‘Behind closed doors, I was called ‘crazy’ and ‘too sensitive.’ We lived like roommates that slept together. I tried leaving. He promised to change, and he did, until I got pregnant again.’

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“I have to start off by saying I didn’t get married thinking one day I would get divorced. I don’t think anyone imagines divorce as how things will turn out when they put on that white dress and say their ‘I do’s’ in front of their friends and family. I will also say throughout the 11 years together and 8 years of marriage, I’m the one who mostly changed. I don’t believe in playing the victim or blaming my ex-husband entirely for how things turned out. I absolutely believe it takes two to tango, or make or break a relationship in this case.

I was a very different person than I am today when I met my ex-husband. When we first met, I had another boyfriend who was in the military, deployed in Iraq and was not interested in the man who was to become my husband at all. I was also an addict at the time, using illegal drugs and alcohol, trafficking drugs, while still maintaining a job at a popular local bar. Some poor decisions on my part led the relationship I was in to end and I went into treatment for my drug problem.

When I got out, I was 21 and certain I was too young to be an alcoholic so I continued to drink. My soon to be husband was the first guy that came along who seemed willing to put up with my drunk antics. He also worked 2 jobs and had a well-stocked liquor cabinet; this was all I needed to become his girlfriend.

Courtesy of Cassandra Solano

In the beginning he was very patient with me. About 8 months into our relationship, I finally got sober for good (it’s now been over 14 years). He gave up drinking for my first year of sobriety to show me support. During my first year I also struggled deeply with depression, saw a therapist, was on anti-depressants, was plagued by symptoms of PTSD from a physically abusive relationship I had been in prior to the military guy, and had suicidal ideations almost daily. During this time of my convalescence my soon to be husband was my hero in caring for me. I realize now we were in an unhealthy cycle of addict/codependent, and what happens when one of the two people in that cycle recover and stop doing the dance of dysfunction, problems ensue.

You wouldn’t think me getting sober, getting over my depression, finding spirituality, getting physically healthy, and establishing a group of sober friends would be a bad thing, right? As I shared earlier, I changed a lot during the relationship. My ex didn’t. To his credit, he didn’t need to. He wasn’t recovering from a disease that would kill him if he didn’t continue to grow personally and spiritually. But I did. Before we got married, we were having trouble. I even considered calling the wedding off 2 months before the wedding. I loved him, but a part of me knew just because you love someone, doesn’t mean you should marry them. Fear and obligation won out, and I resigned myself to having a good friendship with this man.

For the next 2 years, we lived like roommates that slept together. Whenever I wanted to talk about something difficult, like our budget, I was always shut down. He did his thing (video games) and I did mine (attend 12 step meetings) while I worked full time and went to school part time. When we had our first daughter, things got worse. We couldn’t live like roommates anymore. And I realized our marriage was not what I wanted a marriage to be. Until our daughter came along, I had buried romance and romantic love deep down. I made things like career and my recovery more important and felt fulfilled from those things. I entered graduate school and we moved in with my parents so I could quit my job. Even with a lower cost of living, my husband continued to spend irrationally, and we never got the budgeting thing sorted out. As a result, I took out a lot more student loan money than I needed to and post-divorce I am paying that off until the day I die. Again, this was my choice.

I tried leaving when our oldest was one year old, in 2010. He wanted to know why and I had a list of about 20 times he had humiliated me, disappointed me, not done what a husband or father should do. He begged for another chance and promised to change, and he did. . . Until I got pregnant again. What I’ve come to learn is that people in general really want to be better, they want to change and make people they love happy. But most people on their own without professional help (which I asked him for about 5 years to get with me) can’t make those changes stick. Too much childhood trauma, etc. going on and it infected our marriage.

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In 2013 I was getting ready to leave again, and found out I was pregnant with baby #3, our son. I cried for an hour after finding out, knowing I would stay at least until I had the baby. So I put my head down and focused on work, got another promotion, and continued to project a happy, successful family life on Facebook. On the outside, there was fun times. We traveled to Hawaii, we had a 28-foot camping trailer we traveled in, we had a good group of friends to socialize with. But behind closed doors, the emotional abuse got worse. I was being called ‘crazy,’ ‘too sensitive’ and that I was ‘imagining’ conversations were happening that he claimed weren’t. I was recommended to read a book called ‘The Verbally Abusive Relationship’ and it was a life changer. He would say he was playing video games for 18 hours a day but at least he wasn’t out drinking (still neglecting his family), or ‘at least (he) didn’t hit me.’ I learned from the book these were emotionally abusive techniques such as crazy making and gas lighting. I started to call him out, to stick up for myself, to fight back. I had hardly told him ‘no’ in our 11 year relationship. The fighting got worse. I realized I hated the person I had to be to stay in the relationship. I wanted my kids to see a better example. I finally left my marriage because I wanted to be married.

Leaving with 3 kids in tow was not an easy feat. I’m blessed to have family close by. I took care of myself whenever the kids were at their dads, working out, diving deep into meditation and my work. I found another relationship (too quickly) which turned out to be another narcissistic type of person. I learned so much from that short-lived relationship as well. I went back to therapy. I read a book called ‘Perfect Daughters’ about women raised by alcoholics and did some deep healing around childhood wounds. When we heal, we attract healthier partners.

So into my life walks a man I knew since he got sober 4 years earlier. He and his girlfriend had recently broken up. Still staying dedicated to my own healing work, I ventured more cautiously into this relationship. Calling out any red flags, asking lots of questions, not letting anything that didn’t sit well with me just slide. Ernie was so patient with how long it took me to open my heart to him and we both agreed we had something special, and it didn’t need to be rushed. After I was sure the relationship was solid, I introduced him to my kids. In just over a year of dating, we were married. It wasn’t easy for my family to accept the relationship in light of my recent decisions, but Ernie stuck by my side. I even worked with a different therapist who specialized in adult children of narcissists and was able to heal even more deeply because of the solid, safe, and secure relationship with Ernie, not in spite of it.

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Ernie and I read a few books on blended families, discussed roles, discipline, and boundaries before we tied the knot. With so much change, 2 of my 3 kids are in therapy and have been for over a year for support. We have tried to go into this relationship with our eyes and hearts wide open. Ernie will never replace the kids’ dad, nor does he wish to. He does offer the kids another kind of example of what a man is. The kids have said so in so many words. He never yells, is calm, patient, anticipates what we need, works hard and without complaint. He is nurturing and can cuddle one minute then play ninja the next. He’s a former professional soccer player and we are committed to having the kids get outdoors and active more. I didn’t expect to have a family turn out like this, but I’m so grateful it did. What Ernie gives us is different, healing, and was so needed after a tumultuous few years. And I have a marriage of my dreams. I told Ernie just 2 days ago being married to him is my favorite part of my life. I just love being married to my best friend. I never knew there could be so much respect, joy, affection and love in a marriage. And I know my kids are watching us. Our children are always watching. What are we teaching them today?”

Courtesy of Cassandra Solano

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Cassandra Solano of California. You can follow her inspiring healing journey on Instagram, Facebook and her websiteDo you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.

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‘My husband waited up for me. Surprised, I sat down and asked about his day. I didn’t get very far into my question. He somberly turned off the TV and leaned forward in his seat.’

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