3 years ago, I pulled the plug on a relationship that had turned toxic and it wasn’t until I was out of that bubble that I realised how toxic I had actually been. In the weeks and months that followed, I wrote several blogs on self awareness, reflecting on the errors I had made and the impact I had had on another humans life. Over the next few years, I learnt to live my life for me, be happy in my skin and be happy on my own. I told myself I wasn’t going to make the same mistakes again…
Fast forward to July 2021. I am sat in my living room, in my PJ’s, post night shift, with a box of 20, half eaten, McNuggets sat next me. And I feel like shit. Although I am older, hopefully a little bit wiser and feel I have grown a lot since 2018, looking back, it turns out I was only skimming the surface of self awareness and what a healthy relationship should be. Back then, I though the reason my relationship failed was because we had become complacent, stuck with the same routine and very little effort put in on both ends. There wasn’t a spark, we were on very different pages and I changed my outlook on life to fit his narrative instead of taking control of my own life. To try and prevent this from happening again, I believed that I needed to try and maintain the feelings you get during the honeymoon phase. I told myself I was going to make a conscious effort to be attentive, affectionate and present (both mentally and physically) for the next person who entered into my life romantically.
Well there is absolutely no surprise to hear that this was the worst thing to do. Despite my good intentions, my sticky, clingy grip began to engulf my partner, sucking any last bit of life out of him. I was unintentionally suffocating him by ensuring he knew how loved he was, how much I appreciated him and by buying him things he hadn’t asked for. Looking back, I can now see how unhealthy this behaviour is and how this could sound like very controlling behaviour. I didn’t see it as controlling. I have lived in a very controlling environment where I was told day in and day out how much of a disappointment I was, where everything I ate or anything I did was monitored. My actions were the opposite of what I experienced. I didn’t want anyone to feel controlled so I did everything in my power to make them feel loved. It isn’t until now that I see how, despite the completely different motives, they are both the same behaviour.
I feel ashamed of myself. I feel I’ve let myself down and most importantly, I let the person I care so deeply about down.
I am now seeing the mistakes I made. I am doing as much research into relationship and self awareness that I can handle in an effort to better myself and in turn, improve the relationships I have with those around me. Because if I don’t do this, I will never truly find happiness. Through the many TED Talks I have watched, one in particular stood out to me. The Difference Between Healthy and Unhealthy Love by Katie Hood detailed 5 indicators of unhealthy love with helpful examples of when an action crosses the line between what is love and no longer love. The moment Katie started talking, I cried because I could see how my actions could count as unhealthy love. One of the biggest things that jumped out at me was ‘Intensity’. Now, I didn’t do what the unhealthy example did but my understanding of relationships is intense. Let me explain:
In my family, divorced is very prevalent. You have to go back 4 generations to find a happily married couple and they are my great nan and great grandad. I didn’t meet my extended family until I was 15 but if I delve deeper in my childhood, I only had my parents abusive marriage to learn from. Due to my dads behaviour, Mum and Dad didn’t socialised outside the family home. They lived in each other pockets, did everything together and never went out without the other one unless it was for work. I knew Dad’s abuse was wrong but I didn’t recognise that their marriage was wrong. The idea of going on holidays without the other was absurd. A couple always together was the way it is supposed to be, right? This notion is backed up by all the fairytales and cheesy rom -coms that we all grow up on, and I latched on to theses as hope for the future. So I never questioned it. And even as I grew up and had several relationships of my own, I still didn’t understand that you shouldn’t live as ‘one’. That is until now.
My current relationship is so different to anything I have every experience before. At first I thought it was because I was older, more mature. Or perhaps it’s because he is from a different class and has experienced a very different life to me. Taking away how amazing he makes me feel, how supportive he is and how much fun we have together, if you strip it down to just the bones of a relationship, it’s different because if the independence we both seek and in the beginning, we were both very clear on how we wanted to maintain it. This was easier when we lived apart. Plonk two adults in a house in the peak of our 3rd lockdown and suddenly independence seems hard to come by. Add additional veritable such as money, lengthy commutes, work and a variety of health complaints from both sides and things get harder. I have never lived with a partner before and I wrongly assumed that living together meant we were ‘one’, which is an incredibly naive and childish mindset. I put us together. Hanging out with friends? Something we should do together. Weekend off? We should do something together. The ‘us against the world’ mentality meant we had to be together and the thought of doing stuff separately was alien and put a fear into me that one could be less committed than the other. What on earth was I thinking? I am typing this and it makes my stomach churn.
Another hard truth to swallow is the fact I love a bit too much. I want to constantly be with my partner because of how he makes me feel. It’s almost like an addiction and the more fun we have together, the more I crave. This could be down to the fact I spent a lot of my life feeling unloved and so I latch on to the positive feeling so much more. But again, that isn’t a job for my partner and he shouldn’t have to suffocate because I haven’t worked through the issues of my past. I need to learn that true love creates a steady relationship that grows over time and isn’t just the rush of feelings I get when I’m in the moment. I need to learn to not chase an emotion but to keep hold of the feeling it gave me at the time. If, for example, we had a great day at the zoo, I can treasure that memory with all the feelings that came with it instead of desperately trying to recreate it. After all, we can’t go to the zoo every day. And it’s also about understanding that everyday won’t be a 10/10. Some days are 4/10 but that doesn’t affect how much we love one another. Love isn’t equal too shared activity or experiences. Love is how a person makes you feel regardless of the activity or experience.
I have always tried to encourage my partner to do his own thing but it isn’t until now that I realise the things I encouraged usually involved me in some way. I honestly thought I was doing the right thing and in a way, I was but it’s the background stuff that makes my love unhealthy. It’s asking if he’s missed me when I’ve only been at work or under appreciating the time we are in the same room but doing our own thing. I can, should and will continue to encourage my partner to do the things he loves but I can do it in a less passionate and overwhelming way. I want him to be able to live his life and know that I love him unconditionally without me ramming it down his throat. I want him to travel and achieve his personal goals because like I learnt 3 years ago, life continues regardless of whether you’re in a relationship or not. I am growing and learning that healthy love is to back off a bit and trust the words my partner says. Healthy love is giving space, being respectful of individual needs/challenges and being there when he need me. But the biggest thing I have realised during all this is that my partner has show me nothing but the correct way to love… and I interpreted it as him being disinterested and less involved.
I have been a blind, ungrateful fool.
I live for me and I have loved for us. I have still got a way to go but all these experiences sculpt me into a more rounded person who see’s beyond the rose tinted glasses. I can only improve myself and I strive to do just that until I learn how to live and love happily.