I was raised to be independent and self-sufficient. As the eldest and as a daughter in a Chinese household, I was prepped and trained to be a caregiver. A couple of recent therapists have told me that I need to learn to be taken care of; this is something I’m not familiar with and I’m still learning to recognize what it looks like. I’m so used to taking care of others and being the giver, which is why most of my relationships have been unbalanced.
One of the major lessons I learned from my marriage is that my happiness is my responsibility and my partner’s happiness is his responsibility. Yes, we can make each other happy, but we cannot rely on each other to fulfill all of the needs that make us whole as individuals. That’s why self-care is called SELF-care. Each party must be self-aware enough that they do not lean on their partner for every important aspect that makes a person whole.
When I first met Kyle, he had his own set of friends and aspirations, such as places to travel to and activities he enjoyed outside of our relationship. As time went on and our relationship got more serious, other parts of his life changed… His close friends started families and moved out of town. His father passed away. He finished grad school. He moved up in his career and received more responsibilities. Simply put, life was changing as it does. Instead of replacing the friendships he was losing, he looked to me to fill that void. Instead of going to therapy to cope with his grief from losing his father, he turned to alcohol. Instead of participating in healthy outlets to deal with stress, he used alcohol. His alcohol dependency, lack of self-care, and complete reliance on me ultimately led to the downfall of our marriage.
He needed me and I felt smothered. It was not love, it was selfishness; it was about control over me since he felt so out of control with other aspects of his life. I didn’t mind sharing my life with him (that’s what marriage is), but he did not allow me to maintain a balance between our relationship and the time that I needed for self-care. Towards the end, I felt more like his mother; I was constantly cleaning up after him and making sure he ate right, worked out, went to bed without blacking out… He took advantage of my tendency to be the caregiver and, over time, there was nothing left for me to give.
He was a sinking anchor pulling me down with him. My depression got worse. I was not comfortable in my own living space because of all the clutter he created. This physical clutter was symbolic of his emotional clutter. Over time, I found that I was happier being away from him than when I was with him. My conversations with acquaintances and friends were lighter when he was not around. While living and working in Kabul, I remember feeling at peace whenever I returned to my room because it was my space, albeit for the short-term. I was not responsible for anyone else after the work day ended. My whole being felt lighter.
Going into the relationship, six years ago, I didn’t need him but I wanted him in my life. I now apply this attitude to all the relationships in my life, including family and friends. Likewise, I hope that the next person I’m romantically involved with wants me in his life, not because he needs me there.