I’ve been thinking about my relationship. How people understand and accept the dissolution of a relationship for reasons of abuse and infidelity – you really don’t have to offer much in the way of explanation or detail if either of those reasons are the reason for it ending. If neither of those are the reason, there are likely to be some eyebrows raised as to just what happened that brought things to an end.
More than one person has – very kindly – expressed concern for me after some of what I’ve written, and they’ve used the term ‘abuse.’
I’ve thought about it in case I’m simply unwilling to use the label, but after giving it some thought, I still don’t think it fits. Not only have I read about abusive relationships and the classic hallmarks of such, I’ve also listened to people’s personal experiences with being in an abusive relationship. My relationship – the interactions between my husband and I over the years – don’t fit the descriptions.
Instead, our relationship was and is dysfunctional to the point of toxicity, something I’ll get into later in the post. Before that, I’ll give some examples of why I don’t think ‘abusive’ is an appropriate descriptor of our past relationship.
He did not intentionally try to isolate me from my friends. In fact, early on in our relationship he knew my best friend at the time, G, had feelings for me and not only did he not attempt to restrict the friendship, he remained friends with G himself.
He never insisted on access to my social media and never snooped through it, even though I was open about where I kept my passwords.
After we had kids, he still tried to be mindful of my need to get out of the house. For a time, he was watching the kids while I went and played D&D with a couple of friends. I stopped being able to leave the house much because of depression and anxiety, not because he was preventing me from leaving.
He never raised a hand to me, and he never said cruel or unkind things to me. He did not accuse me of wrong-doing or exhibit paranoia about where I’d been or where I was going or who I was spending time with.
He did not try to control how I spent money, and in fact encouraged me to go out and spend money on myself if I wanted, without trying to police my wardrobe choices in the process.
The issue wasn’t that he was trying to control ME, it was that he was trying to control and shape his life and make it look how he thought it should look, so that he could derive comfort and security from it.
I happened to be part of his life, and happened to be conditioned to accept a status as follower rather than equal in the relationship. The fact that I was controlled and shaped by his pursuit of life as he wanted it to look was tangential, not intentional.
He made decisions for us out of ignorance and sometimes selfishness. He was convinced – without ever having been pregnant or taken care of small children, not even siblings – that I could provide him with a family and still accomplish other goals like completing my education. He wasn’t trying to stop me from completing goals.
Even now, when he’s become insecure and paranoid in ways he never exhibited before, there’s nothing to prevent him from crossing certain lines, and yet so far he’s largely held himself in check.
That could change. He’s certainly been willing to engage in some attempts at passive-aggressive emotional manipulation – he doesn’t want to use financial or physical coercion to get what he wants, because he knows what that would be – instead he wants me to volunteer to give him what he wants, by convincing me it’s ‘the right thing to do.’
He’s not having any luck with that. I am keenly aware, now, of what I need to survive and I am going to keep making decisions based on my survival, not what he wants.
Of course, I’m unlikely to offer ‘dysfunctional and toxic’ as the public reason for the dissolution of our relationship. I’ll try to be more tactful – talk about how we couldn’t shape our life and relationship into something healthy and happy for both of us. Leave people speculating as to what the details might have been.
I think it might be a good thing if we could expand the conversation about love, relationships and marriage. Start talking about how a relationship doesn’t have to be abusive in order to be dysfunctional and how dysfunctional can become toxic. Stop treating marriage as something that we MUST succeed at, or be selfish, moral failures.
Sometimes we try and fail.
And that’s okay.
It doesn’t mean you have to keep trying over and over until you succeed. It’s okay to review the situation, and learn enough from that failure to realize you’re not going to gain anything positive by continuing to try.