I have always been fiercely independent.
I was the kid who worked two jobs at the age of 14 and saved all my money for a “rainy day”. I didn’t need anyone but I desperately wanted someone to attach myself to. Growing up I was exposed to traumatic events that made me determined to do everything on my own, but inside all I wanted was a best friend and partner. I didn’t really date anyone until I was 19. It was mainly because I was shy and awkward and no one asked me out. I spent a lot of time dreaming out my future husband and the family we would create. When I did start dating, the men I chose weren’t exactly marriage material. I seemed to have a knack for picking men who were emotionally unavailable or verbally and emotionally abusive. When I was 22, I moved to Laguna Beach, California to start my new life free from anyone or anything. I found this cute little apartment on PCH and would walk to the beach every evening to journal, pray, and meditate. I would ask God if he would bring me a perfect companion and for 2 years, I was single waiting for my perfect soul mate to walk into my life.
Then I met Nick.
I was just 24 working at Chrysler Financial in the repossession department. I know, what a fun job, right? Ha! No, it was such a drag so when Nick got hired, he brightened up the office atmosphere. He was smart, charming, tall, and handsome. He came from a great family, good job, and even had college degree which was more than any of my previous boyfriends had. He was all the things that I was “looking” for in a man. I wanted to be like all the Disney characters and run off with Prince Charming, and he definitely fit the bill. From our first date, I was in love. I fell hard for him, but I didn’t want him to know it although letting him move into my apartment after our first date wasn’t really playing hard to get. Probably not the smartest decision I’ve ever made, but it is the truth. We were inseparable. We spent all day and night together and never grew tired of one another. I felt so blessed to have found someone that made me laugh all the time and who shared my common interests. Life was good.
After about a year, Nick proposed to me and a few months later we were married in a cute little chapel in Seal Beach, CA. I can look back now and see all the red flags, but at the time everything seemed pretty normal. Did we fight? Sure, but who doesn’t fight? I knew we had some issues, but I honestly thought that all relationships had issues. I had never really seen a “healthy” relationship and at that point in my life, I didn’t know anything about addiction or codependency. I was just doing my best to keep everything a float and hold onto this man that I so dearly loved. It was toxic for sure, I can see that now, but at the time I saw it as passion and love.
I had no idea just how bad things were about to get.
After we got married, we moved to Maryland and had two babies within a 2-year period. Every problem we may have had before kids now was bigger and more apparent. My life took a turn, and I began to have my doubts about who I married, what I was doing, and if I was ever going to be able to salvage this mess of a marriage. I sank into a deep depression as I watched my husband grow ever dependent on alcohol. His bouts of anger became more frequent and I became more distant and depressed. I was losing control and nothing I did fixed it. After 7 years of doing everything I could, I was no better off. I began searching for God and the meaning of it all, and I started to make my plans for leaving the marriage. I wondered if I could take care of these two kids by myself and if I was just making a big deal out of nothing? Maybe all relationships were like this? Maybe I’d never find Prince Charming. What if I divorce him and I’m alone forever? I was desperate for help, but I had nowhere to go.
I had done a pretty good job covering up our issues and never telling anyone how toxic our marriage had become, so when I finally decided to ask Nick for a divorce most of my family and friends were shocked. After 7 years of marriage, I was officially done. I didn’t want to work it out, I hated my husband and at one point, I felt like I would rather die than stay married to him. I felt guilty and had little support from those around me to leave the marriage since up to that point they had only ever heard of how wonderful Nick was. I did confide in two people the truth about what was going on and they encouraged me to leave and set clear boundaries. I’m so thankful for them because they didn’t judge me, just listened and told me that everything would be okay. It was a really hard time for me because everything I knew, my whole life was now crumbling around me.
I saw no way to fix it.
I want to say that I am an advocate for women. I believe that we as women get the short end of the stick most of the time. We are raised in toxic male-centered environments that teach us to seek after Prince Charming. Most of us are raised to believe that we need a man to complete us and that we should stay home and raise kids while our husband goes out into the world and has a career. I know a lot of that has changed over the years and women are now choosing to work and some are choosing not to have kids, but for the most part, a lot of women still feel pressure to become wives and mothers and most feel like they need a partner to be happy in life. I can’t tell you how many emails and direct messages I receive from women stuck in loveless marriages asking me for advice or young women telling me how depressed they are because they can’t find true love. They worry it will never happen for them and base their entire life on finding this dream husband. Ladies, you don’t need anyone to complete you or make you happy. You may desire that but you are not incomplete if it doesn’t happen. Happiness is found when you figure out how to love yourself completely.
I say all of this because when I decided that I wanted a divorce, I chose me for the first time. I decided that I didn’t want to fix him or our marriage, I wanted to fix me. I wanted to learn how to be happy and complete without Nick. Choosing me changed my life and ultimately changed my husband, our marriage, and the lives of our children. It was how I met God and began this amazing journey of true love. Choosing to love yourself first and say no to toxic behavior is the most loving thing you can do not only for yourself, but for the person whose love you desire.
A miracle happened next.
The story of what happened next is longer than I can write here but ultimately, my husband moved out of the house and began a 12-step program for his alcoholism. I also agreed to go to counseling with him … for the kids. I knew that I would co-parent with him, and trying to navigate how that would work was important to me. Over the next few months, I saw changes in him that I, to this day, am still humbled by. I saw this man morph and change into the man I always wanted. It took about 5 months of us living separately and both working on ourselves for me to believe that change is possible.
I began my own 12-step program for co-dependency and started working with a sponsor. She recommended I read this amazing book called Facing Love Addiction. I know the title sounds strange, but if you tend to date or get into relationships with the wrong person, this book will change your life. I’ve read hundreds of self-help books over my lifetime; this is the one that made the biggest impact on my life.
My husband today is my walking miracle. In November, I handed him his 10-year chip of sobriety and spoke at his meeting. I love sharing our story with people who are in need of light amongst all the darkness. Nick was never the “God” kind of guy, so to hear him share about how it was an encounter with God the day he moved out of the house is what changed him, to this day, blows my mind. He makes me smile every day and loves me like I believe every woman should be loved. I can’t believe how blessed I am with this man. I also can’t believe that he is the same man that I used to hate with a passion. My marriage now is the best thing I have going on in my life. My relationship with Nick is a source of joy that I can only explain as pure acceptance and love. Is it perfect? Yes, but not by this world’s standards. We sometimes argue and often disagree, but there is mutual respect to always looking at ourselves first. Perfection to me is love without fear. We are both on our own path and we aren’t afraid anymore. We laugh, we cry, we talk about our feelings… this is love. I no longer operate from a place of fear, wondering “what if,” but instead, we face everything head-on. I don’t expect Nick to fulfill me or complete me. My only expectation is that he continues to work on himself and communicate with me along the way, and I will do the same. It is the most peace I have ever felt in a relationship. I’m so thankful to God and the miracle that was done in our lives. I know that our story isn’t the typical outcome of toxic marriages, but it is possible. I want to encourage anyone who might be reading this to have hope.
Life can and will get better – with or without your partner.
No one except you knows what you need to do in your relationship. If you are unhappy, abused, neglected, or mistreated, I encourage you to set clear boundaries and/or leave. If you are afraid of your partner, tell someone. People will help you. Don’t be afraid of what they will think – this is your life, not theirs. No one deserves to be in a relationship like that. No one. You can’t change anyone but yourself, but you can teach people how to treat you. If you allow unacceptable behavior, it will only continue. If you choose fear over faith, you will never be happy. The only bad decisions in life are the ones made from a place of fear. When you step out and believe you deserve both the love of others and the love of yourself, life will get better. All of this is easier said than done, but I can tell you from my experience that you won’t regret choosing you.
You are not alone. You can do this.