My Ex Nearly Destroyed My Identity

How I lost myself during and found myself after marriage

Photo by Noah Buscher on Unsplash

During our 15 years together, my ex controlled the majority of my thoughts and dominated my consciousness.

I didn’t fully realize the extent of his “mind control” until I got away from him. The early stages of our relationship were exciting and mostly occupied by thoughts of the next step — from engagement to a wedding to having kids. The next decade or so my thoughts were occupied by miscarriages, pregnancies, births, postpartum depression, and raising small children.

It wasn’t until after I went back to work that I realized just how much of my brain space my ex had been occupying. That sounds strange because my thoughts are my own, but when you have a person talking your ear off 24/7 and constantly telling you that your thoughts and feelings are wrong, you tend to get stuck in a certain headspace that is not yours. You don’t even have to think or make decisions when someone is doing it for you.

As much as I wanted to believe that we were compatible and that I was just as extroverted and full of energy that he is, we weren’t compatible and I am not a total extrovert. I need my downtime, my alone time, my introvert time. I need to think, to process, to rest. My ex is always “on,” until he shuts down at 11 p.m. (like clockwork) and goes to bed, and when he gets up at 7 a.m. he is right back on. All throughout the day he is full of energy and talks nonstop (literally). He is good at routines, planning, and time management. He likes to be active and keep a full calendar. He doesn’t organize, clean, fix things, or otherwise do things that keep him busily quiet around the house. Those were my duties. When I was cleaning, doing dishes or laundry, or even doing small fixes around the house, he was following me around and talking to me.

I allowed him to dictate much of my schedule, and when he would plan outside activities for himself (refereeing, triathlons, etc.), I stayed home with the kids. I told myself that it was okay because I was focusing on parenting, which is the most important job. I didn’t really have time to do any hobbies or pursue any of my passions, which is not entirely his fault, but I do feel as though he could have been more supportive of my endeavors, or at least could have showed any kind of interest in me pursuing them. I allowed this to slide.

Much of our life was for show. He seemed to want me to fit into a certain mold. We would go to fun places and he would joke that we were just there for the photo op, but his lack of being fully present and his focus on taking family photos made it seem as though there was some truth to the joke. He liked that I made things presentable, matching our outfits for family photos and going over-the-top while decorating our house for birthday parties and other social gatherings. He often admitted that he was shallow and he found me attractive. He liked having me on his arm and I often felt like arm candy, despite not necessarily feeling that way about myself.

It often felt as though it was his world and I was just living in it. Many of his thoughts were self-focused rather than others-focused. When I would assert thoughts and feelings that contradicted his, he questioned them. He would tell me that my emotions were wrong, that I was too sensitive, or that I wasn’t actually tired, or even that I was weak. To this day, years after our divorce, he still does this with myself and our children, often shoving our words aside and replacing them with his own. The kids are somewhat aware of this and find it very frustrating.

When I started to really push back and assert contradicting thoughts and opinions toward the end of our marriage, he got hostile. I frequently fought back and our relationship became quite volatile. Fighting back became more exhausting as things escalated. He argued with me and pushed relentlessly until I had panic attacks. He stood over me and yelled as I kneeled down and cried, begging him to stop. Our marriage counselor said that we were toxic and recommended that we part ways, which we did.

It is scary to have the future feel so uncertain. Part of that struggle is accepting myself. Knowing that I am now allowed to fully feel and express my emotions and make my own schedule without having to answer to anyone anymore is a challenge. It is extremely freeing yet still a little scary.

I can make so many more choices now than I ever could before. Before, my ex would dominate our schedule from sun up to sundown. The general thought process was, “Hey we are doing this,” “We are going here,” and even, “We are thinking this,” or “We are feeling this way about this.” Now that I am single, I now find myself stopping and waiting for a rebuttal when I think or feel things, yet it never comes. And if it does, I now have the knowledge, confidence, and freedom to ignore it.

Escaping my ex wasn’t easy, but I have forgiven him and we are friends. I understand that he is a product of his own life experiences with his toxic parents and he has sought counseling. I do not believe that either of us are bad people, but I believe that our personalities do not mesh. It has been a work in progress to get back to a fully confident and independent me. However, I can no longer beat myself up for the past. This is my life. I am on my own. I need to embrace it. I need to own it. I need to know that I am enough, that I am more than enough, and even that I am great.

Hi! I’m Tina, a writer, mom, dancer, and lover of adventure.

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