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It took breaking up and months of separation to be able to see my previous relationship for what it actually was: an unhealthy coupling of two stubborn individuals that once loved each other, but let their insecurities cause too much suffering over the course of nearly six years. I believed that if I tried hard enough to make things work, that love really could conquer all. I believed that relationships took work and that we can’t be too quick to throw it all away when you experience rough patches. In the end, I let my dreams make me blind.

He was thrilling from the start. I’d only been in one relationship that ended two years prior to meeting him at a bar in the West Village of New York City. He talked to me about his views on relationships, kinks, and fetish parties, things I’d never had any experience on, but wanted to know more about. Even though he was socially awkward and quiet, I saw him as someone who could bring me out of my shell.

The red flags came immediately, but I chalked it up to my sensitivity.

“You should know that we’ll never live together if you have that dog,” he told me during one of our initial phone conversations.

I looked over at my yapping puppy and retorted, “Who ever said I wanted to live with you?”

When I gave my dog away a year later, he couldn’t understand why I was so upset.

“It’s not like he died,” he said. No matter how much I tried to get him to understand how I felt or begged him to come console me, he had no wish in catering to my emotions. He didn’t want to condone that type of behavior.

Sometimes I’d lash out at him in return because he’d frustrate me so. I’m the type who will bottle things up, hoping the intensity will eventually subside, but then they don’t. Imagine how you’d feel if your emotions and thoughts were constantly invalidated. If you kept being triggered and told that you had no right to feel the way you do. If you grew to constantly check yourself because hey, maybe he’s right. 

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Maybe you’re being too neurotic, too insecure, and clingy, too jealous. Maybe your emotions are clouding your judgment and it’d be best to do away with them. I’d gone through years of therapy before, during, and after the relationship to address my depression and anxiety so it was assumed that I was the problem here. Clearly, I couldn’t handle myself and so whenever things went south between us I was the one being forced to change. Most arguments ended with the finger pointed at me, me accepting my share of the blame, and him refusing to see the role he played in our latest disagreement.

“You’re just deflecting,” he’d say. My wanting to talk about how his actions were hurtful was only a sign of my not wanting to address my own. I just wanted to feel like I wasn’t fighting this battle alone.

But his actions kept tearing down what I was trying to build with him. When I’d catch him in a lie, he’d apologize and I’d be too quick to forgive and try to understand what motivated him to do so. Whenever he cheated, I’d yell at him and cry and he’d shut down, forcing me to check myself so that we could at least have a conversation. All these tumultuous feelings kept swirling inside me for years like water drips torturing my brain. 

And even with all that, I don’t think I ever would have left him if he hadn’t stormed out the house that night in a fury of curses and blame. Whenever he threatened to leave if I didn’t change my behavior and became more congruent and submissive, I promised him I would.

“But maybe you could also work on the things I need from you?” I pleaded.

“You’ll get what you want, once I get what I want,” he’d say.

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My reassurances and love kept pulling us back from the edge. He’d threaten me with a breakup, I’d promise I’d change, and he’d stay. This vicious cycle went on for four years, but we kept moving forward. We thought trips abroad would fix our problems. They didn’t. When he was finally forced to move out of his place and decided to sign a new lease with me, I hoped that finding and maintaining the perfect home for us would make everything better. It didn’t. Thank God we never had children in the hopes that they could strengthen our crappy relationship.

In all that time, I was too scared to break up, of having given something and someone so much of myself that I really believed I couldn’t go on if that disintegrated. My whole world had been wrapped up in my future with this person and even though I knew deep down that he was destroying my confidence from the inside, I didn’t want to quit. I didn’t want to fail. I didn’t want to admit that I was making a huge mistake.

After he moved out, I still had hoped that we could get back together and for four months, sex kept tying me up in that delusion. I wish I had been strong enough to stand my ground, not give in so easily, and realize that I was just being used. Walking away from the person I’d shared so many years of my life with wasn’t going to be easy, but he forced my hand when he said he’d fallen in love with his best friend’s girl.

It’s been a year since we broke up, and it’s only been in this space that I’ve been able to remove the bandages from my eyes. I’m still undergoing therapy, though this time it’s been to work through the pain of having lived through that experience. 

The biggest thing I’ve learned is this: While I may have been predisposed to having such an emotional breakdown when the relationship ended, anybody else in my situation would have gone absolutely insane. I held it together the best I could and it was not all my fault as I let myself believe. I am worthy of being loved and treated with kindness. It’s an idea that I’m still working towards accepting and it’s been a challenge to not fear that I will suffer this disillusion again in the future.

I do feel like I did him a disservice, though. By refusing to leave after being disrespected time and time again, I sent out a message that his behavior was acceptable. I announced that I did not value myself or have self-respect and that there was little wrong with his actions. He’ll probably go on behaving as he has without fearing the potential consequences because I never held his feet to the fire. I never forced him to be better. I grew, analyzed, picked myself apart, and glued myself back together while he stayed in the same place I’d met him all those years ago. But I can’t care about that anymore; that’s his new partner’s problem now.