We are not born with tools on how to build healthy relationships. No one teaches us. We should learn this shit in high school instead of geometry and other useless classes we will never use in life.
So as we grow up, we do the best we can, not knowing that relationships are built. With tools that require awareness and a long self discovery journey. We love blindly and end up hurt, lost, and confused. We get pulled by our feelings and emotions, reacting to our triggers and patterns, setting ourselves up for unhealthy experiences. This then gives us distorted defintions of love. We chase ideas and fantasy. Then internalize after the relationship tailspins and wonder what’s wrong with us. So we hold up shields. Dig moats around our heart. And love with distance. Afraid to touch the stove because we keep getting burned.
Never hitting deeper intimacy. Or experiencing healthy. Love becomes a shot. A ride. Powerful yet fleeting. We get addicted to chasing dopamine instead of actually building something lasting and sustainable.
The by product is emotional whiplash. Falling into the same patterns. Attracting the same type of person. Get into the same type of relationships. Love then becomes a loop, fueled by past dysfuction and warped defintions.
At some point, the ride gets old. It’s not worth the line. At some point, you re-examine what you want. Because what you want is different now. At some point, you decide to put weight on different things. Like energy, capcity, emotional intelligence, and moments. At some point, you ask yourself how much of these crazy love tracks are because of you. At some point, you decide to break the record. Look inward. At some point, you decide to take ownership.
I believe everyone has a responsibility to work on themselves if they choose to love someone. It’s not extra. It’s a responsiblity like taking your dog on walks and doing the best to raise your children in a way that sets them up for success and happiness. Working on yourself is not just for you. It’s for them. For us. For the world. For the part of you that still believes you can have better.
So what does working on yourself look like? It’s different for everyone. It’s more than reading a blog post.
But it can start there.
Or more accurately, here.
Here are a few of the basics when building a healthy relationship. They are topics to be explored. To create a dialogue. To spark revelations. To change perspective. To shift thinking. To begin your journey of loving harder.
YOUR DEFINITION OF LOVE
Everything starts with your defintions. Our defintions are where we pull from. They are the maps we chase. The images we try to bring to life. Either consciously or subconsciously.
When I was in my twenties, my definition of love was the lightning in the bottle. The picket fence. Love meant give everything, including your life. Love meant losing yourself in the other. Love meant if you go down, I go down with you. And vice versa. Love meant fixing people. Love meant ownership. Love meant drowning in one single tub.
You can probably imagine with this defintion, what my early relationships looked like.
Today my defintion of love is very different.
Love means the slow burn. Love means to give without losing yourself. Love means to do life with someone, not at or around. Love means communication. Love means if you go down, I will give you my hand. Not my life. And vice versa. Love means supporting and championing one’s story. Love means looking inward. Appreciating and respecting differences. Love means capturing moments. Not holding onto timelines. Love means soaking in separate tubs. But holding hands.
What is your definition of love?
CREATING A SAFE SPACE
Without a safe space, there is no soil. Love becomes reckless and grabbing. Without a safe space, trust can not be built. Without trust, you are building your relationship on sand. It’s just a matter of time before the house of cards come crumbling down.
What is a safe space?
When I was in therapy school, I learned about something called Person Centered Therapy. It is a theoretical orientation created by Carl Rogers and is fundamental for the client / therapist relationship to produce trust and be an authentic relationship. I think it’s a good quick starter defintion of a what a safe space looks like.
Three things are required.
Unconditional Positive Regard: The therapist needs to accept the client for who s/he is and provide support and care no matter what s/he is going through.
Genuineness: a client-centered therapist needs to feel comfortable sharing his or her feelings with the client. Not only will this contribute to a healthy and open relationship between the therapist and client, it provides the client with a model of good communication and shows the client that it’s okay to be vulnerable.
Empathetic Understanding: the client-centered therapist must extend empathy to the client, both to form a positive therapeutic relationship and to act as a sort of mirror, reflecting the client’s thoughts and feelings back to him or her; this will allow the client to better understand him- or herself.
Creating this space requires an abiltiy. It takes effort, intention, and practice. And this is just the beginning in creating a safe space. Of course there is more. But these three are the basics, the must haves for any relationship to thrive.
FIGHTING WITHOUT FIGHTING
It doesn’t matter how many times we fight. What matters is how we fight. If you’re throwing chairs and assasinating character, your relationship will be wobbly. At best.
I used to be reactive and explosive. I used to be loud and overbaring and would steam roll people. I used to fight to win. This doesn’t work in relationships. It causes flames to turn into bonfires. Or the other person to shut down and walk on eggshells. Now he/she is doing life around you and not with you. This causes distance and drift and wondering if there’s something better. Or someone better, with more tools and capacity.
Fighting can actaully be a good thing, something that produces relationship glue. It can build trust. It can make people feel safe and heard. But only if it is done in a healthy fair way. And again, healthy and fair is a learned skill.
I am no longer a walking reaction. I now have the tools to fight without fighting. I try to understand before trying to be understood. I listen. I practice empathy.
THE PURSUER / DISTANCER DANCE
Knowing your attraction patterns is crucial in building a solid relationship. We know why we’re attracted to someone on a two dimensional level. Appearance. Humor. Banter. Things in common. Similar passions. Etc. But there is a deeper attraction happening underneath that we are usually not aware of. This magnetic draw has to do with our story and wiring. It has to do with how we were rasied, what smells familiar, what’s lacking inside, and how all our love experiences have formed us. Our reactions. Triggers. Resistance. Inner conflict. Thoughts. Behavior.
There are many dynamics happening under the surface. One of them is the Pursuer / Distancer. One person pursues. The other distances. This is a common dance.
The pursuer gets high off the chase. (love addict)
The distancer likes to be chased but then runs when it gets too intimate (love advoidant)
Again, this is just one of many. If you know what your love dynamics / patterns are, what’s running underneath the hood when you’re loving someone, then you can be aware of your thoughts and behavior and slowly change the dynamic. You can start to explore the why and where things come from, sort shit out, reposition yourself, work on what needs to be worked on, set yourself for experiences that begin to heal wounds instead of retraumatizing yourself with the same love experiences. So you stop chasing your tail.
I’m pretty sure I’m a recovering love (maybe sex) addict. I’ve always been addicted to the chase. I get high off the high. Since I was a child, I’ve been chasing girls. I have addiction in my blood. And I think I’ve hid behind it by wearing a tee shirt stamped “hopeless romantic”. Because who doesn’t love love? It makes things okay. It makes me normal. But I’ve learned that the chase keeps you on the surface. You never get to slip under the sheets of love, where true intimacy lives. Instead you love over the covers. That’s not love. That’s hiding.
“Usually love addicts learn relatively early in life that an effective way to “numb out” and to not feel difficult emotions like shame, fear, depression and anxiety is to escape into the intense and distracting neurochemical rush of romantic fantasy. In short, if a love addict is focused on how hot a new person is and how wonderful their life will be when they’re together, the addict is able to avoid focusing on his or her problems, whatever they may be. Over time, this self-induced neurochemical distraction becomes the love addict’s go-to coping mechanism for all of life’s difficulties. As such, love addiction is less about the search for love and more about finding a way to control tough emotions.”
Below is one of my favorite quotes about love.
You must love in a way that the other person feels free.
– Thich Nhat Hanh
In one sentence, it captures what a healthy relationship looks like. But of course, easier said than done. Healthy starts with awareness and revelations but it doesn’t exist without the execution piece. Which is where most of us drop the ball.
We learn about love through lots of pain and many shattered hearts, through falling into unhealthy patterns that turn our lives upside down and make us believe we are worth less or defective. Until we decide we want different. I’ve been there. I’ve been through many expired relationships, including a divorce, the first domino in my self betterment journey.
After becoming a therapist, I helped thousands with their relationships as I documented my own love journey.
Recently, I took my learnings, both from my professional work as well as personal, and created –
Casual over clinical, like we’re having coffee. (Just like my podcast).
Listen to it from anywhere. Work on yourself while you’re sitting in traffic.
23 of my blog articles about love and relationships all in one place.
It’s the price of a good lunch so if you want to go deeper with these topics and learn how to bring more to the table in your relationship,
Check it out HERE.