Many people, myself included, have never been in a healthy relationship. We have taken abuse - both emotional and physical - and have been treated less than we deserve to be treated, partially because we didn't know we deserved any better. At least for me, I thought the constant anxiety and giving 110% just to get nothing in return, was normal. To me, that's what a relationship was.
When people started telling me that I deserved better, and when I finally realized I deserved better, I wondered, well how will I know once I'm in a healthy relationship? What does a healthy relationship look like?
Now that I'm (finally!) experiencing one, here's what I've learned:
1. They will respect your boundaries
I have never been good with boundaries, but I'm starting to practice them now. So, I set some up with my partner and got an "okay, cool. No problem" in response. And that was that. There was no bargaining, no "okay, but...." I expressed what I needed and my decision was respected. In a healthy relationship, each member should feel comfortable both setting up boundaries and respecting their partner's.
2. You will laugh all the time
This was one I didn't expect, but in my new, healthy relationship, I laugh. All the time. Neither of us take ourselves too seriously, and it's amazing. In a healthy relationship, laughter is a sign that you feel safe and comfortable with your partner.
3. It's not all about sex
Another shocker to me was that in healthy relationships, people talk about deep, personal things. They go out on dates to museums and movies. They share their favorite books and silly youtube videos with each other. They cry together. A healthy relationship is about so much more than physical intimacy or sexual satisfaction. And that's amazing.
4. You will feel safe
I never realized how not safe I felt in my previous relationships until I finally felt safe in this one. Feeling safe in a relationship means expressing your fears and desires and emotions without fear that the other person will judge you or leave you because of it. Feeling safe means falling asleep while cuddling, something I never thought was possible. Feeling safe means being 100% you and knowing that being yourself won't scare your partner away. In healthy relationships, both parties feel safe - safe to be who they are and say what they feel. And it's a beautiful thing.
5. The partnership will be equal
Being my codependent self, my previous relationships were all based on trying to be the perfect girlfriend, so that my partner wouldn't leave me. This meant having sex when I wasn't ready, driving ridiculously long hours when I wasn't asked to, and always paying when we went out for dinner. This meant texting them every day, to make sure that they still liked me. I was never asked to do these things - I felt obligated to. If I didn't go above and beyond what was asked of me, then they would leave me. I needed to give them an incentive to stay.
Now, I don't do that. I give as much as I want to give, and I receive in return. I'm not constantly worrying if I'm pretty enough or if I'm behaving like a good girlfriend should - because I know that they're not going anywhere. I trust my partner, and they trust me. Now, my relationship isn't work, it's effortless and freeing, like the most logical thing in the world.
6. You will be honest in your communication
Another thing that goes along with being codependent is wanting to be perfect all the time...well, spoiler alert: No one is perfect! But what this meant for me in relationships was that I would always hide how I really felt, if that emotion wasn't happiness or arousal. If I was worried or angry, I would swallow it. If I was sad, or nervous, or uncomfortable (especially uncomfortable) I wouldn't say a word. I had to be the perfect specimen all the time, because who wants a girlfriend with feelings, right? Wrong.
In healthy relationships, all emotions are authentic and expressed. And being angry or frustrated doesn't make your partner love you any less - It's just confirmation that you aren't a robot.
7. You will be excited about the future, while living in the present
Finally, healthy relationships bring excitement, and a desire to bring out the best in the other person and in yourself. But a healthy relationship is also realistic. There's no wedding planning before anyone is ready, and both parties understand that life happens and nothing is predictable. But in a healthy relationship, none of that unknowable future matters, because all you can think about is how happy you are today, and how much you want to make each second together count.
"A soulmate is the one person whose love is powerful enough; to motivate you to meet your soul - to do the emotional work of self-discovery; of awakening" - Mu'
God, grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The Courage to change the things I can,
And the Wisdom to know the difference.
This is one of my favorite prayers -- one that I whisper to myself on an almost daily basis. It reminds me of my power -- its strengths and its limitations.
I especially need this prayer today.
I cannot begin to express the sadness and anger and heartbreak I feel over the events of the past weekend. 50 beautiful, thriving, incredible human beings had their lives brutally and heartlessly taken from them, out of hate. And there's nothing I can do.
I am completely and utterly powerless to change what happened. I cannot bring any of those innocent victims back from the dead. I cannot fix the heartbreak and the pain that their families are going through. I simply cannot change the past.
And that hurts. Because my heart wants to rewind time and make this entire thing go away. Because who am I if I don't help?
The answer is in the prayer -- I can help, just differently.
I will help by loving each and every person I meet, regardless of the color of their skin, or who they love. I will help by loving myself, and recognizing that, while I have no power over other people's actions, I have power over my own. And I will help by exercising that power, that power to change my own behavior, by loving -- fiercely, unconditionally and wholeheartedly.
I will help by taking responsibility for my own actions, rather than trying to control the actions of others.
And in doing so, I will change the world.
(This is a post for everyone. I only single out the ladies because, unfortunately, this seems to happen more with women than with men, due to the rape culture epidemic. Nevertheless, it's relevant to all)
Ladies: Trust your gut!
I don't know about you, but I have a hard time trusting myself sometimes. I am the kind of person who doesn't want to hurt anyone else's feelings, who likes to avoid confrontation. Because of this, I often ignore that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, that feeling that something isn't quite right, for fear that I am making inappropriate assumptions about my situation.
(This trust thing can be applied across all areas, but I'm especially talking about it in relation to men. Unfortunately, most women are raised to be quiet and unassuming. Non-judgemental. Passive. In the time that we live in, with rape on college campuses being a bigger problem than ever before, this attitude just won't cut it. When we feel unsafe, it is okay to do something about it.)
I will think things like "I'm just being paranoid. I have no reason to be scared of him," or "I'm just anxious, there's no real threat here. This is just my anxiety disorder talking."
Are any of you like this?
I'm here to tell you (and me) to start listening to that feeling, because it just might save your life one day.
Here is a (personal) story about (not) trusting my gut:
The man on the Red line
This happened about a year and a half ago, and it still haunts me to this day.
It was 10 am on a Wednesday morning, and I was taking the train home from downtown Chicago. It was winter, so I was bundled up from head to toe. I was sitting on the train, looking out the window when a large homeless man approached me. I immediately got that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, but ignored it. "I shouldn't assume that he's harmful just because he's homeless," I thought.
He asked if he could sit in the empty seat next to me. Even though my gut screamed "NO!" my mouth said yes. Again, I shouldn't assume. He clearly had some sort of mental illness. Who am I to judge based on that?
Well as my trip continued, the situation got more and more uncomfortable. The man sat with his legs wide open, pressed up against mine, as I tried to make myself as small as possible against the window. He told me he was gay, and that he would be my new gay best friend.
He put his hand on my thigh. He hugged me.
I can remember counting down the stops until my own. He left before me, luckily. For the rest of the train ride I sat in silence, stunned. I had been violated. My personal space, my trust, everything.
And all because I ignored that feeling in the pit of my stomach. All because I was afraid of offending this perfect stranger by telling him "no."
I don't blame myself for what happened. It was not my fault that he assaulted me in that way. He was wrong to do so. I was not asking for it by saying he could sit next to me. This kind of thing is never the victim's fault.
BUT, I could have gotten out of the situation before it escalated, had I trusted my gut instinct. I had that power, but I didn't act on it, out of fear.
Ladies, if you feel unsafe, it's okay to do something about it. Stand up for yourself. Be empowered. Let my train ride be a lesson to you to trust yourself. That feeling you get is nature's warning sign.
Listen to it.
A 20-something trying to find what it means to be me!