scored on our hearts. And then there those who somehow find themselves a place at our very core for good or ill.  

My first boyfriend fell in the latter camp. I was 17 and we were officially only together for three months before he headed off for the bright lights of university. He suggested we carry on with one of those fancy-sounding (at the time) ‘open-relationships.’ You know the type, I can do what I want and I might let you know the details, but you’ll wait for me, won’t you? In spite of my youth and naivety, I graciously declined. So life carried on as normal. It was during the university holidays however when he would return back to our home city when he would say that he really would like to hang out, where I experienced the pain of what I believed was true heartbreak. He would cause my insecure and young heart to whoop and sing when he contacted me, just like a cliched drug, he was my hit. This went on for two years. It didn’t last of course, as I heard through the grapevine that he had found himself a girlfriend at university and so the calls and texts finally came to an end. But the hope that I put into receiving another hit from him didn’t fade for some time, it took years. And like in some twisted dark fairy tale, this set me up for a further ten years of believing that in romantic terms, my feelings were secondary to that of my partner.

We begin a new relationship sensing its fragility, particularly once we recognise that we want it to work. We want to be seen as the best version of ourselves; so we dress up, arrange romantic gestures, introduce our loved one to friends and family as signs of interest and affection. It is as a relationship starts to warm up that we begin to share more of our real selves, we share and listen when discussions emerge of our urges, desires and fears. Once the first rush of love with a partner is over, this is the period when a relationship can falter because a different sort of reality sets in. One where we have to be ourselves, warts and all. It is here when the voices of relationship past can often be at their loudest. The exposure to it all can be deafening. We may hear them sniggering and passing judgement in the background just to get a rise out of us. And they will if we let them.

In any relationship, we can bring a lot to the table. And it’s not just our crap to contend with, there is all of theirs too. And, intentionally or not, some people wish to tip the table in their favour so instead of setting boundaries, marking out compromises, for instance, they dump a bag load of shit right there in the middle. For them, the easiest way for their fears to be realised and for their ego’s to be acknowledged is to belittle and criticise others. And for the recipient of a partner who acts in this way, we can start to believe their voice, long after the relationship is over. This, unfortunately, can manifest itself in many forms, in a milder but nevertheless serious infringement of relationship boundaries like co-dependency and at it’s worst, abuse in its differing but devastating forms.

It was only when I started to recognise that my feelings were as equally as important as someone else’s was when I met someone who wanted to meet me halfway. One of the first more serious conversations I had with my partner was where I told him in slightly cruder terms than this that I felt a little lost. I had come out of a relationship where I lost a huge sense of what I wanted or even who I really was. I had grown so incredibly used to shrinking away into the background to please my ex-boyfriend, my thoughts had become irrelevant. So I wasn’t sure how to behave in certain situations; do I simply back down at the first signs of conflict? Smile and nod when I am in fact offended? He told me that in no uncertain terms that he would prefer me to be myself, even if we didn’t match on the view or come anywhere close, something I hadn’t heard before.   

Kicking a past relationship ghost to the kerb is a liberating but and an individual process; there is no magic button, panacea or pair of ruby slippers in this world that will tell you when and only when you are ‘healed’ from a previous relationship (despite what Google thinks). It is, however, your choice about if you are going to listen to the voices. By sharing this with your partner, you may surprise yourself to find that they have ghosts of their own. Ones that creep up on them when they least expect it. And it’s only by releasing the pesky things into the world where they lose some of their potency to inflict damage. They may not go away, but the scars left on your heart will then begin to heal.

Love,

Audrey

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AUDREY: I CHECKED MY BOYFRIEND’S PHONE AND FOUND HE HAS CHEATED – WHAT DO I DO?

Dear Audrey,

For some time now I have had some suspicions about my boyfriend’s behaviour and recently I discovered that he has been sending and receiving explicit messages from a woman we both used to work with.

There have been red flags in the past about the woman in question. When she still worked at the company, she would often turn up ‘just to chat’ with him, and this often involved some obvious flirting between them and non-existent concealment of the fact from her. This was despite the fact that she knew that we were an item.

At the time when I told him of my discomfort, he argued that his relationship with her was purely professional and it was nothing to worry about. The flirting always continued and there were even times he would rub in the fact that she was clearly into him by saying how attractive she was and how much they had in common. This upset me a lot.

When she eventually left the company, pleased was an understatement. I was elated. As far as I knew, with her gone she was out of his mind.

The first I realised that they were still in touch was over Facebook; she started to ‘like’ some of his posts, which soon turned into comments. Initially I didn’t say anything, I was being silly, paranoid even, well that is what I told myself. But when she made some provocative comment about a post he made, resulting in days of toing and froing between them in clear sight, (including lots of frankly suspicious emoticon useage) I told him again that I felt uncomfortable. He dismissed my concerns saying that I was being silly.

Then everything went quiet on the social media front and life carried on for almost a year, until I checked his phone. Since the radio silence between them publicly I couldn’t help but wonder if there was something else happening behind the scenes. On the day in question, I strangely felt compelled to do it without really any prior warning or justification for doing so. 

The messages had started casually enough and then after a few months they had grown explicit and conspiratory, the most recent ones talked of a desire to be together and also included exchanges of photos in their underwear and even less.

As I went through them I felt my heart being broken and then the pieces stamped on. Now I don’t know what to do. If I tell him that I’ve seen them, then he knows that I have been through his phone and he might end things with me. If I don’t say anything, I think I might go crazy but I don’t want to lose him.

What should I do?

From,

Heartbroken

 

Dear Heartbroken,

Your instinct was telling you something all along. Although instinct is not a complete science, it does help to listen to it.

That being said, you found concrete evidence for your boyfriend’s cheating. There must be a part of you that feels vindicated, even if just a little bit. You were right all along. But knowing that doesn’t make your situation any easier or absolve the upset you feel.

What is interesting is where the blame appears to lie in your eyes: towards the other woman.

The blame is firmly placed on her and you paint your boyfriend as someone with no decision-making powers of his own, as though he was flapping his arms in the wind as she made her move. And as the saying goes, it takes two to tango and certainly to type text messages.

The relative contradictions that modern technology provides; an inherent ability to distance ourselves from other human beings, yet we feel able to plot and conspire, and also send explicit images to people we may feel like we wouldn’t usually share a bus seat with. But that’s beside the point, you are hurt from your boyfriend going behind your back and continuing a version of a relationship with someone who you feel threatened by. As it’s the relationship with the other woman that is the crux of the matter and his inability to leave it alone.

So remember that your boyfriend played as much a part in this merry sexting and general bad behaviour dance as your ex-colleague, if not more so.

Perhaps she did pursue him? And actually right in front of you. But did he make it clear that he was otherwise coupled up?

He appears to have had very little respect for your feelings, fuck, he bulldozed over your continued concerns with a truck and then told you that you were crazy for questioning his commitment.

These are signs of someone desperately living in denial with a capital D. Some people have the ability to tell themselves certain information until they believe it to be true. Any information to the contrary is seen as false and the deliverer of that information as hostile. Your boyfriend is protecting himself first and foremost in how he responded to your concerns. After all, self-preservation is a natural human survival strategy.

You are unsure as to whether to say anything to him about what you have unearthed – it seems like he may have already made a decision for you. He is talking of leaving you. I can’t say how serious he is with that, but assume he is. How does that make you feel?

I imagine pretty shitty.

You end your letter pacing between two scenarios; admit that you’ve been checking his phone and discovered his infidelity, or bury the issue and try to pretend that you haven’t seen what you’ve seen.

But therein lies the problem, you cannot unsee what you have seen. It has been burned into your consciousness.

And would you want to?

If you hadn’t checked his phone, perhaps you would have found him out somewhere down the line, that is unless he had already upped and left to be with the other woman. Perhaps their messages are just a simple fun activity in his mind and he has absolutely no intention of leaving you. It just passes the time.

Perhaps you confront him, force him to admit his plans and cheating ways – as let’s not forget, there is room for interpretation from individual parties when it comes to cheating via phone/internet and so on.

FYI – I am firmly in the camp of ‘HELL YEAH IT IS!’ if plans are afoot for a coupling and graphic images being sent.

What happens then?

He may fire a number of things back at you; you broke his trust for checking his phone or you never trusted him in the first place. In effect, he may spin things around. Or he might not and in fact beg for your forgiveness and admit he made a mistake.

Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps…

Or perhaps I wonder if you are living in a world of denial yourself (with a smaller, quieter ‘d’), pretending that a relationship was right for you that was wrong on some levels, inasmuch as his inability to see some of the discomfort and pain you experienced when you expressed yourself about his relationship with the other woman. That to me, says more about the state of his feelings towards your relationship than the act of texting the other woman does. 

By not allowing yourself to face the fact that you have experienced something painful and by not telling a partner that you feel seriously hurt, you have already shut down a part of yourself emotionally. You are in effect being blinded by denial.

So do yourself a favour, allow yourself to be vulnerable and confront those demons that are holding you and your current relationship to ransom. Honesty may not bring the answers that you seek or necessarily want, but don’t allow yourself to shy away from owning your emotions either and also standing up for them.

Audrey

THE COSTS OF AVOIDANCE

I like avoiding stuff.

Difficult stuff, like about what things hurt and upset me. For instance I love to avoid those conversations that you know are going to be tough, but sometimes need to be had, whether it is with yourself or someone else.

I tend to put a smile on things in public, feign happiness and acceptance. But then who doesn’t?

Over a year ago I felt deeply let down by one of my closest friends. Instead of addressing my upset with her about how I had felt treated, what did I do?

I bitched and moaned about her to mostly mutual friends and even some people I didn’t even know that well. I was left (and still am) feeling incredibly guilty, as I had opened up a fragile part of our friendship into the public sphere and permitted others to comment and pass judgement.

But my reason for not speaking to her directly was simple. I didn’t want the confrontation because of the potential explosion that it could cause. So I tried my hardest to avoid it all costs, despite deepening the scars associated with the issue for me. It seemed easier to brush things under the carpet than face them.

Another common avoidance strategy I have is related to my family. Growing up I often felt quite removed from my parents. We clashed over values and how we related to one another, and in turn how love was expressed. Mostly we were a unit of familiarity, which consisted of us getting on with our daily lives, only coming together for dinner and sometimes at weekends for rare trips out. Love was not something easily given and expressed. I knew I was loved, but there were many times when it felt like the love was held at arm’s length or it came with conditions. 

I know that I am being unduly hard on my parents. At times I was challenging, spiteful, I questioned their authority on many unnecessary occasions causing upset not just for me but also between them. Many times I was frankly irritating. So no wonder they wanted to avoid dealing with me. But I found it so difficult to express myself that I turned inward and to writing.

SAFETY NET

I can rationalise my preference for avoidance; it’s a self-preservation thing. If you avoid doing something in the first place, then you won’t be disappointed or you won’t disappoint others. It keeps things safe. It keeps you safe.

But always trying to stay ‘safe’ isn’t always the best way to live.

When I made the decision to move abroad for work, my mother’s first reaction was, ‘Why would you want to do that?’

It has taken her nearly four years and finally a visit to the country that I now call home for her to realise that by staying in the UK, (working and living where I did) was probably the biggest avoidance strategy I could ever make – I was avoiding living my life.

I was living in the shadow of what I thought I was expected to be. The same shadow prevented me from questioning the status quo. I avoided taking my degree choice seriously as it was easier not to, so I opted for something that I thought would bring me success, whatever I believed that was at the time, but it only made me poorer for it (financially but also creatively). I avoided asking myself what I wanted out of a relationship before finding myself a few years into two separate romantic relationships during my twenties and early thirties, before it dawned on me how unhappy I was. And throughout it all I avoided finding out what I am and what I can potentially be.

So I am about to challenge some of the status quo a little more and for the first time in ten years I am going on holiday, alone. I will be travelling without the aid of a friend or partner and only have my mobile phone as a support network.

Saying that I am nervous would be underestimating it.

Why am I doing this? That’s exactly what my mother commented when I told her. In fact anticipating her response, nearly led me to lie and tell her that I was going with Daniel or a friend. But then I would be heading down a well-trodden path right into another circle of avoidance.

I don’t want to keep hiding in the shadows forever, I said to her. And I meant it. 

LONG-DISTANCE LOVE

I’m early. I am also nervous and I can feel the butterflies gathering in my stomach.

We had swapped numbers two days before and agreed on a meeting point. You didn’t know the area and so I had made a few suggestions. As I walked across the park I could see a figure standing towards one of the fences that circled the perimeter. I knew it was you, the obvious signaller being that you were the only person in the area on what was a fiercely hot day. You were stood under the shade of a tree wearing a plain black T-shirt and blue jeans, your hands deep in your pockets. I would later come to realise that this was your signature outfit. As I approach I recognise the huge smile and know immediately that with whatever happened on what would be our first date, it would certainly be memorable…

… And after what was a successful first date, Daniel* and I said that we’d really like to see one another again.

Excellent! The idea made us both very happy indeed.

But there was a catch. We lived in different countries… and he was heading back that very afternoon. Damn.

LOVE OR BUST

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I am now in my second long-distance relationship; the first having ended partly due to massive differences in opinion about fidelity and trust, and ultimately the distance just exacerbated the problems. So when Daniel and I said that we’d like to see more of one another, we both knew that it was going to add a few extra hurdles to our fledging relationship. Certainly, I wanted to ensure that I had a fresh perspective, that I wasn’t going to bring some of the negativity to the table from my previous experience.

In the first few months, both Daniel and I were struck by how many people we knew were involved in or had been involved in a long-distance romantic relationship (LDRR) at some point. He himself having been involved in two since leaving university. Research published in 2013 found that up to 3 million married US couples were in a LDRR (Jiang and Hancock, 2013). The researchers also found that the area is largely unexplored indicating that this figure could actually be far higher.

Certainly in an international globalised context one that enables greater mobility, the notion that a LDRR is odd, unfavourable and simply a bad idea compared to a geographically close relationship doesn’t have quite the same negative connotations as in years past.

The researchers in the above study also cited that couples engaged in a LDRR were more likely to have a stronger bond with their partner due to the nature of the very thing keeping them apart. I know in my situation, Daniel and I have been keen in our periods of distance to make our communication meaningful and that we are present for it, i.e., we make the time. 

So how do you know if it is all worth it?

Ultimately it’s got to be a big yes to this question to make the sort of commitment where you may not see one another for months at a time and only converse using mediums such as Skype and Whatsapp. Therefore I hope in this post to acknowledge the crap bits but also try to highlight some of the positives of being in a LDRR.

COMMUNICATION

In any relationship communication is pretty crucial, but in one where you have to face the maze of confusion and head-fuck that is social media/internet/Skype and so on it can lead to massive miscommunication.

Some couples like to speak every single day and if this works that’s great, but most of the time, do any of us have a huge amount to say aside from things that are work related and what you ate for breakfast?

Forcing communication can lead to resentment on both sides of the relationship, as one partner may feel that they are putting more in than the other. Therefore some timeout enables you to do your own thing without feeling too concerned about what the other person is up to or feeling a sense of guilt about doing it too.

Daniel and I do text each day and we generally tend to chat once or possibly twice a week. A ‘system’ that seems to function well and suits both of us for now.

In my previous relationship we had both decided to make a go of it when we moved abroad separately for work. However when it came to getting in touch during the week, I was often the one who suggested times to chat and when we could try and arrange to see one another. So my ex wasn’t particularly organised, I know that is more of a personality trait more than his willingness to make the relationship work, but at the same time I found that I started to resent him for not making more of an effort. It was when I stopped pushing for time together that I realised how much I put in.

DO YOUR THING

For some people, the LDRR is almost the perfect scenario, you can have the confidence of knowing that you are committed to your lady/man love but also have certain freedoms away from it. I know some other long-distance couples who use the time apart to date other people (not my preference but this can work for some – whether the other person knows or not is another matter). In other cases people use the solo time to pursue a huge array of interests and hobbies.

Time apart is healthy, you just have (far) more of it in a long-distance relationship.

LOOK FORWARD TOGETHER

A friend of mine had long desired to work abroad and had repeatedly asked his employers about working in one of their other offices on the other side of the world. For years they kept promising him the opportunity and eventually they agreed when a position came up in SE Asia.

Wonderful, he thought!

However when the dates were finalised they told him he would be expected to move shortly after his wedding. This didn’t go terribly well with his fiance. It even meant postponing their honeymoon.

He and his now wife made the situation work to their advantage as best as they could. Whilst she remained in the UK, he moved to SE Asia where he was able to fulfill his dream of working abroad for the year. And it also gave them plenty of opportunities to travel in the region during their holidays together.

To have things to look forward to together gives you something to work towards, to get excited about!

THE END GAME

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My friend from earlier knew that the contract in SE Asia was only to be for one year. This enabled him and his wife to plan appropriately, and importantly have something to look forward to: his homecoming and also to organise times to meet in between.

In my case, it’s not quite as straightforward. Daniel and I met whilst we were both on holiday and although the mileage apart isn’t vast, we are living in different countries, have time-zones and have our lives already established in our respective cities. Ok, so actually it does seem vast after all…

… Anyway, it has meant so far that we have had to negotiate our schedules to make time to see one another. It’s not a simple case of organising dinner or an evening somewhere and saying ‘Meet you there!’

Planning is pretty important as additional effort is required.

So what makes it all worth the additional effort?

Love in any type of relationship is a test of faith. That makes it sound pretty dramatic but for any relationship to work and to flourish, you have to put your trust in something that you can’t be 100% sure is going to work out. 

The LDRR is compounded by distance, the potential fallout from miscommunication and the sense that you’re relationship at points is in a state of limbo.

Does that mean that the LDRR isn’t worth it?

Definitely not.

References:

  • L. Crystal Jiang, Jeffrey T. Hancock. Absence Makes the Communication Grow Fonder: Geographic Separation, Interpersonal Media, and Intimacy in Dating Relationships. Journal of Communication, 2013; 63 (3): 556 DOI: 10.1111/jcom.12029

ALL EARS

About five months ago I started dating someone new. He is unlike anyone I’ve dated before for a whole variety of reasons, but one of the main things that I have found incredibly attractive about him is that he actually listens to me.

It’s crazy! Someone who wants to hear what I have to say, and significantly, cares about it too (from my hopes and fears for the future to even some of the random crap I ramble on about).

Ok, so this all might seem a bit odd at the moment so allow me backtrack a little…

I am now in my early 30’s and have had two serious boyfriends. Although both were different in their personality, certainly appearance and mannerisms, there was one thing that joined them so to speak (apart from both dating me) and that was arrogance. They had it in bucketloads. In my previous post I highlighted this as something I (once) perceived as an attractive quality in the opposite sex. Why? Well I think it comes down to a couple of reasons:

  • Firstly, there are some less than unconscious father-daughter links (a future post will discuss this in greater detail).
  • Secondly and for this post, it was sexy! Well I thought it was…

I thought that someone who displayed arrogant qualities was ‘better’ somehow, whether that was in bed, as a provider (jeez! I can’t believe I am writing that…) and just generally as a potential partner. They were a cut above the rest.

However, this subconscious search for arrogance meant that more than often than not I was looking for love in the wrong place and was often left feeling hurt. I could be entirely wrong of course, and perhaps this arrogance was simply a higher-level of self-esteem on their part, or confidence reincarnated, whilst I craved a boost of my own.

And that’s the crux; I was attracted to these guys because of my own low self-esteem. I was prepared to put up with feeling like shit for significant parts of the relationship (and in some cases telling myself that everything was ok), simply because I thought I couldn’t do better elsewhere. 

I had many happy times with both my ex partners that is not under dispute, but I believe where confidence and arrogance diverge is when one person in a relationship continually puts the other down or tries to maintain a balance tipped in their favour. This could take the form of subtle (or not) digs at your expense; your appearance, friends, family, your work, even the way you walk.

Yes! Thanks to my ex. He thought that all women should walk like catwalk models down the street, because that’s comfortable and downright practical…

So what made me open my eyes?

Space. Literally.

My ex-boyfriend and I took jobs in not just different cities but also countries. Clearly this is not something that’s easy or even possible for most people, but the physical distance between us made me realise that I wasn’t happy. When we did see one another I became less accepting of the negative behaviour he displayed towards me because I wasn’t constantly around it. I had fresh eyes on the situation.

So why does a guy who does take the time listen and want to converse scare the shit out of me? It’s simple – I am not used to it!

Following a recent phone call with the guy I am dating I went into what can be described as: anxiety driven paranoia. I quickly began to obsess about the fact that I had spent time talking (rather moaning) about some things that had happened at work. I ended up texting him later to apologise.

His response?

Huh?

He reminded me that he had in fact asked about my day at work and was interested in hearing more, hence the follow up questions. I had to laugh to myself. I had twisted his interest in my life into something outrageous and crucially, totally wrong.

I am not trying to generalise here that all men or indeed women who may be perceived as arrogant are incapable of listening and don’t allow themselves to be vulnerable. But I do believe that some may find the latter harder therefore ensuring that truly listening to a partner becomes difficult too. The ability to listen to a partner’s fears, dreams and desires are as important as the day-to-day stuff like if they want to have a moan about work.

Of course there are appropriate periods of time/space for these kinds of conversation to happen. And if a partner hasn’t got the energy or right headspace to listen at that point in time then that’s certainly not the end by any means. However, if you are made to feel insignificant for being you, if your words are ignored or dismissed, then warning bells may sound – although these may be quiet at first.

Relationships ultimately are a balancing act and both parties need to be able to compromise, that is nothing new. Often the best we can do is be honest with our partners and importantly listen to ourselves.

CALLING TIME ON CO-DEPENDENCY

This summer I ended a long-term relationship with whom I thought at various points in our time together I was going to spend the rest of my life with and potentially marry.

My ex obviously didn’t quite feel the same way and any hint of a conversation about the future (usually instigated by me) was met with a swift change of subject, uncomfortable silence or worse, the topic was shot down with a defensive attitude about ‘feeling pressured.’

Throughout our relationship I often felt insecure and ultimately became riddled with anxiety about where I saw myself within the relationship.

Clearly we were on wrong pages when it came to some of the fundamental things between us. Yet, I ignored or rather didn’t see the warning signs of someone who wasn’t able to emotionally commit to me. Instead, I told myself to hang on in there, given a bit of time and space emotionally, he would come round. Surely?

Towards the end of our relationship and since our breakup given the time to reflect (including plenty of chats to girlfriends, Google searches related to relationship breakdown and from my own professional experience), I realised that one thing had been staring right at me in the face and I had totally failed to see it – I had been in a co-dependent relationship. In other words, I put more of myself into the relationship than he did to the detriment of my own self-worth.

I hadn’t realised how much at the time and throughout our time together I relied on him for support and reassurance. The emphasis being on the amount of support and reassurance I needed from him. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t seek support and reassurance from a partner; but in my case, I couldn’t see anything outside of being with him.

This was the problem. I had somehow built my entire existence around prioritising his happiness.

So how did this co-dependency manifest itself?

In reality it was simple, I mothered him. I cooked, I cleaned, I organised social events, holidays. I arranged his life so that he didn’t have to. When he was angry or upset, I took his irritations as my own. Lines had become blurred.

The effects of this was a slow-burner resulting in subtle changes in the dynamics between us over a period of years. The more I did, naturally he did less. In a practical sense this was fairly obvious when we lived together, but significantly this was reflected in his attitude towards me. In some unconscious way I believe that he grew to resent me for taking on this ‘mothering role’ and at the same time I began to resent him for not helping out more and failing to listen. But for me, every physical thing I did was my way of expressing affection and love. A classic sign of co-dependency and signs of a toxic relationship.

I was clearly living in a world of denial about where we were at. In reality however, I was afraid of being alone and had conjured a fantasy of us eventually committing to one another when he was good and ready.

It’s strange to look back now and see what finally ended us. A holiday. One that gave us both some amazing memories. But upon our return to the real-world, I realised how much we had both changed and at the same time hadn’t.

Prior to calling on time on the relationship, I had begun to unconsciously move the boundaries of what I found acceptable and the holiday together reaffirmed this. One significant moment was when he was making jokes at my expense (I cannot even recall precisely what had led to this) and it resulted in an anxiety attack. Initially, I put this down to feeling tired from the amount of travelling we had been doing but each time I sat back and thought properly about the event, I knew that it was the physiological result of something deeper.

It was incredibly upsetting to end the relationship and for him, my true feelings came as a shock. He hadn’t realised how unhappy I had been. In one of our last conversations, he asked me why I hadn’t spoken up before. But I had tried many times, but perhaps not hard enough or rather I had not approached the conversation in the right way. I had grown used to hiding my own feelings so I stopped expressing myself.

I have learnt since ending the relationship that the behaviour my ex and I displayed towards one another was not healthy and having recently entered into a new relationship, I now have the responsibility to speak up for me and for him.

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If you are unsure of whether you are in a co-dependent relationship, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you apologise often for your behaviour/actions unnecessarily, and in some cases apologise for your partner’s (possibly to others)?
  • Do you avoid confronting a partner about decisions/certain discussions due to fearing rejection? Are you also blamed for being over-sensitive if your decide to voice your thoughts and they are rejected and this subsequently causes upset?
  • Do you feel unable to say no to your partner? This could be to do with day-to-day decision making, or deeper issues such as with money and sex.
  • Do you protect your partner’s behaviour through denial of your own feelings?

If it’s a yes some of these, you could be in a co-dependent relationship. It doesn’t mean that a relationship will ultimately fail but it may be necessary to establish clear boundaries and ensure that a life exists outside of the relationship itself, for instance by focusing on and fostering other relationships with family members and friends.

MOVING ON

A little over three months ago I ended a relationship.

There were a number of reasons why the relationship broke down; his infidelity leading to a lack of trust on my part, my obsessive tendencies/insecurities that resulted in criticism and judgement towards him and the relationship (and for him, one of the reasons why he strayed), and ultimately me realising that I saw different things in our futures. Breaking up was, as the saying goes, hard to do.

I had been with Harry* for just shy of four and a half years but I guess the hardest thing to overcome following the breakup was that throughout our relationship he was my best friend. I felt, in a cliche way that I had lost a part of myself.

Do I regret the decision of ending things?

I would be lying if there hadn’t been moments, jolts where I felt like I had made the wrong decision. But regret? No.

Sure, I’ve felt (and have moments where I feel) sad certainly if something reminds me of him or times together.

One of my close friends asked me recently how I might feel if I discovered that he was dating someone new, would I feel jealous? My response – yes to an extent. Perhaps because I have dipped my feet into dating again and see that there is life after a breakup, or the fact that I was the one who instigated the breakup, I feel as though I could accept the news and it not strike my core. I can now look back at our relationship with a fresh and healthier perspective and look positively towards the future.
* The name has been changed.

** Originally posted on ‘The Sum of Our Parts’ blog by the same author.