When I first announced that I was joining JWHF I asked on Instagram if anyone wanted to request any topics. I received so many lovely notes, suggested topics, and questions that I’ve decided to run a little series where I go through them, bit by bit. Here’s a question from the wonderful Ellina:
How did your attitude towards relationships change over the past years? Eg if you compare yourself in a relationship with someone 5-7 years ago, and now with your current partner. Just curious if your behaviour has changed in any way, or the way you think about ”love relationships” in general. And also, what would you say to yourself 5-7 years ago, and what would you do differently in a relationship?
There are so many things to say about this. I am fortunate to have been in numerous wonderful romantic relationships throughout my life (and don’t worry, I’ve had some awful ones as well). But even though many of them were lovely and wonderful in many ways, it never seemed to work out. This can be put down to a number of reasonable factors — a mismatch in goals and aspirations, growing in different directions, or simply falling out of love are all viable and probably quite common reasons for why people break up and relationships end. I’ve experienced some of that. I’ve also experienced rivalry and envy, and this is something different. It was so counterintuitive and almost unbelievable that it took me quite some time to identify what felt wrong (even though it happened in more than one relationship). A healthy relationship comes from many things, like mutual love, patience, admiration, respect, gratitude, and a willingness to learn and grow together, even when it’s hard. Rivalry and envy do not fit in that space. Quite the opposite, since it undermines all of it. So when I first encountered rivalry and/or envy, I thought that maybe I was mistaken. And that maybe I was too sensitive.
This was wrong and wrong again. What really happened was that I didn’t have the emotional maturity and the skills to recognise when someone was trying to undermine me and make me feel insecure. As a result, I tried to give more of myself to compensate and to prove myself smart, capable, and worthy. This, in turn, resulted in a lack of clear boundaries, a lack of self-respect and self-worth. Simply put, it was a shitshow. It would be easy to point blame here, but the truth is that the shitshow would never have happened if I had known how to manage my mind and if I had clear boundaries. I was expecting my partner to make me happy and I could only be happy if my partner thought I was smart, capable, and worthy.
There are two things here. First, your partner can never make you happy. Yes, they can write little love letters and they can buy you flowers and that might make you think thoughts that make you feel happy. But it’s the thoughts you have that make you feel happy, not the gesture itself. That doesn’t mean that your partner can treat you like shit and that we can manage our mind to not let it impact us. That’s where boundaries come into play. Secondly, do not date people who do not think you are smart, capable, worthy. Because again, boundaries.
Looking at the relationships I had before pursuing emotional adulthood I mainly see two confused people trying to be happy, and expecting the other person to make them happy. It doesn’t work. I’m also not surprised that this is how many people pursue romantic relationships. It’s what we see in films and popular culture, and it’s how I saw adults pursue love when I grew up. That also never ended well though, so I’m not sure why I let that guide me when I was younger.
My behaviour in terms of relationships has changed massively over the past few years. I recognise that only I can make myself happy, and I try to never shift that responsibility over to my partner. I also know that I can’t bear the responsibility of my partner’s happiness. I know my boundaries better than ever before and I speak up if they’re ever crossed. If I bring up a problem or if my partner brings up a problem, I try with every inch of my body to not let that spin into a bigger discussion, to shift focus, or to place blame, but to really listen and understand.
All the thought work I’ve done over the past few years is yielding phenomenal results. It’s really bloody hard, and a teeny weeny part of me wishes I could have all the phenomenal results without the hard work, but I tried that for several years and I know that it doesn’t work. There’s no alternative. But I also think that being in an emotionally mature relationship requires both parties to have a lot of patience and perseverance. There are no limits for how grateful I am to be with someone who wants to grow with me, on good days and bad. To be quite honest, I think it’s like a little miracle.
Here are some things that have helped shape how I think about love and romantic relationships:
The subtle art of not giving a fuck, by Mark Manson
The Manual, by The Life Coach School
The Prophet, by Khalil Gibran