Relationships, like most things worth having in life, require work.
A series of negotiations, compromises, and getting-to-know-yous. As two individuals begin to mesh their lives together, cohabitate, and build a future, there is much to learn, and ample opportunity for growth all around.
There are little things to navigate together every day—sleep schedules, sex drives, household chores, and the infamous “I-don’t-know-what-do-you-want-for-dinner-s.” There are work commitments, familial obligations, budgetary and dietary restrictions, social calendars, domestic duties…and if you’re blending families like we are, parental responsibilities and expectations as well. With a little give, take, and some patience, all of these things seem to work themselves out.
Somehow, we find a new rhythm and life begins to feel more whole as love multiplies around us. We expand into our new roles as partners, spouses, bedmates, domestic helpers, step-parents, and lovers.
We learn what makes our partner tick, how to bring them a smile, what buttons not to press, how to turn them on, and how to make them feel safe, special, and satisfied. We learn how we fit into their days, their space, and their family. And hopefully, we learn all about their quirks and the little things that make them uniquely them.
As we begin to unpack the baggage we’ve carried into our new relationship, there is much to un-learn as well. We may discover triggers we didn’t know we had. We may discover attitudes and emotions that surprise us when they show up.
We may even wonder from time to time why our partner puts up with our bullsh*t—because suddenly, we can see ourselves for the disasters that we actually are.
At least, that’s how I feel, sometimes.
Recently, I’ve discovered that my workaholic tendencies, coupled with my frustrated perfectionism borders on insanity. Also, when I begin approaching the edge of burn out, I shut down and turn into a complete mess. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to be anywhere near me when I’m in that place—I don’t even like myself at that point.
But, somehow, he loves me. Moody, messy, exhausted me. He talks me off the ledge every single time. He reminds me that it’s not all bad, that we always have happy things to look forward to. He tells me that I’m capable—that nothing can really hold me back unless I let it. He gives me gentle nudges toward all the things that make me happy. And, sometimes, when that doesn’t work, he just holds me and lets me cry until I feel better.
The hardest part of being in a relationship like this one has never been the negotiations. It’s never been compromising to make sure everyone gets what they want. The hardest part isn’t even co-parenting children I didn’t carry in my womb.
The hardest part of this relationship is believing that I deserve it.
I’ve never been loved unconditionally before. I’ve never been with someone so selfless to put my needs at the top of their list. I’ve never experienced complete acceptance and support from my partner before. In fact, for most of my life, I believed that I was unlovable and undeserving of such things.
I had plenty of evidence to support this belief. It seemed perfectly logical after a lifetime of abuse that there was something wrong with me. The damage was two-fold in my mind. First, there must have been something inherently bad about me to make people want to abuse me in the first place. And, because I was abused, I was damaged. Stained. Ruined.
When the abuse stopped, I continued punishing myself. I held myself back in every single area of my life. I didn’t feel worthy of anything good. So, I settled, and sabotaged, and kept myself miserable until I realized that hurting myself over and over would never undo the terrible things that were done to me. Making my adult life horrible would not right the wrongs of my childhood. And, if I was ever going to be a happy person, I had to let all of that go.
Through therapy, and the kindness of some wonderful friends, I’ve been able to heal tremendously. Still, experiencing unconditional, beautiful, real love is a tiny bit terrifying for someone like me. Those feelings of unworthiness still linger in the background. Knowing that I have something to lose weighs on me, as does the fear of falling back into the people-pleasing pattern of my previous relationships where I nearly vanished while clinging to the wrong people, no matter how much they hurt me.
Accepting love can be difficult when we don’t love ourselves completely and unconditionally. I never really understood this concept until I experienced a healthy relationship. The more I loved and accepted myself, the more open I became to the love and affection of my partner. Feeling worthy of love allowed me to reciprocate in healthy ways. It helped me step toward him when things felt scary, instead of running away like I would have when I thought I didn’t deserve to have him in my life.
There was a time in my life when I’d made peace with the idea of living happily every after all alone in a house full of shelter cats. Today, I’m so grateful to have a loving, supportive, incredibly patient, kind, intelligent, amazing partner to share my life with. I’ve waited my whole life for him—it took my whole life to feel worthy of the way he loves me.
When we come from a painful past, we might build our identity around the terrible things that happened to us. But, if we can begin to separate who we are from those events, we see that though our pain may shape us, it does not define who we are as human beings. We are inherently good, and we deserve the absolute best in life. We deserve to be happy, healthy, and to have and give love unconditionally. We deserve to be supported, protected, and adored by the one we lay our head next to at night.
We deserve to have an extraordinary future, no matter how terrible our past.
Author: Renee Dubeau
Image: Jared Eberhardt/Flickr
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Copy Editor: Nicole Cameron
Social Editor: Nicole Cameron