When asked where we see ourselves in “X” amount of years, so many of us envision someone by our side. Few of us truly desire becoming old cat ladies, living in solitude. Human beings crave intimacy. We want to feel connected and especially to another individual in a long-lasting relationship.
Yours truly has only been in one long-term relationship. That one lasted three years, but I can honestly say only the first year and a half was truly enjoyable. It ended badly.
Other than that relationship, I have not dated anyone else longer than six months with most of them lasting less than three months. But why? Not trying to sound conceited, but it was not a matter of finding women who were interested. I regularly went out on dates and could start a relationship. I always struggled to follow through though.
I talked about this endlessly with my friends, family, and my therapists. This is what I have been able to come up with thus far.
History of trauma. It only takes a moment to change your life forever. One’s perception forever altered. The filter through which situations, relationships, feelings, and even thoughts go through becomes tainted. Despite routine rationality, that one single event dominates the filter. It merely worsens if the individual experienced multiple traumatic events or chronic trauma.
Difficulty trusting others. Because of past relationships or trauma, it might be difficult to let people in. The last time we brought someone in close to us, they used it against us. They exposed our trust as gullibility. We do not want someone to feast on this weakness once again.
Maladaptive Core Beliefs. I pushed people away because I wholeheartedly believed that I was not good enough for them. I myself did not deserve to be happy. I felt that they could do so much better. This came from a combination of trauma, bullies, and depression. What does this amazing, beautiful, intelligent woman want with an ugly lowlife like me? As irrational as it sounds, that is what I thought.
Emotional Distancing or Clinging. As a defense mechanism to emotional pain, I numbed my feelings. For me, it was related to my difficulty trusting others. You cannot hurt me if I do not let you in. Therefore, my feelings for someone often plateaued at a certain point. It felt like it was going nowhere, and we lacked chemistry as a result. For some, they do quite the opposite. They actually might be craving a connection so much that they latch onto the nearest person that shows any interest in them. Be mindful of both.
My therapist made a good point recently however. No matter who I wanted to be in a relationship with, these issues were going to be there. I had to confront them eventually. It was just a matter of finding the right person who could be patient enough to work through them with me. A few pointers I took away from that conversation:
Be open and honest with yourself. You need to be willing to acknowledge your weaknesses. They are unfortunately part of you, but this does not mean that they need to control you. Do not minimalize them either. These issues hinder your ability to reach your goal of a long-term relationship. You will never getting closer to the romanticized image of sitting on a porch together in the golden years.
Be open and honest with your partner. This will help your significant other know what is going on in your mind. It keeps everyone on the same page and reduces tension. Also, it helps bridge the connection between you two because you are not in this relationship alone. If they are the right person for you, then they will provide the right support to build a future together. Ultimately, these issues affect both of you.
Purposely make yourself uncomfortable. Push yourself out of your comfort zone. In order to let someone in and to show that you can trust them, you have to. Feelings are not always meant to be warm and fuzzy. There are plenty of them they make us feel icky. Plus it might help you to see if your significant other can sit through those feelings with you.
Go at your own pace. Forcing a relationship or feelings for someone hurts both of you in the end. Move forward at a healthy pace that will help desensitize you to the fear. Set healthy boundaries along the way. There might be certain things you do not feel comfortable discussing or doing just yet. Talk to your significant other throughout the process to check in.
Lingering issues. Have an understanding that your behavioral and emotional patterns will not change overnight. They could come back years into the relationship. It is difficult to undo core beliefs and patterns that developed over the course of potentially decades. They will creep up from time to time. It will be how you deal with them that will define the relationship.
Make the commitment. Do it for both yourself and your significant other. It does not have to be a life or death ultimatum. A basic level promise to communicate, attempt to understand, and honesty are a great start towards relationship success.
-The Caring Counselor