The Silver Lining in my Toxic Relationship
Writing about a past relationship, I recalled a universal false truth that held me in my eleven-year toxic high school relationship, and the superpower that it awakened. Of all people, I have my cheating ex to thank for my superpower revealing itself. In this post, I’ll share the power my toxic relationship awakened, (a power you have right now). My story also exposes a relationship lie, which is often the cause for us staying in toxic relationships.
The Toxic Situation I Stayed in
I was with my high school boyfriend for 11 years. My dream from sixteen to twenty-four was to get married and have a family. Never feeling pretty, or like I fit in, he became my security blanket, and identity. Every aspect of my self-awareness connected me to him. If I had a dime for every time, I heard someone say, “Lisa? Lisa who? Oh, Gabe’s girlfriend”.
That is who I became, and all that I became — sacrificing friendships, hobbies, interests, and opportunities, to be his ever-present, super girlfriend. Creating my little world within that identity made sense to me, who alone, felt invisible. Spending almost all of our free time together, (eventually moving in together, despite his cheating), marriage felt like the next logical move. It became the first question out of everyone’s mouths. As many pointed out, we already looked like family. We looked perfect together (despite the secret emotional hell of dealing with his narcissistic behavior).
I’d routinely (about every four to six months), stumble into evidence of him cheating in some way. At one point, things were going smoothly for longer than usual. Suspicious, I began my routine search for evidence. He must have been up to something. After all, the cycle was so clear. Great times, evidence of cheating, massive blowout, apology, great times again. I knew the timing, the signs, and how and where to find evidence. I even knew how to get him to give himself away. Catching him was something I took pride in (yes, I felt like I had that little going for me back then).
After this particular round of searching, I came up with something that truly scared the hell out of me. This time rather than an inappropriate text, I found a receipt for my engagement ring, knocked the wind out of me. I was finally getting what I desperately wanted (and felt I deserved after ten years). Rather than the sublime elation I imagined, I froze, overcome by a sickening panic from within the deepest pit of my stomach. It’s a feeling I’ll never forget. This physical manifestation of my entire conscious and subconscious, screaming Nooo! This feeling was familiar on a watered-down level. In my rare moments of self-honesty, I’d say to myself, “this isn’t forever.” This time, it felt like God, and the Universe knew I needed my world flipped upside down, and shaken up, (like a snow globe), to get it finally.
The Lie That Keeps us in Toxic Relationships
There’s an ugly false truth, that if we don’t have a significant other to share our lives with, our human experience is illegitimate. We’ll roam into a pathetic, lonely existence. It’s a worst-case scenario lie for far too long now. It’s a false truth that devalues our mental and emotional well-being. It cripples our development of self-awareness and joy. It blurs the abundant options we have for creating fulfillment in our own lives. It’s a relationship lie that transcends gender, age, race, and religion.
I wasn’t confident enough at that point to walk away. So, I began to search for evidence of cheating (right after finding that receipt). I needed a reason to break off the relationship. Saying, “I’m not taking your shit anymore,” still didn’t roll off my tongue easily at that time. Of course, it was a matter of minutes after finding the receipt, that I found a phone number and message from a girl, (inferring they were planning on being more than friends). I’d never felt such a weight lifted from my shoulders. I had an immediate reason, clearly making the case why marriage (which I fought tirelessly for), was not a good idea.
Toxic Relationship Club
With one in four women becoming victims of severe violence by an intimate partner, it’s no wonder many of us have brushes with toxic relationships.
The idea that “real women” (glorified in popular urban culture, as a “ride or die chick”), stick it out, no longer resonated with me. I wasn’t proud of being another person’s emotional punching bag. Telling myself, “you’re a tough cookie, you can handle it,” no longer brought a sense of pride. The fact that many of my girlfriends and family were in similar situations made it feel like a twisted rite of passage into womanhood. It was a false truth I picked up from others and became my beast of burden. The fact that I had the same relationship issues as my closest friends and family made me feel a connection with them. Once again, I was chasing that need for belonging, in an unhealthy way.
That “sisterhood” felt comforting at the time, and perhaps I held onto that relationship, more afraid of losing my connections to them, than losing my connection to him. As long as I could complain about the same heartbreak, I’d be welcome to share in this camaraderie. What if I became part of a healthy partnership? Will I be welcome and trusted if I remain single, focusing on crushing my entrepreneurial goals? God forbid our peers criticize us for thinking we’re too good.
It was one of the earliest times I recall honoring my intuition. This time it was so loud that I couldn’t ignore it. There was no convincing me that I was paranoid or insecure. I felt it many times before, (even translating into dreams), but always gave my ex the benefit of the doubt, (a concept I completely dismantle in my upcoming book).
With self-awareness, there’s no reason this false truth should hold future generations hostage to a toxic relationship. For more on how self-awareness creates fulfillment in every aspect of your life (including relationships), read this post.
How long have you stayed in a toxic relationship? Are you struggling to get out of a toxic relationship that’s beyond its expiration date? Let me know your thoughts, and check out this post on how to walk away from a breakup with your dignity intact.