Why Your Relationships Suck
*Author's note: I know this title is super harsh, but hopefully it'll serve as clickbait because this is an important read. This article will likely piss you off. Everything I write is my opinion and based in both my personal and professional experiences. If something I've written has ignited a flame of anger inside of you, use that emotional trigger to further navigate through the root of that emotional stimulation. Often, when we are secure about something, we don't get angry or defensive. While you're reading, if you experience any of these emotional reactions, be kind to yourself. Lash out at me if you want, but know that it has more to do with you than it does with me. Enjoy!*
If anyone reading this has been in a relationship for over 6 months (give or take however long may need to pass before you feel the weight of normalcy), you’ve experienced this: The novelty wears off, the rose-colored glasses are shattered, and you’re sharing your life with another flawed, fallible, perfectly imperfect human being.
Congratulations! Welcome to your real relationship.
Human beings are wired for connection. (See my article from 2015 about codependency here).
So wired, in fact, that at times we try to force relationships with people with whom we don’t have a sustainable connection. We push ourselves together like mismatched puzzle pieces and get frustrated at the other person when the corners don’t quite fit. We get angry at ourselves for consistently picking the “wrong person.”
In all of our relationships, despite all the problems we may point out in our partners, the only common denominator is us. We are the only person we continuously bring along into each new relationship.
Relationships are hard. We know this. But the core issues that reside in each of us, ranging from fear of abandonment to overly-attached and controlling patterns, will remain active factors in our relationships until we have the courage and the resources to deal with and work through them.
This article is going to focus specifically on the transition from “the honeymoon stage” to the more “real” part of a relationship; The feelings of monotony, of boredom, the urge to self-sabotage or create chaos, the thoughts of seeking excitement and novelty elsewhere, the questioning of you or your partner's choices, the tendency to get frustrated at their habits, behaviors, and thought processes, and so on.
Most humans have a difficult time with this transition. While I don't always believe that, "with age comes wisdom," the reality is that the more relationships we've walked through, hopefully the less surprising this stark transition will be. The reasons behind these transitional difficulties, however, are many and varied.
Let’s go through some of my case conceptualizations. Keep in mind that all of these observations are based in my own personal or professional experiences, and by no means are a comprehensive summary of individuals in relationships. Chances are high that you'll relate to at least one of these cases listed below, though.
1. The Excitement Seeker
First, we have the excitement seeker. The person who loves to fall in love, gets a rush from the endorphins of oxytocin and attention, and feels depleted and sometimes empty when the excitement wears off. This person is prone to be in a multitude of relationships over a short period of time. In some case, these relationships will overlap.
This person tends to have emotional or physical affairs, gleaning worth and security by falling hopelessly for someone who is out of their reach. When the relationship gets “boring,” or the initial infatuation and lust begin to fizzle, this person gets antsy. He or she may actively self-sabotage the relationship or concoct reasons for its demise. This person may never be satisfied in a relationship, and will consistently be looking for the next best thing. The problem is seldom the partner, but rather lies within the individual who has an insatiable appetite for newness.
This person may have had a lifetime of inconsistency and adrenaline spikes. We can often find that this individual was a child of divorce, living in different houses throughout their childhoods, or someone who has experienced a significant amount of chaos throughout their life. At a certain point, chaos, excitement, and adrenaline become normal for the brain. They become the baseline, and anything other than that can be identified as boring.
There is a reason why, in recovery from substances, codependency, and sex, “boredom” is one of the most common triggers. In my opinion, boredom is simply the inability to sit with self. A stable life feels like a boring, monotonous one, thus we seek chaos and excitement. Unfortunately for this type of person, we cannot think our way out of these deeply rooted patterns of behavior.
Formal therapy or some kind of process of introspection and self-improvement. I'd prefer the former, as we often can't think our way out of our own dysfunction. Much of our behavior has become muscle memory. Just like a therapist cannot "therapize" themself, or a doctor cannot treatment themself, an individual with relationship dysfunction and patterns of self sabotage cannot think their way out of it.
We will continue to construct the same patterns in our relationships if we don’t take some time off and do the difficult work. Yes, I'm encouraging you to stop dating. Stop seeking. Your appetite for excitement and novelty is insatiable at this point in time. It doesn’t matter if you find your “perfect person,” you will continuously self-destruct with your own lack of impulse control and tendency towards novelty and excitement. This isn’t because you’re a shitty person. It’s quite literally programmed into your brain chemistry. Forgive yourself, take some action, and get healthy. You may think, “therapy? That’s a little much, Hannah.” And I mean this as sincerely as possible: let me know when you change the patterns in your relationship on your own. Seriously. I want to know.
2. The "I'm Bad at Commitment" One
Second, the “I’m just bad at commitment” individual. UGH. Let’s start with the basics. Change your narrative! No one is inherently “bad” at anything (except maybe math). The more you tell yourself you’re not good at something, the more you’ll believe it to be true. Saying “I’m bad at commitment or relationships” is just a way of saying “I have some issues I’ve never dealt with and am not willing to deal with, so I’m going to label myself as bad at this.” Like, what?! Let’s look at the root of this problem.
It’s obviously a problem if you’re even reading this article and this segment applies to you. When did you start feeling like you were bad at commitment? Was it after a relationship that ended badly and left you feeling rejected and hurt? Was it watching your parents divorce and internalizing that all relationships inevitably fail so why even try?
We all have core issues, narratives that we’ve constructed or have been constructed in us, shaping theway we think and feel about the world. It’s not a weakness, it’s a very human experience that most of us have. In Psychology, we call them “schemas,” a fancy named for “worldview.” If you were in a long term relationship and your significant other cheated on you, you have publicly sworn off commitment and vulnerability. Internally, however, you’re fearful and in pain. The emotional experience of betrayal and rejection are incredibly powerful. They cause us to doubt ourselves and can shatter our self-worth.
Often, the people who have been hurt the most are the ones who will refuse to allow themselves to be close with another human being. These type often choose the labels of “forever alone” or “not a relationship kind of guy/girl/person.” And that’s fine! Until you get into a relationship with someone, realize that you can actually see a future with them, and as soon as the novelty and “sparks” start to die out, you feel the impending doom of rejection and abandonment again. You can read more about closure here.
So what do you do then?
THERAPY. I can’t stress this enough. Once again, you aren’t going to think your way out of emotional pain and the muscle-memory of putting your walls up. Find out what your core issues are, and ADDRESS THEM. We’ve all heard the adage, “hurt people hurt people,” and this is annoying cliché but very, very true. As I’ve written before, Time Does Not Heal All Wounds. It just passes and our old traumas and pain continue to rear their ugly heads in our relationships. You’re not “bad” at commitment or relationships. You have unresolved pain.
3. The Insecure One
Third, let’s take the person who struggles with their own sense of self. Self-worth, self-esteem, and self-love may be lacking. As I’ve written in previous articles, and quoted from The Perks of Being a Wallflower,– “We accept the love we think we deserve.” If at our core we don’t believe we are worthy of love and stable attachment, we will inadvertently or quite purposefully sabotage what we have. This can be true for a healthy relationship, a good career, and any other area of life that we don’t feel deserving of. I have tons of article about worthiness and self-love, so if this individual is you, go read them! Also, read anything by Brene Brown.
During the honeymoon stage of a relationship, it’s easier to accept love and validation. “This person doesn’t really know me yet,” we may tell ourselves. “Just wait,” we may think and even say to them. As the novelty wears off and we begin to get comfortable enough to show our true selves, that’s when the fear may begin to strike. If you’ve ever asked yourself, “why is this person still with me?” It has nothing to do with them and everything to do with you and your lack of self-worth. Read this for more clarity on the subject.
The solution here is not to push your partner away in order to fulfill your self-defeating belief that you are unlovable, unworthy, or simply not enough. This is often what we end up doing. I once read that our self destructive tendencies always serve a purpose; Here the purpose is to prove to ourselves that all that negative self-talk is actually accurate and we are destined to be alone. The solution, rather, is to begin by cultivating a core level of worthiness. In 12-step programs, I've often heard: "in order to have self esteem, start by doing esteem-able things." There is absolutely some truth to this, but the real work (in my opinion) lies in undoing the old patterns of behavior that have become ingrained in us. See the picture to the left for my favorite quote on this topic.
Our task is not to go out and seek the perfect partner. It is not to change everything about ourselves to meet the needs of our partner. It is not to go out and find the best clothes, makeup, haircut, and so on. The real task is to turn our giant magnifying glass inward and identify what has been blocking us from genuine love, intimacy, and connection. These barriers can range from childhood or adult trauma, to core beliefs about our worth. The barrier can be a painful breakup that led us to build a wall internally so that no one could ever hurt us again. Maybe the barrier is that you didn't receive the love and nurture you needed as a child and internalized it into your entire sense of self. Find out what your barriers are, and do everything in your power to start knocking them down. THIS is the work.
4. The Expectation One
Fourth, we have the expectation-focused person. If you’re in a 12-step fellowship, you may have crafted an “ideals list” as part of the 4th step. If you aren’t in this fellowship, I encourage you do this as well. We are encouraged to write a list of characteristics/qualities that would be an ideal in a future relationship. Emotional availability and ability to communicate, humor, intelligence, ambition, curiosity, etc. – really, whatever floats your boat.
We are then asked to subject each future partner to this test: is it selfish or not? It sounds simple, but it’s actually pretty life changing. I once heard at a 12-step convention that the real task is not to go out and find someone that emanates this ideals, but rather we are to start living by these ideals, and thus will attract someone who also values them. Cool!
Anyway, the expectation-focused person may have this conscious or subconscious ideals list in their heads. They meet someone, they think they fit this mold, and then as the honeymoon wears off, they begin to see this person’s flaws and humanness. Rather than working and growing with this person, they write them off as someone who doesn’t match their needs. There are absolutely times when time with a person can shed light on their shortcomings and some of these characteristics are deal breakers for you, but often they just have very human behaviors and are also on a journey (hopefully) of growth and self-improvement.
Be mindful of your expectations, and look at how you live up to your own expectations. More often than not, we are falling short of our own ideals and end up projecting our disappointment onto others, especially the person with whom we have the most intimate relationship.
5. The Overthinking One
Fifth, the projector/fear-based/always expecting the worse/manifester of problems. Manifester isn’t a verb, but I like it and it gets the point across. For those of you who were answering my Instagram (@hannaheliserose) questions and polls, and identified that overthinking was a problem for you, this is your segment.
This individual cannot for the life of them stay present in the relationship because they are terrified of their partner leaving them. What if I lose you? What if you leave me? What if something horrible happens to you? What if you find out who I really am and don't like what you see? This can be a combination of the insecure one and the codependent one (listed below).
We will find what we're looking for. If you are hell bent on finding evidence that your partner is losing interest and will leave you, you'll find it. On the flip side, if you are looking for cues from your partner that they are invested and committed, you'll find that too! Be mindful of the narrative you've been constructing in your head about yourself and your partner.
Overthinking is a bitch. It'll rip through our psyches and cause us to feel disconnected, isolated, and alone. We may tell ourselves we're "crazy," but overthinking is a common experience that most human beings are plagued with. You are not alone! You are not crazy! But if you shove these catastrophizing thoughts down and don't talk about, write about, or process them, they will manifest into incredibly unhealthy behaviors. Again, this is where self-sabotage can rear it's ugly head. Read the article on self-sabotage here.
6. The Codependent One
Sixth, the “I’m all in – to the point where I’ve lost myself” type. This one may have sacrificed all the parts of themselves that makes them unique and individual to meet the needs of their partner. This can range from the way they dress, talk, think, and feel. They may “love” the person so much that they’ve allowed themselves to be completely morphed into a different version of themselves. As the honeymoon stage wears off, so does the person’s individuality.
They have become a part of their partner, and feel that they would be lost or dead without them. Maybe they’re on the other end of the extreme and are trying to control their partner to be who they want them to be. Usually these two types of people attract each other. The passive, adaptable, almost camouflaging type, and the controlling, manipulative, “this is how you should be” type. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to codependency! And just for the record, you don’t have to be an Alpha Male to be controlling and manipulative. I watch women do this all the time as well. The gender roles that can come into play with these case conceptualizations are hilarious to me because we all can exhibit different parts of each behavior.
The most helpful exercise for me regarding any level of codependency, which I define as "my well being or contentment being contingent on anything outside of my self," was reading and completing the questions in Melody Beattie's The Codependent Guide to the 12 Steps. You can get it on Amazon here. The stark reality is that most human beings are going to exhibit a level of codependency. Again, we are wired for connection. Our ability to have healthy, interdependent connection is insanely hindered by cultural and societal norms, as well as our upbringing. We are never provided a tool guide or handbook on how to have healthy relations. If anything, what is modeled to us is incredibly unhealthy. "You're my other half" is an extremely codependent way of saying "I am only half of a person without you." What?! Nope. Absolutely not. I want to be a whole person who is able to come together with another whole person and make something so much bigger than us. I don't ever want to be in a dynamic where I feel that I am less of a person without my partner. Do they build me up and complement my shortcomings? Absolutely. Do I challenge myself to be better because of them? Maybe! But without then, I would still survive, thrive, and do the best I god damn can.
There are many more "types" of people in relationships, but this article is becoming super long and most of us don't have the patience or attention span to keep going. For now, I'll leave you with this:
You are human. You are not, nor will ever be, perfect. Identify what has been blocking you from healthy relationships.
Stop focusing on how everyone else falls short of your ideals.
Deal with your shit instead of giving yourself an excuse to keep hurting people.
Ask for help. Talk about it. Process with someone you trust.
If you can afford it and are courageous enough, go to therapy.
The money you spend will be an investment to your quality of life.
You are not crazy. You are not broken. You are not unworthy.
You, and everyone else still reading this, have the same struggles.
Just because you've always had a certain pattern of behavior doesn't mean you always will.
"This is just how I am" is a giant copout that enables you to stay comfortable in your misery.
It can, and it does, get better.
Thanks for reading!