Now that it’s March, I think it’s safe to talk about the not so glamorous side of love.
Doing what I do, I get to hear a lot about relationships.
I'm also in relationships. Lots of relationships.
No, I’m not polyamorous (Not that there’s anything wrong with that, just not what I’m doing here.). When I say relationships, I mean all kinds of relationships. Not just the romantic ones. Friendships. Family. Professional relationships. Mailman whom my dog barks ferociously at (and I apologize profusely to) relationships.
Relationships can be wonderful. Growth-inducing. Inspiring. Fun. Silly. Passionate. Warm and cozy. Fulfilling.
But they can also be messy. And complicated. Painful.
We're often hurt in relationships. Unfortunately, this usually begins at a young age. Sometimes intentionally. But more so often because someone else was hurt before us and they’ve never healed from that. So we carry the generations of pain into our current relationships.
As much as they suck, these so-called yucky parts of relationships can also be tremendous gifts. Opportunities to heal and learn different, healthier ways of relating. While this is true for any sort of relationship, it’s especially in your face in romantic relationships. Yet, without awareness of yourself and others you'll find yourself recreating past, familiar patterns that are often unhealthy and ultimately unrewarding.
This is where many confuse drama for passion.
People just love to fight in order to makeup. We get bored or uncomfortable so we start shit with people. It’s an easy way to reignite that initial thrill of meeting and getting to know a new person. We can also get addicted to the adrenaline. Some adrenaline is healthy to experience from time to time, but ultimately too much, like anything else, is no good for us.
Sometimes we can’t help it, though. Adrenaline makes us feel so alive! It can also mimic family dysfunction we grew up with. That familiar and weirdly comforting feeling of inconsistency and unpredictableness that we experienced early on in life can be confused for true love and passion.
We innately know our parents/caregivers love us (or are supposed to) so however they treat us we understand as love. This is great when their behavior is actually mindful, attentive, and loving. Not so great when it’s inconsistent, lacking, or aggressive.
We tend to recreate our familial relationships (particularly with our parents) in our romantic relationships. Not exactly as Freud described it (I believe many of his theories say far more about his state of mind than the entirety of society, but that’s for a later time.), but he was onto something in terms of how important our early relationships are. And how they show up in our later relationships.
These later relationships often mirror how you felt in those initial relationships with your parents. The situation may not be exactly the same, but the feelings will be because it’s actually an opportunity to heal.
The problem is, healing requires feeling and dealing with the pain. Who wants to do that? That hurts. It’s uncomfortable. It means not only looking at our parents and other important adults and what they did, but also at all of the negative beliefs we developed about ourselves as a result. We have to really confront hating ourselves, not feeling good enough, or worthy of love and abundance. These aren’t truths, but they seem like truths so often we ignore them, push them away, compensate, hoping they’ll disappear. Rather than owning it and allowing yourself to realize it’s simply a belief, not a truth, and healing from it.
In the meantime, we enter into relationships that reinforce these core beliefs. We don’t feel good enough so we find a partner who puts us down, or if they don’t, we push them into breaking up with us so we have proof that we aren’t good enough. If we don’t believe we’re worthy of love we remain single or date people who are unavailable in one way or another. Etc., etc., etc. This manifests in infinite ways. When we feel dissatisfied at our core, everything around us will reflect that.
Yet we continue to seek out others in hopes they’ll fill the void. This person will make me happy. This person will motivate me. They’ll be my muse. So I don’t have to be my own muse. I guess ultimately we’re getting back into self-love here. It all comes back round to self-love.
But when they don’t motivate us. When they stop being our muse. When they don’t make us happy forever (Pretty tall order btw.), we feel disappointed, sad, angry, everything we felt as kids. And we blame them. They did this to us. And maybe some of these people were actually pretty crappy. I’m not saying they were angels. But they also may have been completely normal people treating you just fine. Either way we blame them. Because then we don’t have to look at ourselves. And we get to feel that rush we crave, even if it doesn’t feel quite… good.
Since we’re still avoiding ourselves and the actual cause of this pain, we engage in fight after fight, break up and get back together, break up and get back together, keep in contact with exes, cheat, even if we don’t cheat keep an eye out for someone “better,” and if they come along break up with the current person and get right back into another relationship. Often the same relationship. Sure, the details are different, but the feelings are the same. Because you haven’t healed! That’s drama folks, not passion. Are you getting the cycle yet?
Many people who come to therapy for relationship issues and ultimately end the relationship, often say later that they wish they hadn’t ended that relationship and instead worked on themselves while in the relationship. Because after the next relationship, or the next relationship, or a serious period of being single, they realized it was more about them than their partner. That’s not to say there aren’t times to end a relationship, but many times we aren’t ending them for the right reasons.
So what do we do to end this cycle?
Look at Yourself
Sorry. There’s no way to get around this. This should always be your go-to in any difficult situation in life. Be very real with yourself. Ask the difficult questions. How much of this is you? How much do you enjoy the thrill? How much does this look like past situations? If you can’t ask yourself the questions and answer them honestly, find a therapist. We’ll sure as heck ask them. And provide a safe space to find and explore the answers.
Look at Others
But only after you’ve at least started looking at yourself. How healthy are the people you’re surrounding yourself with? Not only in your romantic relationships but overall. Set boundaries. Let go of people who aren’t healthy for you. No matter how thrilling they might be. This will give you more space to look at yourself and what you need.
Quiet Your Mind
Quieting the mind is the only way to thoroughly look at yourself and others. And become okay with experiencing less adrenaline. It might be difficult at first. You might feel more anxious, sad, or angry. There’s a reason our society is inundated with media at all times in all locations. No one wants to feel that way. But it’s giving us information that something isn’t right and the more you ignore it, the more of a problem it will become.
Get Your Adrenaline Elsewhere
I’m not of the mindset that all adrenaline is bad. We need a healthy amount in our lives. I have my own propensity for adrenaline boosting activities. But I prefer not to get it from my relationships. Give me a roller coaster, mountain, wave, materials to create with, or simply something new. Sure, some people can get addicted to these things as well but if you’re combining these with moments of true quiet and going within, it’s highly unlikely.
Moral of the story: “It’s me, not you,” is often more true than we’d like to think it is. So if you want healthy relationships in your life (Whatever those relationships look like for you.), stop confusing drama for passion. Take care of yourself and find true passion from within.