Have you ever had the experience of an “ah-hah” moment when you discover a golden nugget or a “piece of the puzzle” you’ve been missing? Often times, we simply don’t know what we don’t know.
But if we can start to bring awareness and understanding to the situations that we’re struggling with, then there’s a lot to gain.
So, that’s what I want to do today. I want to open the conversation and your mind to some “puzzle pieces” that you’ve maybe never known about, or perhaps you’ve had a very surface-level understanding of them.
This is going to be a series where we continue to deep dive together. So let’s start from a general overview of the three elements that can really improve a relationship.
*There are many different types of relationships. What I will be talking about is “traditional” heterosexual couples, in momogomous relationships. That’s not to say that there aren’t things to learn here for “non-traditional” couples, because I think there still is. You’ll just have to independently account for the nuances in the differences.
You, Him, Me, Her, and Us.
How many entities do you think are in a relationship? If you said five, you’d be correct. While there’s two people, there’s essentially:
- The Relationship – This shows up as the dynamics between you and your partner. In other words, how you both communicate, relate, and collaborate.
- Your Partner’s Real Self – When your partner is in their true authentic self, they operate from a place of understanding, love, and compassion. We are love, and our real selves radiate this authentic way of being.
- Your Partner’s Shadow Self – When your partner is operating from a wounded place, misguided beliefs, or fear we will see/experience an unloving side of our partner. You may hear this referred to by other’s as operating from ego, or as a wounded inner child.
- Your Real Self – Just like your partner’s true authentic self, you also have a real self. You are love. And when you operate from this place, you have inner peace, love, compassion, and understanding.
- Your Shadow Self – When you are in your negative self you are more easily triggered, often live in/with red-light emotions (fear, anxiety, anger, sadness, etc.) You will not be operating from a loving place, it’s usually a place of fear which is covered up by unhealthy coping mechanisms as an attempt to avoid pain.
If you don’t know about the five entities then you’ll have a harder time pin-pointing the areas that need awareness and attention from you. Again, if you don’t know what you don’t know how can you course-correct? You can’t. So let’s get you in “the know”.
The Big 3 To Improving Your Relationship
So now that we understand the “players” in the game, we can look at the actionable things within them. And it all boils down to three elements that can really improve the quality of your relationship.
- Relationship Skills (e.g. communication, conflict management, expressions of love, etc.)
- Understanding the Internal World of Your Partner (e.g. their attachment style, wounds, fears, beliefs, life experiences, values, etc.)
- Understanding & Healing Your Internal World (e.g. attachment style, wounds, fears, beliefs, meaning you assign to things, life experiences, values, being present, coping mechanisms, etc.)
Let’s talk about each of these so you can start to have an awareness around what areas you may need to pay some attention to.
Relationship skills can be hard to master, or you may even feel like “they don’t work” but it’s usually because The Big 3 don’t work in a vacuum — they’re always simultaneously happening. The point of learning relationship skills is so that you can have tact. In other words, to be able to speak in a way that can be heard by your partner.
And even if you can communicate with your partner without the other two items, it’s not likely to be as effective as it could be. So yes, you’ll have to be sharpening multiple skill-sets at once (don’t worry you’ll see some concrete examples as we go through this series).
So if you’re wondering if this is an area that could use a little attention, here’s some symptoms of needing to sharpen relationship skills:
- You often feel misunderstood by your partner
- You feel lonely/ unappreciated/ disrespected
- It seems your partner has over-reactions to things that you say/do
- You do not feel safely connected to your partner
- You do not share vulnerable feelings
- When you try to discuss something it turns into a fight
- You avoid having “hard” conversations and/or feel scared to do so
- You do not feel heard
- Your needs aren’t being met
- You’ve started to develop a “why bother” attitude
- You’re questioning if you should stay in the relationship
- Your partner has expressed that they feel any of the above
I’m going to be diving into the skills in a lot more detail as I publish more posts, but I’ll list out a few of the top ones (mostly around communication & learning how to speak in a way that your partner can hear).
The skills that you may need to learn how to do:
- Share vulnerable feelings
- Ask for what you need
- Get more help from your partner
- Take a break during conflict
- Handle a conflict conversation (what to say)
- Support your partner and their needs
Understanding Your Partner’s Internal World
Before I even dive into this, I have to say you cannot control another person. Understanding how someone works is not a way for you to manipulate them to get what you want. You also have to start with the base understanding that:
- Your partner is not responsible for your happiness. – This is an incredibly tall order to fill. No one can fill it in fact; except for you. Your partner should be thought of as the cherry-on-top, not the main meal (be careful about doing the pendulum swing, which looks like taking this to an extreme. AKA “I don’t need anyone else, and I can’t rely on anyone else”). When you stop making them responsible, it improves the health of the relationship, and they are actually better at making you happy-er.
- Your partner is not responsible for your emotions. – You are the creator of your emotions. You’re not the victim. You cannot be a victim to something that you create. Emotions do not float around the room and land on you. Emotions are physical manifestations of your thoughts. So watch the narrative you have.
- You cannot change your partner. – Control over another person is an illusion, so don’t fool yourself into thinking that you can change your partner. They are responsible for themselves, and only they can make the decision to change. You can, however, show up differently which can/may foster room for them to grow.
This is a lesson in accountability. It’s imperative that you own the part you play and the pieces that you are responsible for. If you have the M.O. to blame your partner, you can keep doing that, but I promise that road leads to no where. If you want to improve your life and your relationship you need to hold yourself accountable (again, be careful here about the pendulum swing, which looks like you beating yourself up and making yourself wrong. Shaming yourself serves no purpose. Accountability does wonders though).
So, why then is understanding your partner so important? It helps you not take their actions personally, and it can help you communicate with them in a way that does not activate their attachment wounds.
For example: Criticism is a bad strategy to use on it’s own (we see from Dr. Gottman’s research that it’s actually a big reason as to why couples split up), but it’s even more triggering to the dismissive avoidant.
If you know your partner’s attachment style is a DA then you’ll have a general roadmap about them (e.g. they have a very deep fear about abandonment so they put up walls to keep themselves safe, they have a major shame wound, and often implement tactics to create space/distance, etc.)
You’ll know how to approach conversations with consideration of them, which, will make it easier for them to help you get your needs met. It’s a beautiful dance that becomes easier when you understand the steps.
To understand your partner makes for a win win situation.
While you cannot change your partner, by you taking them into consideration, and you showing up differently, they will also have to show up differently. The simple merit of doing something differently means you will garner different results.
If you make it safer for them to be their authentic self, you will see a change in them.
The change may not always be the one you hoped for, but at least you will gain a lot more clarity. Your next steps will be crystal clear and no longer accompanied by fear or doubt.
So, what are the things to gain understanding of? I’m going to dive deep into each of these (& more) in future posts, but to name a few:
- Their attachment style and the wounds, fears, false core beliefs, and coping mechanisms.
- Needs of your partner (attachment style needs, gender needs, human needs)
- The core values of your partner
- Their goals/ dreams
Understanding & Healing Your Internal World
This is the single biggest area that can make the greatest impact. The best way of thinking about this would be like you’re wearing foggy/dirty glasses. Everything you see has to be filtered through those lenses. If you want to see things more clearly we’ve got to take the glasses off or clean them at the very least.
“Looking through dirty glasses” often results in feelings of:
- Loneliness (when out or in a relationship)
If you’re experiencing these to lesser or more degrees, then hopefully you can see why doing the self work is all the more imperative.
I think it’s important to say that the objective of doing the self work is not to be rid of emotions, but rather, they will become less intense, they will no longer rule you, and you will view them differently as helpers vs. foes.
Everyone is going to be at a “different starting point”. Some life lessons you may have already learned, while other life lessons you have yet to learn (irregardless of your age). You may be starting from a very volatile place, a relatively stable place, or anywhere in between.
So, my hope is that I can start to point out what things to look at. To shine a light on the information that you may not have looked at, or considered.
As we go through these topics I only ask that you do a deep dive vs. quickly dismissing them. The reason is that I’ve already experienced doing this. I missed out on things that would’ve significantly helped me sooner, because I quickly dismissed it. Learn from my mistake.
You may dismiss things for different reasons such as having a general understanding of the topic and then (because of misinformation that you got) you think, “Nah. That’s not my problem.” Or this dismissal can come from being triggered by a label that we perceive as negative. Like, “I don’t want to be labeled a Fearful Avoidant because I don’t like how that sounds. It sounds bad & icky.”
But I want to remind you, that any of the “labels” are not for labeling sake, but rather to help establish vocabulary for you to research and dive deep into the areas that you need healing.
So what topics need to be explored? Here’s a few great ones to start with:
- Your attachment style and the accompanying wounds, fears, false core beliefs, and coping mechanisms.
- Inner child work
- Self-soothing (nervous system regulation, meditation, staying present, etc.)
- Your expectations/assigned meanings around relationship dynamics
- Emotional Addiction / Trauma Bonds
- Triggers (you want to know them, not control your partner to stop them, because they tell you what’s going on inside of you)
- Look for skills you are lacking (example: Setting Boundaries vs. Giving Ultimatums)
- Identifying your needs (and knowing the difference between a need & controlling a partner as an attempt to avoid a trigger)
To Sum It Up
There’s a lot to navigate in a relationship. While it’s two people, there’s really a much more complex dynamic taking place.
There’s 3 big areas that need simultaneous attention. Which are: communication skills, understanding your partner’s internal world, and understanding & healing your internal world.
On the most surface level, we have relationship skills namely communication. If you can understand how men and women are different, how we have different needs, and that we communicate differently then you’ll notice a big difference in how successful you are at getting your needs met.
It might even be that you need to just learn communication skills on a basic level. You might be surprised how many of our parents never modeled good communication for us.
Plus, as you master communication there’s the added benefit of being able to handle conflict better.
The issue is: if you only focus on communication skills, while they will makes things between you and your partner better, you may continue to experience a lot of the deeper pain you’ve been feeling.
Further, you may not be able to access those skills when you’re “triggered” – and it’s because they do not fix the core issue.
This is where the self-work is needed. As you begin to heal yourself, you’ll be less triggered (which helps keep you connected to the thinking part of your brain vs. going into your fight/flight part of your brain). You’ll take things less personally, and stop assigning meaning to things. Which means you’ll feel a lot better.
For example: If you’re seeking validation/value/love outside of yourself (even unknowingly), whatever you get from your partner will never be enough. You’ll always need more.
It would be like living on junk food instead of getting actual sustence. It may hold you over for a little while, but those deeper fears will come back out sooner rather than later (eg fear of abandonment or rejection) & the deeply held beliefs (I’m unloveable, I’m unworthy, I’m not enough, I can’t cope -all of which are lies we started to tell ourselves at a very young age) will resurface.
So while you may be able to ask for reassurance from your partner (with communication skills), if it’s coming from a place of desperation or neediness, it will continue to surface until you heal the wound inside of you.
So, the question is do you want to continue to live in a state of lack where you’re desperate for your partner to “fill up your love tank” because you’re always running on empty? Or would you rather live in a state of fulness where anything that you get from your partner is a wonderful bonus? Easy choice, right?
That only happens when you do the internal work.
Now I’d love to hear from you! Tell me in the comments below: What really resonated with you? Or what questions do you have?