The past few months have opened my eyes to so many patterns in my romantic relationships that have held me back for years. Through reading, seminars, courses and coaching, I have begun to see the myriad of ways that I keep myself from experiencing true connection and love. What a gift it has been to recognize these patterns, so I can begin breaking them.
Control vs. Surrender
Ask anyone who knows me and I’m sure they’ll tell you I like to be in control, and believe it or not, I was totally unconscious of this until recently. I think all of us have control issues to some extent, but I really didn’t know how far mine extended and how much it affected my relationships. Wanting to be in control is one way that we unconsciously try to protect ourselves. This can manifest as controlling your emotions, what your dates are like (where you go, what you eat, how it will all play out and when they will take place), and perhaps even planning out the entire relationship. Have you ever thought about what kind of cake you’ll have at your wedding before the second date?
While I don’t think I was quite that bad, I see now how my need for control held me back from allowing myself to be vulnerable. Being open and sharing is key to intimacy, and I complained constantly about the lack of intimacy in my relationships – always blaming the men for not being more open, of course. I can see now that I wasn’t very open in a true sense either, always putting my best face forward, and not sharing my fears and failures. (See more on this below in the vulnerability and authenticity section.)
We not only try to control ourselves, but our partners as well. We see all the things they are doing “wrong,” and genuinely want to help them. When we point out these issues and offer “advice” though, we come off as nags, and send the message that our guy isn’t good enough. This does not make for good romance.
Laura Doyle shares in her book The Surrendered Single, what we all already know if we just think about it for a minute. Our guys want us to be happy. They will do quite a bit to insure our happiness. We don’t have to manipulate or control to get what we want. We just have to ASK. Why is this so hard? Men have been lamenting for years that they can’t in fact, read our minds. We get upset when they don’t do what we want – no wonder they’re frustrated – how about we just try asking.
Have you ever heard that men need to be needed? I’m guessing you have. This has been a big one for me to really get. I have male friends who would rather I call them than a plumber when I have a problem with my toilet or sink. This is so difficult for me to understand. I feel like a total burden when asking for help with stuff around the house, and don’t feel as if I can ask my friends, especially if I haven’t seen them for a while. They, on the other hand, love to help out whether it’s a ride to the airport or help with the dripping sink in the bathroom, and are usually not just available to do so, but thrilled to be able to be helpful. Wow!
I am now recognizing how my independent, “I can do it myself” attitude occurs for men, whether they are strangers or friends. They want to help and when they offer and I don’t accept they are actually emasculated. Really?! Since realizing this, I am super conscious of accepting offers of help from men. It doesn’t mean they see me as weak and incapable of doing it myself, as I might have previously misunderstood. Put that heavy bag in the overhead for me, sure. Carry that box to the car, absolutely!
Independence is one of my strong suits – practices I use to get me through difficult times in my life. Adopting an independent attitude has served me well for many years in a variety of ways, but it has not helped in the romance department. If men need to be needed and I don’t need any help, thank you very much, then where does that leave me? You guessed it. Sitting home alone on Saturday night.
Giving & Receiving
Ok, this is another imbalance that has left me scratching my head for years. I am a super giving person and a two on the Enneagram. That means I will often put others’ needs before my own. This should make me the best girlfriend in the world, right? Hmmm. . . maybe not.
Turns out being a good receiver is pretty important too, and receiving is a feminine trait. Think about the physicality of sex for a moment: men give and women receive. Aha! Except I was always giving and actively deflecting receiving because of my personality type, independent streak and unwillingness to ask for help. Yikes! This obviously didn’t bode well for male/female relations.
Does this mean I shouldn’t ever give anything in a relationship? Of course not. I just have to maintain a balance and allow myself to receive more, while also perhaps giving a bit less. Giving to get people to like us is manipulative and controlling (remember what we talked about above?), even if it is unconscious. Look at the motivations behind your giving. Are they selfless or is there an ulterior motive?
Vulnerability & Authenticity
We all think putting our best face forward it necessary in most parts of our lives. Think about the job interview, online dating profile and resume. We don’t mention our weaknesses, fears or flaws in these arenas. An ex-boyfriend even said to me once when I was showing him the scars on my stomach from multiple cancer surgeries, “Don’t point out your flaws.” He may be right that I didn’t need to point them out as if something was wrong with me, but it is ok to talk about how you feel about these things. In fact, it’s refreshing.
We all have weaknesses, vulnerabilities and things of which we are ashamed. Opening up about them gives others permission to do the same, and creates a new level of intimacy that probably wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. This is what relating to each other is all about. And relating to someone else in a deeper way is what makes a relationship.
I once led in my online dating profile with the fact that I was a total klutz. I used the phrase, “I could trip on a pattern in the carpeting.” My friend advised me to change it because, as she said, “People will find out about your shortcomings soon enough. You don’t have to point them out.” I got so many responses to that profile as men wrote to tell me about their quirks too. Numerous klutzes were drawn to tell me about how they had cut themselves shaving that morning, or tripped crossing the stage at their high school graduation. It gave us something to relate to about each other right off the bat.
We look at others and get intimidated by the fact that they are so successful or good-looking or wealthy, and we use that status to put them on a pedestal and assume they are somehow better than us. The truth is that each of those people likely once struggled, lost a job or important relationship, had zits or went bankrupt. Hearing about those struggles helps us better relate to them.
I learned in a relationship seminar once that sharing that which you are most afraid to share can open doors to the deepest levels of intimacy, so I asked someone I was seeing if he would share something he was ashamed of, and promised I would do the same. He said, “I already shared it last week.” Wow! I was thrilled that he felt comfortable enough to open up to me in that way, and I shared something that had previously been very difficult for me to admit.
Rather than react in alarm and disgust as I had imagined he and others in my life might upon learning this, he was sympathetic and even helpful in so many ways. He has since sent me tools, resources and provided support as I work through my issue. The same thing happened when I shared this confession with my mom – the person I was most ashamed of sharing it with.
This experience was incredible, and so eye-opening. It makes me sad to think that for years I lived my life being so ashamed of something that I was unwilling to share it with those who loved me the most, and that doing so was the key to deeper more meaningful relationships with those who are important to me.
What are you trying to control in your relationships? How could you surrender instead?
What traits do you have that keep you separate from others?
What could you share that you are most ashamed of?