Becoming a healthy partner is the hard part
I bounced from one relationship to the next my whole life.
“Relationships are hard,” I used to say.
But what’s so hard about them? Being vulnerable? Stating my wants and needs? Fear of not being good enough? None of these things are inherently relationship problems. They have more to do with my maturity and personal evolution.
Looking back, I can see that “finding the right partner” was a fantasy. I tried pinning the tail on that donkey for decades before I realized, dizzy and blindfolded, that I was just pinning my unrealistic expectations on innocent bystanders. Ouch.
I would meet somebody cute and work up a frothy emotional lather sufficient to eclipse reality. I’d do my best healthy relationship impersonation, and we’d eventually start playing house. Moving in together meant I had to introduce her to my mental roommates — insecurity, low self-esteem, and defense mechanism. They didn’t pay rent, but they kept me company.
Sooner or later, she would expect me to be a mature adult, and that was my cue to get the hell out of there. Don’t get me wrong, I’d try to navigate a handful of commonplace relationship conflicts early on. But ill-equipped, I’d usually resort to stuffing my feelings, abandoning my needs, and painting a happy face on my resentments.
Eventually, when I couldn’t keep up the charade any longer, I’d vanish like a fart in a windstorm and strike out on my own in search of greener pastures.
I could never find the right partner until I became the right partner.
The Grass Is Only Greener Where You Water It
The quality of my relationships depends wholly on my emotional maturity and willingness to grow. I didn’t realize this for the longest time.
I can see now that looking for “the right one” was based on the faulty assumption that I didn’t have any more growing to do – that I just needed to find someone to match my awesomeness. False.
I used to think that a great relationship with my perfect partner would be smooth sailing. We would never disagree, argue, or hurt each other’s feelings. Also false.
I figured out that when my relationship got bumpy, it was a sign that I wasn’t bringing something to the table. I wasn’t showing up fully, communicating honestly, or taking responsibility. I wasn’t watering the grass, so to speak. And torching my partner with the blame-thrower would get me nowhere.
One day I was having relationship troubles, and I realized that running away would never be the answer. Sure, I could temporarily escape my present discomfort by finding a new partner, but I would have to start all over again – undoubtedly with another flawed human being. I would be right back where I left off. I recognized that running from my problems didn’t make them go away. It only made me go away.
Run or Heal
When I finally decided to face the music, I had to get help. I didn’t know emotional maturity from a can of tuna, so I needed all the assistance I could get. I began seeing a great therapist that I couldn’t afford. I joined a recovery group, started multiple book studies, journaled, meditated, went to workshops and conferences. Basically, healing and growth became daily priorities.
This was super challenging work, but I fully committed to it and made healing the central focus of my existence. It felt like Navy Seal training for my emotions.
I remember driving home in rush hour traffic after a brutal double-session with my therapist, sobbing uncontrollably the whole way. When the gas light came on, I was fresh out of fucks to give, so I pulled into a gas station. I stood at the pump in broad daylight — eyes swollen, tear-streaked face, snot smeared on my sleeves — and watched the world go by.
All those people may have been going home like any other day, but I was returning to myself for the very first time.
Rebecca and I were good friends for a year and a half before we decided to date. We both had some healing to do before we were able to see each other romantically. So, the running joke is that we weren’t ready to be together because we were “still cooking.” Crucial ingredients of authenticity and self-love were being baked into us. We were learning to be wholes instead of holes.
After being together for a few years, now happily married, I’ve learned that we’re never truly done cooking. I believe that the healing journey is actually what brings people together — not as finished products, but fellow travelers.
There is still much to learn, and my marriage is the perfect classroom. We are both committed to loving each other while continuing to grow into our best selves. We support one another, own our faults, and work toward healthy solutions.
My wife and I schedule time to have tea or go for a walk twice a week to discuss our feelings. We listen to each other and ask encouraging questions. Sometimes it’s all rainbows and petunias. Other times it’s uncomfortable as shit because one of us is upset or needs to set a boundary. In either case, we’ve agreed to kill the monsters while they’re small, and our regular tea time ensures that we never let a resentment fester for more than a couple days.
It seems as though relationships, with two self-aware and willing participants, are a place for mutual healing. I am at my best when I can sustain a happy and healthy relationship with my partner. And she is her best self when she can hold up her end of the commitment.
The Purpose of Relationships
Whether it’s because of nature, karma, or our souls’ yearning for wholeness, it seems like people are drawn into a relationship where healing themselves is the only way to preserve it. They either grow and have a lovely time, or they don’t grow and watch it go down in flames. Seems brilliant, actually.
Well done, cosmos — well done, indeed.