I read an article the other day on things women should know by the time they are 30 and it got me thinking. Granted, the article seemed to have been written for straight, middle-class, dare I say smug? Glamor magazine audience. Also, is there is a reason no such list exists for men??? But I digress.
One statement stuck with me: Know how to fall in love without losing yourself. Now that is a quote worth repeating.
I have had writers block for a while. No excuses but my personal life has gone through some pretty significant changes. It all goes back to falling in love and losing oneself. Surely, we don’t start out that way, it’s a very gradual and subtle process that occurs over the years. You may even justify it in the name of intimacy and building a life with someone. Please know, I am not talking about sharing your life. I’m talking about immersing yourself with someone else completely in such a way that you can’t tell where you end and where they begin. But how can one avoid this trap in relationships?
1. Don’t move to another state within a month of knowing someone. Or 6 months. Your brain is on fire in the beginning of a relationship. Our bodies and minds are programmed to produce powerful bonding chemicals to ensure that we mate and procreate (oxytocin). Oxytocin will tell your mind you are in love. And oh the things we do for love! Before you make a life changing decision wait a while. Time is your only friend.
2. Don’t move in with someone right away. I know it’s cheaper, I know you want to spend every waking moment with the person and share everything with them including gross bodily functions (really, what’s up with that?!) but do everyone a favor and maintain your OWN space. I have a new rule about this. No immersing of spaces for at least 18 months. Actually ideally I will find a partner who would be OK with living apart. Obviously that doesn’t work for everyone.
3. Please, please, please (did you hear me plead?) have separate bank accounts. I mean, talk about losing yourself. If you want a joint account to pay bills fine. But make sure you have your own money. I know this will sound borderline paranoid to you now but you will thank me later.
4. Do NOT buy a car or a house with someone if you can’t afford it by yourself. Actually don’t buy a house at all unless you plan to live in it for 20+ years and you want to pass it down to your offspring…but I digress.
5. Have your own job and career goals and pursue them relentlessly. I know we need work-life balance. In fact, I could be a poster child for the “Work hard, Play hard” campaign. But if your partner ever bitches about you working too much, tell them to suck it up and get over it. Now, I know that some people hide behind their jobs or use their work as an escape from their relationship and family. I’m not talking about that scenario. I’m referring to someone who cares about their work. Work is part of who you are. Don’t lose who you are.
6. ALWAYS, have your own friends. I know you will go through a “nesting” period. You know, the people who get together with someone and disappear from the face of the earth. Relationships should not be a black whole in your social universe. Nurture your friendships, find time for your friends and doing the things you used to do when you were single. Have a girls night or guys night on the regular. It’s part of what has made you the individual you are today. Don’t lose that part of you.
7. Have your own hobbies. Something you do by yourself or with your friends. Something that does not involve your partner. It’s great to share hobbies with someone. But it’s also great to have one thing that is entirely yours. Trust me, returning to your partner and telling them all about it will only strengthen your bond.
8. This is THE most important tip to having a successful relationship without losing yourself – have time and space ALONE. Couples don’t know how to be alone anymore. Give yourself a chance to miss your partner. Be OK with being by yourself. I call it “taking myself out”. I ask myself to take me out to dinner and a movie. I ask myself to cook me a nice, romantic meal and eat in candle light. I know this will sound weird to you, but I take myself out dancing too. It’s great fun. Let me ask you, when was the last time you planned a vacation JUST for you? It’s exhilarating. Who said we have to give that up once we are in a relationship?
9. Boundaries. Boundaries. Boundaries. Sure relationships are about negotiating which involves constantly revisiting and modifying your own boundaries. This process is essential for a relationship to work and for you to grow individually. But there is a difference between negotiating and bending. Or being the one who bends ALL the time. That means you have no boundaries or ability to say no. No is a complete answer. And your partner should be able to accept that even if they disagree. Know what you will NOT agree to and bare your teeth to anyone who tries to push your boundaries (with love, of course :))
10. You have to be able to practice what you preach. Just like you know you are your own individual person (as you should be), your partner is too. Don’t take everything they do personally. Help them maintain their individuality. Push them to be alone and independent. Stop with the jealousy and drama. Know what their issues are and make sure you don’t confuse them with yours or carry them as your own mentally and emotionally. A healthy detachment is the key to intimacy.
And please, stop reading sexist BS like “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus”. Over and out.
So the question is can relationships be addictive? Many of us have known one of those couples who keep breaking up only to then make up, again and again. This can be very confusing to us watching from the side lines. Can you make up your mind already? Didn’t you want to kill that person just the other day??? We wonder, why do they stay in it??
The most common question I get as a therapist from my clients is “have you ever done drugs?” The reason for this is a common belief that if you have never experienced “that thing” you are incapable of understanding. And if you can’t understand me, you can’t help me. So the purpose here to understand not judge.
Since “addicted to love” all the way to “love the way you lie” or “rehab” pop culture has shed light on this very interesting phenomena – relationship addiction (for lack of a scientific label). Here’s what addictive relationships have in common with actual drugs:
1. They are one of a kind: you actually fully believe you will never be able to find anyone quite like this person, which makes you pretty special for just being in their presence (some cognitive distortion is at play here, which is fueled by only remembering the good and great and filtering out the bad).
2. They are equally wonderful and hurtful: when things are good they are great, when they are bad they are horrible, there is no in between. Also there is no way to moderate your “consumption” so to speak, you find your world revolves around this relationship; there is nothing average about the emotions involved either, there is a fine line between love and hate. Withdrawal symptoms may even be present: being without them is as painful as the ecstasy of being with them (I expect this to have an actual chemical base given the effects that excitement and turmoil have on the body and brain chemistry)
3. They make you lose control. You are no longer calling the shots, even when you convince yourself that you are. You are passive and submissive (I would speculate here that people who already have these personality tendencies are more vulnerable to addictive relationships contrary to a general belief that low self-esteem is a contributor).
4. These relationships are led by emotions and have no regards for logical or moral consequences. They are often fostered by the thrill, challenge and sometimes danger of the consequences (as in the case of illegal drugs). Also the more forbidden the better – what I like to call the “Romeo and Juliet” effect.
5. They brainwash you: you have a tendency to isolate yourself from friends and family, losing sense of reality at times (especially true in the case of abusive relationships).
6. Just like drug addiction, relationship addiction has a relapsing nature: you may break away from the object of your addiction, get clarity, swear you’ll never get back with them, get some sobriety…and then one day, you find yourself back with them as if nothing ever happened (I would argue that the second, third, fourth time around things are actually different and often worse, so much so that the natural course of this vicious cycle will help someone break way from the relationship for good).
There are two groups of relationship addicts. The first group is people who are oblivious to the dynamics of the relationship. They know the roller coaster is exhausting but they can’t tell they are actually riding it. They do this in the same ridiculous way that someone who’s nodding off in your office, swears to you, with the out most seriousness, that they are absolutely sober. The second group knows exactly what’s going on but they can’t do anything about it. Seriously. They are absolutely, desperately, incorrigibly and pathetically paralyzed. Either way, all they need is someone who gets it. Hopefully, the relationship does not have lifelong irreversible consequences. Sometimes unfortunately it does. Gaining awareness is crucial in helping someone who is struggling with this but ultimately, as in the case of drug addiction, the addict has to make a commitment to change him/herself.
Is someone pushing your buttons today? Doing everything they can to upset you, annoy you? Knowing very well they are upsetting you? Does this make you angry, resentful, stressed out and just generally out of sorts?
Stop talking about them. Instead focus on you. You can not control other people or what they do (or don’t do).
All you can do is change yourself. This is called being centered. Don’t judge yourself harshly by the way. A lot of people have this problem (me included). It is called poor boundaries. It leads to codependency and maladaptive relationships. Others will know this about you almost immediately and they will test your limits.
Maybe this analogy will help. Think of your boundaries as a wetsuit. With a front zipper. You are naked underneath which symbolizes you being vulnerable. If the zipper can be opened on the outside anyone can open you up. And hurt you. Or make you feel what they want you to feel (which sometimes means good feelings too).
What if the zipper could ONLY be opened on the inside? By you!
Until next time ZIP UP!