Today, I want to talk about relationships. I specifically want to talk about what it looks like in my marriage. I have two reasons 1) one of my February goals is to focus on relationships in my home and make them better and 2) relationships after abuse are hard.
My Good Relationship. Last week, I published an article with a list of 10 items that make a good relationship and 1 item that makes it great. My husband and I have been able to check off all the boxes on that list. We do pretty well even when we’re angry, even when our house is full of chaos, even when I’m throwing a temper tantrum. Even when he’s mad at me.
Before we dated, we were friends. I know that everyone says that it’s not possible to be friends with a person of the opposite gender. I generally hold that to be true as well. We were attracted to each other but neither of us was willing to go past being friends for a few months for various reasons. We played video games and ate pizza and just hung out talking. We sent each other funny memes. We played mini-golf. We played pool. We were goofballs. It was nice.
During that couple of months, we also talked to each other. We talked about what we believed and why. What our previous years and prior relationships were like (we’d known each other when we were young and drifted apart when he went into the Navy). We talked about our good experiences and bad experiences. There was nothing off-limits in our conversations. We were ourselves without having to put on the special dating face.
When we officially dated, we continued to have fun. We never did put on the dating face. In the beginning, we explored what it was like to be more than friends while still having fun. Because we had had so many conversations we knew enough to know we were compatible.
I realized quickly that I felt almost as relaxed with him as I felt when I was by myself. I had never experienced that before. It was a relief. I allowed myself to relax when I was with him. This let me have more fun. I realized that even when I thought I loved someone, I never fully let the person see me. Plus, because I knew myself so well at that point, I was able to enjoy the freedom that such a level of comfort brought.
Why was this possible? I had learned to set boundaries during my nine years that I was in recovery. Setting boundaries is hard, especially when you’re starving for love. Yet, boundaries are necessary to ensure you’re taking care of yourself. I also learned self-love, self-respect, self-care, and self-trust during my nine years. Finally, I had also learned to listen to myself and my body.
That sounds like a lot. Yes, it’s true. However, it was when we put off our self-respect, care, love, and stop listening to the truth that was inside of us, that we ended up allowing another human to harm us in the name of love. When I looked back at my life, I learned to identify the places and the spaces that I betrayed myself in the name of love.
When I was with my abuser: I didn’t leave when he hit me; I didn’t leave when he tied me up; I didn’t leave when he scared me; I didn’t leave when he accused me all the time. I left and returned multiple times. I wanted to believe that he loved me. I wanted to believe that love existed in fear. The truth was – he wanted to own me and he wanted to control me. In the presence of fear, control, and ownership there cannot be love.
What I learned from paying attention to, and examining closely, my past was that I betrayed myself when I stayed in an abusive relationship. I betrayed the trust of my instinctual systems when I forced myself to stay even though I was afraid. I betrayed the trust of my gut feelings when I believed he loved me. I betrayed myself when I gave up my control in the name of love.
I got myself back by setting boundaries. Boundaries look like…
- I will not belong to another human being again.
- I am worthy and I will not be treated as worthless in any relationship that I am in.
- I am beautiful, valuable, and I matter – I will not allow another human to try to make me believe otherwise.
- I will not allow another human to hit me, punch me, kick me for any reason.
- What I want matters, my feelings matter, my desires, and my dreams matter, I will not sacrifice them in the name of love.
- I will not allow another human to manipulate me or coerce me into doing something that I do not want to do.
- I will say no to the requests of others when I do not have the time, the energy, the ability, or the desire to say yes. I will check in with my inner self before saying yes or saying no.
- I will check in with myself to understand what I am feeling when I am feeling it. I will give a voice to these things in the best, most healthy, manner that I can.
These are some basic boundaries. They are based on fundamental truths. Setting boundaries breed trust with ourselves. These boundaries are an expression of the value that we have for ourselves. Each time we enforce our boundaries they tell the other person “I matter.”
When we say no, when we don’t answer the phone, when we tell a person they can’t treat us like that, when we refuse to be taken advantage of, when we affirm what we feel, we inform the other person on how to treat us. If the person does not accept our boundaries and tries to overrun them, it is not acceptable. If the person does not treat us with respect, it is not acceptable. We need to break off the relationship or reaffirm with them that we’ll not be treated that way.
My husband respects me and he respects my boundaries. I respect his boundaries. On a regular day, he is my partner and my helper. I am his partner and his helper. We’re both in 100%. He will encourage me to take a break, he will do one of the tasks on my list, or he will ask if I want help with something. He does this because I am a type-A personality and I like to get things done. I do the same for him because he works outside our home and I’m here more.
We also have the freedom to say no to others. If I want him to do something with me, he can say no if he wants, and we are both fine with that. I can do the same. I still go out with my friends and have no worries of retribution in response. He does the same. There’s this mutuality of trust and freedom between us. We spend time together and apart.
How does this compare? I’ve spent much time in abusive, unhealthy relationships, with a power imbalance. You have too if you’re reading this. So we know that unhealthy relationships lack the trust and freedom that I described above. We know that abusive relationships have a lot of fear in them all the time. We know that unhealthy and abusive relationships have a lot of jealousy and accusations. We know these relationships are insecure.
In unhealthy relationships, there is a power imbalance. One person usually has more control, more freedom, more money. The other person usually serves the person with more control. There is little (or no) mutuality between the two.
In a healthy relationship, there is always mutuality and equality. Both people give what they are able and it is enough. There are the trust and freedom that I described and above. There is openness about weaknesses and things you’ve done wrong. There is forgiveness. There is a partnership between us. There is an easiness in the interactions that permits trust and belief. There is no fear that the person will cheat, leave, hit, or lie about anything.
That’s not to say there aren’t disagreements or arguments. It doesn’t mean both people are perfect and do all the right things all the time. It doesn’t mean that there’s no shouting or walking away or sleeping on the sofa. It means that even in disagreements there’s trust between the two of you. It means that both of you know that there are rules about disagreeing. Even in anger, respect for the other is maintained. It means that when there is a disagreement both of you know that hitting will not enter into the situation. It means there is no demeaning or name-calling.
It does take a lot of recovery, healing, boundary setting, and changes to get to this point. It took years of suffering and learning from my relationship before I was able to get to this point. I still struggle to not be mean when I’m mad. I struggle to stay and talk about an issue. I struggle to trust and believe. I struggle to be a good partner and not revert to old behaviors. The hard truth is that getting better, and maintaining progress, takes practice. We make mistakes along the way. When we learn from our mistakes and keep practicing, we do better next time.
I don’t believe there’s a place of arrival for a woman recovering from domestic violence. I believe it’s a new life situation and it takes effort to do better and be better.
What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts, your response, or what your boundaries look like. I’d love for you to enter the conversation by commenting below.