By: Cindie Chavez ©2018
My weak boundaries kept me from having the relationship I wanted for decades. There were a lot of things I didn’t want, but most of all I didn’t want to be alone. So I looked the other way when those things I didn’t want poked their head in the door. You know those little monkeys that depict “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil”? Well, usually you see all three of those little monkeys in a row to explain all of those directives, but I could manage them all at once. I wore perpetual blinders so I wouldn’t hear myself, or see myself, being emotionally and verbally abused – and that self-imposed blindness created a situation where no gag was needed to keep me from talking about it. You can’t talk about what you can’t see, right?
“Death by a thousand paper cuts” is a phrase I didn’t know at the time – a phrase that explains how tiny stressors can pile up to become an unbearable load. All of the tiny slights and insults and small passive aggressive acts of degradation combined into an invisible weight too heavy for my heart to bear.
But I didn’t want to be alone. So I focused on the honeymoon-ish days (that became fewer and fewer until they were nonexistent). I shut my eyes and ears to the verbal nastiness, eye rolls, and discounting and focused on the compliments (which started out few and far between and eventually vanished altogether.)
I was an artist, so I focused on perspective. I chose to magnify the good things and paint over the disappointing reality. I did a wonderful job painting a picture that didn’t exist. A happy home, a happy marriage – with a willing co-actor who could really put the shine on when there was an audience. But no one saw what happened at home after the show, when his mask came off. My mask had become fused to my face, a persistent smile.
And then one day while I was home alone I passed by a mirror and was shocked to my core to find what I still describe as “the saddest face I’ve ever seen”. No smile was bright enough to cover the message in those eyes. That day I acknowledged the truth of my experience. That sad face was telling me the truth, – that my greatest fear had come to pass. I was alone. Even in a marriage, even while living in the same beautiful home. Even while co-parenting two beautiful children. I was alone.
I still had the desire for a happy home, a happy relationship, a happy life.
And for some reason I still can’t explain, I suddenly realized that I had to take responsibility for my own happiness, and for getting treated with respect, and I knew that I had to begin by setting boundaries.
Brene Brown explains that in its simplest form, a boundary is just letting someone know what is okay and what isn’t okay. I didn’t hear her explanation until recently, but somehow, thankfully, way back then I had decided that this was my first step.
When I was on the receiving end of an eye roll I would state that it wasn’t okay.
When I was given the silent treatment I stopped asking “What’s wrong?” and started stating what was happening and that it wasn’t ok – “Giving me the silent treatment is not okay.”
When I was asked “How was your day?” and then ignored by an exit from the room halfway through my answer I would state my observation, and state my boundary – this was not okay.
Once when this happened I stated my observation and amended it with a request – “You just asked me how my day was and now you’re walking out of the room while I’m five words into my answer. Could you come back and actually listen to what I was saying? I wasn’t finished speaking.”
I said it with no malice. And he came back to listen, but I thought he was going to squirm out of his skin he was so uncomfortable standing there while I spent 60 seconds recounting part of my day.
I continued to ask for what I needed, to state my boundaries and keep them strong. And one day he asked for a divorce.
At first it felt like my boundaries must have failed me. My decision to not take any more abusive behavior wasn’t creating the relationship of my dreams. In fact it just seemed to have created the thing I never wanted – a divorce.
Looking back I can see that as painful as it was, this event did indeed open the space for true love. I had to start from this place, this place of being okay with being alone.
The day he told me he was leaving my heart felt broken. I struggled with how to navigate this situation, how to “fix” our marriage, how to make things right – those were the questions I kept asking myself, “How can I fix this?”, “How can I make this work?” – Over and over, question after question with no good answers coming. Until I hit upon the question that changed my perspective, and my life.
“Why do I want to be with someone who doesn’t want to be with me?”
In that moment everything changed. It still hurt, but for different reasons.
I realized that in order to have the thing I wanted most – a powerful, loving, thrilling, compassionate, relationship that was built on mutual respect and trust – I would have to be willing to let go of a relationship that was weak, hurtful, boring, uncaring, misogynistic, disrespectful, and abusive.
It’s hard sometimes to make space for what we want – especially when it is something we’ve never had. We are after all creatures of the familiar. That most basic primal part of us that holds to our safety and security hates change. We often pick the “devil we know” over the unknown.
At first, it was hard. It was a struggle to regain my autonomy. I had spent so many years deferring to my spouse’s every wish in order to make sure he was happy – and yet it was so absolutely clear that he rarely was anything even close to being happy. In fact, I deferred so often to everyone that when the day came for me to rebuild myself I didn’t even what my own wishes consisted of, I didn’t know myself well enough to know what the hell I wanted most of the time.
I did, however, know that I wanted a great relationship.
And what I learned was that to have one I had to cultivate a great relationship with myself first.
And to do that I needed to start out alone. Me, myself, and I had to get to know me, myself and I. And once I knew myself fairly well (it’s an ongoing process of course) I was in the space to create the boundaries that would serve me going forward.
Once I had my boundaries somewhat in place (also, another ongoing process) I was able to get a better and better idea of what I wanted to experience in my life and in my relationships.
That’s when the fun started, and once I was comfortable in that space of knowing who I was, and knowing what I wanted – that’s when the magic happened. And it’s still happening.
A man that was the perfect match for me appeared in the most serendipitous of ways. And nearly 7 years later we’re still making magic together every day.
It’s been one of the hardest lessons I’ve learned, and one of the most valuable; you can’t have what you want and keep your weak boundaries.
Cindie Chavez is known as “The Love & Magic Coach”. She is the creator of MOONLIGHT™ – A Course in Manifesting Love and she has some great free stuff for you at her website: www.cindiechavez.com