There are so many difficult things I have been forced to face throughout the loss of my marriage. During this time, it has felt like a glaring spotlight has been shone on my life, my relationship and my identity. It has illuminated all of the flaws and faults, the weaknesses and mistakes.
One of the hardest elements I have had to acknowledge and be honest about (with myself and with others), concerns the power dynamic that I now fully realise was present in my marriage.
Throughout my marriage, I am pretty certain that people viewed me as a confident, clued up woman who was a complete equal in her marriage and had control over her life.
But the reality was so very different.
We often try to protect the ones we love and keep those parts of our relationship that we would rather others not see, hidden from the rest of the world but I have reached a point where I have to be honest.
Here is the difficult and frankly embarrassing reality.
In my relationship, I was largely powerless. My world was getting smaller and smaller by the day, as I handed over more and more power and control to my husband. Yes, that’s right, handed over.
I realise now that throughout my marriage, I was being manipulated and deceived by my husband. I was being made to feel that I was incapable, that he knew best. It was dressed up as caring for me, when in fact it was stripping me of so much autonomy, confidence and freedom.
Control was seeping into so many aspects of my life, even the tiniest of decisions were being stolen from me. Every part of my life, our life, had to be planned. Every part of our life seemed to be measured and contained. In what had been my first real romantic relationship, over the years, I had simply normalised it and grown up alongside it.
I didn’t really understand the reason why at the time, but I know throughout my marriage there have been moments where I looked in the mirror and didn’t truly recognise the person staring back at me. Where had I gone?
So much was being stripped away from me in such a subtle and loving way that I hadn’t even noticed it leaving me.
Isn’t it strange how we don’t fully comprehend the extent of a situation until we are out of it?
It’s a bit like looking at an intricate painting with our noses pressed up against it. We can only see one tiny area of the image but when we stand back and allow some distance, then we see the whole canvas and can observe and study it fully.
When I’m honest with others about the true power dynamic in my relationship, some have asked, “why did you let things get to that point?” To be honest, I have asked myself the exact same question.
There are so many reasons why control had become a fixture of my relationship but in order to properly understand it, I have had to come to terms with the power dynamic that was present in my relationship.
When we look at the relationships around us, perhaps we can spot healthy and unhealthy dynamics that exist between two partners and yet we can be so unaware of the dynamics that we are cultivating in our own personal relationship. This was definitely the case for me.
It has been really important for me to understand why and how these dynamics formed. It has meant looking at the contributing forces and environment in which they evolved.
Often, the dynamics within a relationship will centre around one very important element, power.
In my relationship it has taken me a great deal of support and help to understand that my husband and I had formed a dynamic that was not unlike that of a child and parent. I was the ‘child’ and he was the ‘parent.’ So how did we assume these roles? I have attempted to unravel this in order to understand it and hopefully avoid it happening again in the future.
There are things in my husband’s past which have undoubtably shaped him. There are things in my past that have shaped me. Control made my husband feel safer in our relationship and I wanted him to feel safe and make him happy. Our individual and very different insecurities seemed to go hand in hand.
In encouraging me to take the role of the ‘child,’ I would become more reliant on him and he would become more and more central to my life. It formed a codependency where I totally believed he knew best, that I simply wasn’t capable. This meant that most of the decisions in our life together, big and small, were made by him. If control made him feel safe, then making me believe I couldn’t exist without him made him feel even more secure.
Looking back, his persistent removal of my decision making powers only seemed to reinforce the notion that I didn’t have the ability to be an adult in my own right.
I started to see it as a relief that he was making all of the decisions. I saw it as him caring for me and felt lucky to have someone like him guiding me. Sometimes it’s nice to have someone take control and to gently steer the wheel. What I didn’t comprehend though, was that not only was he steering the wheel, his foot was on the accelerator, his hand was on the gear stick and he was driving in any direction that he wanted to go.
Without even questioning it, I had become a passenger in my own life.
Bit by bit I gave up more power, more dreams, more life. The things I was giving up made more room for him to become even more central in our marriage. His dreams, his happiness, his life became the priority in our relationship. I realise now that I had become a tiny moon orbiting around the gigantic planet of him.
In looking at the power dynamic in my relationship, I have had to ask myself a lot of difficult questions about how things got to that level. I have had to explore things within me that I never even noticed as being an issue before. I have had to hand people a new version of who I was and who I am now. It’s been uncomfortable but so deeply necessary. Now that I understand it I can be mindful to avoid allowing this dynamic to form in any future relationships.
When my husband left me, his cruel, cold, abandonment sent me a very clear message. You are an ‘adult’ now. He instantly viewed me differently and expected me to conform quickly. The dynamic between us had existed for as long as the relationship did and suddenly it was over.
There are so many different types of power dynamics that can form in a relationship. Mine is just one example of these.
I am now starting to re-emerge as the independent individual I actually am. I am breaking through the layer of depression and frustration that was coating my life (a depression I hadn’t even fully realised I had been in). Slowly I am starting to experience true freedom for the first time in years.
I have taken a step back and I am now able to see that painting clearly for the first time. It can be hard to look at sometimes, with it’s broad strokes of regret and shame and vivid blobs of naivety scattered about. But I know that now i’ve seen it, I’ll never look away again.