“…Wow. I want to get where you are. I would have been so embarrassed to come back and face my friends and family after failing…”
Failure? It had never occurred to me to view my return home as a “failure”. It didn’t cross my mind once to be embarrassed telling anyone that we just weren’t ready for the “next step” and it was best for me to come home. I felt no trace of shame. It seemed odd to me that my friend would have even considered this perspective.
Then I remembered.
There was a time I would have taken on the Herculean responsibility of carrying the weight and responsibility of the success or failure of a relationship on my shoulders. This had been my role in my first and second marriage. The role of martyr. I would carry the relationship until my partner was able to be a partner. I would carry it until they were able to “fix” whatever was broken in them. I would be the keystone to hold the relationship and the family together. Whatever was wrong with “us”, I could weather…I was strong enough.
In my violent relationship, it was this acceptance of responsibility that my abuser would exploit. He endeavored to remind me that I didn’t want to fail as I had with my last two marriages, scarring the children, just because I didn’t try hard enough. It worked for a very long time. I did not want to fail my family. I did not want to fail showing enough love, patience, endurance, and sacrifice. I could meet the needs of everyone I loved and cared for until they could find the strength to meet their own needs. In the case of my children, this is appropriate. In the case of my grown adult partner, this was a trap.
One little concept set me free. “Did it ever occur to you that you did not fail your relationship, but rather your relationship failed you? Did your relationship meet your needs? It takes two people in a relationship, yet I only hear one person taking any responsibility for it.” It took me a while to wrap my head around what was being said, but when I did, it was one of the most liberating moments.
I didn’t fail the relationship, the relationship failed me. It failed to meet my needs within my definition of a relationship. It failed to provide balance, freedom, love, and support of individuality. It failed to provide healthy companionship. No matter how hard I worked, contributed, or tried, I was only one half of the equation that made up the total relationship. I can only control me. I can only assume responsibility for my actions, thoughts, feelings, and response. If the relationship fails it is because it fails to mutually meet the needs of both partners. Partners means two people.
I think there is a misconception that we are to stay in relationship out of obligation, charity, sacrifice, or even altruism. Abusive partners can exploit these characteristics. The moment we forget that, and we allow each other to be bound out of pity (they can not survive without me), obligation (I gave my word), sacrifice (meeting my partners needs are more important than meeting my own), altruism (the needs of the “greater good” are more important than meeting my own) is the moment we leave a relationship vulnerable to failure. It is also when one partner or both can assume more responsibility than is theirs to carry.
There was no embarrassment in choosing to let go of a relationship that wasn’t healthy. I did not feel like I was coming home to “face” my friends in shame. It never occurred to me. On the contrary, I was proud of myself for giving myself permission to do what was in the best interest of myself and my children. I was proud of taking care of me first, in spite of my love and investment in the relationship.