I sat on my bed crying after what was the biggest conversation of my life: I had just called off my wedding.
And I was left on my own to pick up the pieces.
The only thing worse than how I was feeling was the fear of staying in a state of disempowerment. Of abandoning myself. Of marrying the wrong the person.
But he’s going to work on it in therapy!
Maybe he’ll change if he realizes what he’s losing.
I just need to be patient.
These are just some of the stories I told myself to stay stuck in a relationship that wasn’t working for me—one that made me focus on my smallness in the world, instead of my greatness.
I had to learn this the hard way, but there are some aspects of a relationship that are non-negotiable. And an empowered relationship is one that feels conscious, fulfilling, and emotionally/physically/mentally healthy.
As a psychotherapist, I’ve watched countless clients speak out of both sides of their mouths when it comes to their partnerships. They’ll say they want a healthy relationship in the same sentence that they confess all of the toxic behaviors and dynamics they’ve engaged in with their partner.
Many of us say we want an empowered relationship, but oftentimes, we don’t realize what it requires to create just that.
Here are five signs that we’re in an empowered dynamic:
1. We’re open to talking and hearing about each other’s feelings, concerns, ideas, and thoughts. This also means that we practice one of the most powerful tools in therapy: validation. Validation means allowing our partner the space to feel their feelings without making them wrong for them. Validation doesn’t have to mean we agree with what they’re saying, but it does mean that we’re willing to allow them to have their experience—and seek a kernel of truth in it.
2. We support the other’s wants and needs, celebrate each other’s successes, and ask how we can meet their needs in challenging times. This doesn’t mean we’re responsible for all their needs in life, but it does mean that our love for them comes from a mindful awareness of what they need and how we can support it. If at any point their needs feel out of alignment from our own, we should have a discussion about it.
3. Both partners do what they say they are going to do. This creates trust, reliability, and respect.
4. We’re into each other—there’s chemistry, physical attraction, and feelings of joy when spending time together. Does this sound obvious? Of course. But many of my clients have discovered that they were so disconnected from themselves they didn’t even know what they were attracted to.
5. We’re open to seeking help from people outside our relationship. Sometimes, couples get hit with a situation that they can’t seem to figure out on their own. It makes sense that we don’t know all and we can’t be all, doesn’t it? That’s why it’s important to be in a partnership where both members are willing to get out of isolation and seek help from trusted friends, family, clergy, or mental health professionals.
The truth is that empowered relationships don’t have to be hard, but they do require effort. If we’re struggling with feeling empowered in our relationship, chances are that this pattern of struggle may be leaking into other areas of our life, like work, friendships, and even our relationship with ourself.
We live in a world where there are countless solutions available for our growth—but it first starts with looking within.