The Girl Who Ran – or – The Tale of Three Divorces: How Anxiety Affects Relationships
The fact that I’ve been married three times has turned into a running joke. When I discovered that my number of divorces will also be three, it became a lot less funny to me. I try to keep a sense of humor about it, but some days it’s hard… especially when I think my anxiety has played a big part in the failing of many of my relationships.
My parents fought a lot when I was young. I vowed to never stay in a relationship that made me anything less than happy. As a result, I’ve always been quick to run away from relationships. Sometimes I’ve fled at the first sign of a temper, or an inclination that things might not go how I want. Other times I’ve given a few chances - a few - before running.
Remember that my anxiety already existed before any of these relationships, but they definitely gave it new shapes in my life and how future relationships worked.
My first husband had a horrific temper. It didn’t come out until after we were married. He would get so angry over trivial things. The event that sticks out in my mind was one that led to me leaving him for the first time...though I panicked and went back before the day ended.
One example: I hate cooking. I don’t have the patience for it, and that alone triggers my anxiety. On this particular morning I was making breakfast while he sat on the couch. I was swearing at the food, worried that I’d burnt the bacon. I didn’t ruin the food, but he got very angry with me... for being in a bad mood.
When I handed him his plate of eggs and bacon, he threw it across the room. It hit a porcelain pillar that held a glass table top, shattering the pillar, glass, and the plate.
When I finally moved out for good several months later, I noticed that there was still a bit of egg on the ceiling.
Husband Number One also didn’t tolerate me having a social life. He didn’t want me to go out without him, but he didn’t want to go with me. His “compromise” was chaperoning me and sulking in a corner, making sure everyone knew how much he didn’t want to be there. It made going out so anxiety-producing that when I finally left him, I realized I didn’t have many friends left. I’d alienated myself from them to keep him happy.
The way he treated me shaped my anxiety into some specific triggers that I still struggle with to this day. When someone yells at me, my brain shuts down and I either yell back uncontrollably or I become nonverbal. I can get extremely upset with people who try to control what I do. Sadly, I’m very indecisive, so I often invite people to make decisions for me. But when I’ve made up my mind on something, trying to get me to do something else doesn’t typically go well. And, of course, we can’t forget my triggers surrounding sex resulting from him getting angry with me when I wasn’t in the mood.
We were married for about four years, though one year of that was spent separated because he wouldn’t grant me a divorce and the thought of confronting him also triggered my anxiety.
I didn’t want to marry my second husband. I walked down the aisle thinking “I don’t want to marry him.”
He was a very nice, sweet, funny guy. I was not physically attracted to him, but I’ve always been willing to give folks a chance despite physical appearances, as long as they seem like decent people. I found that I did enjoy spending time with him...but there was no “spark”, no romantic connection.. I kept dating him, though, because… well… what else was I going to do?
A few months in he said “I love you.” I said “Thank you.”
Some months later he got down on one knee and proposed. I pointed out that there were people kayaking in the river. Then I said yes because my anxiety had crippled my self-esteem so badly that I didn’t think there was any chance of finding someone else who treated me decently.
We were only married for about two years. When I told him how unhappy I was and that I wanted a divorce, I broke his heart. This was all because my anxiety told me I wasn’t good enough to find find anyone else who treated me well.
Yes, marrying him was selfish and wrong, but I didn’t know how to tell him I didn’t want to marry him and I didn’t want to be alone. Sometimes I’m not sure if this was a result of anxiety or just stupidity and fear.
Triggers I now have because of him – none. This time, anxiety made me the bad guy.
This one is the hardest. I met Number Three when I was working up the courage to leave Number Two. He was “perfect”. He was handsome and had a sarcastic and snarky sense of humor that fit mine perfectly. He wasn’t as much of an asshole as Number One, but he was still enough of an asshole that he wasn’t a pushover like Number Two.
I unexpectedly got pregnant very early in our relationship. He asked me to marry him. I said no, I don’t want to be one of those people who got married just because they got knocked up. I had the baby and he asked again. I gave the same answer. I was terrified of getting married again. I eventually agreed because I did love him deeply, and I could see us having a wonderful life with our little family. We got married when my daughter was nine months old.
We fought, and he had a bit of a temper, but we always resolved our fights fairly quickly. Quite a few people said they thought we were the perfect couple. I was with him for nine years.
As time went on, things got worse and worse. Our fights were more frequent, lasted longer, and happened for more minor reasons. I started telling family and friends that if things didn’t improve I was afraid I would have to leave him.
The hardest part is, I was afraid to leave because of the kids. I never wanted to be that person. I always said I would never stay in a bad relationship because of the kids. But, there I was.
He made the decision for me in the end, when he found out I had been considering leaving.
We’re still separated, I still cry all the time (I’m doing so right now, as a matter of fact), and I’m still trying to figure out how to live as a single parent. Talk about anxiety.
Triggers I have because of him: Can everything be a trigger? I’ve dated several people since he and I split up and it seems like whenever there is a bump in the road, my mind flashes to Number Three and I think “This wouldn’t be happening to me if it weren’t for him.” I find myself constantly comparing other people’s actions to his, and resolving that I won’t let anyone else do that to me. Sometimes I wonder if that relationship has shaped my anxiety so that I won’t be able to have a real, lasting relationship again.
I’ve also decided I’m never getting married again and I’m pretty sure I’ll never be monogamous again. Why put all my chips in one basket that can be damaged and thrown away?
I mentioned my marriages, but I’ve dated in between Those relationships have had a great impact on the shape of my anxiety as well, and I’m just as likely to run – maybe more so.
I seem to work best with people who will handle me with kid gloves. They have to understand my mental disorders and my triggers, and they have to be willing to work with me and have patience. Being with me is not always easy. Sometimes I’m unreasonable, though I try to make sure they understand it’s largely because of my anxiety and my past. Anxiety doesn’t make sense and it makes me kind of crazy.
People keep wanting to date me, so maybe I’m worth it?
Next time I'll discuss how anxiety has held me back from chasing my dreams.