“When my fiancé and I met, I thought I was in a good place. I had just come out rehab for co-dependency and addictive behaviours and I was in regular therapy for childhood trauma, and I had a good recovery. I had a steady income teaching violin and piano and I was renting a beautiful home on a farm. My previous relationship had ended in violence and toxicity, so I was grateful for my partner’s gentle manner and warmth. We met online and began messaging and calling, and after a whirlwind romance, we met up and fell hard. There had been a bit of an overlap at the beginning of our relationship with a woman he had been seeing and had to work with, but I was very clear on my boundaries. ‘I don’t want to get involved in a relationship with you until she is out of the picture,’ I told him.
Time passed and after 6 months he moved in with me, and a year later we started making plans to move to Cornwall, a county 300 miles away by the coast for a new beginning together. I had gotten a job teaching violin and piano down there and he wanted to come with me. I felt like all my dreams were coming true.
A week before we were due to leave, a comment came up on social media and caused me to question my trust in him a little. I asked him outright, ‘Is there anything I should be worried about?’ He reassured me, ‘no,’ but I wasn’t convinced. I pushed a little further and got the same answer, but as I sat on the sofa packing up items, he walked across the room to me – and I could see there was something on his mind. Nothing prepared me for what followed.
‘I need to tell you something…’ Those words still make my stomach lurch. ‘I lied to you,’ my fiancé said to me. ‘It has all been a lie.’
I remember feeling sick to my stomach and like the room was spinning. He told me there had been another incident with the woman from work I didn’t know about, and it was a month after we had gotten together. But it turned out, that was the least of my problems. He was a compulsive liar and had made up many things about himself to make himself seem better. He had also had problems being faithful in most of his previous relationships, and he had a shocking lie from one of these relationships. Through being in rehab I was able to hold space for him and not react. As the truth came tumbling out of his mouth, I soon realized no one knew the real him and he had never shared his story in 40 years.
I was one of these women who always said, ‘once a cheat, always a cheat,’ and if it happened to me, I would leave and never look back. I pitied women who stayed after an affair. I have been cheated on emotionally or physically in every relationship I’ve had and I encountered sexual abuse in my teens as well – the ultimate betrayal. I always left and considered them dead to me, so what happened next shocked me about myself.
‘I’ll pack my stuff and go to my parents’ house,’ my fiancé said as he began to cry.
Instead of raging, I felt total calm. I felt honoured that he had trusted me enough to tell me stuff he had never told anyone before. I patted the sofa next to me and he came and sat down. I wrapped my arms tightly around him and told him we would find a way. He was in severe shock after disclosing his entire life and I held him while he cried. I had done 5 years of therapy and 12-step CoDA meetings prior to this moment and I remember thinking it had all been preparing me for this encounter. His behaviour wasn’t about me. We weren’t even connected heavily when it happened so how could it be? We all bring baggage to relationships, some more than others. This was his to be worked through. I was able to parent my inner child and let her know I would be back, but I needed to be there for my partner. He only had a few days left at his job before the move and he hated it there so together we decided he would take the last days as holiday and work on getting safe.
‘Do you have any feelings for this woman?’ I asked.
He broke down.
‘I absolutely hate her,’ he said, and began to hit his head on the radiator.
I knew some deep trauma was unfurling for him so I protected his head, wrapped him in a blanket, made him a drink, ran him a bath and started to think ahead.
At this point I was totally unsure of what to do about the move. I needed my friends and family more than ever at this time, but I had a week to find a house nearby. I also had a job waiting and suddenly a fresh start seemed like a wonderful idea. I organized an emergency therapy session for myself and got to a 12-step meeting that evening. Once I was there, I fell apart at the seams. I’d been holding it together for him, but I was utterly terrified of what was in store for me.
The meeting was in candlelight and women only and I felt so held and supported. I got home and we began damage limitation. I told him the only way it would work for me is total honesty and full disclosure. He told me he would do whatever it takes and began to read up on compulsive lying. I was so lucky to have the most beautiful women in my life and I invited a good friend over who I knew was overcoming a lying addiction herself. She came over with no judgement and just sat with my partner and me. I had my therapy session and I decided in this session to do the move and see what happened. I could always come back if I wanted to.
It was incredibly emotional for me to leave. I was exhausted, terrified, soul destroyed, hurt, raw and angry. My nightmare wasn’t over though. We didn’t have time to do a thorough rental search so we moved into the first house we found in Cornwall. It was full of mold and a fitting external manifestation of what was happening in our relationship. I was surviving by going to my new job, coming home, doing a meeting and trawling through all of our relationship history trying to find something real to hang onto. We were arguing daily, the toxic woman from the beginning of our relationship found my phone number and sent me an abusive message. My only saving grace was my integrity and recovery, and despite many efforts from her I didn’t get involved in her games or send anything back. She was insignificant to me – a mere blip of the larger problem.
We entered couples’ therapy and spent 10 months working on our childhood traumas together with a wonderful counsellor. Our relationship was held in such a wonderful way we began to find our way back to each other again. After 9 months of intensive therapy and reading, we got engaged! It felt like something beautiful had arisen from the ashes. The best thing about it was it was a mutual agreement and something we spoke at length about instead of a rash decision based on a whim. We both agreed it would be a new start and a chance for a safe container for our relationship that wasn’t contaminated with the past. Our happiness was coming back but I often felt frustrated in therapy as it seemed like my fiancé ‘didn’t get it.’ I would ask if he understood what was happening in therapy and what was said, and he would say ‘no.’
As time went on our couple’s therapist suggested he may have ADHD. Suddenly everything made sense. All of it! The disorganisation, the impulse control problems, the lack of understanding, the concentration issues. My partner read up on it all and agreed with him. Over the next year we moved again twice, ending up in a beautiful seaside town. However, the mold toxicity meant I lost my health. I went down with Chronic fatigue/M. E and had to quit my job. Our relationship was also constantly up and down with mind blowing intimacy to raging arguments in the car where we would shout and scream at each other until we were exhausted. Eventually we both decided to get some more support and we moved the 300 miles back home to where we started, and I got back into therapy with my initial therapist. My fiancé started a new career and was still supporting the two of us financially as I was recovering from illness.
As time passed, we realized there was possibly more to the picture than ADHD and my complex trauma issues. The more I read the more I recognized my fiancé had sensory overload and frequently needed to be alone to recuperate after any interaction or a long day at work. I was terrified he was a narcissist and I was back in a pattern of emotional abuse. However, although I could recognize that behaviour on both sides was at times destructive, we had never given up on our relationship and we read self help books and engaged in individual therapy to try and help ourselves through the mess we had created. We both worked so hard on ourselves daily, but we always ended up in miscommunication and frustration. It was clear to anyone that we loved each other very much, we just didn’t know how to show it effectively through the pain we were feeling.
One day while scouring the internet for information I read an article that showed how a lack of empathy could be an indication of Asperger’s Syndrome, now recognised as Autism Spectrum Disorder. I read hungrily and discovered the reason for all our problems. ASD, ADHD and depression often go hand in hand and we were dealing with all 3. I had to go through another layer of grief around this. I had on the one hand hoped it was a behavioural issue with him that we could beat together, but to realise it was possibly something I would have to change my perception on, that I may never get the relationship of my dreams, felt devastating to me.
I have since changed what my perception of a perfect relationship looks like. My partner is a beautiful-hearted man, always has been and always will be. We may be fundamentally different, but he is open to trying anything new to make our relationship work. I truly believe I had to get sick in order to look at the bigger picture in my life and what was causing the problems. As my therapist used to say to me, my partner is the trigger of the problem, but not the cause. My betrayal trauma began way before I met him. I was like a smashed vase that had been Scotch-taped together. One wrong move and I would crumble. I needed to fall apart to see that my job wasn’t actually fulfilling me at all, and that my perception of a perfect relationship wasn’t what I thought it was. I have instead discovered that my people pleasing and my need for perfectionism is what led me to the depths of darkness. I lost a lot of friends on this journey but I also gained a soul family. I have a beautiful support system, all of whom know our story and support me wholeheartedly. One of the authors of a book which helped save our relationship said, ‘in order to heal from childhood wounds, you need to find somebody you can love, and then be with them for life and work through anything and everything that comes up together.’ This spoke to my heart in such a way I knew it was right for me. It was clearly a pattern for me, and it was time to stop running.
As a result of this pain in my life I opened my Instagram account and I have connected with the most amazing people through trusting in my vulnerability and honesty. I joined an online energy healing group to help with moving on from infidelity. I have a wonderful supportive man who I am seeing flourish into the most wonderful husband for me. My partner has changed beyond belief and although we have had to go through the pain to get to the sunshine, our relationship feels more solid now than it did before. We are very real with each other and have both taken the time to read about each other’s individual battles. Mine with the Complex PTSD and M.E and his with ASD, ADHD and depression.
First and foremost, we are best friends and we take time each week for each other. Four years later we are working towards interdependence and working on ourselves daily. It has been the toughest journey of my life and we have already worked through in sickness and in health and a huge wound, but I truly feel that after the work we have both done on our relationship garden and the seeds we have planted, we will be able to face anything that comes our way, and this time, together.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Emily of the UK. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
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