Continuing my series about healing from abuse. At the end of part three, I had just finished discussing a couple of my triggers and what I had done to address them, which was my third main area of focus for myself.
Moving on –
4) Figure out what a healthy relationship looks like, how to be a part of creating one, and how to recognize one
As I looked around at all the happily married couples and families where I lived, I remember thinking how weird it was that both husband and wife seemed really happy. I found myself wondering what was fucked up about them behind closed doors; what were they hiding? It’s got to be something big, right? Maybe he throws dishes at her if he doesn’t like what she cooked? Maybe he throws glasses around for her to clean up and then blames her if she misses a shard buried in the carpet? It’s got to be something, right? No one’s really happy in their marriage. They’ve just learned how to pretend really, really well. And she must have more self-control than I do not to try to fight back when he comes home and tells her that he’s been cheating because she’s a shitty wife who’s boring in bed.
^^ See that?
That is honest to goodness what I actually thought when I looked around at other people. And that’s how I knew I needed help. I realized that I really and truly had no concept of what a healthy relationship looked like. What do people in healthy relationships do? What do people in healthy relationships not do? How do I recognize an unhealthy relationship in the future? How do I tell the difference between a relationship that’s not perfect (but otherwise healthy) and a toxic relationship? How do I do my part to create a healthy relationship? No idea. Literally no clue. Even as I framed these questions in my head, the concepts seemed so foreign.
So I decided to do some reading. As a bookworm and scholastic overachiever, pursuing academic knowledge first seemed to be the most intuitive way to go.
In perusing my own bookshelf, I settled upon a few that had a general theme of “how to fix your marriage.” Now, you have to be careful here, because a lot of it can come across as victim-blaming, especially if any of these books were a “gift” from your ex designed to help you learn how to be a good wife to him. But I chose to read them anyway in the spirit of: a) no regrets for ending my marriage, as it was absolutely, 100% necessary; and b) learning what to do for a possible next marriage. After all, if their goal is to get people to put in some work and create a healthy marriage, surely they are going to paint a picture of what this end goal looks like, right?
The specific books I ended up reading were Emotional Infidelity, The Five Love Languages, and The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands. What I found helpful about these books was 1) explicit instructions for me on how to treat someone; and 2) lots of case studies of happy spouses (well, at least by the end of their story they were happy). So I found lots of examples of relationships to draw from and build an idea of what my hypothetical next marriage could possibly look like. Also, I did recognize a pattern in myself of being impossible-to-please, bossy, high-strung, nitpicky, and nagging that I picked up from my mother. Just to be clear – I am not saying that I in any way deserved what happened to me because I sometimes annoyed my ex. What I am saying was that I wanted to work on my bad habits so I could treat my hypothetical future husband better than I would have otherwise.
If you find yourself in a position similar to mine, there are plenty of sources out there that would be helpful; the books I listed were just the ones I happened to use and they worked for me. It goes without saying that if you go down this road, this process is highly individualized; my bad habits are not necessarily your bad habits and my perfect relationship is not your perfect relationship. And, of course, the books that worked for me may not speak to you the same way.
Academic knowledge is all well and good, but the real question is – how do I do this for real? How do I put this into practice?
To be continued.