I’m getting married.
The woman who felt like love was “for everyone else.”
After a toxic relationship, okay…who am I am kidding…MULTIPLE toxic relationships, I am wearing the ring, picking out the dress, and making my best friend my husband. He is the most peaceful place in my life. He has seen the worst in me and somehow still believes the best of me. We eat, we laugh, we travel, we parent, we tell secrets like school girls and can’t keep our hands off of each other. We are quite simply happy.
It feels too good to be true.
At one point I remember thinking “I need to lower my expectations. I have a lot going for me. You can’t have everything. A partner to do life with who loves me and treats me well is probably just asking for too much. I love my kids, my parents, my friends, my career and my hair. Isn’t that enough? Lower your expectations a little and pull yourself together Sarah! You can’t have it all.”
Lower your expectations.
Pack away hope.
Push away dreams.
Hide from the deepest desires of your heart.
Make your wants smaller so you don’t come away disappointed.
Sound familiar? My past relationships had left their mark. I had clearly been trained by the toxic people of my past to put myself last. During my time in a toxic relationship I had managed to “put others before myself” but what I really did was push away myself. And, even after the relationships were over, the toxicity remained. Years and years of “not trying to take up too much room” and “be nice” had created a monster. A monster that didn’t leave after a relationship ended. A monster that had been running the show in my head and heart for years. A monster that felt as familiar as my own skin. And a monster that was out to ruin any type of happiness I might come across. A monster I had to get rid of to have the marriage I had always dreamed of having.
“So how did you get there?” women ask.“What did you do?” “What can I do?” “How long did it take?” “Can love possibly be for me?”
A woman who does her research knows that after a toxic relationship she is statistically predestined to find herself in another horrific situation, and another, and another. The stats for getting a toxic person to change are depressing. The stats for survivors finding themselves in another toxic relationship are even more depressing. It quite simply isn’t fair. After enduring hell shouldn’t you get a pass at having to endure it again? Shouldn’t you be able to learn from the pain of your past and figure out a plan for your future? Because the women I talk to are far from dumb. They went to some of the best schools and live in the best neighborhoods in the country. So what gives? Why are they sitting ducks for attracting another toxic mate?
They learn the wrong rules. They can’t see the forest for the trees. They look for qualities different from their first relationship instead of becoming a person who isn’t capable of being in a toxic relationship.
“Sarah…that isn’t fair! I talked to my therapist about codependency and next time I’m determined to find a good man who goes to church. A friendly man who didn’t have a dad who left him at 6. Oh yeah…also my latest ex was in finance so this time I’m going to go after a fireman. ”
And, so it begins.
And, they hash it out with their friends. Friends who are confident they would never put up with a toxic person. Friends who are happily dating or happily married and met the love of their lives when they were in 2nd grade. Friends who have been holding hands since the middle school dance and who have no experience with toxic people ever and therefore feel qualified to tell you how to solve your problems. People who are convinced they would never have put up with a toxic person. People who have no idea how the game works, the love bombing, the gaslighting, the confusion, the connection, the making up and fighting and constant hope that things will get better if you just hold out hope. If you can just communicate the right way. If you can just love enough to make them love you back. It brings to mind the old adage of “People know everything there is to know about raising kids before they become parents.” I have found more than a few people who have never been in a toxic relationship yet consider themselves experts in how they would handle a toxic person. .
So the bad advice perpetuates the next relationship, the next game, the next round of tears.
So you try therapy. And you spend years and years and years asking why? Why would he do that? Why would he say that? Why would he think that? Why would he get so angry? Why would he be so fragile? Why would he need to cheat? Why would he not want to come home? Why won’t he pay attention to me? Why why why why?
Because he can.
Yes, it is that simple and yes it is that maddening. And, to make it even worse your analyzations, overthinking, constantly trying, optimistic loving, forgiving, and striving are what allows him to do it again and again. Asking why quite simply keeps you walking around in circles without ever learning to walk in a straight line. Toxic people want to keep you guessing because accepting that he does it because he can (and wants to) will eventually result in you learning how to walk in a straight line, which will eventually result in you walking right out the door. Ba- Bye!
But, to heap another hell upon hell the women I talk to who have found their way out the door, or women who have been pushed out the door, find that while he is out of their bed he is still in their head. It is like the memories of him are a chain around their necks and if they get to far away the chain gets yanked and they get jerked backward. The pain plays in their heads every morning when they shower. The mind games bounce around their heads while they try to work. The misery of memory sits with them every night at dinner. The drama shrouds them every time they try to go to the grocery store or a children’s event. His body is gone, but he is still there. Always, always there.
And when you never get him out it is so very easy for someone else to slip in, pick up where he left off, take his place, and reenter the game. Because you already know how to play. You don’t know the rules and you don’t know how to win, but you have been playing for a long, long time. Exit person A, enter person B. Game on.
So how do you stop the cycle? How do you break free? How do you find love and how do you find peace? You find yourself.
Ladies, allow me to let you in on a little secret. I found love in Ben, but I found fulfillment in me. Healing was work- a lot of work. Toxic people rip out your soul. They trick you and train you and when you set boundaries or stand up for yourself they do everything in their power to knock you back down. They tell everyone you cheated. They tell everyone you are the toxic one. They say “Gosh. What a shame. She used to be a great person before she went crazy.” And, you were great when you did everything they wanted. “How dare you have needs!? There isn’t room in this relationship for the both of us!?” And, years and years of treating everyone well but yourself is going to have some serious consequences. Consequences you have to work through. And, you are going to need help with from someone who actually knows what they are talking about.
If you want someone to know your worth then you are going to have to figure out your worth. Period. No way to get around it. No label of co-dependency or love addiction to hide behind. No burying yourself in work or children or hobbies. You need brain and heart surgery and you need it now. You know that allowing him to live in your head is killing you. It’s a slow drip on your health, your energy, your career, your ability to be present, your ability to help others and your ability to help yourself. You cannot, cannot, cannot heal from a toxic relationship by attempting to save someone else. You have to do the messier and more authentic work of learning how to save yourself. Because when you don’t need anyone to save you then you can move forward into allowing someone to love you.
And, that my friends is where happily ever after begins.