Continuing with the theme from last week, I wanted to share a deeper element of the theory of the relationship-with-self. My approach to treating myself like I would a partner started with this aspect, in fact.
It started with couple’s work. In helping couples heal, I have come to believe that if a couple is not working on bettering their relationship in some active way, they are inadvertently hurting their relationship.
As people change and grow and their individual needs differ, the needs of a relationship also change. The routines of daily life, stagnant as they may be, do not prevent people from adapting. Work alters us, even if it feels redundant, we are influenced by every interaction and task, instantly or over time. We also have interests outside of work, hobbies, and friendships that affect us as individuals. Those aspects influence who we are as people. Age is also a factor. Our brains develop as we grow older. We never stop changing due to neuroplasticity. New input adjusts the wiring of our brains and the habits we follow strengthen or deconstruct neural pathways. As a result, our needs within a relationship are fluctuating too. Even when it feels like everything is sailing smoothly, we may be unconsciously hurting our relationship.
When we settle for disconnect and patterns that feel unhealthy, we are damaging that bond with the person we love. When we sacrifice authenticity to avoid rocking the boat, or lie to ourselves about our disappointments, we hurt ourselves and the couple. We can invite our partners to grow with us or we can enable the status quo with complacency. I am not suggesting anyone should be brutally honest all the time, of course. It is so necessary to find out the healthiest ways of communicating which differ from person to person, and then practicing them with some consistency. It’s a lot of work. The work. And it never really ends, in my opinion.
The same applies within the relationship-with-self. If we are to treat ourselves like we are healthy partners, we must challenge ourselves to grow, identify our patterns and behaviors that aren’t always healthy, and to get to know ourselves a little more. That work can take so many different forms, just like it can with any relationship. Work in a couple doesn’t have to mean strenuous emotional conversations filled with tearful confessions, it can mean trying something new together, or a sharing of ideas, learning about one another. And so in an effort to learn more about ourselves, we might take on new creative projects, classes, or training, we might be vulnerable with someone and step out of our comfort zone. There are so many ways to work on this self-learning, and all require honesty. We must acknowledge and address whatever feelings arise as we step into new territory in order to be good partners to ourselves. If we ignore it, I believe we are essentially neglecting that person we love.
When we become stagnant in life and that inner reflection is moved to the back burner, we can unconsciously damage our relationship with the most important person in our lives, ourselves. If we are constantly changing, there is always more to learn. The adage that we must love ourselves before we love another is not inaccurate but means so much more. Love isn’t simply kindness and affection, love is curiosity and compassion. Love is interest and attention. It’s quite simple, and yet, we so often deprive ourselves of it when we do not prioritize our relationship with ourselves.
The work isn’t always pleasant or fun with an actual partner or within our own mind. It takes effort and energy. The status quo requires much less of us, and it can feel good in a self-indulgent way. Sometimes isolation and sadness or giving in to irrational and resentful thinking feels gratifying, though I think most would agree they do not feel healthy. When we get stuck in those places— which I believe are the undoubted destinations when we put ourselves on the back burner— it’s difficult to get unstuck. The amount of effort needed to get the ball rolling with healthy endeavors, self-care, and mending the relationship- with-self is much harder. Comparatively, if you stop talking to your partner for a week after a conflict, it might take a bit of time to regain their trust. There might need to be extra steps taken to show one’s commitment. The same applies here and that hurtle can prolong suffering.
I’ll call myself out as an example. I went an entire year without writing any articles or entries to this page. My inspiration was lacking, and I did not address what needs of mine were not being met. Instead, I dove into work in other ways that didn’t require me to look inward. My effort was successful for a while. I was productive and my productivity was rewarded, but I felt the massive hole that neglecting my writing left within me and eventually I suffered for it. I could only ignore the disappointment for so long until I realized I was talking myself out of writing out of fear of rejection, embarrassment, and because I lacked the energy required to put my thoughts into words. In my complacency, I only encouraged the negative messages I was giving myself. I finally realized that I was not doing the work as my partner-to-me by ignoring the problem when I settled into feeling stuck. I had to be a supportive partner to myself and provide encouragement, love, compassion and curiosity to get through the writer’s block. It wasn’t easy, but I set the intention and I learned more of myself in the process.
When I feel stuck, when I’ve forgotten about myself and succumbed to complacency, I must remind myself that I am worth the effort. There is so much more to know. I deserve a healthy partner (that is me) and I am capable of being that person.