We all feel sad and alone sometimes – especially when our relationship doesn’t meet our needs.
My relationship troubles began long before I ever entered into a romantic relationship. My parents were locked into a violent and abusive marriage that trained me to believe there are winners and losers — victims and perpetrators — in all relationships.
Because of this, I only knew how to submit to my partner’s wishes or to dominate the relationship. I didn’t know the first thing about true partnership.
I spent a lot of time afraid and sad. No matter how hard I tried it seemed nothing worked. I would complain, but only feel ignored. I would cry, but that only made him feel manipulated. I would try to reason with him, but my logic only seemed to bore him.
No matter what I said, he never seemed to really get what I meant or why it was important to me, and I couldn’t understand why he didn’t seem to care about my feelings. There seemed to be no solution. (Christine Anu speaks to Mamamia TV about being in an abusive relationship.)
It was like there was a wall between us and no matter how much we loved each other, I couldn’t get through.
So many nights I lay awake in bed, listening to his snoring and feeling so utterly alone — I was sure there was something wrong with me. How could I feel so alone when we were in love? He was right next to me in our bed, and yet the emptiness was crushing.
There were times I just didn’t know how to tell him I didn’t want to make love. Instead, I would pretend to be asleep. And worst of all, after he fell asleep, sometimes I would masturbate. There was no romance left in our connection, but I couldn’t say goodbye.
It was better to be in a bad relationship than to be in no relationship. Or so I thought.
I was too ashamed to admit to myself that he scared me. I liked thinking of myself as a tough girl — I didn’t cry easily and I wasn’t going to back down from anyone, but the truth was that when he raised his voice, my whole body would cringe.
I would get sick of avoiding hot topics just to avoid his wrath, so I would loudly and defiantly proclaim my right to free speech, which usually led to his telling me that I was crazy and making a big deal out of nothing.
The more I focused on what he was or was not saying or doing, the more miserable I became.
When I looked at the relationships of others for solutions, I found none. It seemed like all the couples in my world were having similar problems. Although I felt closer to my girlfriends when we would get together and complain about our men, the sarcastic laughter we shared, cut into my heart even as it cemented our friendships.
Was this all there was? Was endlessly arguing with your partner inevitable?
Since my parents and most of my friends seemed to be suffering in the same ways I was, I came to the conclusion this was all I could expect.
I came to believe that love hurts — and that is just the way it is. In fact, I thought the agony I felt was proof that I was in love. (Post continues after gallery.)
My pain became my badge of honor, and in some sick way, bonding with my friends about the “fact” that “love stinks” and men and women “can never understand each other,” made me feel part of a club which made up for how rotten my relationship was making me feel. Or so I believed.
Pointing fingers never made me happy. It did enable me to feel justified in my anger and resentment, but what did that get me? I got to be “right.” And my girlfriends confirmed that I deserved better and he was a jerk who didn’t deserve me.
But even if that were true, it still never led to anything worthwhile. Blaming a jerk only keeps you in relationship with the jerk. Finding fault is a terrible waste of energy. What I needed to do was turn my focus onto me.
I began to notice that labeling, name calling and indicting my partner’s character and motivations only made me feel worse about myself in the long run.
Why would I prefer blame to compassion? I turn to blaming, resentment and name calling to shield myself from my own weakness, but those things don’t protect me. The resentment and blaming actually keep me stuck in a dysfunctional dynamic.
Growing up as a girl I was taught that as women, we are supposed to teach our men to be better men. It is such an old-fashioned and horribly patronizing worldview, and yet I have vivid memories of my grandmother, aunts and mother whispering in the kitchen while the men talked in the living room.
The whispers were of how we women need to let our men think they are in charge to protect their fragile egos. But as women it is our responsibility to ensure that the men act like responsible men instead of little boys.
Although I grew up thinking of myself as a liberated and independent feminist who had little interest in marriage, when I did fall in love, I found myself hoping he would change.
I would see “potential” in a man and then try to “help” him fulfill his potential. Of course, this infantilises the man and puts me in the role of mother, which sets me up to be in a position of helper and teacher rather than a full partner.
But love — real love — doesn't stink, and men and women really CAN learn to understand each other. Through years and years of recovery, therapy and study, as well as much trial and error, I have learned several solid solutions to the major issues that plague most relationships. Today I enjoy the relationship of my dreams, and it's solidly based upon the partnership model.
My relationship has plenty of opportunities for disagreement and discord, but rather than allow that to create separation or alienation, we can now actively work with those issues. As a result, our conflicts always lead to more love, more intimacy, more understanding and more romance.
I have been through more than my share of trauma, abuse and dysfunctional relationships. I had to live through tremendous pain to get here.
In the end, I believe we deserve to be happier than our parents and happier than our friends. And when they see how happy we are, maybe they will come to believe it is possible for them too.