The hardest relationship after a toxic one, is the healthy one.

I’ll be the first to admit it, relationships are hard for me. And it seems that the most challenging relationships for me are actually the healthy ones.

When people are exposed to an unhealthy relationship, whether it be a romantic relationship, familial relationship, or even just a friendship, it blurs all the lines between healthy and unhealthy and makes you question everything. And the more you’re exposed to the unhealthy ones, the harder it becomes to recognize or trust in the healthy ones.

So, why are healthy relationships so hard?

Conflict = fear. I learned from a very young age that conflict is scary. And the best way to avoid that fear is to avoid conflict altogether. Avoid it like the plague! Brush problems under the rug. Minimize them. Ignore the fact that your needs aren’t being met. Better yet, have less needs. The more you need from people, the more you put yourself at risk of being a burden, or worse, being rejected. Right? Wrong! (But we’ll get to that).

Asking Permission. There is a fine line between telling your partner what you plan on doing, out of respect, and asking them for permission to do it in the first place.  For someone like me who has had both a narcissistic parent and a narcissistic fiancé, I feel the need to ask permission for everything. Dumb things. I guess the blank looks from my boyfriend aren’t too surprising when I ask something silly like, “do you mind if I move this here?” It’s kind of become an inside joke now that when I ask him something, he says no and we have a good laugh about it, and then I do it anyway.

But the truth is, this is a conditioning. This is years and years of having needed permission to make decisions. This is something that has to be UN-learned. Which leads me to my next point…

Relationships bring up unhealed issues. We all have baggage, scars, hurts we’ve locked away, and nothing will force you to confront your demons faster than being in an intimate relationship with someone. And when you’re faced with something that triggers you, whatever that trigger may be, you are forced to make a decision – fight, flight, or freeze. Lash out. Walk away. Go silent. Or, you can make the healthier decision to question the trigger, evaluate it, make a decision about it, and not allow it to come between you and your partner.

Healthy relationships require vulnerability. Sheesh, just the thought of having to be vulnerable with someone makes my chest tighten. Being vulnerable means putting myself at risk of being rejected and my partner is the last person I want to reject me. Here’s the beauty in this though – when you are vulnerable, when you really expose yourself and put yourself out there to your partner, that’s where true intimacy is created.

Heathy relationships are so hard for people who have experienced trauma because we’ve become conditioned to expect the worst. We’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop, because life has taught us that eventually the other shoe always drops. I recognize these trauma-based responses and thought patterns, and I consciously make an effort, every day, to question and debunk them.

I make mistakes in my relationship all the time, but I am learning what healthy looks like and feels like. Here’s what I’ve learned:

Even “meant to be” takes work. If your relationship is feeling a lot like work all of a sudden, that’s okay. Even great relationships take consistent work and effort.

Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. This is probably the hardest for me and admittedly, one of the major reasons why my marriage failed. Remember that trauma-based response I have to avoid conflict at all costs? Well, I can’t anymore. For the sake of my relationship, I force myself to have difficult conversations with my boyfriend. Even when I know it will make me uncomfortable. Even when I know it will upset me. Even when I know it will do those things to him. Some things have to be said, and I’d rather overcommunicate than undercommunicate.

Choose you partner, every day. Choose to see all of the gifts they bring into your life each day. Choose to see their charm, their thoughtfulness, their humor. Focus on the positive instead of pointing out all of the negatives. Gratitude is a powerful force.

Give each other space. I am an extroverted introvert. I enjoy being around people. I can be outgoing, but it drains me. I need time to recharge my batteries, often. I need soft blankets, quietness, an obnoxious amount of candles, space to think or write or just be me. My boyfriend likes to move. He needs to use his hands, blast some music, work on the truck or work in the yard, and relax under the tiki hut when the work is done. I love being around him, but I am learning to appreciate that we both need alone time too.  

Don’t forget about yourself. Growing up, I’ve always had a tendency to lose myself in my significant other. I completely put myself on the backburner and I engulf myself in their lifestyle and hobbies. I know how easily I can fall into that pattern, so It’s something I am extremely cognizant of now. Zane and I have built interests together – we started a garden together, we’re raising chickens (and ducks to come soon!), but he also has his hobbies, and I still make time for mine.

Along the same lines, I am still making my health a priority too – eating right, getting active, working on my mental health. Afterall, if I am not healthy, how can I expect the relationship to be?

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