My ex-husband got married last summer. To my boyfriend’s ex-wife. For two years we were a quad. Four people together living and loving together. And although we all agreed to stay together for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, that’s not quite how it worked out.
Shit happens. And our shit was co-dependent.
Gilles and I had been playing the game of adulthood comfortably in the denial of unquestioned monogamy. He was deprived of love by a mother experiencing depression throughout his childhood, I was adopted and raised by a narcissist—I acted out my own patterns of abandonment. When we met, he rescued me from a lifetime of rejection but soon, I became the rescuer. The breadwinner. The decision maker and a makeshift mother.
When we fell in love with another couple, they were playing their own game of codependency. In their marriage of 17 years, she was the suffering from depression and he had turned into the paternal rescuer. She was the ‘baby bird’ and he was the protector. We even joked about our peculiar dynamic. Love does that to you.
‘What have the kids been up to today?’ Morten said.
‘Looking for jobs?’ I’d reply hopefully.
But that never happened. Months passed. My husband and his wife were newly in love, awash with a flood of oxytocin which preoccupied them as my boyfriend and I – the rescuers – went to work. But as our partners were each used to being rescued, their fights escalated – each of them trying to put the other in the ‘rescuing role’ and when that failed, the ‘persecutor role’. Over 2 years, they broke up 6 separate times, each time worse than the last… whilst Morten and I would take sides, each of us rescuing our spouse from the other’s ‘persecution’.
And as both relationships deteriorated we continued to swap roles, I was the victim of my sisterwife ‘stealing’ my husband and she was the victim of my anger and jealousy. It didn’t occur to me to consider that it was my husband’s choice as well. And then Morten her husband, my boyfriend would come to her rescue. And my husband, her boyfriend would come to mine. All four of us locked in our codependent roles playing out our very own, and very painful, multi-faceted drama triangle.
Miraculously when the relationship finished, we ended up swapping spouses and for a time we stayed friends. For that I will be forever grateful. The happy ending to a difficult relationship. But then came more pain. This time from growth.
The new configuration gave both new couples the chance to change. As two rescuers my boyfriend and I fought to take charge of a single household, and fought to let go of our desire to rescue our former partners. As a result we’ve ended up having to recognise and modify our rescuing tendencies and heal the trauma that caused them. For our exes, two victims had to step up, go out into the world and earn a living. They too have gone through difficult times. And we were all forced to be adults.
Some years after the break up, our ex-spouses married. And in my happiness for them, I also experienced pain; even if the biggest pain I experienced had been losing Gilles when he became the ‘son’ within our relationship. I adored him. Doted on him. But as my mother was to me, I was critical of him. The only expression of love I knew how to give eventually emasculated him. He adored me, needed me as caregiver …until we both fell in love with new partners who happened to be a couple.
The loss of a relationship – no matter how unhealthy– is still sad. When I met my husband our relationship rescued both of us from our cruel worlds. It was joyful and beautiful. As it moved into a mother and son roles it melded into a pool of companionship which slowly bled away our romantic love without us even realizing. Codependent relationships are ultimately unsustainable. That’s reality. Still most of us have a couple of them in our lives, codependency is after all how we seek to heal.
I choose polyamory. I choose to love many different people. But my ex… well I love the memories of us in the beginning. When I heard their good news, I opened my memory scrapbook for the last time to see the past there. A gossamer winged butterfly pinned to cushion. Once vibrant and glowing, now partially crumbled into grey dust. The love we had before it turned sour.
They say you should live in the now, but there’s plenty of reasons not to do that entirely. Remembering the magic of the day my daughter was born for one. Or that day my heart gave a queer leap when my son smiled at me for the first time. The many joyous moments of adult love I have now with Morten, the father to my children. There are moments of magic in this life, and I want to remember them. But when something from the past still brings you pain it’s a sign.
I knew then I was holding on to the past. Even after 5 years. The loss of the first person – and the only person until that point – who loved me and accepted me for me. He gave me ground to start rebuilding myself. With him I had been worth something. When we broke up, it felt like I was worth nothing.
Luckily by the time they got married I’d grown. There was something ugly about seeing love pinned down…even in my memory. It didn’t feel right. And so I was able to close the scrapbook and let go.