Being in relationship with another person is a complex and deeply personal experience. Sometimes you may feel completely in sync with them, while other times you might feel disconnected, out of touch, and even hurt. Relationships can be fraught and they can be smooth; since we don’t really have much (okay, ANY) control over other people, when we become willing to risk being hurt in order to get the benefits of being connected, a lot of unexpected emotional stuff can come up.
When it comes to relationships, there are layers about the other person(s), as well as things that exist between you, that can feel very difficult to untangle from your own relationship with yourself. We spend much of our childhood taking in the expectations of others around us. Often, we feel the power of others “naming” us, both literally (our parents usually give us our names) and figuratively (“You are so picky at dinner!”), which can seem like the truth when we’re so young. As we grow older, the people around us may change, but the messages from childhood remain, and influence how we relate to the world and the people we’re close to.
So let's try on the possibility that what can help us have more fulfilling relationships is to embrace that which is between us as well as each other and ourselves. The best way to start feeling fulfilled and healthy in your relationships is to learn what it's like to feel fulfilled and healthy with yourself. Learning how not to be afraid of yourself, how to listen to yourself, how not to hide things away from yourself-- all of this can help you feel connected to you, and this will radiate through into your relationships with others. If you’re critical or intolerant of yourself, you’ll probably be critical and intolerant of others. If you cut off or ignore parts of yourself, you’ll probably cut off or ignore parts of others. If you allow yourself enough grace, enough forgiveness, enough space to allow yourself to be fully who you are, you will be able to do the same for the people you love. You’ll become one of those people you love. And that’s the key to all of it.
Here are some questions that might help you think about how you respond to people you love in situations where you’re triggered. Since these questions might evoke somatic or unconscious responses, it might be easier to think about them as you walk, or talk them through out loud with your therapist or confidant. Journaling in a free-flowing and non-judgmental way can also help you sit with some of the more uncomfortable feelings that might come up. I also suggest you pay attention to your dreams in the next few days, noticing places where you have interactions with people, where you feel safe, and where you feel scared.
What happens to you when you’ve had a rough day? When you’re preoccupied with something, like the interaction you had with someone in the grocery checkout line or a pending situation at work that you feel unsettled about- how do those feelings leak through into your interactions with people close to you? How do you respond when your partner is irritable, shows their vulnerability, or closes off? These are all micro-interactions that occur constantly between people, and it’s really easy to get caught in the emotional web of our expectations, fears, wishes, needs, and triggers and forget how to think together, and share together with another person. Noting when these happen for you can help you create a little more room for yourself when you’re feeling caught up in these emotions.
And: Who are you connected to in your life? How do you feel when you’re with them? Do you sometimes wish you could be alone, and not need other people, because maybe it’s safer that way? How do you, or could you, balance alone time with connected time? How can you find ways to be yourself in all the relationships you consider meaningful? What relationships might need to change if you were to feel more comfortable in them, and how might they change? How might you need to change to be more flexible in your relationships- or more boundaried?