I’ve been thinking about relationships a lot lately.
Partly because my job allows me to get an inside look at the love lives of those around me (or across the globe from me), but also because I’m married. I guess “how to be in a relationship” is something I’m always thinking about.
And it’s not necessarily just romantic relationships I’m thinking about; it’s relationships in general.
I’ve been thinking about it more because I know I haven’t been my best self.
I’ve been too tired to be a good “relationship-er.” (You can judge me. I’m judging me.)
Having people who want to share details of their day and the experiences of their lives with us is a gift! But, lately, I’ve just wanted to tell everyone to shove it where the sun don’t shine as I crawl back into bed with a bottle of wine and a pancake placed ever-so-perfectly on my chest and chin (easy mouth access).
I don’t feel like watching the videos about “how to keep the fire alive” or reading When Things Fall Apart or The Power of Now. I don’t feel like wearing lingerie to surprise him. I’m tired, bloated, and cranky!
I mean (forgive me for being redundant as I’m sure we’re all sick of reliving 2020), man, it’s been a tough time. For everyone. And even though life is starting to resume its post-pandemic figure, I feel like I’m still carrying that “2020 fanny-pack” full of fatigue, stress, burnout, and irritation.
I’ve written about it, and I’m sure you’ve written about it. Or wanted to. Or thought about it.
Here’s what I’ve been thinking: relationships are hard.
They’re hard because they require an elasticity of ourselves—an ability to listen, understand, be there, empathize. And, sometimes, life makes us rigid. We have no more “bend;” it’s all snap (at the ones we love).
Sometimes, when one quadrant of our being is depleted or anxiety-ridden, it reaches over and takes from another quadrant, leaving it “less full” for whatever that part was used for.
It’s why we snap at others after a hard day at work. Why we are sensitive to “sarcasm” after an emotionally abusive relationship. Why we want money when we’ve grown up poor. Or why we choose not to care about money at all—because we grew up poor and can’t handle “caring” about it anymore.
It’s why those little habits we used to brush off as their cute quirks are not so f*cking cute anymore. Those things we can typically let slide get stuck on our “nuisance radar”:
“So and so is just kind of going through a phase because they had their heart broken/a loved one passed away” turns into:
“I don’t have the energy to deal with his/her issues today. They need to get it together.”
Even the healthiest relationships have their ups and downs because people have ups and downs.
I think I’m a pretty solid communicator, but when my heart/soul is deep down in the gutter, I am silent. I have this “it’s a marathon; just keep pushing through” mentality. (If you’ve ever done distance running, this might make sense.) I put my head down, silence as much emotion as I can, and try to keep my pace through it all.
But it makes me cold, snippy, and dismissive. I can’t talk and communicate while I’m on that last stretch; I’m out of steam! My lungs are barely holding on. I’m barely holding on.
But while we’re living in our perpetual track field of emotional hell, our loved ones are racing against their own thoughts and demons too.
We hurt the ones we love for a variety of reasons, but I think it often comes down to our own hurts. And maybe that’s selfish. We hurt the people closest to us when we haven’t dealt with our own fears, lack of self-worth, childhood wounds, daddy issues, mommy issues (any buzzword you can think of).
Maybe we don’t “have the energy to deal with his/her issues today” because we suck at boundaries and ended up giving more than we had to give of ourselves—or our time (hi, this is me). And maybe we suck at boundaries because we are constantly trying to be perfect—the best wife or the best coworker or sister or brother or athlete or the most enlightened.
And maybe those things matter because we never felt good enough. Because a parent wasn’t there. Or was there and made us feel small. Or we were cheated on in every relationship.
But is it the fault of the ones we love? No. Well, sometimes they could be in the wrong. But often, these out-of-the-blue rage fests and emotional-gas-tank-on-empty situations are because we haven’t dealt with the deeper stuff.
Here are (some of) the reasons we hurt the ones we love:
1. We haven’t taken care of ourselves.
2. We hurt others in order to hurt ourselves.
3. We want to gain control for protection.
4. We feel more freedom to be ourselves and not censor our words or actions.
5. We develop an insecure attachment style.
6. We want to assert our own space and independence.
7. We want to test the boundaries and see how far we can go before they draw the line.
8. We have idealization and high expectations.
Until we can identify what’s going on in our emotional track field, we’re probably not going to be the best (or even decent) “relationship-ers.”
So, the first step is figuring out where we’re at—our “why” for being sh*tty. And then we’re probably going to wallow a bit. And then we’re going to rest.
And then we can do the inner work.
(I hear it’s the new sexy.)
And this doesn’t mean our relationships are doomed to fail when we fall short. When this happens, it’s our job to step up and make changes. But it’s also an opportunity for our family members or partners to show grace, empathy, understanding, and maturity in our time of f*cked-up-ness.
That’s the beauty of love, right? We hold each other accountable, but we also hold space.
Relationships will always be hard, but the people who matter will always be there. This doesn’t mean we’re allowed to be stubborn goats, unwilling to acknowledge our sh*t; but it also doesn’t mean we’re no longer worthy of love.
As a wise man once said:
“Love is not magic. Love is a verb. It is action—an intangible truth.” ~ Billy Manas