As I grabbed my boyfriend’s phone from him and ran from the house in the latest roaring argument we’d been locked in, I knew I’d hit my breaking point.
I needed to talk to someone.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve struggled to have healthy romantic relationships. Every one I’ve ever been in has been filled with screaming rows, endless bickering and inevitable break-ups.
My mum and dad divorced when I was three and a few years later, when I was seven, my dad moved to Spain. Before he went away, I saw him regularly.
But after he moved, I went from meeting up with him twice a week to twice a year. He’d come over to the UK for a few days at a time, and every trip ended with me in tears, begging him to move back to England.
His answer? ‘You know I can’t.’
But I didn’t know why he couldn’t as he never explained it, and it didn’t stop me asking every time he visited. To this day, I’ve never found out why he left, only that he lived there before he met my mum, so I guess it was home for him.
I went to visit him a few times throughout my childhood, but he had another child when I was 16 and only lived in a two-bed apartment, so there wasn’t really room after that.
My mum could never get her head around my dad’s decision to leave either, but she wanted my brother and I to have a relationship with him, so she didn’t voice too much opinion and always accommodated him when he came to visit.
All of this meant that, during my teenage years, I became angry. Fights with my mum would regularly result in me launching cups of tea – or whatever I could get my hands on – across the room. I would get hysterical, slam doors, cry, scream. You name it, I did it.
Eventually, as I got older, I calmed down a bit and we would joke about what a difficult adolescent I was.
However, as I went into adulthood and started having more serious romantic relationships, my anger came to the forefront again.
I knew deep down that my dad leaving had damaged me, but I wasn’t aware of quite how much – and how it would affect my love life.
I’ve always become irritated and frustrated over the tiniest things when it comes to boyfriends, which I’d always put down as me being high-maintenance.
I was repeatedly rejected by one of my main caregivers, my dad, and the smallest things trigger me and bring back those feelings
Any time I felt like I wasn’t their priority or that I was being rejected – be it my partner choosing to spend time with his friends over me, not messaging me first or falling asleep when watching TV together – I would see red and explode.
Some boyfriends tried to appease me, others would fight back and a screaming row would ensue.
I’ve always felt ‘abnormal’ in romantic couplings. I don’t remember where or when it started, but what I do know is that, dating back to my teens, not one of my relationships has been plain-sailing or drama free.
But I just thought I was difficult and that anyone who wanted to be with me needed to accept that.
It’s safe to say this thinking ruined plenty of relationships. After all, who wants to date someone if they’re subject to constant arguments and aggression?
A lot of the times, I’ve done the dumping as I felt like my needs weren’t met, the arguing got too much or these little things that triggered me would build up and I’d get to breaking point.
One boyfriend – the one serious one I had before my current partner – ended it with me because he couldn’t cope with how argumentative I was and how much I struggled with rejection. I was heartbroken for the first time in my life.
So last year, I had to face reality. I’d been in my current relationship for a year and a half and over summer, things came to a head. I was feeling down in myself, work was stressful, my anxiety was the worst it’s been in years and as a result, my anger was out of control.
It was almost like I was a teenager again, tantrums, slamming doors and storming out of the house.
The littlest thing would set me off, and I went through a phase of going out, getting ridiculously drunk, coming home and starting a blazing row with my partner over nothing.
The night I grabbed his phone, I don’t know what came over me. We’d been arguing a lot and I wanted to see what he was saying to his friends and family about me in his messages; I was feeling very insecure.
He packed a bag and was ready to leave. My memory of this is hazy, but somehow I convinced him to stay.
It was then that I knew I needed to make a change. My behaviour was not acceptable and I know that, had it been the other way round, I would consider my partner’s actions a red flag.
There was no way I could go on like this – this relationship is the one I want to last. It wasn’t fair on him or me and I had to do something.
After lots of research, I found a therapist near me whose specialities included relationship problems and attachment issues. Since I started going to her, she’s informed me that I have attachment trauma, and has helped me to realise that all of the things I do are for a reason.
The way I behave is to protect myself – and not just because I’m moody.
I was repeatedly rejected by one of my main caregivers, my dad, and the smallest things trigger me and bring back those feelings of childhood abandonment.
I’ve been in therapy for six months now and while my relationship is far from perfect, it’s a lot better than it was
Being made aware of this has been eye-opening for me. I’m not abnormal, I’ve just spent 30 years developing a coping mechanism to protect myself from further hurt. I was taught as a child that it wasn’t OK to ask for what I need, so now, I just get angry when my requirements aren’t met.
She’s also informed me that adults with this type of childhood trauma crave drama thanks to the constant rollercoaster of distress as a child, which often leads to picking fights when things seem settled.
When she told me this, it was like a light had been switched on in my brain. This is why I constantly feel irritated and start rows – stability feels unfamiliar.
I act cold because I’m terrified of being rejected, like I was by my dad.
It’s going to be a long time before I’m able to fully break these habits, allow myself to be vulnerable and be able to ask for what I need. But every week I can feel myself improving.
I’ve been in therapy for six months now and while my relationship is far from perfect, it’s a lot better than it was.
I’m making more effort to ask for what I want, rather than expecting him to read my mind and I’m making an effort to initiate some affection, make conversation and generally be warmer towards him.
I no longer get bouts of rage and I’m learning to soothe that inner child with self dialogue, rather than relying on my partner to essentially parent me.
I’m also learning to communicate better with him and give him an understanding of why I feel triggered so often, and how we work through that together.
Hopefully one day, these things will no longer be an issue. I last saw my dad before Covid hit, in January 2020. We occasionally speak via WhatsApp and he calls me on my birthday and Christmas, but I have no interest in having a proper relationship with him.
Therapy has helped me come to terms with my anger towards him and let it go, so that I can get through life in a healthier, more positive way.
Degrees of Separation
This series aims to offer a nuanced look at familial estrangement.
Estrangement is not a one-size-fits-all situation, and we want to give voice to those who’ve been through it themselves.
If you’ve experienced estrangement personally and want to share your story, you can email email@example.com and/or firstname.lastname@example.org
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