I don’t think it’s coincidental that Valentine’s day is this month and my client sessions are filled with increased discussion around relationships, loneliness and wanting to feel connected. Come to think of it, more friends and family members are turning their attention either inward or towards re-assessing the relationships in their lives. Maybe it’s cosmic, or maybe it’s a subliminal response to Hallmark hyping up their sappy commercials, but relationships seem to be the topic du jour! And guess what, this makes me SUPER excited - because I LOVE love!
Time and time again I see people trying to figure out the “magic” to attracting and keeping a quality mate. With technology today, it’s relatively easy to find someone to partner up with. But that does not necessarily mean that person is the best match for you. Believe me, another huge topic in therapy is what to do when you are in a relationship that is not fulfilling, supportive or healthy. Alas, that topic lives to see another day!
I don’t claim to have a magic formula to provide clients or friends. I often wonder what I would do if single now in the era of Tinder and speed dating. Just the thought of it makes my stomach turn. My husband and I were lucky enough to meet at our job where we had many similar connections and forced interactions. Of course, that is not how our fairy tale ends, but we’ll just leave it at that for now. So how do I support a client (or friend) in finding a long-lasting, healthy partnership?
My first goal is to turn focus inward! I work regularly with care-takers and light-workers; people whose natural instinct is to put other’s first. While on the paper this makes for a great spouse/partner, it can turn extremely negative over time. Healthy relationships are ones that have balance. It’s important to remember not to compare what is a good balance for you to what works for others – it will not be the same. So take an internal inventory. Do you feel constantly tired and overwhelmed? Do you stay up late because that is the only time of day you have to yourself? Are you constantly in charge of paying bills on time, getting the groceries, cleaning the house, etc? What about in times of emotional crisis – do you have to soothe yourself for fear of “inconveniencing” your partner?
One of the gifts my relationship with my husband gave me was the ability to “turn off” my therapist brain. We met shortly before I immersed myself in the torture that is grad school, and the first few years we were together my husband was guinea pig to every therapeutic intervention and theory I learned about. But my truly transformative moment was when I lost my sh*t on him. Now, of course I have no idea what we were fighting about at the time, but I do remember afterwards realizing I had been holding in my anger and complaints for a LONG time. I allowed them to build and build as I attempted to “manage” our relationship. I was completely disconnected from my self, and consequently not bringing my most authentic version of me to my relationship. The disclaimer is that the key to these insights is to not willy-nilly go postal on your partner, but to observe yourself at your worst moments. What triggered the internal incongruence? What are you not saying that is preventing you from living your truth? Are you effectively getting your needs met?
It may be easy to point blame at our partner and claim they are not pulling their emotional weight. But the reality is you have had a hand in creating this imbalance. Once you’ve reached a breaking point, it is very hard to create effective shifts in ingrained patterns. This can lead to resentment and surface-level arguments that never really address the core foundational crack. Those who have strong internal emotional boundaries say “no” more often. Having a clear sense of yourself and your limits allows you to avoid over-functioning in your relationships.
Secondly, utilize a self-reflective meditation to get sense of self. Are you aware of what you are putting out? What vibes are you giving off in any given social situation where you are able to attract a mate? Think about the last time you were attracted to someone physically. Likely they gave off a charismatic, confident vibe in some energetic way. This does not mean they were the life of the party, but that they have an air or presence about them that was desirable. Are you aware of what you are giving off? Do you avoid eye contact at all costs and then wonder why no one approaches you? On a deeper level, are you fearful after being hurt in a past relationship and therefore give off a closed energy to potential suitors? Conversely, are you so confident in yourself that you send out signals that lead others to be intimidated or feel you are unapproachable? If you have a hard time with self-assessing, ask trusted friends or ex’s you are on good terms with. Get their honest opinions of their first impression of you, and adjust accordingly. While earlier I spoke of the importance of asking for your needs to be met, you also must believe you deserve to have your needs met.
Finally, we look at our self-esteem and means of seeking validation. A common myth is that narcissists are extremely self-confident and think the world revolves around them. The truth is that narcissists are horribly insecure with terrible self-esteem. Their charisma is often a mask they have developed as an easy way to connect with others and fill a void. In other words, they seek validation externally. How do you seek validation? Do you find it through your job title, accomplishments, or what you can do for others? How about your internal dialogue? Is it characterized by constant criticism and judgment? A healthy core sense of self is one of balanced confidence. You can humbly recognize your worth and what you have to offer, but it doesn’t consume you. The ability to internally validate will open space for you externally to connect with others in a deep and genuine way.
These steps combined with a clear sense of what a healthy partnership entails can lead to lasting and meaningful partnerships. If you find yourself in emotionally abusive or imbalanced relationships over and over, it may be helpful to seek professional help in identifying your patterns and learning what boundaries a healthy relationship should have.
Love is a beautiful gift. It can bring so much joy and energy into your life, while being absolutely terrifying at the same time. But isn’t anything worth doing scary as hell?
Happy Valentine’s Day!! (**…it’s the most wonderful tiiiiiiiime of the year!...**)
With gratitude and loving you,