What’s Love Got To Do With It?
Love and abuse cannot coexist.
Truth is like the sun. You can shut it out for a time, but it ain’t going away. — Elvis Presley
I spent sixteen years lavishing praise and admiration on my husband. I was one of those annoying women who had only great things to say about the man I loved. To anyone who would listen, I told them what a great husband he was, what a fantastic father, a faithful and decent man who would never do anything to hurt me or our children. From the moment I met him, I was on his side. I believed everything he said. I was, quite literally, his biggest fan. So what if there were enough red flags in the early stages of our relationship to supply a Communist parade? I couldn’t be bothered to listen to that nagging voice inside who was strongly advising me to run away and fast. What did she know anyway? Didn’t I deserve a man who was so passionate and charming and who was obviously crazy about me?
Besides, I hadn’t listened to that girl within for years at that point in my life, so I shut down all warning signals in my gut and listened only to my heart, which told me that I had finally found the man of my dreams. And there was no way I was going to let anything screw that up, especially logic, good sense, or something silly like the facts that framed the bigger picture of this relationship I was entering into. I couldn’t risk losing the jackpot I felt I had won, so I muzzled the girl inside and told her to go sit in the corner … where she stayed for the next decade while I kept on pretending she didn’t exist.
And that’s where the real trouble began: that moment when I was so consumed with love I could no longer see straight, my inner wisdom taking a sudden vacay. I looked the other way, I made excuses, I told myself that everything was just fine while avoiding facts, ignoring red flags, and continuing to trust that the one I loved was a good man whom I could rely on, despite all evidence to the contrary. The passing of time then numbed me to future red flags that popped up here, there, and everywhere. It’s as if I had this beautiful green lawn in my front yard that I tended to and watered and cared for every single day, with my neighbors always commenting, Wow your grass looks so great! I was proud of my lawn. My happiness depended on it since I had an image to keep up, especially after working so hard to get it to that point and telling everyone how great it was all the time.
When no one was looking, however, I started to notice these annoying dandelions (aka: the truth) popping up and then ended up spending the majority of my time pulling them out and discarding them before anyone noticed. It didn’t take long before I was exhausted, unsure of how much longer I could keep up that emotionally draining charade. I was tired because weeding out the truth is backbreaking work, and before long it was all I was doing anymore: protecting my life and love as I knew it from imploding.
Why do so many of us do this for the ones we love? Especially when the signs are showing us along the way that something isn’t right, that this marriage or relationship we’ve committed our soul to is not what it seems. This is the part of the truth that hurts the most when we start the process of healing after escaping an abusive relationship (especially with a Narcissist). When I look back over the sixteen years I spent with the “man of my dreams,” I can see clearly how I ignored a million and one signs, starting from the moment I met him (such as his cheating on a girlfriend with his good friend’s wife, being fired from his managerial position for sexually harassing an employee, committing marriage fraud so he could stay in the country, and of course lying, lots and lots of lying).
The funny thing about the truth is it has a way of bringing you to your knees. Once I admitted to myself how many warning signs I’d overlooked, my ass was kicked to the point where I was so ashamed that I had to avoid the mirrors in my home so I wouldn’t be forced to look at my sorry self. This was a necessary ass-whooping, however, because then I could stand up, dust myself off, and look at the bigger picture of why I did this, which was crucial for my future since I never wanted to make that same mistake again. (Note: I am in no way saying that I deserved in any way to be abused, only that there were lessons to be learned so that I wouldn’t repeat the same mistakes in the future.)
Here’s where my past helped me out. I realized that the fact I had no boundaries established regarding how others treated me put me into positions where I could be violated in all sorts of ways. Honestly, I didn’t even know what a boundary was except that it was an invisible line separating states, so how the hell was I to enforce one? And why didn’t I have boundaries established for my own personal safety? Well, as it turned out, I didn’t think enough of myself to deserve any. Certainly, no one ever told me I should have them. My father never once even hinted that I was someone who was worth something or had anything to offer, while my mother showed me by example that women simply had no right to defend or stand up for themselves.
Because of this, by the time I met my first husband at the young age of twenty-one, I took all the love I had to offer and bequeathed it to him, saving not even an ounce for myself (self-love is a prerequisite for setting boundaries). Then once I met my second husband — before even being divorced from my first — I simply transferred all that love I had to give onto him like I was depositing all my money into his bank account while my own savings remained depleted. In other words, I made the men I married rich with my love while my own heart was flat broke.
Naturally, this opened the door for all sorts of trouble to come walking in.
Another mistake that women in particular often make when it comes to those we love is lowering our standards to such a level based solely on legality and the weight of a wedding certificate. I was guilty of this myself. I granted the one who held the title of “husband” a virtual free pass to get away with such behavior that I would never have tolerated from another human being. I made him my King while I filled my role as Queen of Excuses for the King: He had a bad childhood. He’s just misunderstood. He really doesn’t mean to [insert abuse here] me. I just need to [insert change to be made here] and then he’ll snap out of it.
But they don’t snap out of it. And there comes a point when we need to reevaluate what these labels such as “husband” and “wife” really mean and why we allow them to mean so much when our soul is suffering because of it. I know I was always concerned with being a good person and being nice, but what part of being good demands that we allow those who are not so good to hurt us? Because at that point of pain or suffering, everyone — spouse, family member, a stranger on the street — needs to be on a level playing field.
An abuser is an abuser, no matter if he put a ring on it.
This brings us to the place where a choice needs to be made. Do we continue to shut up that girl within who is begging to be heard? Do we continue to yank those dandelions out of our perfect yard and hide them at all costs? Or do we fill up our depleted hearts with love for ourselves first so that we are prepared to open our eyes to the truth after having shut them for so long, after which we take the brave step of allowing that girl to come out of hiding and listen to what she has to say?
Sometimes the hardest part of healing is letting go of the dream. This is because while we’re deep in an abusive relationship, we’ve trained ourselves to be less than truthful about our situation. Since I spent sixteen years weaving a fantastic tale of how great everything was in my marriage, ignoring the truth about a man who purposely inflicted pain in order to keep control, it was imperative upon my escape to revisit all those memories and look at them honestly. This was definitely one of the hardest parts of my recovery because I had to admit there was a stark difference between what I wanted my marriage to be and what it actually was.
In that first year after leaving, and then while going through the divorce process, I knew that if I tried to ignore the past and the state of my marriage, I would be doomed to repeat the same errors with another relationship in the future. And because of all the pain I had not only felt emotionally but physically as well (emotional abuse does a number on the physical body), I had come to a place where enough was enough. I was going to be honest about what really happened even if it killed me.
Here’s how the past becomes a handy little tool when figuring out why we end up begging for crumbs from someone who had initially promised us a feast.
The past will help us understand why we’ve confused love with abuse, and it will also help identify what real love is and what it actually looks like. What this process will do is help you take your love (or any remnants of love you still feel for the one who hurt you) out of the equation while you solve the bigger question of “How did I get here?” It’s crucial to take your feelings and put them aside because you have work to do. Think of yourself as a detective who needs to uncover the clues needed to solve the mystery of where your self-worth disappeared to. This, in turn, will enable you to stop being a victim of abuse and start being a survivor of it.
Because at this point, even Tina wants to know: What’s love got to do with it?
It’s time to do some detective work, Sherlock. Was it really love? Or was it abuse disguised as love? That girl within already knows, but she’ll keep her mouth shut for now while you figure it out.
But she’ll be right there with you, holding your hand along the way as you do.
*This piece is an excerpt from my new book, “You’re Still That Girl: Get Over Your Abusive Ex for Good!” available now on Amazon. For your free copy and to read more of my story, visit www.suzannaquintana.com