...and we don’t talk about that enough.
I am not good at partnership.
That’s not false humility or low self-worth or anything. It’s a pretty objective view of things – I’m wildly gifted, competent, and confident in many areas of life, but this kind of relationship simply isn’t one of them.
The beginning of a romantic relationship, for me, is easy.
I know a lot of people really struggle with this early part of a relationship, and have a difficult time trusting people at first, or opening up, but I’ve always found it to be the opposite. I’m a risk-taker, and I love the feeling of throwing myself off a cliff into the scary vulnerability of falling in love.
In the beginning, there hasn’t been any time yet to build up walls against someone, or make up stories about their character or behavior, so as long as they keep showing up with authenticity and intimacy, I get to enjoy both the best of them, and the best of me. My heart is wide open during this part (thanks in part to the chemical cocktail of oxytocin, dopamine, and adrenaline), and the distance between us makes it easy to meet my new partner with unwavering respect, acceptance, kindness, and curiosity.
Later on is where it gets tricky, though, as my walls slowly build up over time.
Little moments of feeling hurt, unseen, or triggered by my partner shift me out of vulnerability mode and into self-protection mode, and coping mechanisms start to take over my open heart. I become more judgmental and critical of my partner as a result, telling myself new stories about them, and pushing them away. Subtly at first — almost imperceptibly — my compassion and acceptance become harder and harder to access, and I fall into a me-versus-them mindset.
This pattern tends to increase over time like a snowball — more wounds, more walls; bigger wounds, bigger walls — until I have become more wounded animal than loving partner.
This is, unfortunately, the case in my current relationship. I love my partner so freakin much, but everything he does triggers the shit out of me, and it’s become very painful. If I’m being totally transparent here, I spend most of my time at home protecting myself against a person who loves me.
And while this isn’t a new situation for me in the slightest — all my romantic relationships have eventually felt like this — it is the first time that I’m not willing to lose my partner. Which means it’s the first time I’ve had to actually dive into the underlying source of the pattern.
This is why I’ve been working my ass off in therapy for the last six months, and boosting it with everything from DBT to brainspotting to psilocybin therapy: because I absolutely refuse to let this pattern of woundedness and wounding continue.
Because that’s what this really is, of course: woundedness and trauma, not “being bad at partnership.”
I’m unable to be the kind of person I want to be as a romantic partner, because I have a shit-ton of trauma, particularly around men. And while I’ve worked through and healed that trauma in most other areas of my life, this is one area where it’s still (apparently) thriving.
And while I wish I could wrap this whole story up in a nice bow, and tell you about the three simple tricks I used to overcome a lifelong pattern of pain and destruction, that’s not gonna happen, because I’m still in the middle of it.
I just want to be open about it from the middle, both because it’s something I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about lately, and because I get so damn frustrated by the hush-hush approach to relationship struggles.
It feels like, as a culture, we’re very accepting of people who openly share and process their relationship issues with their friends, but only until the relationship “gets serious.” After that, we start to view people sharing and processing that stuff as a red flag, cry for help, or proof that the relationship should/will end. This creates a shit-ton of shame for folks inside serious relationships, because they know speaking up about their struggles will invite stigma, judgment, or criticism of them or their relationship. So in order to avoid that, and to protect their partner from “looking bad” to their friends or family, they keep quiet and struggle alone.
But here’s the deal — partnership is just hard.
Romantic relationships can shine a light on all our wounds, stir up all our fears, and just trigger the absolute shit out of us. And while this can also make them powerful containers for healing and liberation work, it seems to me that relationships are the exact last place on earth we should be isolating ourselves, or keeping all hush-hush about what we’re struggling with.
(Plus, I can’t stand the damaging rom-com expectation that finding the right partner will magically turn us into the people we’ve always wanted to be, or solve all of our problems.)
I hope that by sharing this way, you’ll be able to relax and release any shame you feel, for your own struggles in the space of romance, sex, dating, and partnership. You are not alone, even if it sometimes feels like it.
Sending you the biggest hug,