The path to finding love is filled with many obstacles. We all face rejection, disappointment, and heart-break as we discover who we are and what we need in a life partner. Some of these serve as life lessons that help us to become stronger, better people, while other times the experiences that we endure leave us with permanent scars that may never fully heal. So how do we move past the hurt and not let it impact our future relationships? Honestly, I’m still trying to figure this out, but I can say that it just may start with forgiveness.
For as long as I can remember, relationships have always been a struggle for me. All relationships in my life, not just the romantic ones, have been difficult to navigate. I think it all began when my family moved to a new town when I was 9 years old and I quickly learned that wearing glasses, my lack of Abercrombie and Fitch clothes and not coming from a rich family were the perfect recipe for years of bullying. On my first day of school in this new town it was as if the students could smell the poverty oozing from my pores and I was immediately an outcast. I was teased for things that I didn’t even realize someone could be teased for. This harassment lasted from elementary school all the way through high school. Boys I had a crush on would pretend to like me as a joke and then end up doing something to embarrass me. Girls would befriend me, only to use me as the butt of their jokes at sleep-overs. I went through countless groups of friends, only to have the so-called friends end our relationship after a few months when they tired of laughing at my expense. I shed enough tears to fill a lake through those years and developed depression and deep trust issues with each new person who attempted to enter my life. I always assumed that people had an ulterior motive in wanting to become close to me and unfortunately, I was usually right.
I eventually found a group of girlfriends in high school who showed me that not every person was out to hurt me and we remained friends for a few years, until time and distance caused us to drift apart. It was during this time that I also met my first husband, at age 17. He was 23 and was the first guy I had ever met who made me feel beautiful and desired. We had a whirlwind of a relationship and quickly fell in love. We loved each other passionately, but we also fought with just as much passion. He was raised to believe that men are superior to women and that a wife should “submit” to her husband’s will and do as he wishes. Being the strong-willed, independent woman that I was raised to be, this mindset caused a lot of head-butting and frustration. Each fight was blamed on me and every flaw I demonstrated was brought to the surface and dissected. I was made to feel inferior in every way and my already low self-esteem was pushed down even further, but he was my first love and the more time we spent together, the more I truly came to believe that I was unlovable and would never find happiness without him.
We married shortly after my 20th birthday, naively believing that marriage would bring us closer together and heal the wounds in our relationship. Unsurprisingly, the daily fighting increased and the emotional abuse became much worse. I spent a total of 8 years of my life fighting an uphill battle, in which I tried over and over to become a better wife and woman for this man who would never be content with me. By the time he filed for divorce I was so emotionally beaten down that I didn’t want to be alive.
The world of dating after that first divorce was filled with mistrust, paranoia, and emotion. The actions of single men during this time only reinforced my issues with trust and increased my fear of allowing anyone to get too close to me. There were multiple instances in which I turned men down for a date or decided after a first date that we were not compatible, only to be told that I was damaged goods or had “too much baggage” from my divorce. Not only was I afraid that deep-down I was a bad person who was incapable of truly being loved, but I was also terrified that if a miracle did happen and I did find love again, that I would only be hurt all over again and abandoned once they tired of dealing with my anxiety, depression, and difficulty with trusting. So, when I met my second husband who quickly became attached to me and was confessing his love after only a couple of weeks, I subconsciously jumped at the opportunity to be with someone who obviously loved me far more than I loved him.
With this man, I never questioned his feelings for me because he told me 24/7. I firmly believed that he would never leave me, because he genuinely thought that he needed me. For the first time in my life I felt safe with someone, so although my intuition was screaming that this relationship wasn’t making me happy, I stayed in it. The relationship was not an easy one. I always felt discontented and like something wasn’t right, which led me to break up with him multiple times, but each time I was convinced that it was crazy for me to not be with someone who had done nothing wrong and had become my best friend.
Shortly after marrying I realized that the reason I had always felt so “off” in this relationship was because I was trying to force myself to feel in love, when it just wasn’t there for me. I began to see the blaring red flags that I had missed as I was trying so hard to fit a square peg into a round hole. I found that he had dark secrets and unacceptable behaviors that I couldn’t live with for the rest of my life and the trust that had once been my only source of comfort in this relationship had completely imploded. Furthermore, I found it borderline impossible to stay faithful to a man whom I obviously was not in love with and when my eyes couldn’t stay focused on the marriage, I knew that it could lead to an even deeper heartbreak than simply leaving would cause. This relationship had turned me into someone I didn’t recognize and wasn’t proud of and for the sake of both of our happiness I filed for divorce and moved out after only one year of marriage.
You may be wondering why I am disclosing all of the details of how people have injured my heart over the years but I assure you that it is for a beneficial reason. All of the experiences we have in life mold us into the person we become. We can take the past and learn from it or we can enter into unhealthy cycles where we perpetually make mistakes and deepen our pain. We truly can be our own worst enemies if we don’t learn how to overcome our past. This is something I have really struggled with in my life. After my second divorce I allowed myself time to heal and I learned to love myself, without needing the affections of men to make me feel like I was a worthy human. I chose to forgive the people who had hurt me so deeply in the past and caused me to feel unlovable. I found happiness on my own and discovered that I could have a completely fulfilling life without the love of a man. All of this being said, there is one thing that I still haven’t completely figured out yet, and that is how to fully trust another person.
I find it so difficult to completely let my guard down and openly trust anyone. After years of having friends hurt me, men break me, and family disappoint me, all I have ever known is that giving someone your trust only leads to heartbreak. I fight myself on a regular basis with truly wanting to trust people and remembering that each time I have put my walls down that I have regretted doing so. I build up scenarios in my head of how each relationship in my life could end in disaster and leave me broken again and I get stuck in my own fear, rather than living in the moment. Each opportunity to be happier than ever before, comes with the worry that if I am too happy, that everything will crash down around me and I will end up in the worst depression of my life, incapable of surviving another blow to my heart.
I recently married again, for the third and final time. I never thought I would do it again, but when your heart finds its match, it is impossible to ignore. I finally met the man that I was always meant for, after many mistakes and failed attempts. Although nothing is perfect, this marriage feels like the closest I’ve ever come to a perfect relationship, but I am still working on myself and hoping that my suppressed trust issues and self-doubt don’t sabotage the healthiest relationship I’ve ever known. Each time I start to get in my usual cycle and doubt his love and fidelity or question if he will abandon me I have to calm my mind and consciously focus on the fact that he has never given me a reason to be distrustful.
Learning to trust is a slow and emotional journey, but I’m trying my hardest because I truly believe that some people are worthy of trust. I want to believe that there are genuine people, I want to have the happily ever after with a man who will never hurt me again and will stay true to me and our marriage until we are old and gray, and I deeply want to drop the walls and just trust someone because I love him, even though the vulnerability terrifies me. So here is my challenge to myself and those of you who are also still healing from the broken trust of the past: When you finally find someone whose soul feels right with yours, don’t trap yourself in an unhealthy cycle of mistrust that will eventually ruin the relationship and just drop your walls. We need to stop trying to protect our hearts and open ourselves to love if we really want the happy ending. Sure, we could end up being hurt again, but we also could find that there are people in the world who are worth that risk. I’m hoping that we all get to experience the latter!