Romantic relationships provide an unparalleled opportunity for personal growth, but they’re sure as hell not easy. They can trigger our worst qualities; they can leave us in a state of depression or anxiety for months or years. We can lose track of ourselves in a relationship--stop doing things that make us feel good, lose touch with friends who bring out our best or even forget who we really are. They are rife with opportunity for attachment and control issues to rear their ugly heads. They are hard to understand too . . .we started out flirting, laughing and having fun together--how did things wind up here?
Luckily, most of us have come out the other end of a relationship that wasn’t right for us. Hopefully we learned a thing or two about ourselves in the process. For example, I “may” have tried to change/fix my ex-boyfriend. After all, I am a therapist and had essential wisdom to impart! Anyways, you can imagine how that ended up. Still, as a Type A, I wanted to control the situation. I figured if I just tried hard enough we could make it last. Pat (not his real name) was a good guy--we just needed to work through our differences and learn how to relate better. As they say, relationships are work, so we just need to do the work, right? In the end . . . no. I simply couldn’t force something that didn’t feel right. I had to accept that breaking up was an option. My pesky emotions had been trying to tell me something all along--emotions are funny like that, huh? I’d attempted to dismiss them as my “anxiety issues,” but they weren’t. I was anxious because the relationship was wrong for me. I was trying to fit a square peg in a round hole . . . and it hurt!
I finally ended things with Pat back in September. I did grow from our relationship. It taught me that I needed to keep prioritizing the things that made me feel good before entering the relationship--meditation, time with friends, working out, etc. I learned I needed to trust my feelings--they were smarter than I’d realized. I also found out that I needed to regulate my own emotions and not count on Pat to make it all better after a long day at the office. It’s so cliche, but most importantly I realized I can’t be with someone that I want to change. I knew that before on a logical level, but now I understood what it really meant. Yes, relationships are work, but I can’t change the core of who someone is. If those core parts of who we are don’t line up, it’s a losing battle.
My relationship with Pat taught me that I needed to be with a partner who is passionate about life. Someone who accepts and validates my emotions for me. Someone who takes action and goes after their dreams. Someone who is enthusiastic and roots for me as I pursue mine. It’s been 7 months since ending things with Pat and I’m finally feeling ready for a new relationship. Interestingly enough--in a recent turn of events--a guy I’ve been friends with (and crushing on) for a while asked me out. He’s passionate, validates me, is a go-getter and roots for me hard.
Here goes nothing!
Heather Shannon is a counselor and health coach working in private practice in Chicago. She works primarily with "Type A" clients and takes a holistic approach to counseling, incorporating nutrition and lifestyle education into her work with teens and adults.