"It's my one non-negotiable," she said as she reflected on entering the dating scene. I marveled at this simple caveat to being in a relationship; that the people who we invite into our lives be proactively in therapy. My friend had a great point, not just in terms of intimate relationships but also in the friendships that we keep. Why aren't we all requiring this as a prerequisite?
Since the discussion with my friend, I have come to reflect on the many relationships I have had throughout my life (lovers, friends, family, colleagues, etc.) and it has become clearer, especially with the progression of my own therapeutic journey that healthy dynamics come from both parties working on self-awareness.
Too often I had found myself in relationships that had become vastly lop-sided because the person needed me to care for their emotional needs like a parent, or expected me to read their minds or even take their abuse. I have found myself unable to relate or connect because of unhealthy mindsets. And while it is not my job to interject my therapeutic opinion in these relationships, it is hard to not notice the dysfunction.
In episode 14 of The Symmetry Sessions Podcast, I talked about the need for relationships to be "easy".
What I meant by this was, while relationships are always work, I can't be the only one doing that work. In the last few years, I have gone through intense therapy to heal the roots of why I have kept the company I have and why certain people and personalities trigger submissive, avoidant, or aggressive parts of me. And since I have come out the other side of that exploration, I have started to look around. I have taken inventory of who actually feels good to be around, who lets me be unapologetically myself, who judges me, and who takes advantage of me. I have looked at what initially connected us and if that was healthy for me, how did you react when good things happen to me, and how did you react when I was going through difficulties and challenges. How did I support you? How did I react? Did I feel like I had a choice or did I feel gaslit into responding to you? Why would I ignore my choice?
How did I become aware of these things? When "friends" told me they couldn't be happy for me on big days in my life. When "friends" voluntold me how to care for them when they had had bad days. When I felt drained to hear from them. When I felt like I wasn't being a nice person to others. When I felt like I had to walk on eggshells around their moods. When I was reading into their tones and trying to decipher how to approach them. When they were passive-aggressive with me. When I felt like what I had to give wasn't enough. When I was talked down to. When I was minimized. When I was talked over. When they got mad at me for not showing up the way they wanted me to but never asked me how I was or what was happening to me.
I spent a long time sussing out what was my stuff to work on and what was theirs. And Eventually what I came to understand is that I can't be the only one that sees it or the only one working on my side of things. That's not actually a relationship.
So many questions and things to take stock of but through my own therapy I have healed the parts of me that didn't understand that they deserved better, didn't feel good enough, needing to proect me and couldn't see the forest for the trees. Since I repaired that internal relationship, I stopped repeating my pattern. I started standing up for my love, energy, and time and took back and owned my choices. I have filled my life with more peace.
There will always be more work to do inside but as far as the outside of myself, I am using my friend's words like a mantra. You don't have to be "cured" of your childhood trauma, but you do need to be working on how it affects you and your ability to relate with others. If we are in this relationship together, we both have individual work to do. Any good relationship therapist will tell you that.
I am not interested in having a relationship with someone who is not interested in learning about themselves and growing. I am not interested in having a relationship with someone who isn't interested in being mindful of how they show up in a relationship. A relationship without both parties doing the work can run into all kinds of problems. There can be resentment, abuse, manipulation and gaslighting, irrational expectations, blaming, jealousy, projection, extreme reactivity and dysregulation, discord, enabling, defensiveness and the list can obviously keep going but you get the idea. None of that is good. None of that is loving. NONE OF IT.
I AM interested in being with people who I love and that love me, safe spaces to be who we are without judgment, where we can have kind and honest conversations about our feelings and be reflective of our experiences together. We can be thoughtful when we are triggered about why, never asking anyone to take care of that but ourselves, and then we can come together and share what we've learned.
Your negative reactions are not about me. That's about you. That's your responsibility. That's where the work lies. Take it to your therapist to explore.
I know I will.