Anyone who has been in a committed relationship knows relationships take work. That work is about being honest, opening up about your true feelings and showing up to your partner every single day.
However, this idea that relationships take hard work is often used to justify unhealthy dynamics — specially by people who are doing all the work and can’t see how toxic their relationship is.
I can’t even count how many friends and acquaintances have told me that great relationships require hard work, right after sharing how unfair and turbulent their connection with their partner is. They know, deep down, their relationship is not working, but they still hold onto it.
They’re clearly not happy, yet they keep ignoring all the red flags — as well as their gut feelings — and putting in all their efforts.
In fact, this was one of the reasons I decided to stay single for many years: because most relationships around me were highly toxic, and I knew I needed to work on myself and my insecurities before committing to anyone again, otherwise I’d end up in the middle of a similar dynamic.
Yes, relationships do require some work, but that work should flow naturally and should always be distributed equally.
It’s not that difficult to listen to your partner, to acknowledge their emotions, to make amends when you’ve hurt them or to hug them when they need comfort. These are things we all do effortlessly when we love someone.
If you’re the only one doing them, then something’s not right.
Where Do Your Beliefs Come From?
Think about your beliefs regarding romantic relationships. Where do they come from? You probably feel like most of them have their origins in the society we live in, as well in your previous romantic experiences.
Now think about your first relationship ever. I’m not talking about your first boyfriend or girlfriend; I’m talking about the first relationship you ever had in your life, the one that set the tone for everything else. I’m talking about your relationship with your primary caretakers.
Forget about how you should feel about your parents. Instead, focus on the main emotions you felt during your childhood. As a child, how did you feel? Did you feel afraid of disappointing your parents? Did you feel like you were never good enough?
It’s normal to have conflicting, antagonistic emotions regarding your childhood. Sometimes, parents can be loving and affectionate, yet cold and authoritarian. Mine were — at least my father.
The point is, when we grow up in an unstable, demanding environment where our parents don’t validate our feelings or celebrate our successes, we tend to do most of the emotional work of our relationship with them.
We show them love even when they’re distant, we apologize even when we feel like we haven’t done anything wrong and we make amends even when they’re the ones who said something hurtful. And as a consequence, we normalize this dynamic. We believe this is how relationships are supposed to be: unbalanced and draining.
“Emotional work is comprised of empathy, common sense, awareness of motives and anticipating how someone is likely to respond to your actions (…) Apologizing, seeking reconciliation and making amends are among the strenuous emotional labors that sustain healthy, long-term relationships. But because emotionally immature parents lack interest in relationship repairs, re-connection efforts may fall to you.”
Lindsay Gibson, PsyD in Recovering From Emotionally Immature Parents
Then, as adults, when we find ourselves in a romantic relationship, we do just the same. We do all the work because we were taught that wanting reciprocity is too much, so we unconsciously expect poor communication.
And this is what I mean when I say that relationships are not supposed to take a lot of work. Sure, you have to show up and make some efforts, but those efforts should never be one-sided. If you feel drained, anxious or like something’s off, then you should probably reconsider your relationship.
Fighting all the time is not normal. Feeling jealous and insecure all the time is not normal. Walking on eggshells and thinking twice every time you want to say something is not normal.
You deserve someone who shows affection and who’s willing to apologize as much as you are. You deserve someone who wants to get to know every single part of you, no matter how messy, broken or damaged you think you are.
Dr. Gibson says,
“It can be an alien concept that a mate is supposed to be concerned for your feelings, interested in your subjective experience and want to get along as much as you do (…) If you did not get much emotionally in childhood, you might be willing to put a lot of one-sided effort into your adult relationships. You may not be happy, but you may feel you should take whatever is offered.”
There will always be struggles and fights in any relationships, but expecting an overall sense of happiness, peace and understanding is not too much. In fact, that’s exactly what you should ask for.
It’s not easy to see things clearly and objectively when we’re in love, specially when we’re conditioned to believe our gut feelings don’t matter.
This is why being connected to your true self is so important. Without self-awareness, we let ourselves be influenced by the noise around us and we lose touch with our intuition.
Your intuition knows if you’re truly happy or not. It knows if you feel that pure joy that comes with being so loved and fulfilled that you can’t help but have infinite amounts of energy to give back to yourself and the world.
The right person will never make you feel like you’re asking for too much. They will listen to you, comfort you and respect you. They will empathize with your emotions and reassure you whenever you’re feeling insecure. They may do something that hurts you, but they’ll apologize, not you.
And that’s exactly what you deserve — so don’t settle for anything less.
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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Photo credit: Victoria Volkova on Unsplash