Standing Up to Dysfunctional Relationship

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standing up in dysfunctional relationships

When I began to stand up for myself, the people around me were in shock and they didn’t like it. When I think back on it, why would they like it? In the past I tried to bend over backwards to do whatever they wanted. I agreed with whatever they wanted me to agree with, and if I didn’t agree I kept my mouth shut about it. I cooked what they wanted and I cooked when they wanted. I complied, just like I had learned to do as a child. I believed that my compliancy made me likeable. I believed that it kept me safe. I tried to be all things to all people, but I denied even to myself that I was doing it. I thought that I took care of me too. I assured myself that I liked living that way, that I was a servant of God, that I was selfless and generous with my time. That is my definition of dysfunctional relationship today.

Everyone was used to that Darlene. Everyone liked that Darlene just the way she was. Why would they want me to change? Most people, from the minute they met me they wanted me to be someone else. They wanted me to adapt to who they wanted me to be. And then it wasn’t good enough anyway. They wanted me to be what they wanted but they didn’t even know what they wanted. More definition of dysfunctional relationship.

For several years I thought about going to therapy, but I didn’t want to spend the money; I viewed it as “taking money away from my family”.  I also had a belief that I couldn’t spend the time on myself, that I was raising three kids and that to invest time on working on me and my issues was selfish. But things got bad enough that I felt I had no choice. It was either do some work on myself, (and feel selfish) or lose everything I had anyway.

First person that I stood up for myself with was my husband. It was freaking scary! I told him that I wanted to stay in therapy and he didn’t want me to. He said that we couldn’t afford it but I think it was because he didn’t like that I was changing. He liked things the way they were ~ his way. I told him that I was going to finish the whole process. Period.

Another big thing in the beginning was when he made a reference to something I wanted to do and he said that it had nothing to do with “us”. When asked to clarify he said that it had nothing to do with our goals and dreams. I told him that he had never once asked me what any of my dreams and goals were. He was well into his dream/goal and plan for his business as a beef cattle and hay producer when he met me and he just assumed that I should be part of it with him, so I was, because that is what a good wife does I thought. I thought I should become his support, you know, stand behind him. This was fine for a while, but I gave up everything that I liked in favour for what he liked. I no longer thought about myself as an individual. But I felt like I was suffocating under his life. There was nothing of ME left unless it was what he wanted me to be. So raising the kids and being involved in church groups or teaching Sunday school or activities with our kids met with his approval, but spending time on the computer or visiting a friend out of town was not acceptable.

As I started to grow stronger in therapy I realized that I was really held back by everyone my whole life, including my husband.  So in order to live in the change I was trying to achieve, I told him. I remember how the truth of this statement (that he never asked about my dreams) shocked him. I still remember his face when I said it while we were in a joint therapy session. He looked angry, he genuinely did not understand why I would want to do or even be anything separate from him. He expected marriage and a marriage partnership to be just like the one that was modeled for him, the one between his mother and father. That was his belief system. And because I was used to being what others wanted me to be for most of my whole life, it was easy to find myself in this situation in my marriage too. That was my belief system.  

Because we were in a joint therapy session, and because we had the help of the therapist to guide the conversation, my husband was willing to listen to me about my feelings and he realized that it was true; he had not considered my dreams, just as his father had not considered his mothers dreams, goals or wishes. He just expected me to join his dream, to be part of his goal, to work towards it with him ~ for him ~ but not to have a separate dream for myself. He thought love was ownership. He treated me like he owned me and he even thought it was his right as a husband. I thought I was happy to live that way, because I thought it was the definition of love and relationship, but I was dying and our marriage was dysfunctional. There was no equality, there was no partnership.

The truth is that I had never even asked myself what my dreams and goals were, because as I described in my last post, I was trying so hard to guess what everyone else wanted me to say, who they wanted me to be, what they wanted me to do. But somehow I realized that I had to start to find out who I was if I was going to break free of the oppression of depression. It I was going to finally wake up and live. And I was going to have to learn to stand up for myself in the true definition of love and relationship.

Eventually my husband and I realized that we had become part of a cycle of psychological abuse and dysfunctional relationship passed down through the generations and that we had to stop it in order to prevent it from being passed on to our own three children. We realized that we had modeled our belief systems to our kids, just as our parents did for us and it was time for us to grow up and learn the real definition of love and model that for them before it was too late.

Real love does that.

Not everyone is willing to change like my husband was though; stay tuned for more reactions.

As always, please share your comments and stories of your own.

Exposing Truth; one snapshot at a time.

Darlene Ouimet

51 response to "Standing Up to Dysfunctional Relationship"

  1. By: TJ Posted: 29th January 2013

    Oh, wow! I grew up being the compliant, obedient child who could be counted on to do things without complaint. I was taught to “not make things worse” by speaking up and to not “rock the boat.” My accomplishments were downplayed so as to “not make others jealous” or “not make them feel bad.” My desire to be loving and compassionate was used to manipulate me. My compliance gained me approval from those in authority although my greatest fear was of losing the love of those who loved me.

    However, when I got engaged and stood firm on the belief that while parents can give advice, they must not take control of their adult children’s marriages, I fell from their approval and lost their love. I was lied about, condemned, and rejected. My Mom turned my whole family against me. (I learned I can face my greatest fear and survive.)

    I am thankful that my husband has stood with me and supported me. We went through a couple years of struggle because my husband struggles with boundaries as well, and even in the church there seems to be a belief that love means absolute submission to those in authority, and that to disagree or set boundaries means being judgmental and unforgiving toward others. However, we both loved each other and wanted to change so we were able to withstand the pressures and work through these issues. Now we have a relationship of mutual respect and give and take. We are encouraging and helping each other grow in setting healthy boundaries in our lives.

    I find it’s difficult to set healthy boundaries because I have been taught so thoroughly that it’s unloving and unforgiving to do so. Often when I tried to withdraw from my manipulative Mom/family, I got a lot of pressure, guilt, or anger. For example, often my sister called me, telling me our Mom was sick (a ploy often used to guilt me) or that “God wouldn’t want you to be bitter and unforgiving…” thereby blaming and guilting me with my love for God and my desire to be loving. In reality, I was the one making the effort to have a relationship with my family while my actions were judged as “a mere drop in a teacup” and never enough to earn their “forgiveness.” Often I struggled to close the door against abuse because I felt as if by doing so, I was acting like them.

    I keep trying to remind myself that healthy boundaries are not unloving, I have the right to my own opinions and choices, and refusing to be a victim of abuse is not unforgiving. Little by little I am learning not to accept abusive behavior, but sometimes it feels like I’m trying to walk in hurricane-force winds. The outside pressures from people who seem to believe that love means always giving in, and the inside pressures telling myself that I am unloving, unforgiving, and not good enough are strong, but I keep reaching toward wholeness…

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 29th January 2013

      Hi TJ
      You are having some fantastic understandings today! Thank you for sharing them here!
      It was really important to understand that it isn’t love to accept abuse or mistreatment. The people who dish it out do not have love in thier lives either. They are broken and dysfunctional and the ONLY way they will ever have a chance at wholeness and love is if they see that their actions are wrong. That they way that they define love (and insist and demand it) only applies to the victim and that is not how they love back. And it isn’t up to me to teach them that, but I know that when I put up with abuse I am accepting abuse and they get away with it. They have no motivation to change if they have it the way they want it. (complicated stuff, but that is the nut shell version)
      Hugs, Darlene

  2. By: Julie Posted: 24th October 2010

    Thanks for your comments Darlene. I can’t tell you how much it means to me to know I’m not the only one who has experienced this. It feels a lot lonely sometimes. Also how much hope it gives me to know I’ll come out the other end better off and more emotionally mature.

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 24th October 2010

      Yes Julie,
      there is quite a community building here and on the facebook page for Emerging from Broken. Having all these voices really inspires hope!
      I am really glad that you found us too!
      Hugs, Darlene

  3. By: Julie Posted: 22nd October 2010

    This blog is just what I’ve needed to find. Why is it so hard to honour my own needs? I am at the end of that person who feels responsible to make things work out for everyone. All along I’ve been the nice girl, done the right thing and denied my own thoughts & feelings in the process. I have no energy left to do it and although I know I’m in a good place- no longer hiding, I find it is incredibly difficult getting through those conversations with people who are used to me saying yes to them. Each time I have to say no I’m an emotional wreck for hours after. I feel like a bad person even though I know that if I don’t look after myself now I will go crazy. I find myself saying no to everyone who I have felt has had expectations of me, especially those I have felt manipulated in any way by. Thanks for sharing your story so I know I’m not going crazy and that it is okay to learn a difficult new skill. I just want to be true to myself in the things I say yes to and I’m learning that that’s okay.

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 23rd October 2010

      Hi Julie,
      I understand what you are talking about! I was exactly like that too when I started to stand up for myself.. I would even feel sick to my stomach for hours after. Looking back I realize that what that was, was me second guessing myself. I was so trained to be what and who “they” wanted and so sure from childhood that the way to stay safe was to always comply, that I think the emotional sickness stuff was about “waiting for the bomb to drop”; I was bracing myself for the horror that I was ‘sure to follow’ if I said no. It took a long time for me to trust that it wasn’t going to happen, that I would stay safe and that I could take care of myself.
      Thanks for sharing with me.
      Hugs, Darlene

  4. By: Kathryn Devine Posted: 28th August 2010

    Hugs back from me Darlene and Thanks for your wisdom and support.

  5. By: Paula Posted: 28th August 2010

    Can relate far to well. I truly believe as you stated that love is not enough. It takes dedication to oneself and each other. I am glad your husband listened to you.
    Hugs across the pond

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 28th August 2010

      Thanks Paula,
      I am glad he listened to me too, our lives are so much better!
      Hugs back! Darlene

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 27th August 2010

      Thanks Patricia,
      I read it and loved the additional information! Thanks for posting the link,
      Darlene

  6. By: Patricia - Spiritual Journey Of A Lightworker Posted: 26th August 2010

    Something that I have found true for me is that when I work on my own childhood issues, the relationship issues with my husband often take care of themselves. I don’t say that to mean don’t work on your relationship issues. Believe me when I say that you should work on any abusive or dysfunctional relationship issues that you have. Many, if not all, of my relationship issues came from my childhood issues. Relationship issues are often built upon the lies about love and respect that we were taught as children. Mine sure were.

    Yesterday was the 38th Wedding Anniversary for my husband Daniel and me. I love that I came here and read this today. I am way behind in my reading online.

    In our 38 years of marriage, some of the worst years were those first ones when I realized that I didn’t know who I was. I can so relate to what you Darlene and all of the people who have commented here say on the topic.

    For many years, I played the role of the controller and my husband was the passive-aggressive one in our marriage. With the controlling, I was right out there trying to control everything and everybody out of my fears of being rejected and abandoned. My controlling came from my fears of not being loved and not feeling safe.

    My childhood of incest taught me that the world was not a safe place. My dictator dad and passive aggressive mother gave me my role models for getting through life alive. I didn’t say happy. Nothing about my first years of marriage was happy for me. I was too afraid to be happy.

    I think I will save the rest of what I want to save here for a blog post of my own because this comment could become very, very long. I am off to read your next post before going to write my own. Thanks Darlene and Jimmy both for sharing your message of hope and freedom from the past. Yours is a beautiful story.

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 26th August 2010

      I am looking forward to reading your post Patricia, (please click on Patricia’s name in order to see her blog)

      I can relate to what you say here Patricia, so much of all my adult issues really did begin in childhood, that is why I always go on and on about the belief system. We have these really “wrong” role models, and we don’t know it, because our lives are ‘normal’ to us. and that “Normal” is what we become used to even if it is dysfunctional.

      Thanks for stopping by to read and leave a comment! HAPPY 38th wedding anniversary, wow, and congratulations!
      Hugs, Darlene

  7. By: Diane Posted: 25th August 2010

    This sounds a ton like my relationship with MY husband. He is 36 years my senior and the generational gap adds another layer of insecurity. Because he is older, and I have so many other unrelated issues, involving the childhood molestation by my father for 12 years, I’ve always felt unequal in my marriage to begin with. Though I am the one that is mostly in control of decisions, issues, children, EVERYTHING and he is very passive and emotionally distant to ALL of us; I’ve still always felt his disapproval about most things. MY dreams, MY emotions, MY health, anything involving me came last, and I became accustomed to putting myself last, IN EVERYTHING. Nothing for ME was necessary. I insisted the children show respect to their father, he never opened his mouth in my defense. His family never accepted me and often made unkind remarks to or about me, he never spoke up at all. It sometimes feels as though he had no respect for me at all though I bore him 6 children, raised and home-educated them alone.
    I give your husband SO much credit for reaching the point he did. To become supportive, and search his own soul and self discipline is very wonderful to see. He must love you an awful lot to do the work required to change. What a special relationship you must have now.

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 25th August 2010

      Hi Diane,
      Thanks so much for sharing your story. I can relate to so much of it!! I did all that too and my husband let me take the fall for everything. He let the kids think that I was the bad guy and he never defended me to his parents; he let me take the blame if they were upset with a decision HE made, the whole deal.

      As much as I would love to bask in the thought that my husband did this for me, (I wanted that more then I wanted anything… that he would do something just for me!) the truth is that he did it for him. When we first went to therapy together, immediately his own issues came up. I was really ticked that he had to go to counseling about his issues with his father, when I thought that I SHOULD come first for ONCE in our pathetic marriage where he came first for all those years. But our marriage issues had to be put on hold, which he looked at his own childhood.

      BUT.. today I know that if he didn’t do it that way, he never would have done it at all. Our marriage would have ended, because I had drawn such a strong line. Jim had to see the hope of freedom from his own issues, before he really worked on our marriage. He had to believe that it would be better if he did his own work. In doing this for himself, he was set free, just like I was, and then we came together to work on our relationship.

      Thanks so much for being here. Freedom is possible but it doesn’t always look like what we think it will.
      Hugs, Darlene

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