Most of us go into creating relationships without the necessary information about how to pilot it to success. It’s like going into the cockpit of a plane and just winging it. It’s no wonder so many relationships end up crashing and burning. In this article I wanted to offer some of the basic awarenesses that every person should be returning to again and again so as to avoid that crash and to continue to grow together in as graceful a way as possible.
You’re indoctrinated, just like everybody else.
Whether we’re aware of it or not, all of us were born into a cult. We got indoctrinated very early on with the ethos, the cosmology, and belief systems of our parents, for better or worse. Becoming aware of how our family of origin impacted us is the cliche work of therapy, but there’s tons of free resources available for discovering the different belief systems we inherited outside of therapy too. This is so important because we carry this indoctrination whether we’re aware of it or not, and one of the biggest places this is most destructive is in intimate partnerships. The truth is, in any given moment, none of us are entirely right about anything.
It can be difficult and humbling to become aware of the fact that you only know half the story, that you’re missing a whole lot of what’s happening in any given moment. Yet no relationship—I repeat, no relationship—functions well if one or both parties believe they have the whole story.
For example, you may have a belief that it’s not ok to express anger. So when your partner expresses anger you get fearful and want to tell them it’s not ok, when expressing anger is a normal part of the human experience. Another common example is the opposite — we’re allowed to shout as much as we feel like it and not pay attention to the impact on those around us. This could have been the norm in your family, but it may bump up against your relationship, and you have to contend with that.
I’m not suggesting you need to get rid of any of your beliefs, the first thing is just to be aware of them. Ask yourself, is this how I want to be? Does this work for my relationship? And if not, how can I adjust it?
It’s not your partner’s job to save you from yourself.
Most people have an assumption that in relationships, we look to the other to nourish us. This idea of external regulation is based heavily in our biology as mammals. As mammals, we are biologically wired to look to others to soothe us and make us safe. Nothing is more effective than another person for regulating our nervous system — no amount of breathwork, yoga, nothing.
However, if we default to expecting that it’s our partner’s job to nourish us, we will never get all the nourishment and fulfillment we desire. There’s a paradox here that can be resolved by thinking about it this way:
The more you can soothe yourself, the more you can receive the necessary and expected care and attunement that is available from your partner.
We all have nervous systems that go through natural cycles. We have moods of hyper and hypo arousal, and it’s important to learn how to regulate our moods so we can be open and flexible. It’s essential we create our own stable refuge inside ourselves — it is not up to our partner to always provide this for us.
How do we do it? There are different levels of efficacy around soothing and nourishing oneself. Some people soothe by ice cream and Netflix, which is likely less fundamentally regulating than taking a walk under the stars and breathing deeply. Meditation is a good place to start. Turn your attention inwards and develop the ability to be a kind presence to yourself and all your different emotions. Just this practice alone regulates and calms us. Being outside, exercise, yoga, reading inspirational things are also good options — whatever practices enable you to go to your partner and listen with an open heart and a clear mind. When we are genuinely curious, listen and feel empathetically what’s going on for them, they actually feel seen and heard, which is what everyone wants, which brings me to my next point.
You have to accept your partner as they are.
Acceptance is being in reality around who your partner is, and letting go of the fantasy of who you want them to be, so that you can actually work with and be with who they are. This may be one of the most difficult things you’ll ever do in a relationship, so prepare yourself.
When there are aspects of who they are that are really painful and even threatening to you, It’s easy to want to coerce and shame them into somebody else, but let’s be honest, that never works out.
Everyone just wants to feel accepted. Your task as a partner is to be able to look at the other and be really curious about what their worldview is. It’s your task to develop that ability, to set aside your beliefs, judgments, stories of who they are, why they do what they do, and to actually notice them. Who are they really?
Got questions or want support in implementing this in your relationship? Book a free call here.