Fairytale Relationships – When ‘Loving Too Much’ is Destructive

In June of 2014, my 30 year marriage came to an end via text message.  After years of feeling invisible, powerless, voiceless and unloved, it seemed my efforts to make my husband love me amounted to nothing.   Two years on, after a cancer diagnosis pushed me into some deep soul-searching,  I discovered it wasn’t so much that my husband didn’t love me,  rather, he was reflecting back to me the lack of love I already had for myself.    You see, in all of life, everything we experience, and the way we experience it, is a reflection of our inner most thoughts at even the most subconscious level. Thoughts are powerful like that.  I have never held strong values about anything, therefore my boundaries were flimsy.  And without a good dose of self-respect, self-love, of course I attracted a partner who showed me every part of my wounded self.   In fact, every boyfriend I ever had could well have been my mirror.  What a joy it’s been to finally look back with forgiveness  for myself, and gratitude to those who hurt me.  For they were my greatest teachers.  I’m now embracing the powerful, vibrant woman who I am meant to be!  I’m a real B-I-T-C-H ……  A Babe In Total Control of Herself.  

Here’s a little of my story.  Come take a walk with me…… 

Sometimes, A Frog is Really a Frog

Despite the woman’s movement taking us out of the kitchen and into the world of equal opportunity, it seems that even the strongest, most independent and intelligent of us women (i.e. moi) still manage to become needy and dependent when love finds its way into our hearts.    For me, it was 1986, some 30 years ago, but who’s counting.    It starts with an unconscious recreation of the Cinderella complex – a term I made up – which essentially is an inability to distinguish fairytale from reality.   A belief that no matter how bad your relationship is, it will get better, because your love for him with prevail.  Just like in the fairytale.  

In reality, you discover over time that the frog is really a toad, and the beast remains a beast.     And because we are not strong in our belief that we are whole, that we are enough, we place a great deal of onus on our  “not so charming prince” to fill us up.  When this isn’t happening, we do everything we can to make reality “fit” with the fairytale.  It’s very controlling and manipulative.  Certainly it’s exhausting.  And futile.  When you think about it, there’s fear of abandonment issues wrapped up here.  Imagine how authentic we’d be by now if the same effort had gone into learning to love ourselves instead.  So, this is my story.  Let it inspire you to return to you again.  To wholeness.  

Back when my husband and I were dating, there were some obvious early warning signs that I had not found my knight in shining armour.    But as many of us women do,  I assumed that his general aloofness and fear of getting too close to me was a product of the losses he’d suffered in childhood.  In time, I reasoned, he would feel safe enough to open himself up to me.  He never did grow that much.   Robin Norwood (author of Women Who Love Too Much) correctly nailed it when she said…. We take his emotional unavailability, his anger or depression or cruelty or indifference or violence or dishonesty or addiction, for signs that he has not been loved enough. We pit our love against his faults, his failings, even his pathology. We are determined to save him through the power of our love.”  

Throughout our 30years together, I kept adjusting my self  to make every intolerable situation fit with the image of how I imagined my partnership should be.  I found plenty of excuses for why I was feeling so lonely and miserable much of the time.    One of these excuses was that I must be lacking in some way.   What else could it be?    After all, I’d married the perfect man, had the perfect family, and lived the perfect lifestyle.  And so I lived in the hope that at some point, I would finally be the sort of person my husband would love.   I tried talking more.  Talking less.  Looking better, acting nicer, thinking like him, sharing only his interests, doing only what he wanted to do, not challenging him on anything, not having opinions of my own … blah blah blah.  And there it is… I changed my self so much that in the end, I completely forgot who I really was!

So how does it happen?  Childhood conditioning and an unmet need to feel truly loved and wanted?    Or could it be karma – are we pre-destined to enter these partnership agreements in order to learn something about ourselves?  By the time my marriage ended, what I discovered was that my husband was simply mirroring back to me the lack of love I already had for myself.  Even before we were married, this lack of self-love was reflected through all my previous love relationships.  That’s the power of the universe.  Whatever you believe to be true, consciously or unconsciously, that’s what you will experience in all aspects of your life.  

I actually didn’t truly love myself and believe in my own worth – ever.  I had no values.  And because our values determine our behaviour and the choices we make, I also was not able to set boundaries for how I expected to be treated.  When I finally fully came to this realisation, I was able to start taking responsibility for my life, for my happiness.  When you take responsibility for yourself, you can no longer be a victim.  Are you ready for that.  It’s a big journey that one.  As I discovered during my marriage, there is a lot of comfort in being a victim, but also a heavy price to pay on so many levels.

Are light bulbs moments happening for you at this point?  Starting to sound familiar?  Perhaps it’s your story too?

What’s Wrong With Me? 

When I met my husband, I was 24, he 29. I actually thought I had married above me.  He was intelligent, successful, and handsome.   And because I felt privileged that he’d chosen me, everything he did became a symbol of my worth to him.   Hence, I ended up feeling worthless much of the time.  I alone had imbued him with that much power.      

The goal of any relationship should be that you both grow as individuals.    If only one partner is growing, they will either accept the differences between them, or they will drift apart.   Over the course of our marriage I believe I outgrew him, especially on a spiritual level.   But I was completely in love with my fairytale and wasn’t prepared to let it go.  So instead,  I dutifully dumbed myself down and stayed ‘small‘, fearing that my success would threaten his sense of manhood.

As the years passed, my sense of loneliness grew, as did my feelings of powerlessness.  As much as I was changing myself, I was hoping to see a change in him.  We had both developed a co-dependence.  Both feeling equally responsible for each others happiness.   And both rebelling against the onerousness of the task.  He by becoming more distant (which was the opposite of the behaviour change I was looking for), and I by becoming more desperate to please.  Then there was the constant arguing over little things – or kitchen-sinking as its often refered to – whereby every minor issue is trifled over, but the true problem is never discussed.   

He use to say that I was a fight looking for an argument.  But all I wanted was to be heard and acknowledged.  Validated.  You see, if the real problem is raised, there is a fear that it will be ignored, and as such leave me feeling invisible and abandoned again.  My mantra became “Don’t speak your truth. Don’t rock the boat”.   Despite his posturing that ‘everything was just fine’, his own desire to sweep everything under the rug built up a hidden hostility in him which     manifested as passive aggressive behaviours of being controlling and vindictive.

There’s Always Warning Signs.  Always. 

Even within the first months of dating, there were signs that something wasn’t right with my relationship.   There are always warning signs early in a relationship.  Signs may be overt behaviours that you choose to ignore, or something subtle whereby your gut instinct tells you ‘something is off‘.  We generally ignore these warning signs because we’re still in the honeymoon phase of the relationship, and because we think he’ll change when he realises we love him so very, very much.  We’re clinging to that fairytale remember!    

In my case, he’d been having an affair with a married woman when we began dating, and he continued this dalliance even after I thought we had become more seriously committed to each other.  At first I reasoned that it was his way of avoiding commitment.    At one point I had I gingerly asked why he was still sleeping with her, he replied “I’m just getting some of my own back“.   I actually didn’t know what that meant at the time, but later discovered he was ‘getting even’ with me for something he thought I’d done which upset him.  Instead of just communicating that to me, he got even instead!  That was the first sign of his passive-agressive side.   And I said nothing.  Don’t rock the boat.  Don’t speak your truth.

My fear of abandonment yelled out “don’t rock the boat.. don’t act like a jealous possessive girlfriend.  He might leave you!”   No values.  No boundaries.  No self-love or self-respect.  Although this affair eventually ended (at the womans request, not his), his lack of commitment remained for the entire marriage.  

Passive-Agressive Behaviour 

It’s a behaviour that undermines the very foundation of a relationship and is another way the passive-agressive person derives a sense of control over you.   Sometimes it can be so subtle that you question yourself because the behaviour can be explained away by the perpetrator – this is where your gut instinct kicks in.   Essentially, passive-agressive people have an inability to express themselves – especially when they have a grievance of some kind.  

Consequently my partner, having a chronic inability to communicate on even the smallest level,  used this form of punishment a few times during the course of our marriage.   And so I constantly lived on edge worrying about what I might accidentally say or do to offend him, and what he might do to ‘get even’.  Once, he told a blatant lie about me during a parent-teacher interview with the sole intent of embarrassing me.  When I asked him why he had done such a thing, he admitted it was because I said something previously that hurt his feelings.  And so again I learnt to be silent.  Don’t rock the boat.  Don’t speak your truth.

I will hasten to add that while he never touched me physically,  emotional abuse carries wounds that take just as long to heal.   I found myself always monitoring everything I did and said.   I’m a Sagittarius too, which means I’m quite blunt and tactless at times, so it was emotionally exhausting trying to navigate these waters.  Trying to be anything but me.   In a nutshell, throughout my marriage I had lost my voice.   When you lose your voice, in any situation,  you stop living your truth.  I learnt early in our marriage that things ran smoothly as long as I was silent.   But every time I stayed silent, a little part of me died inside.  

The Dreaded “I” Word – Infidelity

The worst of it began when we moved into our second home – I was pregnant with our 3rd child.  By this stage, we’d been together about 10 years. My husband had developed an addiction of sorts.  That’s the excuse I gave it at least.  He’d spend hours on the internet looking at porn while I lay alone in bed.  Added to this was strip clubs with a private lap dancer.  And as with any addiction, you eventually need more and more stimulus to satisfy you.    Hence, it wasn’t long before this progressed into massages with happy endings, which then progressed into renting motel rooms and engaging high priced hookers for oral sex.   Before long, all physical pleasures were occupying his time simultaneously.  

Everything he did was focused around gratifying his sexual needs, and he now completely shut me out of his  life on every level.  As with many people who are living a secret double life, he took the focus away from himself by blaming and accusing me of all manner of things.    I struggled daily with wanting his behaviour to stop, and wanting to escape my feelings of hurt, abandonment,  and greater powerlessness.

I didn’t know what was going on but suspected it had something to do with women.  His demeanor towards me worsened progressively over that 7 year period.  Often times he was downright cruel with the derogatory remarks he’d make about me.  He started being a saviour to any women in distress, and yet I was left alone with mine.  I would often wake from disturbing dreams where he would be in a room full of women, all pawning over him sexually, and they would all be laughing at me.  My self-esteem and sense of self as a woman took a dive for the worse.  My health suffered, and my mothering suffered.  I yelled constantly at my beautiful children, and felt little desire to spend time with them having fun.  He on the other hand became everyone’s best friend, and the best father in the world.  I resented so much that people thought so highly of him when he treated me so disrespectfully behind closed doors.

Making the Choice to Stay

Why didn’t I leave?  Well.. like many women with children,  I feared my ability to raise my 3 little ones as a single parent.  Certainly I would not have had the opulent lifestyle which I had enjoyed due to staying in the marriage.  I enjoyed the financial trappings that came with being married to a successful man.  I was free to choose whether I worked or not, and this gave me a great sense of freedom and independence which I loved.

On an unconscious level, some of my fear stemmed from my mothers beliefs being instilled in me after her own marriage breakdown.  My parents divorced at a time when there was little financial help from the government.  Mum repeatedly echoed the belief that “it’s hard being a single parent” and so I took this on.  Financial hardship and a fear of being alone and lonely is the reason many women stay in marriages that are very psychically violent.  

And why did I subject myself to 7 years of torment without saying anything?  The problem with confronting a partner with your suspicions is that if the truth comes out, you must be prepared to act on it in some way. Even if that means leaving.   He was already used to walking all over me, with my permission of course, so unless I was prepared to leave, there was little point speaking up.   It was strangely less painful to say nothing than it was to speak up and risk feeling ignored. And always I held fast to my mantra…. Don’t rock the boat. Don’t speak your truth.  Then of course… there was the unspoken fear…….  if he didn’t want me, who else would want me?  

All these fears simply added to my despair because I truly wished that I was strong enough to leave.  And believe it or not, another part of me still wanted my marriage to work.    In hindsight, I’d say I had become addicted to him.  Or addicted to the drama at the very least.   I reasoned that everything would be good if only he would change.  But we cannot change other people.  We can only look at why we are allowing ourselves to be treated a certain way.  What were my limiting beliefs about my self-worth that would make me think there was no alternative?  I still believed that I must be doing something wrong.  

By the time that I finally did confront my husband, I had done a great deal of self-analysis and was  now prepared to do what was right by me.  After being confronted, he said he was relieved that it was finally out in the open.  He was out of control and didn’t know how to stop.   I chose to stay.  And again I created a new illusion…. if I stay, surely now he will see that I love him so much, and now he will want to be the partner I have dreamt of.    Indeed, his dalliances stopped, but our relationship continued along the lonely path that it had always been.  Only this time, I carried an even greater sense of myself as ‘not being enough’.

Although not present in a physical sense, the high class, young, athletic hookers were ever-present in our bed on a psychological-emotional level for me, and I never trusted him again.  On a daily basis, I couldn’t let go of his betrayal or the residual effect left from the emotional abuse I endured over that 7 years.  I was filled with mistrust, anger and resentment, and continued to stuff it down inside. Don’t rock the boat.  Don’t speak your truth.  I never received closure. 

The Beginning of The End?

Fast forward to November 2013.  It’s our 25th wedding anniversary, and some 7 years have passed since we left the prostitutes behind us.  He took me to Noosa for the weekend to celebrate such a big anniversary milestone.  It was the first time in 20years that he hadn’t done something to sabotage our wedding anniversary so I was in seventh heaven.  We had gone for a romantic dinner, and finished with a nightcap in the bar.   And then it came ….  “Just for something different” he said, “why don’t we hire a hooker to come to our room?“.

I felt as though I had been kicked in the chest with a steel boot.  The pain was incredible.  My heart was literally breaking.  He could see that I was visibly upset and he didn’t understand why.    Finding my voice I responded  “Your passion for prostitutes nearly destroyed our marriage, and me.  What part of that experience do you think I want to introduce back into my life?“.  

He suggested that if I wasn’t over the past yet, then I should see a psychologist!  

I went to bed with the pain still in my heart,  and awoke with it in the morning.

When You Won’t Make the Move, the Universe Will Give You a Push

Soon after our disastrous 2013 wedding anniversary, my husband grew increasingly emotionally and verbally mean.  He acted like he couldn’t stand to be alone in the same room as me, didn’t want to spend any time alone with me socially, and was easily angered at the very sound of my voice.    I kept asking what was wrong, and he kept replying that there were many pressures with work.  By now we had been together 30 years, and I was worn out emotionally.

I started questioning my life’s purpose, and in desperation began a daily chant to the universe… “Please give me an answer. What am I to do? Help me find my way again.  Dear God, give me the strength to leave.”

The universe heard.   And they responded.  I endured his hatred of me for 6 months until finally demanding to know why he was treating me this way.  Such was his complete lack of communication skills and level of cowardice, that he responded with a text message .

Said Text Msg:   “For now, I still love you.   But I’m not in love.”

Two things struck me right off the bat.   First, I felt he’d kept me at arm’s length for our entire marriage, so I also never really  felt that he was ‘in love’ with me anyway.  Not truly.   And second, well, his use of the term “for now”.    For now?  That was a red flag pointing towards a more uncertain future.  Or one that clearly guaranteed more hurt.  

And so, without a moments hesitation, I made the choice to leave.

Andrew G Marshall (I love You, But I’m Not In Love) talks about the 8 stages of love that relationships experience.  He says that many couples fall out of the “in love” phase and simply exist in the familiar “love” zone into old age.  Its comfortable enough there and has many practical benefits regarding family, friends and finances.  However, he adds that when couples reach a stage of hating each other, this is a deathnell on a marriage.  By all accounts, my husband had reached that stage.  

A Renewed Sense Of Power

Such was his belief that I was completely dependent upon him for my very survival that he never thought I would go.     Naturally he would think that.  That is the very person I had become. I was completely dependent upon him financially and emotionally.    But he underestimated just how lonely I’d been in our marriage.  And for how long.   And just how exhausted I was from always trying to make him happy so that he’d open himself up emotionally to me.  He forgot too that before we married, I was carefree, fun, independent, and I was now soooo desperate to get back to that me again.   I had no intention of hanging around to see what came after “for now”.

Although I was now ready to leave, the grief and devastation hit me hard just the same.  It felt as though all the work I’d done, all the sacrifices I’d made, all the forgiving I had to do…. it all amounted to nothing.  What I grieved most was the loss of the fairytale.   It had been my driving force for 30 years.  Secretly I still harboured all the fear of not being able to support myself financially, and not being capable of finding love again.  What if I never achieved anything?  What if it was true and I really wasn’t enough of anything?  What gave me strength to push forward was the quote “You must give up the life you thought you wanted, in order to have the life you truly deserve“.  This quote became my new mantra.     

We’re Nothing Without Hope.  

At every stage of our marriage I hung onto the ‘hope’ that one day I would have my fairytale.   ‘Maybe when the kids finish school, finish uni, leave home’, turned into ‘Maybe when we retire’.  Many  family members and outsiders assumed I left the marriage simply because he told me he wasn’t in love with me any more.  The fact is, once he admitted that he wasn’t in love with me, I realised that all ‘hope’ that our marriage would improve was now lost.  And without hope, there is nothing.  And there was simply no forgiveness left in me.

Finding Self Again

As I said in the beginning of the story, by the time my marriage ended, what I discovered was that my husband was simply mirroring back to me the lack of love I already had for myself.  Even before we were married, this lack of self-love was reflected through all my previous love relationships.  Whatever you believe to be true, consciously or unconsciously, that’s what you will experience in all aspects of your life.   That is why I must share some of the responsibility for what went on in our marriage.    

Since separating, I have worked lovingly at re-discovering who I am.  Really truly who I am.    Now that I am learning self-love and developing a strong set of values, and three years on, life is better than I ever thought possible!  I have no man in my life, and love my own company more than anything.  Don’t get me wrong….. I most certainly wish to share my love and my life with someone special.   But for now I’m so enjoying discovering me.  It’s quite a journey, yet I can say truthfully that I now feel POWERFUL.  SEXY.  VIBRANT.   I feel VISIBLE.  During the period of time when I chose to stay in the drama, I was chosing to abandon all those things.    I won’t attract less ever again.

Moving on With Love 

Do I hate him?  Never.   If there’s one thought I can leave you with it’s this.   It’s an important point, so don’t miss it….  

I didn’t leave because I hated him.    I left because I now loved myself more. I’ll say it again….. I didn’t leave because I hated him. I left because I loved myself more.  

Hating him would be dismissive of the really wonderful times we did share.  Nothing is ever all bad.   And we have 3 amazing children – born of the love between us, and in spite of us.  Both of us still cherish what it means to be “family” and we enjoy getting together often.   The kids (all late teens and beyond) adjusted very well to the breakdown of the family because of the way we handled it.  

Also, taking responsibility for the choices I made has allowed me to stay focused on love but admittedly, I struggled with the anger for a couple of years after leaving.  It had been buried deep down for 30 years and took many cathartic episodes to dislodge it.  

What Now?

Moving to that place of inner peace and personal empowerment involves doing whatever it takes.  Letting go of people and situations that don’t serve your highest good.  Keeping journals to express and let go of anger and grief.  You may need to look back to childhood conditioning, which is very powerful for setting up unconscious belief systems that can hold you back from being your best self and living your best life. I can recommend a great book “My Mother. My Mirror”. It’s a good place to start.  

So if you’re currently navigating your way through a fairytale into a deeper reality, for now, just B-R-E-A-T-H-E.  Don’t forget to BREATHE. One step at a time, do whatever it takes.  Whatever it takes.  That’s the secret to life no matter what path you’re on and why.  See your separation/divorce as the best gift you could have received!  Adversity is an ideal opportunity to learn something about yourself and to grow as a person.   If you can’t acknowledge that yet, this kind of acceptance will come with time – after you navigate your way through the grieving process.  When you realise that by taking responsibility for your self, you have a chance to change the future course of your life,  then your life will suddenly take off in unimaginable and joyous ways.

Update 2016

In June 2016, two years after separating,  I was diagnosed with Stage IV Colon Cancer.  It’s hardly surprising with all the anger and fear that had been festering for 30 years.   In the time since deciding to leave, I have moved from strength to strength emotionally so despite my diagnosis, I continue to strive for the kind of life, and love, that I fully deserve.  Having worked towards becoming more authentic has developed resilience in me as well, so the cancer diagnosis could not shake me from my strong foundations.  In fact, cancer has only made my resolve stronger.  

My ex actually spent the last 2 years hoping that I would return, but even with my cancer, I’m happier continuing the journey on my own.  To say he has many regrets is an understatement.   My cancer devastated him and so the 6 months of chemo treatment gave us an opportunity to talk about our marriage for the first time.  Really talk. I unleashed an awful load of anger on him.  It was a crazy time, and not pleasant for either of us, but boy did it feel good to really let go!  The healing I received on an emotional level can not be underestimated!  Truly I am grateful for the opportunity to have my experience with him validated.  We’ve now come to a really great space that allows us to honour each other and ourselves, and most importantly let go of the anger, negativity, and guilt of the past.  

Moving on With New ‘Friends’

I see the path he is on with new woman he dates and recognise how much it replicates the way our own relationship started.  Hindsight hey?  Like many women, his new girls settle for the scraps he throws them.  They think eventually he will be emotionally healed and he will be glad they are in his life.   He won’t.  And so, as the new women in his life take up the baton, another fairytale makes its way into the history books, and new ones begin. 

If you’d like to continue following the journey with me, be sure to check out all my other blogs. ♥

Need help navigating your own journey towards finding yourself.  Why not check out my workshops page or book a 1-2-1 counselling session.

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