Getting into a healthy relationship after being in a toxic one means continuing to work on your own healing.
The other day, I was sitting in the living room when my partner came home. He piddled around the kitchen, cleaned up some things, made himself some food, and then sat next to me while I finished watching one of my guilty pleasure shows that I rarely get to. We chatted a bit about our day and then got ready for bed. It was…easy. Comfortable.
But later, an insidious voice whispered to me, “This is BORING.”
I know exactly what that voice was telling me: “This wouldn’t be boring if he called you a bitch! Or threw a remote at the wall! Or walked around huffy and muttering obscenities!”
My marriage was a roller coaster ride. I never knew what things were going to be like when we were together. Even when things were “fine,” I always knew it was a matter of time before shit got out of hand again. We often couldn’t even have conversations about our day that didn’t devolve into some kind of argument. I was constantly nervous and fearful when either one of us came home.
Being in a relationship like that (which I now know to be an incredibly emotionally abusive one that I’m working to heal from) meant I was the one pulling the crank to start the ride as much as he was.
That’s the only way that two people stay in a toxic roller coaster relationship: they both keep getting on the ride.
Now that I’m not on any ride, it’s hard to let that go sometimes. Sometimes I find myself waiting for something shitty to happen. Sometimes I imbue his comments or jokes with meaning that isn’t there. Sometimes I just make up shit.
For the last two weeks, I’ve been pretty much living at my partner’s house. He just bought it in February, and it has so much room. We have spent months going back and forth between each other’s houses (I rented a 925 square footer shortly after I left my ex-husband), and my life started to feel unmanageable. I was packing a suitcase once a week to go stay at his when we weren’t at mine, and I was stressing out every Tuesday night with what I’d need for the next several days.
I started to dread Tuesday nights because that’d mean, beyond all of the other decisions I have to make in my life, I was having to think, “What do I need to wear to work these next few days? What shoes match with those outfits? Are we going to go to the gym? What will I wear when we go out on a date?” Then I was having to remember make-up, face wash, books I’d want to read, vitamins, and medications.
I’d inevitably always forget something, and then I’d have the obnoxious task of spending close to an hour in my car going to my house and back, usually through traffic that would make it longer.
So when I finally started leaving more items at my partner’s house, it felt stable. I would like to believe that my outside environment shouldn’t influence my inner one, that I should be able to remain calm and centered regardless, but that wasn’t happening.
Too, I was also having some traumatic recall. Once I finally told my ex-husband in no uncertain terms that our marriage was over, I moved upstairs. We shared the house for about two weeks before, in front of our 18-month-old twins, he pushed me out of a chair and called me a “cunt” three times (I called the cops on him). Then we “shared” the house. Whoever had the kids stayed with them at the house, so they weren’t being carted back and forth, and whoever didn’t have them slept elsewhere.
During that two month period, I was living exactly as I have been with my current partner: dreading Tuesday nights, living out of a suitcase I’d never fully unpack, spending way too much time in my car. Plus I was eating mostly eating fast food because I barely had enough energy for myself after my kids or, on nights when I didn’t have them, I just didn’t want to. I gained weight. I felt terrible physically, and, of course, emotionally too: I was going through a shitty divorce, dating someone I knew had an expiration date, plus dealing with my other responsibilities every day.
So I have stayed at my partner’s house for much of the last two weeks because I have wanted outer stability to equal a better sense of inner stability, just like the title of Gretchen Rubin’s new book, Outer Order, Inner Calm.
But after being here for that long, my mind started spiraling. My partner has been wonderful. He wants me to move in. He has even done my laundry for me. But that insidious voice has whispered, “He’s not telling you how he really feels. He wants time apart. You’re a burden.”
I’d find myself asking him, “Is me being here bothering you?” Or “Do you need some time alone?” My partner and I do really well giving each other space. I need time to write. He needs to go work out, but I still worried.
I always had to guess with my ex-husband, to try to tease out issues before he exploded on me. I was constantly trying to stop crazy shit from happening, trying to find the one thing I might be able to say for the ride not to begin.
That’s how I lived for ten years, seated and strapped into a roller coaster car unsure when the ride would start.
Sometimes waiting too long meant I’d go ahead and say or do something that would start the ride, just so I didn’t have to keep waiting.
In response to each question I asked my partner, he said, “No, goofball.” And then he’d ask me the same question back: “Is being here bothering you? Do you need time alone?” “No,” I said each time. But that little voice was still nagging me. Is he being honest?
I finally had to be clearer with my partner by telling on myself: “I’m making up that you aren’t telling me that you don’t want me here, and that you think I’m a burden.”
“Why ever would you think that?” He asked.
“Because I…start thinking that, and it gets bigger and bigger in my head,” I said.
“I promise you I don’t feel that way,” he said. “If I did, I would tell you.”
And I have to trust that because I have no reason not to. I am not in a relationship where my reality and what I think is real are different. I have to acknowledge that I’m not used to being with a partner who communicates exactly what he’s thinking and feeling, who is NOT emotionally abusive. I have to acknowledge that this is my shit to work through.
I don’t have to keep waiting anymore for craziness to happen. I don’t have to make myself crazy making up things that aren’t real.
I don’t have to strap myself into a roller coaster car when the only person who’s there to operate it is me.
But, like a sailor who returns to shore after a long voyage, I’m still navigating the territory of a relationship set on land when I’d been whipped around by the sea for so long.
It’s getting easier, mostly because I tell on my own mind, and because, every day I’m in this relationship, it gives me just a little more faith that this is exactly what it appears to be: healthy and good and right.