How do we choose who we want to be with? Especially, if it seems as though we keep getting caught in the same doomed relationship with different people. Who’s the common denominator? We are. Do you know what this means? The power to change that repetitive relationship Ferris-wheel lies within YOU!
1. Looking Back, It Won’t Bite You
The one thing I know for sure is that if you’re reading this then you’re brave enough to do this work. When you have come from a place of abuse, trauma, relationship or sexual violence, it can be horribly challenging to believe that a relationship can be safe again. How will you know what is safe or what does not work, if you don’t look back and reclaim your right to say, “NO, that does NOT work for me and will NEVER work for me AGAIN!”
I want you to get really comfortable with saying NO, so that your YES can become BIGGER! Before I was able to finally find a partner who had all of the perfect characteristics for me, considering where I am going on my healing pathway, I had to do this work. I will never suggest you walk a therapeutic path that I have not already taken myself and guided others through as well.
Get ready with paper and pen, because I’m going to ask you to take a thorough and fearless inventory of your past relationships. I like to brainstorm along a timeline from my earliest memories of relationships to my most recent, I find thinking chronologically helps me to better organize my thoughts.
The Fourth Step: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
A. Write down relationship dynamics and characteristics that were UNHEALTHY, unwanted or abusive in past relationships.
B. Write down relationship dynamics and characteristics that were HEALTHY, desirable and that worked for you in past relationships.
Now that you have done this important personal archeological work from past relationships it’s time to CELEBRATE! What? YES! You did a huge amount of work! Get out your list of things you do for yourself that make you feel nurtured and pick one of those things and GO DO IT – before moving on!
2. Focusing on the Positive
You’ve heard me mention in past articles that whatever plant we water grows, whether it’s the thorn bush of negativity or the fruit tree of positivity. You deserve to enjoy the fruits of your healing labors! Let’s get to transforming that prickly past!
A. Review the first list where you wrote down all of the dynamics and characteristics that were UNHEALTHY, unwanted or abusive in past relationships. I want you to transform each item in this list into a HEALTHY dynamic or characteristic and add it to your HEALTHY list. How do you do this? Here is an example:
- Screamed and cursed at me; called me names and told me I was worthless.
- Forced me to have sex; forced me into sex with multiple partners; cheated on me; raped me; demeaned me if I didn’t give sex when they wanted it.
- Publicly humiliated me when I didn’t do what they wanted.
- Forced me to stop talking to my friends; wouldn’t let me call people for support when they were angry with me.
TRANSFORMED HEALTHY CHARACTERISTICS:
- Capable of engaging in conflictual issues using non-violent communication; has compassionate listening skills; treats me with respect.
- Practices singular focus intimacy & has integrity regarding sexual ethics. Is slow, honorable, loving, sensual, and respectful in physical intimacy practices.
- Capable of setting healthy boundaries in a compassionate and loving way & prizes cooperation.
- Desires interdependence; respects my social support needs.
B. Review everything that is now listed on your HEALTHY dynamics and characteristics list. See if there is anything missing that you would like to be listed there. Add whatever might be missing.
C. Consolidate your list as there may be repetitive items, or points that could be put together.
3. Asking For What You’ve Got
Now, this can be the hard part. I want to be honest and put it out there. I don’t know about you, but I was definitely lied to and told that I should expect WAY more from my partners than what I brought to the table. As a survivor and addict I even began to believe that I DESERVED more than I brought to a relationship, because of everything I had been through. The problem with this thinking is that I was always taking my partner’s inventory, and because I was constantly doing that before I had done this work – I ALWAYS found them lacking! No one was ever able to measure up to my expectations of what I thought I needed to feel safe and loved, but at the same time I felt trapped in unhealthy situations, because I felt too ashamed to end yet another relationship. Sound familiar?
If you want a relationship where you feel there is an equal balance and you aren’t seeking to be “completed” by someone else, then we need a process to weed out the areas where those codependent “save me” pitfalls exist. So put on your gardening gloves, we’re going to pull the weeds out of the list that have been choking the healthy growth of your past relationships.
A. Review your HEALTHY list and ask yourself:
- Do I have this characteristic myself?
- Do I display this dynamic myself in relationships?
B. Remove any item from the HEALTHY list that you don’t bring to the table.
C. If there are items on your HEALTHY list that you want to develop in yourself, but you don’t possess yet, write those on a separate list labeled – PERSONAL GROWTH GOALS. Get in touch with me and we can devise a plan for how you can reach those goals. Your letter might make it into an “Ask Amanda” article!
4. Do You HAVE To Have It, Or Else?
Here we explore the next step in personal accountability and get honest with what the differences are between relationship NEEDS and relationship WANTS. You and I both know how easy it is to fall on that slipper slope that we talked about earlier – unreasonable expectations. You cleared out the weeds from the flowerbed of your relationship garden. Now you get to determine what you NEED to have in that garden to nourish you.
A. Look through every item you have listed on your HEALTHY list and ask yourself:
- If my partner did not have this ONE aspect or characteristic, would I end the relationship?
- If your answer is YES: Leave that item on the list.
- If your answer is NO: remove that item from the list.
In order for you to be accountable to using this list in your relationship and dating vetting or selection process, I need you to know that you are 100% certain of exactly what you NEED. The pitfall we often stumble into is settling in areas that we SHOULD NOT SETTLE on, because these are NEEDS not WANTS. How will you ever know the difference though if you do not first decide which is which?
5. Into Action – Choosing
You should now have a finalized list of what the HEALTHY characteristics and dynamics are that you NEED in a relationship with a partner. What now? Well, I can imagine some of you could be a bit nervous since you’re already in a relationship and you’re thinking, “Oh no, am I actually with the wrong person?”
You might be. That’s ok. You’re doing this work so that you can create the life that is BEST for YOU. You’re the only one living your life, and your partner is living theirs. What if we each are on the perfect path for us: There are no failures, there are only lessons. We’re here to learn.
Whether you are single or already in a relationship, practice using your HEALTHY list as a guideline. The guideline you’ve created is a sort of contract with yourself. You’re saying to yourself and others: This is what I NEED in a partner and in a relationship. The important thing to remember is that it is very simple: someone either has these characteristics or they don’t. There is no middle ground, or negotiation, or “maybe they’ll change.” You created this list with care and attention. This list will determine who is suitable for you as a partner and who is not.
I used the list when I was dating, and would check off each item that was evident with someone and if something wasn’t then I would stop seeing that person. This helped me become very comfortable with saying: NO. In the beginning I felt ashamed or confused, because these were genuinely nice people and I didn’t want to reject them – BUT they weren’t the RIGHT people for me. This is about not repeating old patterns, which means I NEEDED to do something differently to receive a different result. Remember: I want you to get really comfortable with saying NO, so that your YES can become BIGGER!
You deserve happiness, growth, safety and love in your relationships. I know this 5-step process will help you choose a partner who is perfect for you!
If you have any questions or would like to share your experiences of the process, please share in the comments section below.
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