It’s a known thing that drug and alcohol abuse can stunt one’s emotional maturity.
There are countless reasons why this can happen. If our intention is to grow and thrive, we must be as conscious, present, and authentic as possible. Addiction tends to rob us of this ability.
This got me thinking about our romantic relationships, in particular those that are unhealthy, toxic, or abusive. They, too, are mind-altering, addictive, and can hurt, hinder, or halt our personal growth. Maybe an alcoholic uses drinking to deal with their social phobias and low self-esteem. Perhaps a dutiful wife doesn’t pursue a challenging career because her husband wants her home. Both have missed out on valuable opportunities. Only through facing discomfort do we grow.
For many of us, our long-term relationships intersect with some of our most formative years. When those relationships end, we are forced to look deeply at who we are, what we feel, and where we are stuck. While I think everyone deserves credit for leaving a harmful relationship, we must not stop challenging ourselves to be better after we do. Initially we tend to put our energies into reclaiming our identities and learning to trust. Further along in our recovery, we get to know our more empowered, autonomous, and complete selves.
After we heal, we may want to pursue another relationship. This time, we know what we are looking for, and we pick a more complementary and deserving mate. Even so, my advice is to prepare yourself for some fragilities to surface when the relationship heats up. This makes sense if you have lived in fear, silence, and manipulation in past relationships.
I remember my partner saying, “Just act as if no matter what you do, I will still love you.”
I wanted to scream out into the heavens:
“How could that be?!”
He must have picked up on something. Saying no is pretty new to me. Having disagreements and knowing I’m still loved is puzzling. Making mistakes, being forgiven, and accepting that forgiveness feels foreign. It’s all very humbling. Here I am, a 37-year-old woman, struggling in some ways just as I did at 17.
I doubt I’m alone in this. Like many women, I’ve spent most of my life trying to mask my perceived ugliness both inside and out. Whether it’s covering up my gray, straggly hairs or laughing at a joke that makes me a bit uncomfortable, society has a way of grooming us for dishonest relationships. Whether it’s injecting our aging faces with fillers or letting our partners call us names, literal toxicity has become more and more a normalized part of our culture. What I’m saying is, don’t make this your fault, but make it your responsibility to change. Change your notions on how love can look for you. Reimagine the “you” who is in a relationship.
As I’ve stepped up to the plate and honed my relationship skills, I’m proud of how far I’ve come. Setting boundaries, being wildly genuine, owning my “no’s,” and confidently stepping into discomfort. There’s no hiding behind the “good girl,” act anymore. In fact, I’m so authentic that my “bad guy” could have the capacity to sneak into my relationship. While I know that will not happen, here’s some advice that’s helped me maintain the balance.
Watch yourself closely in the comfort.
When in a toxic relationship, we learn to stay in a constant state of arousal. It helps us abide by certain unwritten rules that typically come at the expense of our own humanity. We’re never actually comfortable because we’ll “mess up” if we are. We give more than we take. We listen more than we talk. We give our partners all of the power and lose ours in the process. While this can be mistaken for nobility, it’s simply not real. We haven’t dealt with the natural struggle that is inevitable between two enlightened souls.
In your new, healthy relationship, you will learn what is means to be safe and feel comfortable. It’s like an all-you-can-eat buffet serving every unrequited craving you’ve ever had. I sit in awe when my partner gives me massages, emotional support on new projects, and unending attention as I excessively babble on about my theories. It’s so lovely to feel safe enough to receive. We all deserve that.
But let’s never forget about our beautiful partners. The ones who think enough of themselves and us to surrender. Let us give them massages too! Let’s give them space to take up. Let’s never forget how they may be struggling with their own stories and provide them with the support they deserve.
Enjoy the slow.
Think about how people eat when they are starving. They eat fast. There is fear that the sustenance will be taken away and they will find themselves starved once again. When you find a wonderful partner, you feel the need to move fast. If your attachment style is a bit anxious, you may want to move even faster.
Remember that the good love has no innate expiration date. In fact, it is grown best when watered with reasonable, appropriate, and mindful intention and action. Time and love are two agreeable constructs. And for those of us trying to build all our relationship skills, moving slowly allows us to reflect on and retain all the new wisdom we have been fostering.
Start defining the new “you.”
We all create stories about ourselves. Ideally our stories aren’t self-limiting and they allow us to constantly reinvent and rebrand. It’s frustrating when people make oversimplified, blanket statements about themselves in love:
“I guess I just don’t like nice guys.”
“I’m too independent for a relationship.”
“I’m hard to love.”
The only thing we can rest our faith on is that things change. People evolve and advance. The mistakes you made and the roles you played in your last relationship should not sentence you. Allow yourself to be empowered by good love. Be grateful that you have even more access to personal growth.
The new you can be a million things. Even the “bad guy.” Though since you have spent so long working to be such a self-actualized, amazing human, you won’t be. In fact, you will be more lovable as your light and shadow become one.
You polarized, perfect, perpetually growing spirit—you got this!