I’m going to share with you the number one thing to remember about your partner and relationship that may just be the most useful for you in navigating these waters is this:
Your partner is NOT you. Whoa! Say what? Yeah, I know. It can be shocking to take this in. Give yourself a moment. Take a deep breath. Okay, now come back.
That’s right. Your partner is their OWN person. They are a different person from you. We are different from each other. They have their own likes and dislikes, their own quirks, their own past, their own triggers, their own hopes and dreams.
I know this can be difficult to grasp, especially when you have been with someone for a long time and you feel so enmeshed together. But it is this very thing, regardless of how long we may have been together, that can cause so many problems in our relationship. Here’s why…
You see, when we fall in love, there are two things we predominantly focus on. First, we revel over all the things we have in common. We can hardly get over how alike we are. My husband and I did this in the very beginning, too. He even told his mom, “She’s like the girl version of me!” We can’t believe how fortunate we have been to find our ‘other half’.
But unfortunately, this vision is skewed. Truthfully, we are being a bit biased, focusing on every tiny thing we may have in common, which we may also share with the mailman. But because we are caught up in this heightened hormone-driven rush, we see every little shared thing as AMAZING. And that’s fine. Really…
The other thing is we actually revel in our differences, only in a different way than we look at them later on. In the beginning phase of romance, we are intrigued by our partner’s differences, curious to learn more, they are quite the mystery to us, we want to figure them out, to know everything about this rare jewel of a person who is so vastly interesting to us!
Later, things start to change. After a while, the things we have in common no longer amaze us like they used to. They just are. It’s the way it’s supposed to be, right? The way they’re supposed to be. And when they’re not all being the same as us— liking the same, thinking the same, wanting the same, acting the same— we find ourselves getting quite disturbed. We wonder what the heck has happened. Why they have changed?
Maybe they have. But most likely, they are just in that place where they have started to feel comfortable enough that they aren’t naturally accentuating their commonalities (we all do that when we are getting to know someone we feel drawn to. It’s how we feel like we belong. The more we belong, the safer and more connected we feel) and at the same time they’re allowing more of their unique self (read: differences) to shine through. This is actually a good thing.
But we don’t often see it like that. Especially if we’re insecure and tend to stake everything (including our identity) on our relationships. We see it as a threat, a challenge, a sign our lover is slipping away, perhaps even as a betrayal. Trust me, I can relate!
So, how do we react to this atrocity? We try to control everything our partner does. Maybe we don’t think of it like that, but that’s what it amounts to. Most relationships operate under subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) methods of control and manipulation. So subtle, we don’t even realize that’s what we’re doing. I know I’m guilty of this!
So, what does this look like? We try to change them. We blame them or shame them. We criticize them when they are not like us, when they are not pleasing us, when they are not doing what we want them to do. We make them wrong. Ouch!
And how do you think that makes our partner feel? Well, not good! How could it? Especially when it’s coming from the person they love the most.
And what do you think our behavior gets us? Well, that depends. Our partner may say ‘the hell with this!’. Or if they stay, they may fight against this oppression and you’ll have a tumultuous relationship on your hands!
Or, most commonly, they shrink down, try to please you, do their best to not make any waves. And in the process, they stop sharing their true self with you. They are not fully engaged in the relationship. Maybe they start keeping secrets. And they resent you and the relationship, either because they know they aren’t able to be them self or because they feel bad when they’re around you, even if they’re not sure exactly why.
And how do we react to this? We come at them even more, get upset at their withdrawal, feel suspicious and insecure that they don’t seem to be there anymore, feels disconnected from us. We wonder why they’ve become so pathetic and boring, miss the person we fell in love with and feel betrayed or deceived.
I’m sure you see the vicious cycle here.
I have been guilty of all of this in my own long-term relationship and had no idea what was happening. And let me tell you, it can be a hard truth to face. But if we are to have this exceptional, real love we say we want, then face it we must. That’s what being in a conscious relationship takes.
So, how do we get out of it once we’ve not only created this, but maybe been in it for years? It takes awareness. First, awareness of what has been happening, the part we have played in orchestrating this mess.
Next, we have to start recognizing the signs in our partner. How is he reacting to us? How is he holding back? In what ways are they avoiding us?
Then we need to take stock of all the ways we have created this, the behaviors that have now become habits involved. Trust me, this isn’t easy! You’re going to have to practice summoning up a dose of mega awareness, because it’s so much harder to catch ourselves doing things we are so used to doing.
And you won’t catch it all at first. But every time you do just makes it easier to catch the next thing. And now that we’re starting to notice how we’ve gotten our self into this mess, we need to NOT do that thing. Easier said than done. That’s why breaking habits can be so excruciating. But it CAN be done.
A little note: Having this self-awareness can be kind of painful at first, because you feel like a total jerk when you realize all the ways you have acted in a less than loving, uplifting way. That’s okay, we all do it! But don’t fall into self-pity or self-flagellation. That’s the worst thing you can do and it won’t help one bit.
Give yourself grace for being the human you are, have gratitude for seeing the light and the lesson you are learning and just focus on what you can do to change the situation. Remember, the only thing you can control is yourself and your own behavior and that is what we are doing here. We are no longer controlling our partner. Right?
Notice things like… When they still act like their ‘old’ self around us? What are we doing or not doing? When do they respond most positively or most negatively to us?
Oh, one last thing: don’t expect them to shift back into their old delightful self overnight. They may even respond a little strangely to you displaying new patterns of behavior, after all, you are changing things up. Not to worry, just keep up the good work and soon enough they will settle down and come to trust you and enjoy being around you again. Just give the process its due time to blossom, especially if it has been this way for years.