Let’s start this off with a clarification – this post is about the bright side of the takeaways – the hindsight from having been through a bad relationship. If you are currently in a union that is truly inharmonious then the brightest side of it is that you can leave.
I didn’t say you can just get up and go without any trouble – even a partnership that isn’t bound by children or any legal matters is still not easy to break off. Simple, maybe, but it’s difficult to step up and say the words. And if there’s abuse then that brings a whole slew of other dangers.
Physical: you might get slapped, punched, or something lethal. If this is the case that makes things exponentially more complicated and I understand that. Please, if you are in this situation, confide in somebody you trust and find a safe path to freedom.
Emotional: you will almost surely have some level of manipulation headed in your direction designed to rope you back into things. Guilt is a powerful tool to persuade others and has kept poisonous relationships together ever since people learned to wield it.
That manipulation also may well come from you – if you live out the same patterns over and again, and those are unhealthy patterns, then there’s a good chance that you’ll talk yourself out of the healthy choice and into more suffering.
I talk about that aspect of our life’s choices on a regular basis – we tend towards things that are comfortable over anything else… even when they’re bad for us.
Fortunately, for those that are looking within, these repeating patterns give us something consistent to help us locate the problematic parts of our personal choices. Those that do not learn from the past are condemned to repeat it: that’s good news for those introspectives out there because it’s difficult to put out a fire if there’s no smoke to lead you to it.
So you’ve been through romantic hell. And you’ve delivered some romantic hell as well. And of each of these you’ve likely been there more than once, so now you’re wondering, “Why does this keep happening to me?” Or maybe you’re wondering why you keep doing this to other people. You just want to stop committing to the wrong one, going through a bunch of crappy suffering, then still ending up alone.
You just want to be happy.
Of course you do! That’s what everybody wants, man. But if we all want it then why is it so hard to find? Typically, the reasons for people not being able to satisfy their collective goal for a better life stem from a lack of understanding; usually a lack of understanding who we really are and what we really want.
To understand what you really want is a critical first step to finding it, and that is what this post is all about. Bad relationships are a rough experience for everybody, but our own personal hells are the most efficient teachers when it comes to self-awareness. Or, at least, they offer the opportunity to learn… you have to accept that opportunity to make anything of it.
To understand who you really are is the most fundamental component to stop yourself from repeating the same mistakes. Who you are directs everything you do, and if you have no idea who it is that’s piloting your animated corpse around town then you’re not going to have much luck when it comes to preventing it from repeatedly walking into a strangely familiar field of weed whackers.
And you’re not even wearing jeans. Plus you still have cuts all over your shins from the last time you were weed whacked. Your shins are getting destroyed all you wanted to do was get the hell out of there, and once you were in the clear all you wanted is to find that elusive happiness – but you’re so blinded by desire that you don’t even see your persistent aversion to peace.
The truth of the matter is, the more peace you make with yourself outside of a relationship, the more peace you will draw to yourself in potential partners. Given that we go with what’s familiar, when inner peace becomes a familiar state of mind you will be drawn to it and have a much easier time meeting well-balanced people.
Personally, I have a well-trodden path through the weed-whacked field of dreams. Each time I got out of the excruciating experience of a poorly chosen partner I was instantly desperate to get right back into it. Each and every time I did it I was sure that it was different, and each and every time I went sprinting back into that field.
Two-cycle engines roaring, plastic cords whipping the crap out of my shins down to the bone, I would stand there in bewilderment, screaming out to the gods in exasperation, “Why did you DO THIS TO ME AGAIN? DO I REALLY DESERVE THIS??!?”
And the gods were like, “No, man. Nobody does. You had every other direction you could have gone. Or you could have just stood still for a minute. We even filled the bad parts with weed whackers to discourage you from going there, but you ran right back in.”
It turns out you need to close your mouth before your ears start to work and in all of my tortured agony I refused to take the time to sit down and really listen to myself – to ask what it was I was really doing and how I could possibly make things different.
I was getting a little better at it as time went on but I was still just desperate enough to keep latching on to the first person that showed enough interest in me to build a relationship. I did get to have relationships with some truly good people; as an artist of romance I have shared some worthwhile memories, but it always ended the same way.
And then I created my magnum opus.
I crafted a masterpiece of a union that rolled out two and a half years of gaslighting, emotional instability, and expectations that were impossible to satisfy. And I bought it all. In my previous relationships we had problems seeing eye to eye, but this was something really special. From a distance she seemed like a really good prospect with whom to build a partnership: she was beautiful, smart, funny, had a big group of close friends. Unfortunately, she also had a heavy set of baggage that she refused to deal with.
Of course, I had a rather hefty set of carry-on of my own that I refused to properly acknowledge and the two sets of collective hurt souls worked like a fusion reactor. My reflections of the poison that was routinely administered brings to mind this saying: hurt people hurt people.
One of the most problematic aspects that I brought into this relationship was my lack of a spine. I had not grown into myself and didn’t realize that the punishment I was receiving was indeed not a balanced way for two people to maintain a rapport with each other. Deep within myself I truly believed that I deserved everything unfair that came my way: I didn’t think it was unfair because I figured I must have done something horrible, or that maybe I was horrible and should take on every bit of it as mine and come up with a solution on my own to present to her.
Fortunately this relationship offered me the irrefutable evidence of a need to grow a spine. At long last I started to expand into my personality and hit a point of critical spiritual mass where I realized that I didn’t need to feel terrible every day. Apparently the feelings of shame and lack were familiar to me and as I took a few steps closer to self-actualization I began to see that those modes of living were my choice and I did have the option to choose differently.
One day I had grown enough, and had felt enough pain, that I ended it. Every relationship that had ended previously had led me to long, lingering heartbreak and regret. But this time I just felt free. I knew that I had stepped into a new realm of understanding and had no second thoughts regarding whether or not it was the correct choice.
As time went on I still made some of the same mistakes – I entered a couple more relationships out of desperation before the year ended, and one of them was with a very sweet, level-headed woman whose heart I broke. So now I knew enough about myself not to stick around when I knew things didn’t fit, but not quite enough to keep from running over someone in the process.
The change in process here is that now my eyes were open a little wider and I was looking for where it was that I was steering myself off into the weed… whackers.
Where things really picked up some productive momentum was when I took all the views I had towards the mistreatment I had received in the past and turned it on myself. While I always knew I was carrying my own baggage and it was producing its own problems, things really started to smooth out when I began to look at that baggage without judgement. I started to ask myself what I could do to take total responsibility for everything I had been through.
This did not remove the side of the equation I had already been looking at: I had indeed received some unfair treatment and chosen partners with whom I lacked compatibility. But it did begin to loosen the blame I was pouring all over these situations. Suddenly nobody was to blame and nobody was the bad guy – I really wanted to see it as two incomplete, slightly confused people trying their best to make some sense of things.
So what exactly did I learn from this union of the damned? Well, for one, I learned that if you don’t know how to take responsibility for your own feelings, someone will take charge of them for you. And that someone is going to be a person with an equally painful inner void.
There is no finish line in the effort to feed the black hole of the unresolved parts of our lives and when there’s two people that don’t know peace within themselves they will be consumed with unbalanced attempts for control, guilt will flourish, and resentment will grow. Whoever has the more aggressive personality will attempt to repair things with control of, well, usually anything but their own issues, and the one with the submissive personality is going to get roped in to a road trip through hell.
For another, I learned that seeing only the best in people can leave you blind to who they actually are. Judge people not by what they believe, want, or talk about – judge them by what they do. Action is everything and it will always override whatever intention may be underneath it. I don’t know how many times I would remind myself of the good sides of the bad partner, and of those there truly were many, but it never actually helped to improve what has happening.
You don’t have to go through these romantic hells to learn these kinds of lessons, but given that my greatest desire – love – lies within my greatest insecurity – also love – it seems that this was the path down which I was destined to search for answers. The bright side is this: every bad relationship is a set of lessons on how not to repeat the same mistakes. Not only that, if you do find yourself going through bad relationships, it means you’re not willing to give up on love. If you want something, it is better to go after it awkwardly than not at all.
So keep your head up and keep looking to the future. Though I hope it’s with a little more wisdom and a little less suffering each day.