Some time, way back in my past, I was in a deeply abusive relationship with a man I was engaged to. I didn’t realise that he’d secretly developed a drug addiction, and his angry outbursts and unreasonable accusations, projections, and gaslighting were fuelled by it. I felt broken and lost but unable to leave because he’d threaten to kill himself if I did and I didn’t know yet that I wasn’t responsible for his choices.
At the time, I discovered a well-known, highly thought of,
relationship book with some practices in it that I tried to use to help myself and our relationship. We even went to a workshop together based on their work.
Their work focused a lot on communication and on how our childhood experiences shape our choice of partner and how we fall out of love with our partner once our partner begins to act out the worst characteristics of our parents.
They looked at the way that most partners develop subtle ‘exits’ from the relationship rather than finding ways to spend more quality time together and to do nice things for each other. They also recommended changing yourself or doing things you don’t really value because your partner likes them. And posited that our roles as partners are to help each other heal our childhood wounds.
Some of these things worked temporarily to alleviate some of the conflict in the relationship, but it had major flaws. First of all, it relied on both partners being equally willing to invest in active listening and doing acts of kindness for each other, and the foundational techniques were really transactional and ultimately deepened codependency (which is something I found in many of the relationship therapy approaches I explored).
And worst of all, for women like me, over-givers who have been conditioned to put the needs of our partners (and almost anyone else) ahead of our own needs, and have partners who also put their own needs ahead of our needs (as many heterosexual couples experience every day) this approach often results in huge imbalances and uneven power dynamics.
One partner, the woman, is usually left doing most if not all the emotional labour for the relationship, holding most if not all of the mental load for the household and children, and feeling frustrated, unsupported, and sometimes even feeling like she has an extra kid in the household rather than an equal adult partner.
While we were still together, even though the book wasn’t helping, I did start the long journey of healing myself, and one day, I woke up from the trance I was in as I sat home alone and he was out somewhere in a downtown drug house, and realised that there was nothing I could do to help him if he didn’t want to help himself, and whatever he did with that was up to him.. and I left. To ringing accusations from his family that his death would be on my hands.
I dived deep into personal development work for many years, I started travelling, and went on a profound vision quest, and healed so much inside of me before I met my ex-husband. And our relationship was different, but.. it was still high-conflict and nothing I’d learned from the previous relationship book, or personal therapy I’d done, worked. Nor did the shamanic healing, EFT, or other modalities I tried. And none of the other books I read or courses I did on attachment styles or the generally accepted transactional approach to relationship counselling helped us to create a better or more connected relationship. I felt constantly triggered by him, unheard, misunderstood and lonely. And I completely lost my attraction to him.
Then, one day, a miracle occurred and I found myself reading three separate books.. one on spirituality, one on parenting and education, and one on marriage.
And all three spoke to exactly the same message!! How likely was that?!
That we have absolutely no control of anyone outside of ourselves.
That the only person we have any control of (or responsibility to control) is our own selves. And that the way to create better relationships, a better life, and genuine happiness, is to be the change. I’m sure we’ve all heard this, but it’s hard to apply in the nitty gritty day-to-day moment-by-moment opportunities our partners, kids, colleagues, or people in the queue or on the road offer us!
My life pivoted, while not exactly instantaneously, incredibly quickly, in days and weeks, as I devoured the teachings and began to apply them to my life.
I brought the focus back to me.
- Who was I?
- What did I need?
- What channels were open and trying to help me meet my needs even when it wasn’t him?
- What energy was I bringing to my life and our relationship?
- What short-term pain was I willing to experience for true long-term gain?
- What were my real boundaries?
- And what could I accept? And how?
- How was I showing up, in my head, in my speech, and in my actions?
I felt myself becoming the partner, mother, and woman I had always wanted to be.
And, in the process, I began to feel liberated, awakened, and joyous.
And the people in my life reflected this back to me.
Ultimately though, my ex-husband was on a different path by then as he’d begun an affair that would eventually end our marriage, but in the last year of our marriage, as I practiced the new skills and perspectives I’d learned, my desire for him returned, I fell back in love with him and with myself, and I learned a way of relating that has forever changed my life and is a solid golden thread through the work I do with my clients.
Moving from a relationship focus that’s based on transactions and attachment styles to one based on seeing my relationship as a people-growing machine and then doing the work that it showed me, was very, very different from the norms in the relationship field and yet was exactly what I needed.
An unconventional, self-responsible and honest, way of relating that helped me find the real underlying issues beneath our bickering that weren’t about changing him (so they weren’t really about him being on his phone, or leaving his dirty socks everywhere). And once I did, those issues could be resolved while also helping me to evolve.
I still had layers to discover and new facets of the gem of relationship work to discover, but I often think back to this time in my life and feel so grateful for the ways that we can encounter belief-shifting work when we’re really ready for something fresh, different, and needed at a soul-level for our most profound growth.
It’s also why, even though my marriage ended in infidelity, I was able two years later to handle the whole divorce myself, amicably and lawyer-free, and move on in my life in a way that was deeply empowered and with skills and perspectives that I have developed into something I call ‘conscious monogamy’.. but more on that another day!