Dating Series #1: Disentangling Oneself from an Intense and Complicated Unhealthy Relationship

One of the populations I am reaching out to in order to discuss my book First Comes Self-Love, Then Comes Marriage, are community religious leaders in colleges.  I spoke with one such leader this past week, and his questions led to a rich discussion. I would like to impart what we spoke about in this blog post as well as others to follow.

He said he responded to my email about my book because he was interested in hearing more about my discussion on unhealthy relationships and how to help people in unhealthy relationships. The first thing I told him, as a disclaimer, is that people who are in unhealthy relationships are not always going to want help.  They may be in it for whatever reason (some of my reasons were: distracting myself from the deep pain of abandonment of losing my father suddenly at the age of 21, as well as being angry about later physical injuries I incurred and how they prevented me from teaching yoga to my community, a goal which I had been working hard to achieve).

That being said, there are two questions that a rebbetzin (wife of a rabbi) once asked me, that continue to stick with me because they cut straight to the core and helped me begin to look at my situation with greater honesty.

1 – How do you feel about yourself?

“That’s easy,” I said, and I emphatically gave a thumbs down.

2 – How emotionally safe do you feel with him?

At that point, I thought about a male friend I had grown up with whom I had been speaking to more recently. I felt very safe with him. I compared that feeling to how I felt with this boyfriend and said, “Not very emotionally safe at all.”

The next day she met with me for brunch to further discuss my situation.  After a solid 90-minute conversation (I will always be grateful for the time she took to meet with me, someone she had only met one day earlier), she came to the conclusion that I best end the relationship. I remember understanding where she was coming from, but saying, “But, how?! He would never let me end it. And not only that, but I can’t imagine my life without him.”

I knew she had sprung upon truth, yet I knew just as much, that I was not ready to follow it. A few days later I decided to look into seeing a therapist who could help me sort of out my situation and help me gain the strength and clarity I needed to break up with my boyfriend. After one month of meeting with the therapist, I felt I had the wherewithal to do it for good. I had tried once before, but it hadn’t stuck. Then one night, I called him up and I said, “That’s it. We are done. For good.”

My heart then began to make its journey to meet my mind, which knew I had done the right thing. It hurt a lot, but I remember sleeping better that night than I had for months; the weight of all the baggage of that relationship slowly beginning to be released from my shoulders. I could breathe more deeply, sleep more soundly. But the aftereffects of the relationship would continue to impact me for the next decade, planting the seeds for several more unhealthy relationships to come. And while there were healthy, grounded relationships sprinkled in there, the predominance of my twenties consisted of me repeating the unhealthy choices I had made in that initial relationship.

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