s. They will never live up to your expectations. Don’t over-analyze your relationships. Stop playing games. A growing relationship can only be nurtured by genuineness.” — Leo F. Buscaglia
If you’re like some, then you probably didn’t grow up being taught how to find the perfect partner or how to be the perfect partner. Besides, no one is perfect and the sooner we let go of illusions of perfection and idealizations, trust me when I say, the happier we’ll be.
The fact is, if you weren’t being taught self-love, a healthy attachment with others and a healthy relationship with yourself first, then recognizing the red flags in relationships probably wasn’t being taught at home, either.
Or, maybe we were taught to believe that “love” and relationships are based on agendas and opportunities instead of the uncomfortable feelings and emotions we shy away from — like vulnerability, transparency or intimacy.
After all, it’s easier basing our agendas on what we want instead of basing relationships on what we need for growth.
The irony is that everything we were taught to avoid are the same needs required for personal growth.
A mindset based on emotional avoidance is what sets us up for failure and keeps us chained to childhood conditioning that becomes our adult habits.
When we grow up in environments that teach survival mode, we become ill-equipped and intuitively inept at recognizing whether our relationships are healthy choices for ourselves, or merely a continuation of what was taught.
Part of learning survival is that we aren’t taught how to recognize whether a relationship is actually in our best interests, or if it’s just being used as a bandaid to prevent being alone or to fill a void. This sets the stage for codependence or emotionally unavailable relationships where the same script is repeated from one situation to the next.
Unlearning this dynamic requires a total overhaul on what we’ve been taught as “normal”, along with reshaping our idea on ourselves and the type of relationships we choose.
Social learning theorists call this phenomenon modeling and imitation — when what was being served as “normal” and “acceptable” in childhood gets carried with us into adulthood, which can work in our favor, or against it. Depending on what was being modeled for us (i.e. survival vs. love), we learn to imitate these lessons, keeping us stuck in survival mode like a monkey on our back.
If you were raised to have a healthy moral compass, then you scored. You were likely taught a solid understanding of your Self, and shown the importance of secure attachments with others in your life.
If not, then life can be taught backwards or sideways — where survival mode kicks in and shadows our understanding of who we are while masking our happiness.
When the basics in life are taught as guarded agendas, this is how the slippery slope starts. You can grow up carrying the weight of not loving or respecting yourself, or feeling guilty if you try to step away from agendas to start caring about yourself.
So what happens?….
…Self-love gets replaced with self-sabotage.
Loving others is replaced with idealizing them.
Intimacy gets exchanged for self-preservation.
Authenticity gets tossed out for whatever’s happening in the moment.
Devaluation is in effect where compassion should be.
And, discards are handed out when vulnerability shows up.
Code name for: one toxic relationship after another.
The thing about misery is that it loves company. If you’re in the habit of dating partners who are emotionally unavailable or toxic to your emotional health, or if you’re the one who’s emotionally disconnected and unavailable, then it shouldn’t be a surprise when you’re relationships mirror this.
Stopping the cycle takes work, and it starts within. The quality of our relationships with friends, family, and our significant other — starts with the quality of the relationship we have with ourselves.
Settling for the first person you swiped right on instead of choosing an authentic relationship can be summed up in two words:
But, emotional unavailability has many layers. On the surface it may pop up as searching for that “perfect” partner to idealize you, or someone you can idealize.
Let’s face it, if you’re in the habit of idealization, we’re all seen as “perfect” at first. Idealization is in play to keep the emotional addiction in play —chasing what’s momentarily exciting while numbing and avoiding pain underneath.
…and preventing growth.
Or, emotional unavailability may crop up as someone to “fix” to take our mind off of our own areas for growth. After all, when we’re trying to escape our Self, there’s nothing more distracting than putting our energy into “saving” someone else. Bonus points if we’re seen as a hero in the process.
…but it prevents growth.
Emotional unavailability is a mask for a fear of not feeling good enough. When we keep our vulnerable emotions under lock and key, we’re living in survival mode. We may be assuming the worst, or we may be planning our exit in order to prevent the worst.
Getting unstuck from a cycle of unsatisfying relationships and recognizing whether we have a place in their heart boils down to changing a few key things not only in ourselves, but in how we approach our understanding of relationships.
Place In Their Heart vs. Placeholder
Our Motivations. Aaaaaah, yes….our “motivations”. The fact is, until we are at a place of honesty with ourselves and what the driving force is behind our own behavior, we’re going to stay stuck on survival mode always assuming others have agendas. And, most of the time they will.
If we haven’t taken the time or effort to heal ourselves, then our relationships are going to be based on the areas within ourselves that have not yet been healed.
This breeds a self-fulfilling prophecy of getting involved in relationships based on unmet need where they become placeholders trying to fill a void.
If you want to know whether they’re authentically in love with you — you have to have met your unmet needs before getting involved in a relationship. Otherwise, survival mode always kicks in based on getting your unmet needs met.
Transparency. Transparency and vulnerability walk hand-in-hand. When Ego and pride are in effect, transparency and vulnerability can’t be — they’re opposite sides of the coin.
Knowing whether you authentically love your partner, and vice versa, boils down to your willingness to be transparent with each other.
When we live in Ego or pride, their job is to protect and push away feelings of shame or vulnerable emotions. Ego is in check to keep everything based on agendas. And pride keeps everything masked to push away shame.
Histories of addiction, narcissistic traits, painful experiences, or a history of infidelity are things that Ego and pride will try to mask. And, as long as relationships are kept superficial and shallow, no harm, no foul. Right?
But what happens when you meet that one person who understands you or sees underneath the mask? Here’s where Ego and pride step in.
It takes a strong person to have these “tough talks” with your partner because you risk losing them. Some prefer to abandon one relationship and to save face with someone new when transparency is on the line. However, without risk, there’s no reward. You’d be suprised how much can be accomplished and solved when we take the risk to be transparent and unscripted with our partner.
Power Is Balanced. Any relationship based on an imbalance of power means that one partner is running the show while the other partner’s needs get pushed to the wayside.
For example, imbalances of power can happen subtly, often without one partner knowing. If idealization is in play, you can bet your ass whichever partner is being idealized has the power.
At least at first.
For any of us who may have been idealized and were unaware of the dynamics in play at the time, here’s your red flag.
Idealization is based on manipulation with the goal of getting the partner who’s being idealized to fall — hook, line and sinker for the other.
Once idealization turns to devaluation, the power differential flips, and the person who was being idealized (and had the power, even if unbeknownst to them), has now lost all power.
On the flipside, when it’s based on love, imbalances of power don’t exist. If, on occasion power becomes imbalanced, it’s met with authentic communication and transparency — without agendas and with an honest solution being found…together.
Recognize Patterns. This holds true for everything in our lives from our daily habits, to how we show love to our partner, to why we toss out one relationship for another.
Our patterns are what rule our habits.
If there’s a pattern of getting dumped by your partner, or in dumping your partner, then you’re likely in the habit of attracting — and being attracted to — unhealthy relationships based on agendas and unmet needs.
Recognizing the habits and patterns we keep goes back to figuring out where they were first learned. And then making changes from there while insisting on healthier for ourselves.
Here’s the thing, if we don’t want to look at our personal behavioral history — our habits and why they’re in play, no one can make us. Personal growth is just that — personal.
If someone isn’t willing to engage in personal growth, you can’t make them, regardless of how much you love them. And, the same concept works in reverse.
Word & Deed. I had a mentor years ago that taught me this simple trick, and it was a game changer:
“Word is what is said; deed, is what is done. If both aren’t adding up, something is wrong”.
Word + deed is about trust. Trust walks hand-in-hand with our motivations, transparency, balance of power and recognizing our habits and patterns in relationships.
Trust is lacking when our relationships are based on unmet needs.
First, it’s important to define “need”. Need is defined as unmet basic needs — where trust, safety, love or being heard went unmet earlier in life. As a result, relationships take on a toxic life of their own based on getting needs met instead of basing the relationship on a solid foundation of intimacy.
So, how can we know if our partner authentically trusts us and if we can trust them?
Trust starts with self-trust. We need to be able to rely on ourselves, to believe we are worthy of genuine love and that we can be trusted.
This boils down to asking yourself whether you’re trustworthy.
Most times when relationships come from a place of unmet need, trust is lacking, which includes your ability to trust in yourself. And, your partner will pick up on it.
If you know there is part of yourself that is unhealed, your trust issues likely start there.
When They Love You
When someone authentically loves you, they’re not only there to share your success, they’re there to pick you up when you fall or when you fail.
They’re the ones helping you build yourself, from the ground up, encouraging you along the way.
They’re there to listen, so you feel heard and you know you’re valued.
They’re calling you out on your shit because they know you’re capable of loving yourself more and rising above your limitations, regardless of your fears or doubts.
They see the mask slip, and they still love you. And you both gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of where you’ve both been and your experiences that have shaped each of you.
The partner who’s not just there for the good times, but who’s there during the struggles — that’s when you know they love you.
Bandura, A. (1977). Social learning theory. Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice Hall.
Bartholomew K. (1990). Avoidance of intimacy: An attachment perspective. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 7, 147–178.
Bowlby, J. (1978). Attachment theory and its therapeutic implications. Adolescent Psychiatry, 6, 5–33.
Maslow, A. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50, 370–396.
This post was previously published on Medium.
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