How I Saved My Long-Term Relationship That Was Failing
October 2015, I broke up with my boyfriend Damien.
We had been together for 6.5 years and I was exhausted.
This article is about how we saved the relationship.
One month earlier in September 2015, Damien and I decided to relocate to Bali and see if the nomad lifestyle worked for us.
We needed a new beginning. We were going through a tough year.
I turned 27 and it suddenly hit me that I had been in this relationship most of my adult life.
I had just turned 20 when we met. Even then, I was so focused on working, going to university and starting a business that I never really had a ‘partying and letting loose’ faze.
I always thought that my biggest problem was meeting the love of my life at age 20. Who does that?
At 27, I was starting to feel claustrophobic with everything in my life. I started hating Sydney, Australia where I grew up and desperately needed to make a real change.
I was SO excited when Damien put our apartment on Airbnb to try Bali and see if the nomad lifestyle worked for us.
Damien was struggling as well. He started getting intense anxiety attacks and heart rate spikes that year.
He underwent all kinds of medical tests that came up empty. It was anxiety. It was in his head. How was he supposed to fix that?
We both needed to get away and start fresh.
Cue to the day we were to get on the plane.
Damien woke up panicked that something really bad was going to happen to him if he got on the plane. His heart rate was all over the place and it was serious enough that he felt like he was going to die.
Initially I thought if we went to the doctor and she said everything was ok, then he could go. The doctor okayed him to go but he still couldn’t face it.
I was frustrated.
First, I tried to manipulate him by telling him I’m getting on that plane anyway and he would need to get on the plane to save the relationship. It didn’t work.
I told him that if anything went wrong, we would deal with it. I would be there for him. Didn’t work.
He couldn’t bring himself to get on the plane and there was nothing I could do.
In all his guilt, he told me I should go to Bali and if anything was physically wrong, then I could come back.
On the drive to the airport I felt guilty and asked him where we would go if I stayed and didn’t get on the plane. We had AirBnb’d our apartment and were essentially homeless.
He responded by saying he wanted to live with his parents and he thought I would live with my parents and visit occasionally as he got better.
This was not an option for me. I was not going to go live with my parents.
I expected to be starting a new life that day and instead I was going to live with my parents?
I kissed him goodbye, got out of the car at the airport and stood in line with my luggage all alone. When I got to the check-in counter, the lady asked me whether there was someone else with me.
I burst out crying and shook me head.
That plane ride and getting to Bali was a blur. I was so depressed and frustrated.
I couldn’t believe this was happening.
The first 2 weeks in Bali, all I did was sleep. I spent a lot of time on the phone with Damien as he explained how difficult life had gotten for him.
He had stopped eating. He didn’t leave his parents house. He was depressed and crying all the time. Life was harder than ever for him.
I in turn felt torn.
I felt obligated to go home and take care of him.
But every fibre of me being knew that I would resent him the moment I got home.
Hell, I resented him already for not getting on the plane with me. I was heartbroken at that airport. I always thought that whatever happened, Damien would come through in the end for us.
That didn’t happen.
My faith in the relationship was shaken and there wasn’t much I could do about it.
After 2 weeks of sleeping and generally being depressed, I decided to go to everything I was invited to and start enjoying myself.
After one month of being in Bali, I took a flight back to Sydney and broke up with Damien.
I couldn’t do it anymore. I was done.
He felt completely abandoned at his greatest time of need. And rightly so.
I felt so desperate for drastic change in my life that going backwards and being there for him didn’t feel like an option.
Neither of us could do anything to save this relationship.
It was devastating.
Letting The Relationship Fall Apart
When I came back to break up with Damien, we hired a hotel for a few days and just cried. A lot.
I left feeling relieved. i had done the right thing for me at the time.
We agreed to meet in 6 months and learn about each other in a new light – regardless of whether there was any hope of reconciliation or not.
I felt scared going out on my own.
I came back to Bali and stayed for 6 months.
During that time I didn’t spend too much time missing Damien and really used this time to live life to the full.
- I drank excessively
- I had holiday romances
- I made new best friends
- I partied like I would die the next day
- I enjoyed life in the moment
I felt like life wasn’t passing me by for once.
After a few months of really letting go, I realised some hard truths about myself:
- I always thought Damien was particularly needy but I realised I create that dynamic in all my romantic relationships. I don’t create enough trust.
- I realised I had never fully committed to my relationship with Damien. I had always had one foot one in, one foot out. Damien had held onto me all this time.
- I always had backups. I created friendships with people that often included some sort of emotional intimacy. This was my backup plan.If my relationship with Damien fell apart, I would always have options. I was so afraid of putting all my eggs in one basket. What would happen if that basket fell apart?
- I don’t enjoy being alone as much as I thought I did. I realised that Damien is my anchor. He gives me the support I need to take risks in the expectation that if something goes wrong, he’s always there to give me love & support.Not having this created instability for me that I didn’t enjoy. I started appreciating how lucky I had been to have someone I can always count on by my side.
After these realisations, I knew that at the end of the 6 months I wanted to make it work with Damien.
I came back and we talked about all these things I had learnt.
Damien had also realised a few hard truths:
- He was so desperate to keep me in his life that he compromised his own integrity.
- He dated people that were excessively needy and he realised that he wanted to behave exactly how I had behaved with him. This was a big eye-opener for him.
- He needed to not go straight into making things ok if he was still upset about it.
- He felt that I abandoned him and we needed to make this ok.
It was exciting to hear all these things. My biggest fear was that I would come home and everything would be exactly as it was.
It’s easy to get sucked into old habits. It was great to hear that wasn’t likely to happen.
Easier Said Than Done
It was great that we realised all this stuff about ourselves but we still had old habit pattens.
We would trigger each other and say things we didn’t mean.
I wondered if I made the right decision coming back.
The first month and a half was hard as hell. Damien needed me to reconcile his abandonment issues and I needed to start afresh.
We were back where we started.
The Cold War In Our House
I started realising that there was always a constant low level stress in our house.
We can fight at any moment and both of us are dominant enough that it can go for hours.
We can get triggered by each other over the smallest things.
This was supposed to be easier and it wasn’t.
I Was Losing Hope
I wanted to fully commit to the relationship but I couldn’t trust it was going somewhere. I wanted to think the best of him but we had so much history.
So much shit to let go of.
Maybe I should have moved on with someone else. At least it would have been a clean slate.
The Breakup Again
Another fight erupted one day and I just lost hope. It was my breaking point.
I was booking flights and ready to get the hell out of there.
I was so disappointed that this didn’t work out.
I thought, ‘Maybe it’s possible to love someone you can’t be with’.
The Turning Point
The turning point came when Damien was willing to let me go. He wasn’t needy but he wanted it to work.
We talked about everything that happened.
We made up but it was different this time.
We weren’t playing the same games.
We both wanted a change.
I walked away deciding to commit to this relationship fully and seeing what happens.
No running away.
No backup plans.
No self sabotaging.
No threatening the relationship.
Every day I decide to be in this relationship is my commitment.
Once I fully committed, I noticed pretty much straight away that the low level stress in the house was gone.
We could get a little annoyed without it erupting into a full blown fight.
We could hug and I could finally be in a space to listen to Damien about how he felt abandoned.
We cried together and I felt the pain he was feeling. I felt awful that I couldn’t be there.
We started hanging out more and cultivating a friendship again.
I started feeling huge gratitude for the last year for bringing us this relationship.
I felt so thankful that Damien was strong enough to allow me 6 months to live out the young adult years I should have had. There aren’t many people who would give their girlfriend the space to grow like that and I know how lucky I was.
The safer Damien felt, the less needy he became. I then got a lot more freedom in the relationship as a result.
I now have a much better appreciation of Damien’s role in my life. So much so that I can’t imagine threatening the relationship. Something I would easily do in the past.
We’re at a stage where Damien finally did admit that even though 2015 was the worst year of his life, if I had to leave him in order to learn the lessons I did to have the relationship we have now, it was worth it.
That was very hard for him to admit as everything was mostly shit for him.
But it meant a lot to me.