11 years ago, I made a really hard decision – one that impacted my little family. I decided to put myself first and end my relationship of 8 years. I was in a very unhappy relationship with my son’s father.

It didn’t start off that way. We dated a few months and I really enjoyed being with him. I was officially in love. He was (and still is) my very first love and long-term relationship. I felt like he focused all of his energy on me. And he did. We both worked full-time and spent lots of time together. My mother was over the moon because he’d take me out to fun things like ice skating or indoor rock-climbing.

It was great…..until I found out I was pregnant a few months later.

You see, my family was and still is, pretty old school. My die-hard Catholic-Mom instantly hated him because I’d gotten pregnant while I was still living with her. Did I mention I was 22? Not only did I have to figure out my next steps, I had to deal with angry family members who didn’t support my pregnancy.

As for my partner, he was living with his mother and younger brother while I lived with my mom and younger brother. Even though he wanted me to move into his house, I didn’t feel comfortable with his mother. So we stayed apart and were both miserable.

I remember going to most of my check-ups alone because we were BOTH sad about our situation. We did look for apartments but didn’t find anything affordable and safe for us.  I went to my 6-month appointment alone and began to cry with my ob-gyn who sent me to the hospital social worker to get therapy services. I still struggled to go to appointments on my own, but at least I had ONE person completely supporting me.

After our son was born in 2001, things shifted. I kept growing through adversity while my partner kept sinking. And I didn’t know how to help him. But, I still didn’t let him go. We kept trying to make it work and struggled….hard.

He was dragging me under because I was too afraid to let him go. To be on my own. Even though I was so unhappy with a partner who was so paralyzed with his own crap that he couldn’t help me with our son.

It stayed this way for 7 years. When my mother died in 2002, I inherited her co-op apartment along with the mortgage. We both struggled, financially, mentally and physically. Both of us with mental health issues and him with addiction issues. I went to therapy and he didn’t want help. Until I broke up with him and kicked him out in 2005.

The break-up was brief because I didn’t and couldn’t let my son’s father go. I was still too scared to stand on my own two feet. I still believed that I wasn’t going to find someone else that would love me. So even with the imperfect and unhappy love I was getting, I stayed. But, it was not easy at all. We still struggled with communication, my co-dependency, and anxiety. His untreated mental health issues. And in the middle of all of that dysfunction was our young son going through his own struggles with undiagnosed ADHD.

It got to the point where our son was old enough to ask us not to argue. More specifically, he asked me to keep the peace. He just wanted us to be happy all together.

And I couldn’t give that to him. I loved my baby so much, but couldn’t give him the one thing he wanted. A happy home. I hated not being able to sleep. Feeling strangled by this relationship. We were both hurt by each other.

Much as I wanted for my son to have his wish of a happy family, I couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t carry the burden of the three of us together. I was so tired and frustrated and lonely. And there’s nothing worse than to be in a relationship with someone and STILL feel alone.

It requires two people to have and maintain a healthy relationship. My son’s father isn’t a bad guy. He’s someone with a good heart and had a lot of problems back then. Both of us had problems to work out BEFORE getting pregnant. We couldn’t have a healthy relationship together, because we each needed a healthy relationship with ourselves. So I chose me.

I broke the news to our son by letting him know that we BOTH loved him, but needed to be apart. I explained to him that I knew how he felt (because my parents also had a terrible relationship and eventually split up – to my great relief) and asked him – “Do you want us to be together and fighting or apart and happy?” As a super bright 7-year-old, he said: “I want you both happy.” I told him how sorry I was that I couldn’t give him what he wanted, but that I could give him a happy mommy.

As the years went on, our son got used to having parents who weren’t together. We struggled going through the adjustment of creating a family living in two different places. But, we did do it. It took us many years and another child in between (our 4 year old) to get us to the place where we could raise our boys lovingly while co-parenting.

I don’t know what the future holds for me. But I do know that loving myself and putting myself first has been the best decision I’ve ever made. Not only did I create the love that I needed for myself, but I also gave my sons the best mom they could have. One who is able to show them how to love themselves and their family well. Love wins.

Here’s what I’ve learned since putting myself first:

  1. Putting my happiness first allows me to be the best mom and co-parent I can be.
  2. Relationships of all kinds take TWO people. One person absolutely CANNOT carry a relationship alone. It just doesn’t work.
  3. I’ve learned to be honest with myself about the things I did to contribute to our unhealthy relationship – not talking openly about my feelings, keeping my emotions to myself until I blew up and being honest with myself about what I want.
  4. That I really CAN be an independent woman standing on my own. I’ve survived being a single mom for many years.
  5. That loving myself allows me to know if the love that someone else gives me is the same or better and is worthy of me.
  6. That loving myself allows me to build the best life for me and my family.
  7. That I can get through the hard stuff and my kids can, too. Kids are resilient. They are strong and whatever challenges you have in your relationship, you can raise strong and happy kids.
  8. Even if you want to stay together (or not), you need to know how to love yourself so you can love your partner and vice versa.
  9. If you’re willing to do the work for yourself, your partner and your children, ANYTHING’s possible.
  10. Love is hard but SO worth it.