When you’ve got you, they’re great. When you don’t, they can be distracting as hell.
I DON’T do relationship or marital therapy. EVER. The reason: I LOVE what I DO so much. It’s not only what I do. It’s more than that. I’m on a mission to do whatever the hell I can, using my experiences, training, vignettes, breath, poems, dances, headstands, whatever it takes to help individuals to #GetHere, show up, feel their value, meet their potential. I’ve lived both ways—knowing my value & looking for it in all the wrong places. Knowing it makes life a hell of a lot easier. And so, I’ll be damned if I don’t give everyone of you all I’ve got. Don’t let me fool you. I’m not selfless. AT ALL. There’s truly nothin’ like being a part of another’s process & seeing Stella, Sally, Lola (—and YOU, too!) get her groove back. Nothing like it, and couples work is no exception.
I didn’t always steer clear of couples, but I learned quickly—NOT my thing. I had a really hard time with it. My goal ALWAYS is to help individuals to meet their goals. For couples, it was weird. You see—when couples come in for therapy, the identified client is the couple, not either of the individuals in the relationship. When I attempted couples work, I always ended up referring the couple to another clinician. Always. I couldn’t bring myself to teach one or both of the amazing human-beings in front of me to dumb-down, sell out, and potentially lose themselves to keep the unhealthy significant other feeling okay and secure in the relationship. I couldn’t do it.
Healthy individuals don’t typically have relationship problems that warrant therapy. In my limited experience with couples, the work involved people who were seeking themselves in another person or a relationship status. Couples work wasn’t their answer. They needed individual therapy first! And, I would have been willing to bet that at the conclusion of their individual work, neither would have chosen the other. So, it always felt icky and like I was a part of something toxic. I LOVED the individuals, so I HATED the work.
So, if you’re struggling in your relationship. Either your “picker” is off, or you need to nurture your relationship with you. Regardless, it all comes back to YOU.
Here’s the deal. There are three MUSTS for relationship success.
1.) Increasing self-esteem, so that you can live your value by setting boundaries and NEVER accepting unacceptable behavior.
2.) Engaging in a solid self-love regimen, so that your partner is always a compliment and NEVER a supplement to you and your life.
3.) Having a good solid understanding of your attachment style or your manner of attaching to a significant other, so you can respond and NOT react to your partner.
A quick note: your attachment style today mimics your attachment style to your early childhood caregiver. There are four different types of attachment: secure, anxious/preoccupied, dismissing or fearful-avoidant. They’re determined by how your needs were met by your attachment figure in infancy. It’s relevant NOW, because research tells us that only the securely attached can connect to another in a meaningful way. The rest of us are playing games—clinging on for dear life or managing our own abandonment by giving our partner a good shove every now and again.
Of course, the three MUSTS are correlated. To begin to increase esteem, self-love, and your ability to connect in a meaningful way, learn to self-soothe by treating yourself like you would treat the one you love the very most.
#APersonalNote to illustrate.
My daughter, Ava, is the one I love the most. Several years ago, after I’d had many a personal growth spurt, I STILL struggled with esteem, self-love, and in relationships. It seemed that no matter how balanced my lifestyle pattern and mood, no matter how much confidence I had in various skill-sets, I continued to feel desperate in relationships. There was something oddly romantic about desperation, honestly. So, my intimate relationships were always destructive, rather than promoting. I didn’t know how to fix ‘em, but I had the insight to know it was an inside job. You see, I had always done a lot of things and done them very well, thinking that doing so would make me feel better about myself. Because that’s all I knew how to do, I kept doing more & better—still, at a loss about how to feel more & better, though. That is, until I had Ava. My love for Ava taught me how to love myself. Wholeheartedly. Let me explain.
Ava came pure value. 100% value. Her value was so much bigger than she was and honestly, she didn't do a whole lot. She ate, slept, and shit. Oh, and she cried, too. Today, at age 13, Ava does a ton of amazing things. She can teach herself an Adele song on the piano within a couple of hours. She crushes her academics. She's a great runner. She's beautiful and kind. The interesting part is that she has no more value to me or to the world today than she did when all she did was breathe and be human. She was pure value then. She's pure value now. The best part is that her value has nothing to do with her skill-sets, successes, appearance, or even personality. She is value, because she is here. Period.
Recognizing this made me think because even when feeling desperate, I was reasonable. My seemingly incurable lack of self-esteem and self-love that led to feeling so damn desperate in relationships started to make no logical sense. I got to thinking, “If Ava came pure value, I must have, too. If breathing is enough for Ava, then breathing must be enough for me, too. And hey! If Ava is lovable and pure value added, then…Wow, same! I am value, too.” Knowing that was a huge deal, but the next part of the process was even bigger. Knowing wasn’t enough. I had to feel it. I went as far as to think that if I started to treat myself like I treated Ava, I just might be able to love myself like I love Ava.
Next came the experiment. Everything I did for Ava, I did for me. From the start, it was interesting. It became apparent that most things I had previously thought were acts of self-love were very different from how I loved the one I love the most. For example, my former attempt at “self-love” looked like manicures and handbags, while loving Ava felt like time, attention, and connection. For the experiment, the way I set aside time to read to Ava, I set aside time for me to read to me. The way that the world stopped when Ava needed time to relax, eat, bathe, breathe, the world stopped for me, too. When I set Ava up for a playdate, guess what? Dinner with friends, regardless of deadlines, dirty laundry, or my to-do list. The results were amazing. I was right. In treating me like I treated Ava, I began to love me like I love Ava.
The best part—with self-love came esteem, and with esteem came healthier relationship patterns.
So, what are you to do?
1.) Treat yourself like I treat Ava or like the one you love the very most. Start your own experiment today.
2.) Every time, you catch yourself saying, “If HE would only______________, I’d feel so much better” change the HE to I to make it, “If I would only_________________, I’d feel so much better.” STOP telling him how to love you, and you love you instead.
Once you’ve got you, healthy connection is just a matter of time, my dear. You’ll see!