Breaking Free

Greg (not his real name) appeared at my door hurting and shattered. I ushered him inside and gave him a hug, perhaps the first he’d had in months that wasn’t from his kids.

“How are you?” I asked.

“I’ve been better,” he said, tearing up. I took him into the kitchen and poured two cups of coffee.

“Who knows you’re here?” I asked, sitting down across from him.

“My wife does, and Rin does, and you. That’s it.”

“So you haven’t told your family?”

“Not yet.”

I could see he wasn’t ready to talk, so we played the distraction game for about an hour. I showed him to the room where he would be spending the night. “Thanks for this,” Greg said. No more words were needed. He was up before dawn for work, and I texted him periodically throughout the day. I texted Rin, too; we were of the same mind that now that he had removed himself from a toxic relationship, he needed three things: time, family, and support.

Greg had married his girlfriend after his high school graduation, when she was still a senior. Everyone thought they rushed into marriage because she was pregnant, but they didn’t have their first child until two years later. They have two kids now, who are at the top of Greg’s priority list. “We tried to make it until after Christmas for the kids’ sake,” he said, “but we kept fighting, and we were starting to take it out on them.” Therapy and counseling over the last seven years hadn’t worked, so Greg figured the best thing he could do at this point was leave. As he moved his stuff into my guest room, I saw that he had packed a sleeping bag, pillow, and extra blanket. He had been prepared to sleep in the car if necessary.

I saw Greg’s sense of humor peek through the next day as he started to relax. I thought about how much I’d missed it since I’d seen him last. One of his best personality traits, his sense of humor remains elusive though, probably because it is dormant from inactivity. I keep expecting him to ask permission to tell a joke. He seems surprised when people laugh at his sarcasm. How did he get so shy?

Right after their wedding, instead of finding their own place Greg and his wife moved into a trailer on her parents’ property. They have never left, even though early on they had set aside money each month toward their goal of independence. Why should she want to leave? Her support system is right there. I suspect that even though the same support was extended to Greg, it was for his wife’s benefit, rather than because they genuinely loved and accepted him.

I’ve been trying to encourage Greg to spend some time with his own family. Although they are out of state, they are not far away, and he could get to them in a few hours. Spending a weekend enveloped in their love would soothe him better than any of my words can. Ultimately I’d like to see him quit his job and move up there. His family will teach him how to be himself again. Unconditional love tends to do that.

This supposed “partnership” between Greg and his wife was more like assimilation. When he proposed, he was absorbed into her family and gave up everything he valued. I think it was understood by her family that, by marrying their daughter, Greg would become “one of them.” Which he did, gladly. He was in love, and for the first time, a woman had looked at him with desire. What choice did he have? In Addams Family Values, when Fester marries the conniving Debbie, he becomes “Mr. Debbie,” and I think the same thing has happened here, so I suspect this unbalanced relationship is not all that uncommon.

In fact, I have two other friends whom I have not seen in several years because all their friends were cut off after their wedding. To one I’ll call “George,” with whom I was especially close, I was almost immediately denied access, despite George’s efforts to the contrary. A part of their pre-marital counseling was for George and his bride to write each other a letter listing at least one personal thing they were unwilling to give up: George’s item was his friendship with me. Still, after they got married I found myself leaving messages and emails that were never returned, or hearing promises that were never kept, until it was made clear that I should stop trying. It broke my heart. I haven’t talked to George for five years, since his dad’s funeral where his wife allowed me to give him a quick condolence hug. They have five kids, and I don’t even know all their names. It’s okay, though. I guess George’s brothers haven’t been allowed to hang out with him either. They say he never leaves the house, except for work. It seems eerily similar to this new situation with Greg.

As I spend more time with Greg, I realize I’ve been someone’s lifeline before; a girlfriend came to me after walking away from her controlling husband to re-start life on her own. Knowing that she was surrounded by people who loved and missed her was the key to making her strong enough to resist the pull of, “If you come back, I promise things will be different this time.” Three years later, “what should have been” still aches in her mind, and she struggles with her ex every day. I know she has a long road ahead of her.

I never expected to see Greg on my doorstep under these circumstances, and if it were his wife instead of him, I would not have had the same reaction. I think over time, though, as Greg contemplates his next steps, he will begin to remember that he is cared for, and by extension, his self-esteem will begin to return. I’m sure his friends, when he tells them, will rush to regain their places in his inner circle. I don’t think he will backslide, as so many people do who have been weakened and isolated by their spouse. I think he has broken free strong enough to survive on his own, for the first time.


2 Discussions on
“Breaking Free”
  • Thanks for caring for Gary (not his real name). One of my husband’s favourite cousins was taken over by the in-laws. My husband hasn’t heard from him in years. The cousins were best playmates, teenage buddies and adult friends until he went to the other side. It gives my husband a heartache to discuss and he misses his cousin.

    • I have had so many comments like this, Rosi. I knew this was a fairly common phenomenon, but I didn’t realize how close to home this situation was to so many people.