Relationship Issues We Are Not Alone

I'm engaged in the painful and terrifying process of stepping back from a relationship with my former wife that has sustained me for decades. It was her feeling of betrayal over two years ago when I spoke about my use of pornography over the years that prompted me to begin posting here. It was also the beginning of my third cycle of trauma work and it proved to be the most profound. My friend and I continued our engagement and while she set clearly defined boundaries our dance continued. It was only recently, that I was able to see the dynamics of our relationship are not healthy for me. Given that I was locked in a very destructive dance with my mother... trying to secure the love I needed but unaware of how her own brokenness made it impossible for her to give me what I needed, it is probably not a surprise that I've done the same thing again. My former wife is not unkind. I know she loves me and cares for my well being. Over the last year we've been immensely supportive of one another. I shopped for her and she invited me to do my laundry at her home and offered to cut my hair, which she has done for a year. But her feeling of betrayal kept arising in our interactions and it was only this week that I understood how painful it is to stand as her betrayer while I work hard to love and care for her. I saw that I kept trying hard to please her, as I had done with my mother.

I spoke with friends about this yesterday and one friend, a dear woman who knows me very well said she had previously mentioned to another person in our small group that were I her son she would have told me "you can't keep seeing that woman." It appears my friends saw how unhealthy this dynamic has been for me before I was able to see it. This thread is intended to acknowledge how important it is to have people in our lives who can witness what is happening and who can offer a fresh perspective when we're struggling. This is what happens here and I'm honored to share this journey with all of you. Saying farewell to a relationship this important is frightening but I feel I can take this risk because of the support I've received here and elsewhere in my life. We are not alone with any of this.
 
My former wife responded to my email outlining what I was coming to and she both expressed her love and supported my decision to take care of myself by stepping away from our relationship. It all sounds so mature and yet, this is letting go of a 35 year relationship with a woman I love. It would be easy for me to collapse into shame simply because it is the residue of trauma that made it impossible for me to show up in this or any other intimate relationship. Fortunately, I've been working here the last two years and now understand that the roots of these behaviors go back to the trauma I experienced as a boy. None of it has been my fault. Sadly, my former wife who understands all of this and who expresses her love for me, her appreciation for who I am, cannot look beyond behaviors I relied on to soothe myself... which include pornography. And so we begin the process of disentangling our lives... wills, durable power of attorney for health care decisions, trusts... For me the challenge is to not abandon myself... to run away from this moment in some form of acting out behavior. Wish me well everyone. This is hard.
 

HenryD

Registrant
Visitor - my thoughts are with you as you enter a new growth phase, and it goes without saying you have our support at all times.
 
Thank you Henry and Dolphin. I think you're right, that this may be the beginning of a new growth phase. So long as I'm trying to get my needs met from mother or her replacement I'm still scrambling as the little boy wounded in the crib and then by neighbors next door. Stepping back may allow me to really pay attention to my needs. I call it self-care that confirms I am worthy, lovable and cherished. I could use some of that... and I know this is a wonderful place to get support. Thanks guys.
 
Thanks Jim. This is scary... like my security blanket has been taken away... as happened when my parents removed the stuffed animals from my bed thinking I needed to grow up... when in fact it was only those animals that allowed me to feel held and safe. Now I need to rely on friends here and in the rest of my life. But it is still scary.
 
Sorry Visitor the breaking of a long term relationship is sad to hear. Stepping back will give you time to work on you and maybe that will be a good move forward. Have you replaced those stuffed animals? If not I would. Hard times my friend I will be thinking good thoughts for you.
 
Thank you Esterio. I have five stuffed animals in my living room that I bought early in this two year recovery effort, one of which represents the frightened little boy who still is present in my world. I have a photo of myself at age 2 sitting on the front stoop holding a brown teddy bear that sits next to a statue of the Buddha across from my collection of teddy bears... a reminder of this small boy who was in a terrifying world. He's the one who needs my care and support. Appreciate the good thoughts... I can use them.
 
Hi Visitor

Cool I am glad that you have bought new ones and have the picture of you holding your brown Bear. I have 3 stuffed animals that have been in my Moms family One is a white bear that was with my Granny when she live in long term care and then it was with my Mom while she was in care and before that in her bedroom. While she was in care it disappeared for a month or so and one of the care aids that had worked their for years knew my Mom and her Mom well. The name on the teddy bear was my Granny's name and she knew right where it belong. It went for several trips after that another lady like it and took it to her room and then the carotids would bring it back. The others are really old not sure how old they were Christmas themed from the UK where my Granny was born. I bring those 2 out at Christmas and the other one is one a shelf with a good view. Yes that picture would be a strong connection to that small boy.
 
Thanks guys. I was able to have a long conversation with a friend this evening. It is good to talk about it all rather than collapsing in on myself.

Wow! I just noticed I was able to change my avatar photo. This is the photo of me at age two holding the brown bear. The only story from that time in my life shared by my mother was the grandmother of the clan living on three sides of our home who became my perpetrators beginning when I was three, coming to the back door to complain that I'd bitten one of her grandsons. My mother lifted my shirt and there were 13 bite marks on my body. My guess is that trauma came in a number of ways when I was small. No wonder this little boy was afraid and hungry for someone, anyone, to take him in and protect him. It never happened.
 
I am too young to give you good advice, Visitor. But I do wish you strength. I am glad you have teddy bears. I have a number of penguins, they give great comfort. And I wish that same comfort for you.
 
Thanks Darren. I love the fact that despite all the challenges in your life you found your way here and that you can both receive and give support to other men. When I was your age I was completely lost... unaware of the trauma because I couldn't remember any of it. But my life was a mess and I was acting out my pain in myriad ways... leaving a trail of wreckage behind me. It has taken me decades to stop shaming myself and to begin the road to healing.

I'm in a pretty raw state at the moment. It is becoming more clear as this unfolds that our parting is inevitable and final. I'm grieving. My friends have been very supportive and I've reached out to many who are closest to me. I know this is an occasion where I have the opportunity to practice self-care. When she and I first parted... the end of our marriage in 1996, I literally fell apart... shoplifting, stealing lingerie at the laundromat, compulsively composing pornographic stories and masturbating... the things a trauma survivor might do to sooth the pain. Blessedly, with the work I've done here, in therapy, in conversations with friends, I don't need to hurt myself any longer. I've no idea what my life will be without this point of reference, without this woman to lean against. Letting that go is terrifying and yet, I sense this is the way healing will happen. We still love each other but what we need for ourselves makes it impossible for us to have a relationship that works for either of us. So the healing journey continues for me without her. Thanks everyone for your support.
 
@Visitor I have such ambivalent feelings for you as I grieve for you knowing how important this friendship has been to you but also feel so much pride at your courage to take steps necessary to care for yourself and heal. I wish this road were easier. I wish we didn't have to do things that terrify us like letting go of friendships and facing an uncertain future. You will be in my thoughts as you walk this difficult road.
 
Thanks Greg. Yes, this is a big leap into the unknown and it is frightening to say the least. The sad thing is we still love one another... but this rocky road that has been my life as a trauma survivor ultimately proved to be too much for her and she decided to take a step back. In doing so she left me scrambling to salvage our relationship. After two years that included really helping one another get through COVID the last 13 months, it became clear the limitations she needed to keep in place left me feeling mostly the pain of loss and the constant reminder of my failing. I've been working hard for many years to release shame and though she doesn't wish to shame me... her feeling of betrayal is always an indictment of my failings. So we can't give the other what the other needs.

I put a beautiful photo of the two of us taken nine years ago away this afternoon and I also put away a photo I had on the wall of her as a nine year old girl riding a pony. There were tears but I can't go back... I have to go forward without a clear understanding of what that means. I don't believe I've ever been in a situation in which I was either looking for a partner or trying to keep a relationship alive while contending with feelings I didn't understand that inevitably led to my withdrawing from the relationship. I've eternally longed to be held and protected AND been terrified of being vulnerable with a woman. This is surely a recipe for disaster and I've lived it since my first marriage 57 years ago... four marriages, four divorces. At least this time I'm not looking for a replacement. Now I'll find out what MY life looks like without continuous reference to someone I need to take care of in order for ME to feel safe in the world. I'll report back what I discover.
 

KMCINVA

Registrant
Visitor

I am sorry for what you are dealing with as you face the end of the relationship-it may be an end to an old relationship that did not allow you heal as you should have healed. In time, you may rekindle a relationship with her that is based on different fundamentals that allows both of you to recognize the weaknesses and issues in the old relationship.

I am divorced. I know my ex feels betrayed by the events that happened as well as the dissociative episodes and fugues where I may have been reliving the abuse. For this I will always be sorry. It took time I learned I had felt betrayed for decades when she chose others over my health, allowed and condoned children to spit and lock me in a room, stalk and, so on. I never realized I felt this betrayal and only focused on my betrayal of her. I was alone as I struggled with the nightmares, the syncope, the dissociation and the triggers inflicted to compound my struggle. She will never see herself in this light nor the children who inflicted the triggers knowing she would stand with them . Once I focused on my feelings I began to realize distance was essential if I was to heal. I also learned her betrayals which I did not realize were betrayals--which I know she would never acknowledge are hers and I hold no ill feelings, I only wish her happiness and she one day faces objectively what happened . Denial and burying the truths only create more physical and emotional issues. I learned the hard way from decades of burying, running, escaping (more precisely trying to escape) the truth of the abuse. She was only doing what she learned as a child, and upped it a few degrees, and she too needs to face the truth of the past, her actions. Distance is essential because her inability see through the sense of abandonment, syncope, triggers, etc has on a survivor will only continue to lay guilt on me. She can look at it has her doing of the distance, which is alright with me. As a survivor suffers guilt for a lifetime and does not need any additional guilt. I now understand we all have our challenges and faults.

I have learned my new relationships have yielded healing in a way I could not have achieved in the old relationship. Why, maybe I am honest about my abuse upfront and not running from the abuse, the PTSD, etc which allows me not allow those that trigger or retraumatize me to control my life. Also they are honest about their lives, not sugar coating their life, laughing about the good times and accepting the bad times, acknowledging actions within their family influenced them. I admire families that can admit they are human and made mistakes.

I hope the new beginning will allow you to continue on your journey to heal, to find and appreciate people who are there for and with you and not rely on old relationships that may not have served you well in healing. You have taken steps to put her behind. Her picture must have been a constant reminder. I know people who have spouses or former spouses who accepted the abuse, the consequences of the abuses and found support, professional therapy and understanding. I know the spouses learned much about themselves as to how they contributed to holding the survivor back from healing as well as the wonderful things they did that was right. Sadly, several have said their negative actions outweighed the positive because a survivors needs are so different than others and at the same time realized they had damages from what they thought was a "perfect" upbringing. We all are damaged, those that can admit their damages can heal. I look at survivors and the progress we make once we admit and no longer bury the abuse as long as we surround ourselves with people who also support and do not trigger us.

I know you will do well with this change in your life. Reach out whenever you need us--remember we all have great moments and times of struggle.

Kevin
 
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Thank you Kevin. I've read what you share on the board the two years I've been here and your journey always inspires me. We are all blessed when men traveling this fretful path to healing continue to share on the board. It gives us a sense that healing IS possible. The work is daunting, especially when change puts us in touch with our fear, or fragility. This morning I picked up a small stack of photos lying close to where I sit as I type this and in the stack are two photos of my friend and I from 32 years ago on graduation day. We met in graduate school and our friendship deepened there. Two years later we married.

When I held that photo it seemed impossible that I could let this relationship go... then I reminded myself that we're here because she has already stepped away. There is no going back and even if we could... what we were doing as friends, as a married couple and then again as friends was always constrained by the trauma I didn't understand. She stepped away because the reality of what trauma has done is now clear and despite her love for me, she doesn't feel able to remain my partner as I continue my healing journey. Yes, she is grappling with her own traumatic history and asserting herself with me has been part of that. But now I respect my own pain and can't simply continue to ignore my feelings so I can support her healing. So here we are and it saddens me and frightens me. That is why I needed to share all of this on the board. I need support, which you and other men have been offering. I'm deeply grateful. Hopefully, with support of men here and friends in my life, I can finally do the healing work I was unable to do because the terror and shame were too great. It will definitely be one day at a time. Thanks again Kevin for your thoughtful words.
 

KMCINVA

Registrant
Visitor

Remember the old relationships do not have to permanently end, they can be on hiatus until both parties reflect on truth and accept the realities of their own life and the life of the other person. People have a tendency to see the faults of others without seeing their own faults, people live in a world of denial. As a person who has been to therapy, support and etc. I have come to accept my fears, behaviors, denial of the abuse and not facing it sooner as health was impacted and trying to bury it had negative impacts on others and I became sensitive to their words and actions which were negative to me. Relationships are complicated.

Kevin
 
The tricky part Kevin... is that even holding out the possibility of reconciliation at some time in the future becomes a familiar place of longing for me. This is what I've always done in relationships. Ours is complicated in a number of ways... I'm trustee for a special needs trust created for her. I'm the executor of her last will, and named on her Living Trust, hold a durable power of attorney for her and manage investments held by the trust. She is my executor and holds the durable power of attorney for my health care decisions. There are many threads that bind us together. I don't feel the need to tear all of that apart, but I'm very aware of the danger that I can hold onto her through those means and pretend that she'll eventually come back to me. That keeps me tied to all the means I've used my entire life to feel safe in the world. I really need to take responsibility for myself... to let her go completely as it becomes reasonable to do. I'll still do the trust taxes this year, still handle a maturing investment later this month... but it is time to step away... with kindness but with clarity of intention.
 
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