Some of our greatest life lessons are learned after we think we already passed the test.
I believed that ending my marriage to a sociopath would be the defining step to my recovery and healing. I committed myself to a healthy lifestyle, and practiced the long-forgotten skill of believing in myself and trusting my instincts.
So, it came as quite a surprise that there was much more work to be done if I wanted to rid my life of the residual effects of a toxic fifteen year relationship.
By the time I met the man who would turn out to be the real love of my life, I thought I had grown and healed much more than I actually had.
Not eager to start a new relationship, I spent time after my divorce just getting to know myself again. I practiced listening to my inner voice and trusting my initial gut reactions.
Then, I met Max, and for once, there was an easy comfortable feeling just being around someone else. But, the beginning of our relationship would not be quite so easy. As confident as I was about my own emotional growth since the divorce, there were other factors that I hadn’t realized would interfere.
For one thing, I had virtually no experience in a healthy relationship. I had many years of experiencing every day events with a very unhealthy partner. And a couple of months into my new relationship, this would become painfully clear as a familiar scenario unfolded with a very unfamiliar script.
One unusually chilly evening when Max came to my house for dinner, we started to notice just how cold it was inside as the evening went on. It didn’t take long to figure out that the heat was not coming on. Max went down to check the oil tank and furnace. I followed him half way down the stairs when I heard him say I’d run out of heating oil, and I froze in place. I couldn’t move; I was terrified.
My only prior experience with running out of oil happened years earlier when I was still married to my now ex-husband. At the time, my ex-husband’s response was so volatile, that I packed the boys in the car and went to stay overnight at my parents’ house (where I pretended it was no big deal, just easier to stay there in case the heat was off all night.)
After a few moments, I realized Max was talking to me, but I didn’t know what he was saying. Then it clicked that he was asking if I knew the number of the oil company. I found the number and dialed without saying anything. I handed him the phone while he just looked at me with a slightly odd expression.
Max put the phone on speaker and started talking to the technician. Meanwhile, I started pacing around the basement, my hands trembling but abruptly stopped when I heard…laughter?
I was expecting anger, but I was definitely hearing laughter. It turns out I was experiencing a reaction to something that wasn’t happening. It was a classic post-traumatic stress response.
By the time the oil company came and filled the tank, I was feeling a bit more relaxed until we realized the technician left, but the furnace wasn’t starting. Another phone call revealed there was a procedure that needed to be done which neither of us knew how to do, but Max put the phone on speaker again and had the technician talk us through it rather than have him come out for a weekend late night service call charge.
New Experiences Replace Old
After nearly an hour of following step by step instructions that led to broken tools, missing parts, and an impressive oil spill, my stomach hurt and tears were rolling down my face from laughing.
As we were cleaning up the mess we made, I apologized. Max stopped and simply asked, “For what?”
I thought for a moment and said, “For running out of oil.”
His response would be a turning point in my recovery. Without even looking up, he said, “Why is it your fault for running out of oil? It happens, no big deal.”
A Very Big Deal
But, to me, that’s exactly what this experience was– a very big deal.
I saw that my reactions were based on years of my ex-husband’s reactions. I had removed the toxic person from my life, but not the learned behaviors and unhealthy relationship skills acquired along the way.
Divorcing my ex-husband had been a crucial first step, but there was more work ahead of me if I wanted to truly be rid of him.
Max and I have not had an easy road, by any means, but when two people support the health and healing of each other, it is a gift I can’t begin to describe.
I now know that a healthy relationship requires personal reflection with an open mind, willingness to admit mistakes, and commitment to changing our own negative behaviors.
Sociopaths are inherently opposed to all three of these actions. My ex-husband did not grow, change, or even attempt to change in fifteen years.
His patterns are too ingrained and his behaviors are necessary to his survival. Instead of understanding, sociopaths chose to blame; instead of support, they chose to berate and abuse. They can have no positive effect on anyone they encounter, including their own family.
I made have paid a high price for the years I spent with a toxic spouse, but being able to remove all traces of his negative, miserable life from mine is priceless.