I write about parenting often. I write about it because I have experience with parenting. It is important to note that my definition of “experience” is several small victories and a series of situations filed under “what was I thinking?” But I am still a parent, and I have put in my time, so it counts as experience.

Experience is the same reason I don’t usually write about intimate relationships. I don’t know anything about them. I’ve never had one. It doesn’t mean I haven’t dated or been married. I have done that. I am very efficient at marriage. I can get through an entire marriage in just four years. I have done that twice. In case you don’t sense the sarcasm, I am NOT proud of that.

The universal law of attraction makes it impossible for one traumatized person to attract a partner without trauma. Therefore, for an unrecovered trauma survivor, marriage is not an intimate relationship. Marriage is more like an arrangement between two adults who are not willing to open their hearts to another person. “Let’s live in the same house. We might even have kids. But don’t ask me to love you. I am not capable of that. My heart has been ground up and spit out.” I know that’s not a lovely image, but it’s accurate.

The closest I came to a relationship with moments of true intimacy was my last relationship with my children’s father. There were moments which were almost vulnerable. There were moments which seemed like an authentic connection might have been made. If children had not appeared on the scene, we might have convinced others (and ourselves) that our relationship was the real deal. But the twins stopped that train in its tracks.

Children provide all the necessary triggers to make a survivor want to throw themselves off a bridge. The pain ramps up as soon as the child reaches the age of the survivor when their abuse began. And that pain is intense. My ex-husband and I had both suffered severe abuse, so our triggers started very early. I chose a path of recovery. My ex chose a path of self-destruction. He walked out, eventually moving back in with his childhood abusers, and taking his own life.

When I think about our marriage, I realize that we never had a chance. Our relationship was the epitome of enmeshment, co-dependence, addiction and enablement. And the house of cards came crashing down as soon as the two new heartbeats came through the front door. I sometimes wonder how it could have been different. Why didn’t I walk away when he first started showing signs of addiction? Why didn’t I know that kids would be a bad idea? Why didn’t I know he would run away when I told him to take responsibility? Why didn’t I realize that he would walk back in to the lion’s den when he left us?

I could have stopped the madness so many times. But we had an arrangement. We had an agreement. No matter how dysfunctional it became, we were supposed to stand by our promise. Of course, in the end, he didn’t. The pain was too much. Sometimes, I look at the empty chair and ask, “Why didn’t you make another choice?” “Why didn’t you make my choice?” I don’t regret the end of our relationship, but I do regret that my children will never remember their father.

My experience in relationship is not intimacy. It is experience in what not to do. It is experience in what happens when the heart is not available to love another person. My experience shows that there is no substitute for vulnerability and openness in relationships. There is no shortcut. The only true path is healing. I don’t know if I will heal enough for an intimate relationship, but I like to think I will. I may not know what to do, but I know what not to do.