The very thoughtful and insightful relationship coach Barbara Waxman returns with today’s guest blog about how important it is to truly be yourself in a relationship. Read on as she shares valuable lessons from a good friend of hers…
About a year ago, one of my oldest, dearest friends told me she thought she had just met “the one.” She’d kissed more than a few frogs and felt pretty convinced that he had all of the qualities she was looking for. Ilana has a good head on her shoulders and I was so happy for her.
A year later she just didn’t sound like her old self. She had always been one of those friends who made others laugh; I realized I had not heard that carefree spirit in quite a while. I decided to share the changes I had noticed and make sure she wasn’t upset with me about something. She shared that she had not felt happy and couldn’t figure out why. She had no idea that it might be noticeable to others. We started to talk about her relationship. On paper, as they say, everything worked. But it turns out there were a few, critically important aspects that didn’t work.
1. Does love have to hurt? Remember that song? “Love hurts, love scars … love is like a flame that burns you when it’s hot…” Ilana acknowledged that part of what initially drew her to Ted was red-hot attraction. Upon reflection, she realized that Ted’s temper was also pretty red hot. He said hurtful things in anger and she often felt burned for days afterwards. She rationalized that it was just his way — as if he couldn’t control himself. Ilana had been trying to avoid his temper and felt as though she was walking on eggshells. She realized that this was not okay . Ilana began to convince herself that love hurts — because in order to be in a real relationship you have to be vulnerable. I pointed out that there is a big difference between the type of vulnerability that lets someone in to see the imperfections in you and the type of vulnerability that becomes unhealthy. It was time to step back and reclaim her power and be clear about the difference between arguments and just plain bad behavior.
2. Are you living small? A lot of women keep themselves, their skills, their successes, their acumen, purposefully low key so as not to threaten a partner’s ego. Without knowing it, Ilana was doing that very thing. When they met, Ilana was launching a new business. She had a dream and through lots of hard work she found the business yielding early success. Ted had not been so professionally fortunate and (perhaps as a result) was not particularly supportive of hers. It wasn’t overt, but his regular criticism (rather than enthusiasm) resulted in Ilana’s playing down her potential. She stopped taking risks and thinking like the entrepreneur that she was. She started thinking small. As a result, the business didn’t fail, but certainly did not thrive and grow. Don’t trust anyone who stifles your dreams because theirs don’t work out. Staying small for the sake of a relationship doesn’t lead to happiness. If you want a relationship that strives for real partnership, establish that reality at the outset.
3. Are these habits deal-breakers or just annoying? Ilana realized that rather than addressing the really important core issues mentioned above, she found herself being snarky about those habits Ted had that really bothered her. Like so many of us, she got sidetracked and distracted by the small stuff that we’ve learned we just aren’t supposed to sweat over. She just went crazy when Ted left all the dishes for her to wash, or when he was always 10 minutes behind schedule (she had a lot more examples, but I’ll stop there). It’s ironic — so many relationships have tension develop over annoying habits. But annoying habits typically aren’t the reasons to break up.
Ilana realized that being in a relationship meant accepting some of the irritating habits she wished would change, but probably wouldn’t. She realized that those habits served as a distraction from the deeper issues that needed to be addressed. Can Ted change? Will he recognize the impact he’s made on Ilana’s dreams and her historically carefree attitude? It’s up to her to share her truth with Ted and be clear about the importance of the support and love she demands from a relationship.
Learn more about Barbara Waxman, America’s Favorite Coach for Adults Midlife and Better.