N. How I Felt, Continued.

I understand that I was not a perfect person in this relationship. I realize that I probably did a lot of things to hurt you as well. I am sure that at this point, you have a lot of things to fire at me!

However, at the same time, I tried as hard as I could to understand and accept you because I loved you. I went to counseling with you. I tried to work on myself, to not be so sensitive to your words and actions. But there was a limit to how much I could change, and I should have accepted it and seen it earlier. I now realize that it was just as much my fault, that things turned out the way they did.

I take full responsibility for letting myself be intimidated, controlled and abused. After all, it takes two to tango. No one held a gun to my head, forcing me to stay in the relationship. In fact, everyone, and everything, was telling me to get out. But my self-esteem was so low that I allowed byself to be treated poorly. I was, to use your words, simply "victimizing myself." However, I did not realize this for a long, long time.

Before I got to the point of figuring this out, I had to go through a very extended period of "relationship ambivalence." I was in so much confusion because I loved you so much, yet you kept hurting me over and over. This past summer I even bought a book entitled Too Bad To Stay, Too Good To Leave, which had a series of questions to consider in deciding whether to stay or leave a painful relationship. Of course, this didnít help either and I wound up feeling just as confused as before. Even toward the end, when it was becoming more and more clear that I was hurting myself by staying, I still felt that my love for you was reason enough for staying with you.

I couldnít bear the thought of leaving you. Besides my heart screaming out, "But I love her!!", and feeling that yes, we did indeed have something special, I had a number of other reasons for staying with you. For example, I still believed in the myth that love could change people. I believed, stupidly, that my love would make up for all the hardships in your life. I believed in the fallacy that if you loved someone, you should stick with them, no matter what.

Two weeks after our last session with Mary, I bought another book entitled The Complete Idiotís Guide To Dating. In the chapter on "Dating Disasters and Dilemmas," there was a section on why people stay in bad relationships. I read the list of excuses people cling to, and they sounded strikingly familiar. They were some of the very same excuses I had been clinging to, for months. The following is straight from the book.

> "She was my first." People often get addicted to their first love or to the first person they had sex with. They want desperately to believe in the fantasy of a beautiful first love, and are unwilling to face the reality that it has turned ugly.

> "Weíve been together so long already." Granted, itís hard to turn your back on years with someone, but think of it as an investment. When youíve sunk money into a stock that keeps going down, there comes a time when you have to cut your losses and sell, instead of hoping and praying that some miracle will happen.

> "I know it can change." People addicted to bad relationships (called "co-dependents") have a problem themselves if they are willing to sacrifice their own happiness and life in order to save an abusive or addicted partner. If you suffer from this sad syndrome, you need to concentrate on saving yourself.

> "Iím afraid Iíll lose her." Think about losing your self-esteem instead and convince yourself there will be someone else who will love you in a healthier way.

Finally, as I mentioned many pages ago, I clung to our sexual bond as "proof" that we were meant for each other. I loved you so much that I clung to anything that supported my hope that our relationship could be revitalized. I just refused to accept the fact that even though we were compatible in some areas, we were not compatible in others, and I was just hurting myself by staying.

What were the underlying factors that forced me to give up these excuses? What led me to break up with you when I finally did, as opposed to earlier? There were several things.

First, I think the most important one, was a sense of hopelessness. For a long time, I had felt as if I were trying to push a boulder uphill. I felt totally alone in wanting our relationship to work. Over and over again, it was the same basic issues. You would hurt me, I would try to address it, and you would respond either by just repeating the same thing later, or by further pushing me away. You never seemed to acknowledge the pain this caused me. After nearly two years, I was in total despair. This passage from Coming Apart really struck a chord in me.

While fighting itself can be a positive thing within a flourishing relationship, repetitive, purposeless fighting more often indicates that a relationship is ending.

In a healthy relationship, although there may be several repetitions of a given conflict, eventually some insight occurs, or some new information is revealed so that the partners know more about one another, feel closer to one another, and will conduct their relationship differently in the future because of the insight which has occurred. When fighting is indicative of the end of a relationship, however, it is essentially non-productive. Nothing is illuminated and the combatants come away from the conflict feeling as if they have watched, for the 2,000th time, the very same frame of a movie they have seen for years. Instead of feeling closer after the fight, they finish it feeling estranged from one another and totally helpless about their situation.

One of the reasons people endure the 2,000th rerun of their conflicts is that it is reasonable to hope that repetition will produce results. However, if there is no change whatsoever in each succeeding version of the fight, if the same emotional territory is being gone over time and time again, this means that you are probably fighting to avoid the end of your relationship.

There were two contributing factors, to this sense of hopelessness which came to engulf me. The first was the mere fact of seeing you do the same things over and over. I kept saying to myself, "She deserves another chance. She deserves another chance." Yet my hopes for some decent treatment and emotional intimacy were crushed time and time again. The "pull closer, push away, pull closer, push away" cycle simply happened so many times, that it forced me to set aside my hopes that it would change and made me look at the reality of the situation. If something happens a hundred times, you can be pretty sure of what the outcome of the 101st time will be, no matter how much you hope it will turn out otherwise! It got to the point where I did not (and do not) believe your apologies anymore. Your efforts to "win me back" after each episode became transparent. As much as I resisted it, I was forced to acknowledge the discrepancy between your stated intentions and your actual behavior.

The second factor contributing to my sense of hopelessness, was recognizing that you probably couldnít help the way you acted since it was so deeply rooted in things from your past. I saw that every time you yelled at me, every time you pushed me away, in a way it was just a replaying of your childhood conflicts. It was as if I were being repeatedly dragged back to the scene of the crime, even though I had nothing to do with it! For example, your invoking the "mixed messages" your siblings gave to you, as partial explanation for your actually wanting comfort from me while you were snapping at me and furiously pushing me away. If this is the case, then how can it be possible for you to be truly intimate with me, when on some deeper level you are subconsciously regarding me as a hated sibling? As a second example, your explaining that your "shutting down" response was a "learned response" from your childhood. I understand that your childhood was very unhappy, and that you had to develop certain methods in order to be able to cope. However, if this is the case, then whenever you did this to me, you were not really treating me not as "Chris in 1995/96" but rather as a figure from your past. Perhaps this was an automatic response, but nevertheless it hurt me to be treated like this.

The emotional double binds you placed on me became intolerable. When you were upset about something (e.g. your upcoming surgery, in-line skating skills, financial situation) and I tried to comfort you, you would push me away. Yet if I didnít try to comfort you (e.g., your striking out that time we played softball, my not deducing that you wanted comfort during the "where-to-go-to-dinner" episode), you would take that as even further justification to push me away. I think I made it clear very early on, that it was painful for me when you pushed me away. Yet I repeatedly found myself in these no-win, "damned-if-I-do, damned-if-I-donít" situations, where that was the only possible outcome.

Not only could I never seem to get anywhere addressing these concerns with you, but you seemed to minimize the problems as if they were not even that important. For example, after that horrible Sunday when your mom was in the hospital, you casually remarked, "Wasnít that weird the other day?--It was like a love-hate thing." As another example, once during the last several months we were together, you looked at me sadly and said, "Poor Boo-Boo, she has to put up with a psychotic lover." Both of these times, I just couldnít believe you were making light of what I considered to be very serious problems. However, I couldnít say a thing, because your knee-jerk reaction then probably would have been to become frightened that I was going to dump you, and in order to "get me first", youíd just push me away in anger or silence.

Gradually, I came to realize that even though I loved you, love was not enough to break down the multitude of barriers you had erected around yourself. I saw myself becoming increasingly enmeshed in something over which I really had no control. My only options were to stay and continue being mired in your issues from the past, being bounced between your pulling me closer and pushing me away with all the emotional trauma that entailed, or to leave with my self-esteem and sanity intact. If I did not get out, I knew I would just end up feeling worse and worse, and I did not want that.

Another thing I had to recognize before I could break up with you, was the severity of my pain. For a long time, I knew I was in pain, but I thought I could handle it. There were three things that happened, that indicated to me that it was so severe that I could not handle it. First, being suicidal. Second, "losing it" in Maryís office. Third, actually longing to be back in the days of my internship again. (This probably doesnít mean anything to you. But being an intern was misery beyond imagination--and there I was, wishing fervently that I could go back, thinking it would have been a blessing compared with the pain I felt being with you.)

Other factors? I also came to accept that there was a total lack of trust between us. I realized that you had never trusted me from the beginning, and that I had gradually lost all my trust in you. This was extremely difficult for me to accept. I felt as if something in me had died.

I realized that our priorities in a relationship were completely different. For example, you seemed to emphasize the importance of having mutual interests (e.g., baseball). I will agree that having at least some common interests and activities is important. However, I feel that what really makes or breaks a relationship, are things like communication, respect, and sensitivity to each otherís feelings. You just did not seem to grasp this at all.

Perhaps most importantly, I realized that being with you was causing me to feel bad about myself. I did not like myself for staying in what I knew to be an unhealthy relationship; in fact, I was beginning to hate myself. I was losing trust of my own instincts and perceptions--losing my confidence in my own ability to do what was right for me. This feeling that I could not take control of my life, was seriously jeopardizing my own emotional well-being. I was afraid that if I continued down this path, I might sink to a point from which Iíd never recover.

Finally, I realized that we had both grown during our relationship, but that we had grown apart. Each day I found myself more emotionally distant from you, and it reached a point where I just could not live a lie anymore.

The two final things precipitating our breakup--our last session with Mary and your letter to me regarding Mary--simply served to underscore all of the above. No words can describe the incredible feelings of hurt and hopelessness I felt when you accused me of using tears as a "tactic." I hated myself for exploding in the office--I felt like I had turned into someone I didnít even know. On top of all this, it made my blood boil to read that letter. Your accusations of Mary, to me represented such an obvious attempt to deny your own responsibility for the way you had treated me, and to shift the blame for our problems to someone else, that it was truly mind-boggling. When I read the letter, I knew that the situation was clearly and completely hopeless.

These last two events infused me with a sense of clarity, and forced me to say, "Enough is enough." They finally gave me the strength I needed to end my relationship with you. However, this does not mean it was easy. Quite the contrary, it was extremely painful to give up a dream and to say goodbye to you, because I truly loved you. But as much as it hurt, I had to do it. I just made up my mind that the temporary pain of leaving would be vastly preferable to the permanent pain of staying. It was a choice that I, and only I, could make. I take full responsibility for ending our relationship. It was just too painful to stay. I didnít do it to hurt you. I did it to save myself.

There comes a time in some relationships when no matter how sincere the attempt to reconcile the differences or how strong the wish to recreate a part of the past once shared, the struggle becomes so painful that nothing else is felt and the world and all its beauty only add to the discomfort by providing cruel contrast.

--Psychiatrist David ViMichael, quoted in Learning To Love Yourself

Well, I know it wasnít you who held me down
Heaven knows it wasnít you who set me free
So oftentimes it happens, that we live our lives in chains
And we never even know we have the key

--The Eagles, from the song "Already Gone"


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