I have a friend who is, objectively speaking, in a very bad relationship. He cheats, he refuses to commit, he takes her for granted, he isn’t supportive or loving, he’s not engaged with her family or friends, he takes advantage of her kindness and availability, and he gaslights the shit out of her if she speaks up for herself. It’s a shitty situation, but what can I, or any of her other friends, do, if she isn’t ready to change it?
I don’t judge her. I, more than anyone, understand completely how these things happen. When you have been with someone for a long time, even when that person is a human-shaped garbage can, you tend to get complacent. You get financially entangled. You share friends. You live close to work. Your stuff is all combined. The relationship isn’t ALL bad, so you can convince yourself that you can live with the not-so-good parts, because ending things would be so…complicated.
You have no place else to go.
You’re a grown-ass adult, and what are you supposed to do? Leave and move back in with your parents? Sleep on a friend’s couch?
If there are children involved, it gets even harder. Can you afford a lawyer? What if there’s a legal battle, and you lose?
You can’t imagine how you would ever find another relationship. Dating seems like a nightmare, and who would want you anyway? You’re old, and maybe you have kids, and you’re sort of set in your ways. And who is even available in the dating pool? No one, you tell yourself. Losers and assholes, all of them.
Sometimes it’s not easy to leave a dickhead.
But here’s something you should know. My divorce has devastated me in so many ways. I’m broke AF right now. I’ve been a constant panicky nervous wreck for more than a year and a half. I have lost precious time with my kids that I will never get back. I have spent a bazillion dollars on legal fees. I’m paranoid, and anxious, and overspent, and tired, and broken. But there’s more to the story than just that.
I’m also so, so, so incredibly happy that I am out of my terrible relationship. And I can’t say that I know a single person who has gotten divorced, or broken up with a real shithead, who regrets it. In innumerable ways, life is better on the other side. I regret the process. I regret the path I’m on to get there. But I do not regret for even one minute that I am away from someone who did not appreciate me. Who did not love me, or care for me, or treat me with kindness. Who did not recognize my worth.
The thing I want to tell this friend is that there are only two versions of the future when you are in a relationship with someone who, for whatever reason, is not treating you the way you deserve to be treated. I can’t force her to see herself the way that I see her – as an amazing person, worthy of love and respect and care. She will have to see that for herself, someday, I hope. But what I want to say is this. There are really only two paths when you’re in a shitty relationship. In both versions, you have a complacent present, where your needs are not being met, you are angry all the time, you wish you were happier, but you are resigned to the idea that it is what it is. And then, after all of those wasted years , it inevitably ends in one of two ways. Either you break up at some unknown time in the future, or you continue on this way for a lifetime.
Now which inevitable outcome sounds worse?
I can see this, of course, because I am standing somewhere over on the other side now.
Listen, I know another woman, the mother of an old friend, who has been with her shitty husband for over fifty years. She’s almost eighty, and this bad relationship has been her entire life. Over the years, he has cheated on her. He yells at her in front of friends and family. He disrespects her, gaslights her, and treats her like she is a piece of the furniture. I have known them for almost twenty years, and not once have i thought they were happy. It’s depressing, really.
What I’m trying to say is, I understand. Ending a relationship, even under the most amicable of circumstances, is devastating and difficult. No matter how you cut it, there will be loss. There are many things at stake, some of which you are definitely going to forfeit: income, a stable place to live, time with your children, some friends, your belongings, work, a lifestyle that worked for you on some level, a sense of security. But many of those things can be replaced, and where they cannot, there is healing.
And what’s the alternative?
My choice was made for me, but if I could go back in time, I would have left my husband a thousand years ago and a thousand times over. I’m thinking these thoughts for my friend, but I’m whispering these words in my own ear, of course. And all I want to say is this. You can do this. You deserve better.
p.s. When someone tells you in a million different ways, sometimes quite literally, that they are trying to break your heart, believe them.
Also, listen to The D-Train, The Playlist, a soundtrack for a shit show.